Tucked away in Ireland’s southwest corner, near the equally beautiful but maybe more famous Ring of Kerry, is the Dingle Peninsula. Though small and out of the way, this rocky peninsula offers a look at some of the best natural and cultural treasures in Ireland, largely unspoiled by big cities and tourist crowds.
The peninsula gets its English name from its largest village. Dingle town and the western half of the peninsula are technically in a Gaeltacht area, an Irish cultural preserve established to keep alive the Irish language and traditional way of life. It’s referred to locally by its Irish name, An Daingean.
The village is known throughout Ireland and the rest of Europe as a haven for great traditional Irish music. Many of the village pubs offer live music sessions every night of the year, some featuring well-known Irish music stars. Prices of food and drink are cheaper in the village than in Ireland’s larger cities, so even budget travelers can find a warm seat by the fire and enjoy a pint and some fine music, which usually kicks off at about 9:30.
Dingle Bay is also famous for a local animal celebrity, a bottlenose dolphin named Fungie. In the mid-1980s, for reasons unknown, this lone dolphin made residence in the sheltered bay, and has been entertaining tourists ever since. Every year, a fleet of local boats takes thousands of visitors into the harbor for a chance to see this famous, friendly dolphin.
For a free look at Fungie and the stunning scenery on the Dingle and Ring of Kerry coasts, visitors with good walking shoes can head east on a well-maintained coastal trail all the way to the mouth of the bay, where the dolphin can be seen entertaining the many Fungie-watching boats. From the lighthouse, the trail continues along a steep cliff, offering beautiful views of Dingle town and Macgillicuddy’s Reeks, the highest mountains in Ireland, on the Iveragh Peninsula, better known as the Ring of Kerry.
The Slea Head Drive
From Dingle town, most visitors embark on an unforgettable car or bicycle trip around the well-marked Slea Head Drive. This circular coastal route combines ancient human-made monuments with breathtaking natural beauty for an unforgettable experience.
At Slea Head, the southwestern corner of the peninsula, drivers can stop to see the distant Skellig Islands, home of an ancient monastic settlement, and the nearby Blasket Islands, home to a small population of Irish-speaking fishers and farmers until a forced evacuation in the 1950s.
Farther along, the route passes through the small village of Dunquin (Dún Chaoin in Irish), the westernmost settlement in Europe, as it reaches the northwest corner of the peninsula and more scenic clifftop and island views.
As the road loops back to Dingle town, visitors can see the very well-preserved Gallarus Oratory. This mysterious building is believed to be an early Christian church, but little is known as to its exact date or use. The stones of the oratory are stacked perfectly to create a durable and waterproof structure without need of mortar.
The entire Slea Head Loop takes half a day by car, a full day if done by bicycle. After a long day out seeing some of Ireland’s most beautiful coastline and early Celtic and Christian heritage, weary travelers are always ready for ceol agus craic, music and good times, in one of Dingle town’s fine traditional pubs.