[Listen to this song while you read this post- it's my soundtrack to writing right now!]
The Dingle Peninsula in southwestern Ireland, is hands down my favorite part of Ireland and tends to win the hearts of anyone who visits. I have been to Dingle twice so far this year (and hopefully will return once more before the end of it), once in November and once in December- and it is a MUST-SEE if you have any interest at all in the Irish countryside and traditional Irish culture. Although in the summer it can become a bit touristy, in autumn and even the brisk winter days it is absolutely breathtaking!
So what is Dingle? It is a tiny, tiny town that lends its name to the whole peninsula surrounding it. And here’s why you need to add it to your Irish agenda:
1. The views you’ll see on the scenic drive around Dingle (primarily on Slea Head Drive) are really some of the most beautiful hillsides and ocean views you’ll find in Southern Ireland. Although a bit less rocky and mountainous than the adjacent ring of Kerry, Dingle’s massive fields filled with sheep on the hillside are just as enchanting and come with equally as wonderful views! It’s best to have a rented car so you can do the scenic drive and stop to take pictures at your leisure, just be aware that the roads are TINY so it’s best for your car to be tiny as well. The drive is essentially a circle beginning in Dingle Town and returning you there at the end of your journey. There are two different routes: the drive can be as quick as a half-hour or take up to two-three hours, depending on how often you stop and which paths you choose to take. We actually did the drive twice, once when it was rainy and again when it was sunny!
2. Dingle Town. The epitome of a tiny, coastal Irish town is fun to spend a few hours exploring and wandering in and out of the tiny shops! Accompanied by that lovely ocean-y smell and the frame of hills on every side, there are an abundance of Irish Woolen Shops and places to purchase souvenirs. As aforementioned, it has gotten a bit more touristy since the filming of ‘Ryan’s Daughter’ but is still a cheery town willing to welcome visitors.
3. If you are a ‘Ryan’s Daughter’ fan: it’s worth the trip just to see the locations in which the film was shot! The famous beach in the opening scenes is easy to access along Slea Head Drive, and the schoolhouse that many scenes were shot in is a bit tricker to find but is available along a few back paths. The movie that jumpstarted Dingle’s tourist business is a must-see before you travel to Dingle. Warning: it’s three hours long and fairly boring…so just enjoy the scenery and it will allll be worth it!
4. EVERYTHING IS ANCIENT. If you are not already aware, Ireland is OLD and there are remnants of the ancient Celtic culture lying around Dingle at every corner. Rick Steves’s guide to the Slea Head Drive is fantastic, because he tells you fairly accurately which of these ruins are worth seeing and which ones you should really just drive by. My favorite is the Gallarus Oratory towards the end of the drive, one of the earliest ‘churches’ discovered in Ireland. In the shape of an upturned boat, the Oratory is still completely watertight after all these years! They didn’t use mortar, they didn’t use glue, they just used flat stones. It’s completely ridiculously cool how long these monuments and stone walls littering Dingle have stood there for…if stones could talk, eh?
5. If you like traditional music. I’m not sure I’ve actually met anyone yet who doesn’t like traditional Irish music? It’s happy, it has a great beat, and it seems to carry a hint of the ancient and spiritual Celtic culture of Ireland in the lilting notes of the wooden flute and resounding bellow of the drums. Dingle has some truly fantastic live Irish music on weekend nights; our favorite pub was John Benny Moriarty’s for a Crean’s (the local Dingle beer) and a good time.
While writing this, I realized that I think I love Dingle so much because it has helped me discover why, essentially, I feel such a passion for Ireland. Despite the seeming gloom that has come over Ireland recently due to the economic strife, religious conflict and an impending sense of poverty, the Irish still have the ability to tap into the deepest and most spiritual parts of their ancestry. Throughout the entire country, there seems to be an undercurrent of throbbing and humming wildness, an untamed quality from the rough and primal Celts that still resides in every Irishman today. Their ancient background is in their backyard. The songs, the dances, the fighting and laughing culture of the Irish is deeply, deeply rooted both geographically and spiritually in a way that many Americans are not familiar with- and there is something utterly and completely enchanting about that.
P.S. If you’re looking for a charming and welcoming home away from home, the Castlewood House is a beautiful haven for a relaxing vacation- I highly recommend it.