top of page

Killarney, Ireland - Gateway to Amazement (Part 2 - The Dingle Peninsula)

Subtitle: The Force May Be With You, but don't let the sheep eat the toilet paper

After being enchanted by Killarney National Park, we had time for one day trip.

There are (at least) two popular day trips from Killarney, The Ring of Kerry and The Dingle Peninsula. We chose the somewhat shorter Dingle Peninsula, and were thrilled by that decision. With no prior insight, we signed up for an eight hour tour with a small tour group, Rabbie's Tours, in a comfortable van seating a maximum of 16 people, but there were only six of us (and four of us were related) on Rabbie's inaugural tour out of Killarney with superb local/driver/historian/comedian/knower-of-secret-locations 'Marcus'. Big shout out to Rabbie's tours, "Small group tours. Driven by curiosity".

In hindsight, this was a smart decision for three reasons: 1) Marcus was knowledgeable about local and Irish history (his 'mam' still lives in Killarney); 2) he knew all the 'secret' spaces and access points (including secret bathrooms) that you might not find if you were travelling on your own; and, finally, 3) do you really want to be driving on the wrong side (for people from most countries) of a narrow winding one lane/one direction ocean road with the most amazing views you have ever seen, navigating cars and other tour vans? (answer - you don't, as evidenced by the tourist who was driving in the wrong direction on said curvy ocean road with no place to turn around . . . )

We met Marcus in front of the Tourist Information Centre in Killarney. We left right on the dot of 9:30 as the town has strict limits on how long a tour van can park (two people failed to show and missed out, but we think Rabbie's put them on a tour the next day).

Marcus drove us northwest out of Killarney, full of tidbits of information about each little town we passed. Soon, we knew all about famous movies that were produced on the peninsula, famous actors that either did or did not have a good fake Irish accent, and where Dolly Parton chose to do some pop-up singing. Here is Marcus' map showing all our stops along the way, starting with the red dot on the right, Inch Strand Beach:

National Geographic wasn't wrong when it once designated The Dingle Peninsula as "the most beautiful place on earth". As with Killarney National Park, we only got a taste, but what a day it was.

Our first stop was Inch Strand Beach which was beautiful, but not as beautiful as one to come, Marcus informed. It's a long sand spit with dunes reaching into the Dingle Bay which leads eventually into the North Atlantic Ocean. You might not remember the movie 'The Playboy of the Western World' from 1962, but you probably remember 'Ryan's Daughter' in1970. Both had scenes shot here.

We then rolled through the lush Irish countryside for a few kilometres. It really is as green as they say.

High above the Dingle Bay, we came to a most interesting site - beehive huts, or 'clochan', which is a stone hut built without mortar and with a rounded roof shaped, not surprisingly, like a beehive. It's a little tough to trace the history of these huts as the style of building dates back to 3100 BC and was still in use during the last century; but it appears that at least some of the current huts standing could date back about 1400 years. It appears they have been used for different purposes over the centuries - maybe lived in by townspeople or monks or pagans or farmers, or maybe used as storage or animal shelter . . . there's a lot of research waiting to be read. Maybe the newest and most interesting use (to some) was as a prop in the Star Wars: The Last Jedi movie which has led to many photo opportunities. We had to check them out.

Our man Marcus knew the trick. He drove straight past a larger commercial entry and stopped across from a small farm where the two sheep dogs could not be bothered to greet us and where a sign read Beehive Huts Fahan Group. Handwritten signs pointed us to sheepdog pups who were apparently destined for Australia, and there were new lambs on spindly legs in a well-used birthing shed. The old farmer sat in a little booth, accepting three Euros to climb the short, steep incline to a small cluster of beehive huts where we and only a couple of other travellers were free to roam. The Fahan Group is apparently one of the most significant in the country.

Regardless of when they were built and for what purpose, these huts were certainly interesting and thought-provoking.

Marcus, knower-of-all-things-local, strongly encouraged us to use the farmer's outdoor toilet. Never one to pass up a toilet opportunity or to take up a good suggestion, it was soon clear that the purpose was not to actually use the toilet but to experience the decor. Keep the door closed as the sheep will eat toilet paper.

After marvelling at the beehive huts (and at the toilet door), we were back on the narrow, winding bay-side road to Marcus' favourite beach, Coumeenoole Beach and Dunmore Head. It was just prior to the beach that we hit a small taffic jam as a rental car was coming the wrong direction on our one-way road. The driver of the van in front of us got out and explained to the rental car's driver that his only recourse was to back up, all the way to the last turnaround - the road was that narrow and winding. (I can't imagine the pressure of having to reverse on that road with all eyes on me.)

