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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.