The Dingle Peninsula, reaching out of the northwest side of County Kerry in the southwest of Ireland, is one of the most rugged, majestic and ancient places in all of the North Atlantic. The Peninsula is home to over 2000 identified archeological sites, dating all the way to the Mesolithic era; 4000 BC and before.
A Gaeltacht region, it is a hotspot for the Gaelic language and traditional Irish culture. Its remoteness enabled Dingle to resist many of the effects of English Colonization and while today is popular among many holiday goers, it still remains true to its ancient Gaelic heritage.
The best way to explore the 225m^2 Peninsula is certainly by bicycle and by beginning in Killarney and tracing the peripheral road around the south side to the north side of the Peninsula, one can see some of the most spectacular geography that exists along the Wild Atlantic Way. The Conor pass that begins in Dingle town, and runs through the mountains behind it, is a steep and challenging climb but rewards Cyclists with some of the best mountain coastal views in Ireland.
The English gave Dingle its modern name, after the largest town on the peninsula but the Irish have long called the land, ‘Corca Dhuibhne’ which translates as ‘the seeds of Duibhne,’ a local Gaelic Goddess.
Dingle’s human history goes back a fairly long way with people living here probably before 8000 BC.
The first documented artifacts of human habitation of the Dingle peninsula is at Ferriter’s Cove, near Ballyferriter, a small village on Slea head drive. These were small groups of nomads and hunter-gatherers who used local resources to form settlements and this continued for hundreds of years right up until the latter part of the Middle Stone Age, 8000-4000 BCE. Evidence was uncovered of a wide range of foraged food including fish, deer, pigs and hare. The first farmers, who built homes and tombs arrived in the period 4000 – 2500 BC. In this era of history tombs built of stone are introduced to house the dead.
Fast forward to the iron age beginning in 400 BC, saw the arrival of Celtic peoples from Mainland Europe. Overlooking the village of Camp, the gateway to the peninsula, one will find Cathair Con Rí, certainly one of the finest inland promontory forts in the country which was built by pre christian Celts. Its high wall marks the boundary to the barony of Corca Dhuibhne. Nobody knows its true purpose; but it is certainly one of the most rewarding walks on the Dingle Peninsula.
The Celts became christians in the fifth century AD after St Patrick from Britain successfully converted the pagans of Ireland and on the Dingle Peninsula there is a very good survival of early monastic remains. Over 30 monastic sites survive, with a variety of remains such as churches, cross slabs, holy wells, beehive huts, shrines, burials, sun dials, ogham stones and enclosing features. , An Riasc, near Ballyferriter, has been excavated and is a must see when visiting the peninsula. It was from such sites of education, from the 6th century onwards, that Irish monks traveled throughout Europe converting people to Christianity. It is during this period that the finest art works such as the Book of Kells and the Ardagh Chalice, were produced.
The Church in Ireland during this period was not under the direct rule of Rome, and thus retained many of the early Pre-Christian influences.
St Brendan the Navigator, born in Tralee is one of the most famous monks to ever come out of Ireland and it is on the Dingle Peninsula where he found God and formed a large following while traveling the world and established other monasteries.
After the dark ages, the Normans established a base in Dingle town in the 12th century and the port town has since been involved in plethora of events in medieval and contemporary Irish History.
Though its remoteness has continually staved off any serious threats to it’s culture and heritage.
Inch beach extends into Dingle bay, with its southern point nearly reaching the Iveragh peninsula. Large sand dunes lay behind the beach making this peninsula within a peninsula, a very unique, yet beautiful Irish coastal scene.
The Macgillycuddy Mountains rising across the strait make for a spectacular view and photo opportunities. Water activities such as surfing and sailing make the beach a popular location among many holiday goers in the warmer months.
Annascaul village lies just a few more kilometers beyond Inch beach. Cycling this stretch of the coastal road is stunning, though quite hilly.
Annascaul is certainly small with a population of only about 300 but sits within fantastic geography. The village is surrounded by some of the best hikes in all of Kerry, as well as ancient stone forts, monuments and burial chambers constructed by both pre-Christian and early Christian peoples.
Annascaul village is home to famous Irishman, Tom Crean who accompanied both Earnest Shackleton and Englishman, Robert Falcon Scott on their adventures into antarctica.
The Guesthouse, The South Pole Inn, is decked out in expedition artifacts and the Tom Crean walking trail brings you to his birthplace, as well as his grave.
Annascaul is defiantly worth staying a night or two, if time allows!
Dingle town, with a population of about 2000, is simply one of the best places in the entire north atlantic for the outdoors inclined and culture curious traveler.
Staying at an Inn or hostel here while exploring the breath of the peninsula is ideal and there are numerous pubs worth checking out including, Foxy Johns (A Pub that doubles as a hardware shop), Dick Macks and An Chonair Bar.
This port town celebrates St Brendan The Navigator, a Dark age Irish monk who while was born in Tralee in east Kerry in 484 A.D., used Dingle as a base while he travelled all around Europe and possibly America. It is not conclusively known whether he reached North America before the Vikings and Christopher Colombus but Explorer Tom Severin recreated his voyage in 1974 using the technology of Brendan’s era and succesfully reached newfoundland.
Throughout his life, Brendan founded a plethora of monasteries and became the Patron Saint of sailors and travelers. He gained a strong following and spoke to his flock through the authority of an angel.
His legacy is seen throughout the peninsula with Mt. Brendan, the second highest mountain in Ireland in prominence (height measured from base to peak), 9th highest in elevation, baring his namesake.
To be sure, Dingle town is ripe in tradition and authentic gaelic culture. Spending a couple days walkings its streets and taking in the port vibes would not be a wasted endeavour.
Slea Head Drive
Slea head drive is the highlight of Dingle, the beauty of the coastal mountain terrain is akin to worlds described in myth and legend. Cycling this road is defiantly the preferred way to go, though it is only 30 miles in length. The wind from the ocean can cause quite a fit, so be sure to check the weather before heading out.
Mt Brendan/Conor Pass
Standing at 3,127′, Mt Brendon is the 9th highest mountain in Ireland and second tallest in prominence. Due to it’s fairy tale and majestic geography, it is one of the more alluring climbs in the British isles.
Climbing to the top of Mt Brandon is like going to a different world, as the prominence of the mountain rises up through the clouds and offers panorama views of the entire peninsula, along with sights of the Macgillycuddy reeks standing tall across the strait.
There are a few different routes to the top but almost all of them begin in the small village of Cloghane, on the north side of the peninsula. The Eske Route is less strenuous than Faha Ridge but both can take up to seven hours and 8-10km in length.
Cloghane itself is a charming town on the wild atlantic way, with a quant population of about 300. A pub in Cloghane is potentially a great spot to hear native Gaelic speakers.
There are few ways to reach Cloghane from Dingle town, the most scenic is taking the Conor Pass; Ireland’s highest mountain drive. While only about 12km, cycling the Conor Pass is a real challenge and the road can be quite narrow at times. During bad weather, the wind could easily whip you off the road and send you tumbling down the cliffs, thus caution is warranted.