Dingle Peninsula Loop Trip

By car or bicycle, this self-guided tour offers spectacular views and plenty of Irish history

Slea Head Road curves along the coast on the Dingle Peninsula. (Pat O'Connor)
Smithsonian Magazine | Subscribe

(Continued from page 1)

The old red-sandstone and slate-roof cottages along the roadside housed Ventry estate workers in the 1840s.

4.6 km: Stay off the “soft margin” as you enjoy views of Ventry Bay, its four-mile-long beach (to your right as you face the water), and distant Skellig Michael, which you’ll see all along this part of the route. Skellig Michael—an island jutting up like France’s Mont St. Michel—contains the rocky remains of a sixth-century monastic settlement (described in previous chapter). Next to it is a smaller island, Little Skellig—a breeding ground for gannets (seagull-like birds with six-foot wingspans). In 1866, the first transatlantic cable was laid from nearby Valentia Island to Canada’s Newfoundland. It was in use until 1965. Mount Eagle (1,660 feet), rising across the bay, marks the end of Ireland.

In the town of Ventry—or Ceann Tra’—Gaelic is the first language. Ventry is little more than a bungalow holiday village today. Urban Irish families love to come here in the summer to immerse their kids in the traditional culture and wild nature. A large hall at the edge of the village is used as a classroom where big-city students come on field trips to learn the Gaelic language. Just past the town, a lane leads left to a fine beach and mobile-home vacation community. An information board explains the history, geology, and bird life of this bay. The humble trailer park has no running water or electricity. Locals like it for its economy and proximity to the beach. From here, a lane also leads inland to Long’s Horseriding Centre.

5.2 km: The bamboo-like rushes on either side of the road are the kind used to make the local thatched roofs. Thatching, which nearly died out because of the fire danger, is more popular now that anti-flame treatments are available. It’s not the cheap roofing alternative, however, as it’s expensive to pay the few qualified craftsman thatchers that remain in Ireland. Black-and-white ¬magpies fly.

8.6 km: The Irish football (GAA) star Páidí Ó Sé (Paddy O’Shea) is a household name in Ireland. He won eight all-Ireland football titles for Kerry as a player. He then trained the Kerry team for many years, and he now runs the pub on the left (also notice the tiny grocery on the right; easy beach access from here).

9.2 km: The plain blue cottage hiding in the trees 100 yards off the road on the left (view through the white gate, harder to see in summer when foliage is thickest) was kept cozy by Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman during the filming of Far and Away. Just beyond are fine views of the harbor and Dingle’s stone tower.

10.7 km: Taisteal go Mall means “go slowly”; there’s a red-colored, two-room schoolhouse on the right (20 students, two teachers). During the summer, it’s used for Gaelic courses for kids from the big cities. On the left is the small Celtic and Pre¬¬historic Museum, a quirky private collection of prehistoric artifacts collected by a retired busker named Harris (€4, family-€12, daily 10:00–17:30, tel. 066/915-9191).

11.1 km: The circular mound (that looks like an elevated hedge) on the right is a late–Stone Age ring fort. In 500 B.C., it was a petty Celtic chieftain’s headquarters, a stone-and-earth stockade filled with little stone houses. These survived untouched through the centuries because of superstitious beliefs that they were “fairy forts.” While this site is unexcavated, recent digging has shown that people have lived on this peninsula since well before 4000 B.C.

11.7 km: Look ahead up Mount Eagle at the patchwork of stone-fenced fields.

12.5 km: Dunbeg Fort, a series of defensive ramparts and ditches around a central clochan, is open to tourists—though it’s ready to fall into the sea. There are no carvings to be seen, but the small (beg) fort (dun) is dramatic (€3, daily 9:00–19:00, May–Aug until 20:00, descriptive handout, includes 10-min video shown in the modern stone house across the street, giving a bigger picture of the prehistory of the peninsula). Forts like this are the most important relics left from Ireland’s Iron Age (500 B.C.–A.D. 500).

About Rick Steves
Rick Steves

Rick Steves is a travel writer and television personality. He coordinated with Smithsonian magazine to produce a special travel issue Travels with Rick Steves.

Read more from this author

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus