The Dingle Peninsula is the most northerly of the hilly promontories which reach out from the southwestern corner of Ireland, extending westward for more than 30mi/50km from the low-lying country around Tralee and Killorglin.The highest point on the peninsula, Brandon Mountain (3,085ft/940m), rears up at the end of a chain of hills which at Brandon Head plunge almost straight into the sea from a height of 2,462ft/750m. To the west of this range is a rolling coastal plain studded with typical Irish farms and hamlets. Here there are few stone walls; corn is grown in small square fields, and red fuschia hedges, pale green ferns and black moss add their distinctive colorings to the landscape.This is a predominantly Irish-speaking area (Gaeltacht), and old traditions, customs and crafts are still very much alive.The area is littered with prehistoric and Early Christian remains.
The road from Tralee runs west along Tralee Bay to Camp. Southeast of the village rises Caherconree (2,668ft/813m), which can be climbed from a valley branching off to the south. Beneath the peak stands a massive promontory fort (there is a board at the side of the road between Camp and Aughils from which a path goes up to the fort).
At Camp the R559 bears southwest and winds its way up through hilly country of the Dingle Peninsula. In 5mi/8km a side road branches off on the left and runs south to Inch, a sheltered seaside resort from which a 3mi/5km long ridge of dunes extends into the sea.
4.5mi/7km west of Inch, around Anascaul, is an area where wild orchids grow in great variety. The road then continues on its way to Dingle between the hills and the sea.
1.5mi/2.5km from the little town of Anascul, the R559 passes Ballintaggart, with an old circular burial ground containing a number of ogham stones (National Monument), some of them with crosses.
The town of Dingle, the chief place on the Dingle Peninsula and the most westerly town in Europe, lies in a sheltered bay with good beaches, surrounded on three sides by hills. It is an excellent center for sea fishing and boating, and also has a nine-hole golf course; but above all it is a good base from which to visit the many antiquities at the western end of the peninsula.
West of Dingle, at Milltown, is a large standing stone known as the Milestone, and near this are two others, the Gates of Glory.
Driving west from Milltown, the R559 comes to Ventry, 2mi/3km northwest of which, on the Ballyferriter road, are the ruins of Rahinnane Castle (15th C., National Monument), in a circular enclosure surrounded by a 30ft/9m deep moat.
From Ventry the R559 follows the rocky south coast of the Dingle Peninsula. On the left, directly above the sea (path to the site dangerous), is the fine promontory fort of Dunbeg, with four earthen ramparts and a stone wall. Within the fort are the remains of a house, square in plan within its circular outside wall. An underground passage leads from the interior of the fort to the outer defenses.
At Glanfahan, near Dunbeg, can be seen a remarkable group of remains, including 417 beehive huts (built without the use of mortar), 19 souterrains and 18 standing stones (all National Monuments). A charge is made for entry to some of the sites.
The Blasket Islands, which lie off the end of the Dingle Peninsula, can be reached by boat, weather permitting, from the little fishing harbor of Dunquin. The main island, Great Blasket, was inhabited until 1953, when the inhabitants - said to have been, in their well-settled way of life, the "happiest people in the world" - were moved to the mainland. The abandoned village street can be seen on the hillside and in the center of the island are the ruins of a church (National Monument) of uncertain age. From the island's highest point (937ft/285m) there is a view over Blasket Sound to the rugged coast of Kerry. One of the vessels of the Spanish Armada, the "Santa Maria de la Rosa", ran aground in the sound in 1588.4mi/6km northwest of Great Blasket lies the little island of Inishtooskert, with the ruins of a small church, a well-preserved beehive hut and three crosses (National Monuments).At Clogher Head, a rocky promontory north of Slea Head, the road turns inland and runs northeast to Ballyferriter. At Reask, amid the remains of a settlement of hermits, is a notable cross-pillar decorated with tendril patterns.
The Blasket Centre outlines the Irish language, the distinctive character of the inhabitants of Great Blasket Island off the Dingle coast and the achievements of the island's writers.
Smerwick Harbor (Dún an Oir)
To the north of Ballyferriter is a broad inlet, Smerwick Harbor, on the east side of which, on a rock promontory, stands DÔn an Oir, the "Fort of Gold."
Dún an Oir
On the east side of Smerwick Harbor, on a rock promontory, stands Dún an Oir, the "Fort of Gold." Here in 1580, 600 Spanish and Irish who gave themselves up to English forces were massacred.
From Ballyferriter a road leads east to Kilmalkedar, one of the most important ecclesiastical sites on the Dingle Peninsula, where a monastery (National Monument) was founded in the seventh century. It preserves a Romanesque church (12th C.) with fine sculpture in the tympanum of the doorway and on the chancel arch. The blind arcading in the interior - like the rest of the church - shows the influence of Cormac's Chapel at Cashel. In the church is the Alphabet Stone, with ogham and Latin characters side by side. In the churchyard can be seen an old sundial, a large monolithic cross and another ogham stone. 140m/150yd away is St Brendan's House (15th C.) and near this St Brendan's Oratory.
Gallarus Castle and Oratory
Two miles/three km southwest of Gallarus Castle we come to one of the few castles to have been preserved on the Dingle Peninsula, Gallarus Castle (16th C.: National Monument), a four-story keep with some vaulted rooms. 0.75m/1km away is Gallarus Oratory (National Monument). Shaped like an upturned boat (Gallarus, "strange house"), it has walls over 3ft/1m thick, so carefully constructed, without the use of mortar, that the little chapel (measuring only 15x10ft/4.5x3m) is still watertight after 1,200 years.
On the coast northwest of Kilmalkedar lies the fishing village of Ballydavid, where the traditional curraghs - light but seaworthy vessels of tarred canvas on a framework of laths - are still made.At Ballynavenooragh, some distance inland at the foot of Brandon Mountain, can be found a large group of beehive huts, several of them double, and two stone ring-forts (all National Monuments).
The coast at Brandon Head, where Masatiompan (2,461ft/750m) falls down to the sea, has a series of mighty cliffs.
At Brandon Mountain on the Dingle Peninsula are the remains of St Brendan's Oratory and a number of stone huts (National Monuments). The climb, best tackled from Cloghane or Faha, or from the west (clearly marked paths), is well worth the effort for its own sake and for the magnificent views to be had from the top.
Cloghane lies on the east side of the Brandon hills, at the head of Brandon Bay. It can be reached direct from Dingle by a road over the Connor Pass, through a grandiose landscape of rugged gorges and steep rock faces. At the foot of the pass the road to the left leads to Cloghane and Brandon, the one straight ahead returns to Camp. To the right of this road is Beenoskee (2,713ft/827m), to the left a long promontory reaching out into the sea. The road continues to Castlegregory, a quiet little resort between Tralee Bay and Lough Gill.
From Castlegregory on the DIngle Peninsula it is 4.5mi/7km to the tip of the promontory Rough Point, off which is a group of small islands.
More Dingle Peninsula Pictures