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Discover Dingle, Ireland

Dingle, a small town located on the beautiful Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, Ireland, is a place rich in history, culture, and natural beauty. Many of the ancient and natural sites are free or low-cost, making it a fabulous choice for the budget traveller. If you are looking for that real Irish experience filled with small towns and lively country pubs, all nestled within rolling hills and surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, Dingle should be on your Irish itinerary.


The area around Dingle has been inhabited since the Iron Age and is home to many historical sites and landmarks -- over 2,000! With several ring forts, monastic settlements, and ancient beehive huts, the area is an immense open-air museum of ancient history. The area also includes more modern reminders of the British occupation and the Great Famine.

Besides its history, Dingle is also known for its cultural tradition. The town hosts a thriving music scene, with its many, many pubs featuring live music nightly. Dingle hosts several festivals and events throughout the year, so be sure to check what's going on during your planning.

I was surprised to discover that Irish Gaelic is the dominant language amongst the locals. During the British occupation, the Irish language was banned and was almost lost. Regaining knowledge of the language is a major goal for Ireland and is included in the school curriculum. Dingle is the capital of the Irish-speaking region and many students come here to study or improve their skills. Most residents also speak English but visitors will hear and see much of the local language. When looking for specific sites, it's a good idea to be able to recognize the Gaelic name.

Dingle Town

The town of Dingle is approximately 1 hour drive from the Kerry airport. Killarney is the closest train station and from there many intercity public busses are available. We arranged for a private driver through Begley's Tours for airport pickup and return. We used the same company for a tour around the stunning Slea Head Drive.

The town of Dingle is tucked between rolling hills on a cute little harbour. It is full of fun and funky artisan shops, galleries, and restaurants. It is claimed that there are more pubs per capita here than anywhere else in Ireland. It does seem very generous -- there are 50 pubs for the approximately 2,00o residents!

But perhaps the biggest draw for visitors to Dingle is the famous 47 km Slea Head Drive. The Dingle Peninsula is home to a number of stunning beaches, stunning landscapes, hiking and cycling trails, and whale-watching tours, with sightings of humpback whales, dolphins, and basking sharks being common. For short-term visitors, a great way to combine history and nature is a drive along the Slea Head.

Slea Head Drive

The best advice I would offer as you travel along this drive is to stop at every parking area or pull out. The views along every meter of this road are breathtaking, plus it will give you a chance to stretch your legs. There are parts of the drive that narrow to a single lane and the entire drive is full of twists and turns, each one revealing yet another stunning view. Unlike Iceland, the Irish farmers use fences, walls, and hedgerows to try to keep the sheep far from the roads but there are regular escapees. Stay alert and drive slowly.

Be aware that if you drive a camper van you must follow the direction of the route markings at Coumeenole Strand. This is a fairly recent change to deal with congestion along the route can stop traffic for hours.

There are so many things to see along the way that this overview is just a wee taste of what to expect staying fairly close to the road. For those who have time to linger in the area, there are many amazing trails, including the Kerry Camino: St. Brendan's Way.

Burnham House

Our tour included a stop at Burnham House just outside of Dingle town. It is the former grand home of the local English landlord, and is now a Gaelic school for girls. The building dates back to the 18th century and is one of the oldest and most significant Georgian houses in the area.

Burnham House was built by the Burnham family, who were prominent merchants and traders in Dingle. The Burnhams, including Lord Ventry, were involved in the trade of provisions, such as butter, cheese, and bacon, with the British mainland and the American colonies.


The house was often used for parties, balls, and other events, and it was a symbol of the wealth and status of the Burnham family. The house was passed down through the generations of the Burnham family, and it remained in their possession until the late 20th century when it was donated to the state.

A rather unexpected sight in this Irish garden is the number of tropical tree ferns and palm trees. Lord Ventry imported these both as landscaping but also as a demonstration of wealth and power.

The grounds also include a collection of 4th to 6th-century Ogham stones. Ogham stones are a type standing stone carved with early medieval Irish writing. This ancient script uses a series of lines and notches. These particular stones are considered to be amongst the best-preserved examples of Ogham inscriptions in Ireland, and are of great historical and cultural importance.

