Dingle Peninsula. The most beautiful place on earth. And that’s not me talking. That’s how National Geographic described it. Though I can’t say I disagree. Especially after driving the whole of it today. But first, I started out at the local SuperValu. One of the first proper grocery stores I’ve seen on this trip! I didn’t know what there would be in the form of lunch out on the peninsula during winter, so I wanted to bring snacks with me. I got some breakfast, crackers and Laughing Cow cheese, Pringles, and DC.
Then I set off for the Slea Head Drive. This is the scenic tour of the peninsula that starts and ends in Dingle Town. Thankfully it’s well-marked with signs, so I had no problems getting around. And thankfully it’s December, so there was very little traffic. I mean, little. I could probably count on both hands how many vehicles I saw in front, behind, or opposite me during the entire 3 ½ hour trip! It was glorious!
Dingle is what is called a Gaeltacht, which means it is a traditional, Irish-speaking area. In Dingle Town, much to my dismay, most people speak English. But once you leave town, all the signs (except for ones for the Slea Head Drive and Dingle) are only in Irish. I loved it! If only I had been to Irish class since the end of June (though I listened to the Irish language radio station for a good bit of time yesterday and could at least pick out words!). I wanted to at least say hello to someone in Irish, but I forgot on the one chance I had. Then I was going to say goodbye in Irish, but he was gone when I left. Boo! But the people out there were great. I didn’t talk to them, but everyone I passed on the road who was walking, running, whatever all waved at me.
So one of Ireland’s tourism things is the Wild Atlantic Way. It extends the entire Atlantic coast of Ireland, which includes the Dingle Peninsula. All I can say is, Wild Atlantic Way, indeed! The ocean was really crashing today. It was so beautiful!! I don’t know really how to put it into words for you. I took loads of pictures, though I know none of them will capture the beauty, vastness, and harshness of the waves, the cliffs, the rocky shores. It was incredible. Granted, I am a water person, so I was mesmerized most of the day. But it was just incredible.
I had great weather for most of the day. By which I mean, not raining. But at some points it was so windy I was both being choked by my scarf and in danger of my scarf flying off of me, as well as my scarf and sweater getting caught on barbed-wire fences! I was nearly blown over several times. But it was great because I would drive, find a spot to pull off, get out, take photos, and get back in my warm car! Then I would drive 50 feet to another spot to pull off and repeat! It was nice to have all day to do this. No rush, no hurry. I encountered two or three short bursts of rain, but nothing big. And I saw another rainbow today. Ireland is full of rainbows for me on this trip!
So the first site that I stopped to see were the Beehive Huts (well, that’s not true, I saw a sign for a Prehistoric Fort, but the path appeared to be closed and the only thing that paid attention to me was one sheepie. He strode right over to me when I got out of the car. It was cute!). I was confused and it took me a minute to decide whether I would venture to them because it just appeared to be someone’s house. But I saw the signs and a gate was open, so I walked up there, when I saw a man sitting in a little booth and a sign that said it was 3 euro. That’s when I should’ve said, Dia Dhuit! But he beat me to it, saying hello and asking if it was cold outside. It didn’t even occur to me until I was walking uphill to the huts that I should’ve attempted to speak Irish. Ah well. The Beehive Huts were constructed in approximately 1200AD by early Christian farmers. There are several still roughly intact. They are fascinating because they are so small! I don’t know how each one served as a house for a family. This area of huts is called Cathair na gConchuireach (with fadas, but my keyboard doesn’t do fadas…accent marks), or Caher Conor.
I moved on and for a long time just stopped for the scenic view. The Blasket Islands were in great view, as I had such good weather. Great Blasket Island really is great. It’s huge! It used to be inhabited, but in the 1950s it was evacuated because the government could not ensure the safety of the residents. Due to extreme weather conditions, the residents were often cut off from the mainland, meaning food and supplies were scarce. Some famous Irish language writers were from Great Blasket Island. During the summer months you can take a ferry to the island to check it out, but I don’t think you can do that in the winter.
As I kept moving on I kept seeing something even more stunning (or just as). You just can’t make this up. I was reminded of the last time I was in Ireland and deciding that I wanted to live here. Loren asked me where I would want to live and I replied Dublin. Because, let’s be honest, I would need a big city. But I told her (or at least thought) that I would want to live in Dingle, but it was just too small and too far from “civilization.” I had the same thoughts today, except the idea that, well, maybe I could make it out there. Doing what for a job? I’ve no idea. I don’t know what these people do for work, besides farm and raise sheep and cattle (oh, I saw the cutest cows today!). But there were surprisingly very nice and modern homes along the way. That surprised me. I expected all old farmhouses.
Anyway, I came to a large beach area (though I was up above it), and I think it might be called Clogher Strand, from google images. But I’m not positive. It was absolutely amazing! Tall, black cliffs, smooth brown sand, and fierce, blue waves. It was glorious! I ate some lunch there in the car listening to Sinead O’Connor on the radio. Apparently she has a new CD out. Who knew?
At this point I was making my back up the western side of the peninsula. More gorgeous views of the water, but soon I started moving inland. The next site I stopped at was one I had wanted to see the last time I was here. The Gallarus Oratory. This is an early Christian church, estimated from the 6th-9th centuries, but some believe perhaps as last as the 12th century. It is a stone structure, much like the Beehive Huts, and again is very small for a church. But I suppose there weren’t tons of congregants back then!
After this, I hit Brandon Creek and Mount Brandon. Mount Brandon is the highest peak on the peninsula and the ninth highest peak on the island. It is named for Saint Brendan who set out on a voyage to the “Isle of the Blessed”. It is said that in preparation for his journey, he spent 40 days and 40 nights on Mount Brandon and then departed from the area that is now Brandon Creek (or so I read on a sign by the creek…though I didn’t read the whole thing because it was raining at the time time). This area was cool, as it stopped raining when I drove a (very) little big further). The creek is small, but feeds straight into the Atlantic, which comes crashing up into a cave, of sorts. There is a pier there with a sign saying stay off during high tide and windy days. Thankfully it wasn’t as windy at this point, so I went on it!
I drove up the road toward Mount Brandon, but didn’t want to keep going, as I didn’t know how far it would take me and I didn’t want to run out of gas! So when I saw sheep in the road, I decided that was a good spot to take a few photos and turn around. Again, the sheep were very interested in me. A couple stood there staring at me. (If anyone know this, I would really like to know why sheep have spray paint on them…usually pink and blue. As I type this, I now wonder if it means boy and girl. Which is weird. Why do they need to be marked? And why are some flocks all blue? But back to my point…doesn’t the spray paint ruin the wool? If they are used for wool, which hello, it’s Ireland, why do they want to put color on them? Anyone?)
I made my way back to Dingle and relaxed at the hotel for awhile. I kept putting my book down saying I should go walk around, but I’ve been there done that. And in winter there’s not much to see in Dingle Town. I can’t go out on a ferry boat and see dolphins or look for Fungi the Dolphin. Lots of stores are closed. So I forced myself to just chill and I took another nap, but only about 20 minutes. I set out for dinner, wanting to go somewhere else, but I drove through town again and couldn’t find anywhere else that looked like it might have food. So back to the Marina Inn. Surprisingly, it was duller than last night. No live music, only a handful of local couples eating dinner. It was nice to just be there with the locals, but I could’ve done with a bit of entertainment. Oh well.
As I leave Dingle tomorrow, I am heading to the last stop on this journey. Kind of hard to wrap my head around!eaHead