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)
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Along the road, you’ll see a new stone-roofed house built to blend in with the landscape and the region’s ancient rock-slab architecture (A.D. 2000). It’s the Stone House, which had been, until recently, a restaurant. A traditional currach boat is permanently dry-docked in the parking lot.

12.6 km: Roughly 50 yards up the hill is a thatched cottage abandoned by a family named Kavanaugh 150 years ago, during the famine. With a few rusty and chipped old artifacts and good descriptions, it provides an evocative peek into the simple lifestyles of the area in the 19th century (€3, family-€10, May–Sept daily 9:30–18:00, closed Oct–April, tel. 066/915-6241 or 087/762-2617).

13.4 km: A group of beehive huts, or clochans, is a short walk uphill (€2, daily 9:30–19:00, WC). These mysterious stone igloos, which cluster together within a circular wall, are a better sight than the similar group of beehive huts a mile down the road. Look over the water for more Skellig views.

Farther on, you’ll ford a stream. There has never been a bridge here; this bit of road—nicknamed the “upside-down bridge”—was designed as a ford.

14.9 km: Pull off to the left at this second group of beehive huts. Look downhill at the rocky field—in the movie Far and Away, that’s where Lord Ventry evicted (read: torched) peasants from their cottages. Even without Hollywood, this is a bleak and godforsaken land. Look above at the patches of land slowly made into farmland by the inhabitants of this westernmost piece of Europe. Rocks were cleared and piled into fences. Sand and seaweed were laid on the clay, and in time it was good for grass. The created land, if at all tillable, was generally used for growing potatoes; otherwise, it was only good for grazing. Much has fallen out of use now. Look across the bay at the Ring of Kerry in the distance, and ahead at the Blasket Islands (Na Blascaodai).

16.1 km: At Slea Head (Ceann Sleibhe)—marked by a crucifix, a pullout, and great views of the Blasket Islands (described later in this chapter)—you turn the corner on this tour. On stormy days, the waves are “racing in like white horses.”

16.9 km: Pull into the little parking lot (at Dun Chaoin sign) to view the Blasket Islands and Dunmore Head (the westernmost point in Europe) and to review the roadside map (which traces your route) posted in the parking lot. The scattered village of Dunquin (Dun Chaoin) has many ruined rock homes abandoned during the famine. Some are fixed up, as this is a popular place these days for summer homes. You can see more good examples of land reclamation, patch by patch, climbing up the hillside. Mount Eagle was the first bit of land that Charles Lindbergh saw after crossing the Atlantic on his way to Paris in 1927. Villagers here were as excited as he was—they had never seen anything so big in the air. About a kilometer down a road on the left, a plaque celebrates the 30th anniversary of the filming of Ryan’s Daughter. From here, a trail leads down to a wild beach.

19.3 km: The Blasket Islands’ residents had no church or cemetery on the island. This was their cemetery. The famous Blascaod storyteller Peig Sayers (1873–1958) is buried in the center. At the next intersection, drive down the little lane that leads left (100 yards) to a small stone marker (hiding in the grass on the left) commemorating the 1588 shipwreck of the Santa María de la Rosa of the Spanish Armada. Below that is the often-tempestuous Dunquin Harbor, from where the Blasket Islands ferry departs. Island-farmers—who on a calm day could row across in 30 minutes—would dock here and hike 12 miles into Dingle to sell their produce.

19.4 km: Back on the main road, follow signs to the Ionad An Blascaod Mór (Great Blasket Centre). You’ll pass a village school from 1914 (its two teachers still teach 18 students, grades one through six).

22.3 km: Leave the Slea Head Road, turning left for the Great Blasket Centre (provides a worthwhile introduction to Blasket Islands; also has a good cafeteria).

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.

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