Visitors can walk around the public area near the entrance but are restricted from entering much of the estate during the school year. Summer language classes (for all ages) with boarding are available.

Dúnbeg Fort

The large ancient forts along the Slea Head were mainly built during the Iron Age between the 5th and 1st century BCE by the Celtic people. The forts are known for their size and complexity. Most were used for both defensive and ceremonial purposes. Some were used later by clan families or the British occupiers in later times.


One of the most notable forts on the Slea Head Drive is Dúnbeg Fort. This impressive fort is located on a rocky outcropping overlooking the Atlantic Ocean with heart-stirring views. The fort is thought to have been a stronghold of the legendary Irish king, Fionn MacCumhail and his warrior clan.

Visitors can explore the remains of the dry-stone walls, the defensive ramparts and the circular houses. Tickets can be purchased online or at the Visitor Center for €3.50. There is a small café nearby.

Ventry Bay and Beach

Continuing the drive, one of the first stunning views is at Ventry Bay (Ceann Trá). Ventry Beach, aka Ventry Strand, is a beautiful sandy beach popular for swimming and sunbathing, as well as for surfing and windsurfing. The beach is surrounded by picturesque cliffs and hills and is a great location for bird-watching, as the area is home to a variety of seabirds, including guillemots, razorbills, and kittiwakes.

Visitors can walk along the beach from the fort. There are some restaurants and pubs in the area if you fancy a drink or something to eat.

Famine Cottage

The Famine Cottage is the former home of the Kavanaugh family who abandoned it during the Great Famine of the 1840s. The humble cottage, perched on a cliff overlooking Ventry Beach, was built using mud and stone. It will cost you €3 to visit.

The cottage has been furnished and is presented with the rustic furnishings (and some costumed mannequins) typical for struggling crofters of the era. Behind the cottage is an ancient 800-year-old beehive hut that the cottagers likely used for their animals. Visitors can wander the farm to visit Irish red deer, Kerry cows and Connemara ponies, sheep, and goats.

There are several abandoned villages along the route. These communities suffered greatly during the Famine. Most were crofters who were unable to support their families or pay the landlord's rent and were evicted. Some made their way to urban centers looking for work, and many crossed the ocean to take up residence in North America.

Beehive Huts

There are many more beehive huts along Slea Head Drive, some of them are visible from the road, or you may need to take a short walk to reach them. They are scattered all over the Dingle Peninsula, and some of them are on private land, so please be respectful and don't enter them without permission.

These ancient structures, also called clocháns are small, round, stone huts built without mortar and designed to withstand harsh weather conditions. These were not residences but were used by early Irish monks for retreat, contemplation, and worship. There are two sets of beehive huts along the Slea Head Drive, located fairly close to each other. The best-known set is at the Gallarus Oratory and the other is at the Riasc Monastic site.


Gallarus Oratory

The Gallarus Oratory is a well-preserved early Christian church, likely built between the 6th and 9th century. Like the beehive huts, the oratory construction doesn't have mortar. The construction is similar to neolithic tombs with stones placed at a slight angle to allow rain to drain from the outer surface.

Local legend says that anyone who climbs out of the oratory through the teeny tiny window on the back wall will have their soul cleansed.

Visitors can walk inside the oratory and explore the beehive huts year-round, 24 hours a day at no cost. There is a Visitor Center which includes an audio-visual show, and a gift shop with souvenirs and basic refreshments.


Brandon Creek

Brandon Creek is a small village where, according to Irish folklore, St Brendan the Navigator began a journey and sailed all the way to America, long before the Vikings or Columbus . There is a statue here commemorating this historic, heroic, and possibly mythical adventure. The Saint Brendan Way passes through this area.

Riasc Monastic Settlement

The remains of the 6th century Riasc Monastic Settlement are near the village of Ballyferriter, set in off the road just up from Bricks bar/ brewery this is a well-maintained and fairly easily accessible historical site. The settlement was founded by Saint Fionán, who lived in the area during the 6th century and is an important early Christian site.

