The Dingle Peninsula is mostly undeveloped, leaving intact more than 2,000 ancient structures such as clochans (beehive huts), standing stones, ring forts, ogham stones and holy wells. Some are in farm fields, left undisturbed for centuries. Many are not right on the Dingle Way and might best be seen by car. From Dingle Town you can hire tour guides. Try O’Connor Auto Tours (oconnorautotours.com), or Paddy Wagon Tours (paddywagontours.com).
But there are plenty that you can see on foot.
Gallarus Oratory: Perhaps the most famous antiquity is this stone structure dating to somewhere between the sixth and ninth centuries. Its original purpose is unclear — perhaps a chapel, perhaps a wayside spot for travelers. A fine ogham stone stands in the yard. The Oratory is outside of Ballydavid; our B&B host dropped us off and afterward it was an easy walk of perhaps a mile to rejoin the Dingle Way.
Ring forts: Also known as fairy forts, these large circular structures are made either of stone or of earth. They were large enough for early settlers to live inside and also to house their livestock at night, for protection from wolves. Most are circular but some are double rings, and some have underground storage rooms. A beautifully preserved example is Cathair na bhFionnuraich in Ballynavenooragh, at the foot of Mount Brandon (and right on the Dingle Way). You’ll see another — a pristine double-ring fort — as you hike across Mount Eagle between Dingle and Dunquin.
There’s an earthen ring fort in a farm field along the R559, the main road to Slea Head (which the Dingle Way follows for a short distance); for two euros you can wander inside the slightly collapsing walls and the farmer will also give you a small bag of pellets so you can feed his sheep.
Holy wells: Holy wells date to pre-Christian times and later became affiliated with Christian saints. The water of the wells is believed to have healing properties. Tobar Eoin, St. John the Baptist’s Holy Well, is on the Dingle Way between Annascaul and Dingle near the seaside ruins of Minard Castle. It is a small, drystone well with torn rags fluttering from a nearby tree. Ancient beliefs hold that as the rag rots away, so does the pilgrim’s illness.
IF YOU GO
Two books proved indispensable: “The Dingle Way,” by Sandra Bardwell (Rucksack Readers, $18) which provides guidance and context for each leg of the hike, and “The Dingle Peninsula,” by Steve MacDonogh (Brandon Books, $17), which goes deeper into the history.
Laurie Hertzel is the Star Tribune senior editor for books.