The Amazing Dingle Peninsula

Today, I tackled the Dingle Peninsula, which is super close to where I’m staying in Tralee. Basically less than fifteen minutes driving and I’m on my way around the peninsula.

I veered north off of the N86 at Camp (An Cam) and took Regional Road 560 up to Conor’s Pass. First, I took a tiny (literally) side road down to see the amazing breakers rolling in to Brandon Bay (Ba Bhreandain) along the Fermoyle Strand at Stradbally (An Sraidbhaile). This area is pretty Gaelic so at one point, there wasn’t any English on the road signs and I was navigating via Gaelic alone. :)

Then I continued along Conor Pass. Waves of rain were coming through off the coast, and it seemed to get colder as I drove up into the mountains. I was basically driving on the side of Knockmoylemore and Knockmulanane, across from Ballysitteragh Mountain, Brandon Peak and Mount Brandon. As Seamus, my B&B owner suggested, I knew I was close to the actual pass when I looked down to see the valley on my right dropping about 400 feet below me. As I was driving up to that point, I was contending with crazy rain, hail and random sheep and lambs on the side of the road.

I stopped at a handy parking pad on the side of the road right where a lovely little waterfall was running down the side of the gorgeous mountain (just the beginning of the stunning gorgeousity of Dingle) and thought that the Irish tourism office had provided an excellent viewing point for those camera happy folks. Oh no, that wasn’t it at all. That was the waiting/staging area for the run up the pass that is only really wide enough for one car. It’s so you can sit there and wait for traffic to come down the mountain. I took some pictures anyway, then hopped back in the car, backed around all the other tourists thinking this was a strategically placed “outlook” and made my run.

Now the rule that Pili, my other B&B owner told me that I really didn’t understand this morning over my soggy cornflakes and tea, is that the cars going up give way to the cars going down. I was going up. I did, in fact, meet a car halfway through my traversing. I did pull over – against the mountain *ding!* {lightbulb} – on a little patch of “pull over” gravel (I was lucky that way) and the guy waved and squeezed past and I made it to the top. Where there is another parking pad – this one a little more believable as an outlook vista view as well as staging area.

So, lightbulb discussion : Why, in a country where you drive on the left hand side is the road, when you put a road on the right flank of a mountain, does the ascending lane yield right of way? Because the descending lane can’t – they’ll fall off a cliff. So now you know who always has the right of way on narrow mountain roads – the outside guy facing the precipice.

So that was exciting.

Then I threaded my way through Dingle (An Daingean), and started my tour around Slea Head (Ceann Sleibhe). And despite my earlier plan to drive the opposite way, I did end up driving around clockwise so I was always on the cliff side. *sigh*

One of my first stops was a “Prehistoric Celtic Museum” in a little house on the side of the road. I thought Why not? I wanted to have my banana and a sip of water (I was trying to wait to have a picnic lunch at Clougher Head). I went in and paid my admission, and toured through some lovely artifacts – axe heads, spears and daggers of flint, the beginning of copper, then bronze tools and weapons, a mammoth skull reassembled from pieces dragged up from the bottom of the North Sea in a fishing net, another giant Irish deer skull with broken antlers (found in an Irish bog) (Megaloceros). And tons of jewelry and pins, hair adornments and chariot pins, funerary items and whatnot. I took pictures of the later Celtic stuff, but the spirals and trefoil (and quadrefoil) are accurate in that way. Too neat.

The next place I stopped was another handy parking pad at the (cliff) side of the road with a fabulous vista view, but also access to beehive huts for 2 euro. The information indicated that they had been built in 2000 BC, and were considered to be Fahan (maybe an era). I didn’t go inside (people were clearly smaller back then…) but it was pretty awesome. I also could see the “emergency bunker” type souterrain for use by the family that would have lived in the ring fort if something really dangerous happened (raiders, Vikings… The usual).

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I continued on to Dunmore Head and parked the car to walk down to the beach.

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It was spectacular. The waves were roaring, so powerful. They sprayed foamy white off of the sharp rocks of the headland, and the ocean itself was such a blue-green. I walked along the sand, and then hiked along the cliff.

I have to say, one of the best pieces of photography advice I’ve ever received was, sure, take the photo you see. But then, turn around and see what’s behind you. So while I had a ton of surf shots, I turned around and looked *at* the cliffs towering above me, and saw their geology, their erosion, the plant life and the tiny cave at the bottom that, when I peered inside, revealed a large vein of white quartz-like rock again, intruding on the limestone/shale/sandstone formations. I think there was some flint or something as well (everything is heaved at very sharp angles so a lot of layers are showing). Fantastic.

