Twenty four hours on the Dingle Peninsula

by Christian Rose-Day

Take an off-season tour around the Dingle Peninsula and discover deserted beaches, snow-capped mountains and friendly pubs without the crowds

Having heard enough about Dublin, you decide to find out if Ireland’s green, rugged west coast is as green and rugged as they say. You point your compass towards the Dingle Peninsula, opting to brave the off-season during March, when most places are just starting to open. You don’t mind a touch of inclement weather if it saves you a few hundred pounds and the misery of convening with half a million holidaymakers.

As you fly into Kerry it begins to rain. Not to worry, you’ve hired a car and by the time you exit the parking lot, sunshine has prevailed. Taking the scenic route along the northern edge of the Dingle Peninsula, you climb up through the Conor Pass, between the peaks of Beenoskee and Brandon. The ascent is rapid and the wide road you safely meandered along moments ago suddenly becomes a single-lane track, perched on the side of a blustery, water-drenched cliff. Making a cautious assault upon the summit, you stop for a few moments to readjust your heartbeat. There you stand, mouth agape, awestruck by the stunning vista before you. Lakes, snow-capped mountains, beaches and ocean. This place really has it all.

After the accelerate-brake-brake descent into Dingle, you find your accommodation, unload your chariot and wolf down a brief, yet affordable, lunch: local fish and chips from the aptly-named Fish at the Marina. This affords you the opportunity to sit on the waterfront, admiring the Atlantic Ocean whilst you eat. Lunch over and back in the car - attempting to drive the entire Slea Head before dusk. You leave Dingle’s distinctly fishy odour behind and head along the R559 to Ventry, where you wander along a near-deserted beach (save for a lone dog walker) and carve the obligatory “We woz ‘ere” in the sand.

Just up the road is the Beehive in Fahan, an impressive domicile structure dating back to before 1200AD, constructed entirely from plates of rock that overlap one another to form near-impenetrable walls. The only inhabitants today are a few sedentary sheep. Paying your €2 entry fee to the man in the kiosk, you make a remark about the beautiful view. “I live round the corner and it's a lot better from there,” comes his gloating retort.

The road around Slea Head is treacherous. An all-in-white effigy of Christ watches a particularly hazardous section. Your off-season decision was a wise one. Meeting a loaded coach coming the other way would really emphasise that sheer drop to the waves. At Coumeenole North you park up to admire the picturesque scene: isolated cliff-lined beach, ruined stone houses, brightly coloured new-builds, lush green hillsides dotted with JCB diggers busily tilling land for fear of heather usurping the grass that so preciously feeds the grazing sheep. Onward and northward, towards your last port of call before dangling back into Dingle: the Gallarus Oratory, a tiny Christian church built between the 6th and 9th centuries.

In the evening you attempt to lose yourself on the streets of Dingle and fail miserably. It’s simply not big enough. En route you stop at Dick Mack’s, a disused shoe shop reborn as a pub. The interior is so small it’s impossible to avoid conversation and within seconds of ordering your first Guinness, a gregarious, wizened old local becomes the first to befriend you. He appears to have had a few already but is by no means a threat. He canters through a catalogue of poignant anecdotes and quandaries - such as “Is Dick Mack’s opposite the church or is the church opposite Dick Mack’s?” - before offering advice on where to eat.

Making at least five new friends before the bottom of your pint, you then slide back onto the main street in search of sustenance. Your pre-arrival research has been confirmed by your new guide: the langoustine at James Ashe’s is unforgettable. Sadly, though, it’s closed. Plan B is the Old Smokehouse directly opposite. There, the serenity of the nearby babbling brook combines with the gallons of fresh Irish air you’ve been gulping down all day (and the Guinness) and you become sleepy. Then, the waitress delivers the sticky toffee pudding, a dessert too large for words. If you make it past 10pm, you’re a true soldier.

The next morning you head in the direction of Killarney National Park, stopping off at the ironically-named Inch Beach, which actually measures four miles. Occupied by wading fishermen and birds busy with miniscule mites, the beach is backed by enormous dunes which hide extinguished campfires and abandoned duvets. You climb the tallest dune and tumble, childlike, back to the bottom. Life is good.

Recommended accommodation:
1-bedroom (double), self catering apartment. €60 per night
Dingle Marina Lodge, Waterside, Dingle,
Tel: +353 66 9150800

Alternative activities:

  • The Blasket Centre
  • Drive to Brandon Bay to explore the little villages and quiet beaches
  • An evening at An Droichead Beag, where the music flows as much as the black stuff

Alternative dining options:

  • Out of the Blue, Waterside. Seafood, menu changes according to what fish is landed