It’s no secret that I truly love Ireland – I think I have pretty successfully waxed poetic about the country in most of the past week’s blog posts. Fortunately for you, I’m not done yet!
As wonderful as Dingle town is, a trip to the Dingle Peninsula isn’t complete without driving Slea Head Drive. This is arguably one of Ireland’s most scenic drives and contains several of the oldest sites in Ireland all contained in one small area. I filled the car with two other women I met at the hostel, Amber and Laura (who I previously mentioned for the Fungie the Dolphin sighting!).
Slea Head Drive’s Top Sites:
- Dunbeg Fort: Perched on the very edge of the cliffs is the promontory fort of Dunbeg, ruins are from the Iron Age. The fort is small and mostly grass-covered for protection and until it can be further excavated and some of the fort has actually tumbled into the sea over the years. The sweeping views of the ocean and straight drop down to the jagged rocks are gorgeous…and what’s a visit to Ireland without scrambling around some ruins!
- Beehive Huts: The family dwellings and small community of huts could go as far back as the Bronze Age (think 2000 BC) and were continually built for thousands of years throughout Scotland and Ireland. I think people back then must have been significantly shorter though because they are tiny! Not for the short and I had to continually watch my head through the doorways.
- Blasket Islands: The Blasket Islands were inhabited until a forced evacuation and it’s really a wonder that any human being could live on such remote and rugged islands. Although the islands are only slightly offshore from the coast of the Dingle Peninsula, it was incredibly windy out on the peak and you’d have to be a very hearty person to survive the icy-cold and wet winds.
Although there are boat trips during high season out the islands our backpacker budgets sent us to the very tip. Just past the sandy beach is a fairly large car-park with a worn and grassy path leading up a steep sheep-poo laced hillside. In true Irish style the path is only meant for the adventurous – I laced my fingers together to give Laura a boost over the rock wall (she’s pretty short!) hopped it myself and we threaded amongst the grazing and sleepy sheep to look out over the Blasket Islands and gaze across the Atlantic toward the US.
The view is stunning and because it’s “off the path” we were the only ones up there for about 30 minutes (which was perfect because each of us were forced to brave the heavy wind and pop a squat!). Although the boat tour is supposedly spectacular, I can’t imagine having missed this short hike.
Gallarus Oratory: About 1200 years old, the Gallarus Oratory (likely an early Christian Church), like Dunbeg Fort and the Beehive Huts are made without mortar. The stones are gradually stacked to reach the top…and it’s surprisingly airtight. A torrential downpour caught up with us when we reached the Oratory and we camped out inside for some time and were completely protected from the strong winds and rains…which is pretty impressive considering this is thought to have been built between the 6th and 9th centuries!
- Dingle’s Legends: Three Sisters and the Sleeping Giant: Near Ballyferriter, the Three Sisters are a set of three peaks that, naturally, have several Irish legends and stories associated – they even go so far as to claim that Lindbergh’s first sight of land after crossing the Atlantic was the three jagged peaks of land known as the Three Sisters.
The Sleeping Giant is seen lying down on his back in the ocean – really does look like one!
Perhaps the best tip I can offer for driving Slea Head Drive around the Dingle Peninsula is to memorize the Irish name for Dingle towm, An Daingean. Although it’s controversial that there’s no English name on the sign, that’s the way it is. Dingle Peninsula is an Irish speaking region of Ireland and though it can get confusing to only see road signs in Irish, it’s still lovely. But with that in mind we had to be prepared for the Irish when making our way back to our Dingle hostel for the night when all of the road signs were only pointing the way to An Daingean!