Every time I go to Ireland, I can't resist going to see the Dingle Peninsula. Sweeping views, ground steeped in history, and the feel of traditional Irish living pulls me there. Often overshadowed by it's neighbor, the Ring of Kerry, Dingle Peninsula is an Ireland MUST-SEE!
I have only had a car once while traveling in Ireland; other times I used public transport (which is more challenging on the west coast, where buses are controlled by the sheep's schedule). So when I have gone around the Dingle Peninsula it has always been with Tim Collin's archaeological tours. Tim, a retired police officer, offers witty narrative and history of the sights along the way. I like it so much, I have been on this tour 4 times! Once in Dingle Town you can go to Eileen Collin's B&B to book a tour; he usually offers two a day, and it is very affordable, only about 25 euros a person. Even if you have a car, this tour makes it possible to enjoy the sights and not miss anything, including Tim's spiel.
If you drive it yourself be sure to drive clockwise around the Dingle Peninsula loop and don't miss these sights:
Beehive huts: You can't miss seeing these from the road with views of the famous Skellig Michael in the background. (Skellig Michael is a monastic island off the Ring of Kerry that is now home to thousands of birds, and famous for being one of the islands in the new Star Wars movies. This is where Luke is hiding out and Rey goes to find him.)
Beehive huts date back as far as 3100 BC and as recently as 1950 AD. Circular beehive huts were constructed without mortar, and served to keep a single family sheltered; they were structures that most Irish people could build. Belief has it that many of Dingle Peninsula's beehive huts date to the 1200's, when the Norman's pushed the Irish off rich land in other regions and out to the far reaches of Ireland. The Irish had to work tirelessly to make the land fertile on the Dingle Peninsula by harvesting seaweed and turning it into the soil on the hillsides. In this picture, above right, you can see the scars left from the potato famine. Where the hill turns from green to brown is where the soil never recovered from the famine of the mid 1800's.
Riask: This is the remains and archaeological excavation of a monastery or collection of beehive huts that belonged to an early christian community dating back to the 5th century. Walking through this site and imagining life in the 5th century is a powerful part of the magic of Dingle Peninsula. It is very close to Ballyferriter, and there are signs from Slea Head Drive to get you there through the farm roads that feel like you are going down driveways.
Gallarus Oratory: Debate continues over whether this structure was a church or a shelter for 12th-century pilgrims. It remains to be the only structure in the world built without mortar still standing strong without having needed to be rebuilt. To get to the Oratory, just past the Smerwick Harbor Hotel turn left at the sign for Gallarus. There is a free lot and a pay-to-park lot for 3 euros. The free lot is quite often full in summer months unless you arrive early or late.
While there are a few small museums and other attractions, these are my top favorites, along with stopping at any irresistible view or picnicking on a sand beach. Even though Dingle Peninsula has become a popular place for visitors there is still an elusive mysticism (along with a lot of mist) in this place, and ways of being and living that go at a much slower pace.
Did this post inspire your marvelous wanderings? Let me know!