At this point, I was coming level with the Blaskett Islands (Na Blascaodai) and they had an interpretive centre there, because they had to abandon their villages due to low population making the community unviable. I pulled in to the parking lot and had another quick bite (hummus, sun almost-dried tomatoes in oil and herbs, and white cheddar in a tortilla wrap) and then went in and paid my entry. The story of these islands is amazing – professors came to the island to learn Gaelic because it was one of the last remaining bastions of the Irish language. As a (small) society of storytellers, they produced many poets and writers, and inspired many as well. One of the exhibits was “learn to speak Gaelic” and I got seven right before my timer was up (not sure how long that was). It was fascinating to see how self-sufficient the people were and they even had a King. In 1953, after the population had dwindled to only 20 folks, and they were getting old and unable to keep the community going, they were evacuated from the island and relocated. A lot of the young people were emigrating to America, and in Springfield, Massachusetts you may hear some South Kerry Gaelic being spoken, because a number of islanders ended up there.

It was heartbreaking and breathtaking all at the same time – the loneliness of giving up a home and lifestyle that you’ve always known – where you expected to be able to live out your days surrounded by your grandchildren, and to be left behind. There were quotes from folks who were trying to take care of some of the sad old grandmothers, sitting alone in an empty house, not hearing from their children and grandchildren who had moved so far away. But also what they were able to accomplish – they wrote down what their lives were, how they lived, preserved a language from extirpation. I was wondering if someone would be permitted to restart a community over there, but then wondered who would go.

At Clogher Head (Ceann Sraithe), I stopped and hiked up the cliff to be at the most westerly point of Ireland. The closest to home I’ll get without a boat or a plane. A kiss was tossed against the wind there. And masses of pictures were taken, but then I had to race the next storm back to my car. I stopped at one point, risking wet, to inspect a suspect standing stone. I’m not sure if it was an actual standing stone or perhaps an arranged one, but it was lichen covered and weathered on all sides, so perhaps. :)

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Looking west

At this point, I had decided that I’d had enough exploring and it was time to go find myself dinner. It was almost 6:00 (though the sun doesn’t go down until after 9:00, I’ve noticed). But for some reason, I turned left instead of going straight, and I headed to the Gallarus Oratory. It was fantastic – not ruined, not even tipping or cracking, and dry as a bone inside. Whoever built that structure 1300 years ago really knew their stuff! And the fellow at the counter asked if I’d received a map of Dingle yet, to which I replied no, because I hadn’t. So he got out his little pamphlet and he directed me to stop at Kilmalkeldar Church (Cill Mhaolcheadair) ruins and suggested I take in the little film that they had running in their tiny “theatre”. So I did and it was really interesting – lots if information about the ring forts and beehive building technique, and about the church ruins he’d directed me to – it basically sold me on the idea of going right away.

It was pretty simple to find, and I am really grateful I’m here at the beginning of tourist season (and that it was ranging from a blustery 5-10C today – brrr!). It means I can slow down to read the road signs and make sure I’m turning at the right spots. I wandered in and there it was – an Ogham stone. Amazing. So weathered, about 5′ 4″ -ish, with a hole bored through the top (east-west) and the lines inscribed across the corners. The inscription reads “Anm Maile-Inbir maci Brocann” (The name of Mael Inbir, son of Brocan). There was also an ancient stone sundial there with engravings on it, and a Roman language stone, similar to the Ogham stone but inside the church ruins and possibly used to teach little ones how to read and write the Roman alphabet.

After that, I went back through Dingle to Camp and stopped at Ashe’s Pub for dinner. It was 8:00 and I was starving. I’d considered just having a third hummus wrap and making my way back to my B&B but I really couldn’t do it. So I wandered in, and was faced with the decision I was dreading. The only veggie option on the menu was garlic bread. I was the only customer in the place besides two lads watching football and throwing darts and the barkeeper (owner?) had already poured my half-pint of Guinness. So… I ordered the cod and chips. I knew if I had to waiver from my veggie diet, I’d rather have fish first. So I sat down and sipped my beer and waited. I didn’t really feel that terrible about the decision – I wasn’t causing offense or making a scene, I wasn’t being a diva and I was being practical. I’d pushed myself as far as I could today and this was a point I had to, and felt I could, concede.

I haven’t ordered and eaten meat in a long time, but the cod was good. It was flaky inside, not overly fishy, and the breading was crispy and not sodden in oil, and the chips were great. I finished my tiny (sad really, but again – practical) Guinness and the fellow asked if I wanted another. I said I shouldn’t since I had to make it “home” and went to pay. Another day where I regret emptying so much of my change – I’m sure my tip was insufficient. We chatted a bit and he knows of Seamus, and he gave me some hotel names for coffee or tea and scones for tomorrow around Killarney (Royal Hotel, Lake Hotel, I think). Very kind of him.

My stomach started feeling a bit nauseated on my way back to Tralee, but it’s settled down. It’s not like my steady diet of eggs hasn’t prepped it for additional animal protein.

But Dingle Peninsula has been an amazing experience and I’m really glad that I did the tour!

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