Visitors can explore the remains of the beehive huts and walk around the ancient graveyard. The site also features a well-preserved ogham stone of early Irish writing. This site can be explored for free which always delights my inner miser.

Cashel Murphy

Cashel Murphy (Cathair Uí Murchú) is one of the best examples of a stone settlement in Ireland. The strategically-located Cashel was occupied until the 13th century. The broad views over the Atlantic and coastal areas allowed plenty of time to prepare for battle. It is believed that Druids (high-ranking Celts) performed rituals here in pre-Christian times.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the powerful Murphy clan lived here and used underground rooms for food storage but also to hide from enemies. The settlement includes several stone structures, including houses and outbuildings, enclosed within fortified dry-stone walls.


The Slea Head Cross

The Slea Head is the tip of the most southwestern point of the Dingle Peninsula and is marked with a memorial dedicated to the Spanish sailors who perished in this area in 1855.

Stop to view the Blasket Islands and Dunmore Head (the westernmost point in Europe). The scattered village of Dunquin (Dun Chaoin) has many ruined rock homes abandoned during the famine.

Dunquin Pier

Dunquin Pier is a winding pier where farmers from the main Blasket island would row across, dock their boat, and hike 12 miles into Dingle to sell their produce. On a calm day, the trip from the main island to Dunquin Harbor would take the islanders a mere 30 minutes. Today, the pier is where the Blasket Islands ferry departs.

Louis Mulcahy Pottery

A worthwhile stop is a visit to the Louis Mulcahy Pottery Shop, founded in the early 1970s, The pottery has become known for its high-quality, handcrafted pottery that is both functional and decorative. Each piece is made using traditional techniques and is inspired by the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape.

Visiting the pottery is a wonderful experience. The studio is open to the public where visitors can watch the potters work and purchase pottery directly from the studio. Pottery classes and workshops taught by Mulcahy and his team can be arranged for a unique opportunity. Grab a coffee and something to eat at the café and browse to your heart's content.

Clogher Strand

Clogher Strand Beach is a stunning beach but it is not for swimming. Known locally as Storm Beach, these waters are treacherous. Despite not being able to go in the water, This is a great spot for storm watchers who are able to see all the action while being partly protected by the horseshoe bay and cliffs. It's also a good beach to get in some bird-watching.

Where to stay

If you are exploring the Dingle Peninsula there are many different accommodation types on offer, however most of them will be bed and breakfast guest houses in this part of the country. We chose a private room with ensuite bathroom in the Hideout Hostel. It is located right in the center of town on a quiet street.

Where to eat

This little town is a designated "foodie" destination and includes a plethora of award-winning restaurants to tempt the discerning palate. Dingle's connection to the sea ensures fresh seafood but lamb is also a very popular menu item.

We enjoyed an excellent meal of locally-caught seafood at the Out of the Blue Restaurant, located right on the harbour.

For those looking for a fine dining experience, The Chart House in the center of town is a local award-winning bistro with an Irish-fusion menu.

Where to drink

Even if you don't drink, visiting a pub in Ireland is mandatory. The local pub is hub that draws locals to enjoy a pint, grab a meal, watch a match on the telly or just have a good chat or sing-along with friends. Look for a pub offering "trad sessions" for a splendid experience.

A "trad sess" is a type of jam session where local musicians join together playing traditional Irish songs, jigs, and reels on a variety of instruments. Expect to see guitar, fiddle, spoons, hand drums, whistles, and the occasional accordion. Be prepared to join in on the chorus.

Interestingly, many Dingle pubs have been around since the 1800s and are still run by the descendants of the original owners. Several of these pubs serve a secondary function, too. Foxy John's, a popular pub on Main Street, is known for its craft beers and local whiskeys but it is also the local hardware store and you can hire a bicycle too!


A visit to J. Curran's, also on Main Street, gives you the opportunity enjoy a pint of Guiness and pick up a bag of potatoes before leaving.

We spent a delightful evening in Murphy's, which doubles as a bed and breakfast.

Dingle is a truly special place that offers something for everyone. Whether you're interested in history, culture, or the great outdoors, there's something in Dingle for you.

 

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