Peaceful, rugged, untouched- words that perfectly describe Ireland’s westernmost point, the Dingle Peninsula. Since most tour companies or tourists usually head towards Ireland’s better known Ring of Kerry, the Dingle Peninsula is less crowded and is a more pleasurable loop of dramatic coastlines and historical sights.
For your own self-guided tour we recommend that you have your own rented car. We rented our small, automatic VW Golf from the Kerry airport through Hertz. I should also note that we had set up the rental prior to our arrival in Kerry. If you have never driven on the opposite side of the road than you are used to, it seems scary at first, but with a little courage and attentiveness you can conquer your fears. The Dingle Peninsula Loop, or Slea Head Drive, runs about 30 miles (47km) and is best driven in a clockwise direction. Starting in Dingle town at the harbor we headed west and made our first stop at the Prehistoric Dunbeg Fort. Off of the main road you will notice the green sign for Dunbeg Fort on your left and the Stonehouse Restaurant on your right. We parked our car at the uniquely designed restaurant made entirely of local stone, crossed the street and made our way down the stone path towards the sea.
Perched atop one of Ireland’s seaside cliffs, Dunberg Fort is one of the smaller yet impressive promontory forts built to be used as a defensive structure but may have also been a place of refuge during invasions. The fort is made up of the remains of a clochán–a dry-stone hut resembling a beehive structure, which is surrounded by a crumbling stone wall. Over the years, parts of the outer wall have collapsed and found their way into the sea below. We wandered around the fort and surrounding areas taking in the stunning cliff-side views We listened to the crashing waves and even made a new furry friend (a local cat was patrolling the area).
Promontory forts such as Dunberg remains one of Ireland’s most important relics from the Iron Age dating back to 500 B.C.
There is a €3 admission fee and the fort is open daily from 9:00 to 19:00 (May-August until 20:00) For more information visit the Dunberg Fort visitor’s center webpage. Just a short walk uphill we arrived at large group of clocháns that date back to the 12th Century. The Fahan Beehive Huts, also known as Caher Conor, are a network of five huts that were once used as single family dwellings. The clocháns were built from slabs of stone stacked successively without mortar in a specific way to create the hut appearance you can still see today. The huts are all clustered together closely as it was believed that they were all linked together by way of interlocking doorways. Visitors are free to wander around the huts, however, some are blocked off from entering due to safety reasons.There is a €2 fee to visit the beehive huts and it is open daily from 9:30 to 19:00.
Back in the car, we drove along the Dingle Peninsula loop admiring the breathtaking views while remaining slightly nervous because of how close we were to the cliff’s sheer drop and jutted rocks. Just a few kilometres down the road we stopped at Slea Head (Ceann Sléibhe), easily identified by a pullout and vast views of the Blasket Islands and Dunmore Head.
Slea Head and Dunmore Head are the westernmost part of Ireland and arguably the westernmost part of mainland Europe. As one of the Dingle Peninsula’s most scenic viewpoints, we took a moment to admire the rugged landscape and uninhabited islands that are indicative of what I had pictured when I thought of an Irish landscape. Continuing on just a little further up the road, you will reach the small village of Dunquin, with a convenient parking lot, just follow the sign for Dún Chaoin. The village is scattered with the remains and ruins from old, abandoned rock homes and can be seen from the road leading towards Dunquin. With views of the Blasket Islands, dramatic cliffs drop down towards the ocean overlooking a small beach where some visitors were frolicking around trying to outrun the foamy waters as they ran ashore. All along the waters edge, jagged rocks rise up from the sea as foamy turquoise waters crash against the steep cliff face, making this understandably one of the best views along the Dingle Peninsula. Even in the summer months, Ireland’s coast can become a little chilly. Looking for some warmth we stopped into the Great Blasket Centre (follow signs to the Ionad An Blascaod Mór), a heritage centre that gives visitors an in depth look at the history and lives of the people who lived on the remote island until their evacuation in 1953 when only 22 people were residing there.
The centre is a great place to stop prior to visiting the islands if there is time in your itinerary. However, if you are like us and didn’t have time to take the ferry trip to the island, the centre provides a good insight to the family life on the islands and the communities struggle to stay in existence. Stories of their literary achievements, native language, culture and traditions are told using interactive displays, videos and artifacts.The Great Blasket Centre is open daily from 10:00 to 18:00 and costs €4 per adult. Our last stop on the Dingle Peninsula Loop was to visit the ruined church of Kilmalkedar, Cill Mhaoilcéadair, and explore the surrounding area. We drove along Slea Head Drive, looked very hard and eventually spotted the very small, white sign labeled Kilmalkedar. The picturesque 12th-century Irish Romanesque church and surrounding graveyard is situated on 10 acres of rolling hills that seemingly tumble down into the ocean below. Nearby a flock of sheep wandered and relaxed in a field. Looking out at Ireland’s breathtaking coastline, it was easy to see why they call it the Emerald Island.