We had about 40 minutes to explore Coumeenoole Beach and Dunmore Head. The Beach is tucked down a steep slope around the corner from the upper parking lot, barely visible from the top. Some scenes from 'Ryan's Daughter' were shot here. After viewing the beach and sheer rock walls, I headed up Dunmore Head, which is, as you know, the sight of some of the Star Wars: The Last Jedi filming. This is the westernmost point of mainland Ireland. We had (maybe rare) good fortune as the weather that day was warm and calm. Apparently the wind and rain can be brutal. The short hike was fresh and refreshing - they say possibly one of the nicest short hikes in Ireland which I did not know at the time. From the top, it's all about jagged shoreline, blue water, crashing waves, and islands. I didn't have enough time to explore, but there is a WWII outpost and an Ogham Stone at the highest point. Ogham stones are the oldest written form of language in Old Irish, some dating back to the 4th century. It would be a delightful place to spend a few hours, maybe with a packed lunch.

Our next stop was Ceann Sraithe, a gorgeous bay area leading to Sybil Head (another location for the filming of Star Wars: The Last Jedi) with possible views of sea life and the beautiful Three Sisters peaks in the background. This area is apparently stunning at night when you catch the correct angle of the Sylbil Head promentory. It has historical significance as the cliffs were used for epic battles back in ancient times. It's another place for hours of roaming on another visit. Marcus told us interesting stories of Star Wars cast members in the nearby town that may or may not be true - Mark Hamill pulling beer at a local pub, local townspeople being recruited as 'extras', the beer flow having to be controlled so that everyone showed up straight and sober for work the next morning . . .

Our final stop before our visit to the town of Dingle was the Gallarus Oratory, dating to the 7th or 8th century. Again, Marcus knew the tricks, bypassing the entry fee and going a little further up the road to a free parking area where a short walk took us right to the Gallarus. It is the only one of its kind that remains almost completely intact on mainland Ireland. It was built in the same style as the beehive huts, stone with no mortar and using 'corbelling' which means one stone is laid on another slightly overlapping internally so that just one stone completes the roof. The little church is enclosed by a stone fence. The enclosure was divided into the area with church and burial ground and the area where it is expected monks would have lived in 'beehive huts'. This is a fascinating place. (Local wisdom or folklore says that if you are able to pass through the small window hole, you are guaranteed entrance to heaven.)

We ended our tour of the Dingle Peninsula with a two hour stop in the delightful town of Dingle. Dingle is small, about 1,700 people. Early signs of settlement date to the 4th and 5th centuries according to Ogham stones that have been discovered nearby. Dingle became a well-established port town by the 13th century. As does so much of Ireland, Dingle has had a tumultous history that you might want to research. Today, tourism and fishing are key industries.

The main road through Dingle is lined with quality seafood restaurants which, even in April, were busy. After a late lunch, we had time to stroll the town and harbour. Dingle is picturesque with colorful shops and houses. Marcus, again, gave us a tip and told us to find the secret garden behind St. Mary's Church. St. Mary's dates to the mid 1800's. It might not be as huge and breath-taking as some other cathedrals, but the inside is simple and elegant.

To find St. Mary's hidden gardens, just enter the church grounds and walk to the back past the old Sisters' Refectory. The gardens are a sublime little hide-away, and people were strolling or sitting quietly or visiting. The gardens are split into a Labyrinth, the Prayer Garden, and the Family Tree Garden.

Now, if you need to ask directions for the church, you will probably be told, "Opposite Dick Mack's" and if you need to ask directions to Dick Mack's, you'll probably be told, "Opposite the church". Aww, Dingle. This might tell you the importance of these two institutions to small town Ireland.

Dick Mack's is a sight to see, also, dating to the 1850's. It started out as a cowhouse (milkhouse) and a place for drying sheep's wool (the heat of the cows drifted to the loft above where the wool was laid to be dried). The pub opened in 1899, distributing Guiness from Dublin. In 2015, friends Aussie, Seamus and Finn (how are those for Irish names?) grew the idea to open as Dick Mack's Brewhouse. I imagine Dingle has all number of these shops and businesses with equally interesting stories . . . I would have loved to have time for a brew at Foxy John's, another famous pub, where you can have a drink and buy hardware supplies at the front counter at the same time.

Dingle is great place for strolling the streets and taking pictures of the charm and quirkiness. We had just enough time to get a small taste before heading back to Killarney.

Finally, we can't forget old Fungie, known as the Dingle Dolphin. Fungie apparently became separated from other bottlenose dolphins and lived in Dingle harbour for years, communicating with swimmers, kayakers, and divers. He was first seen in 1983 and last seen in 2020. His memory lives on in a dockside statue.

The town of Dingle is definitely worth a day or two just in itself to experience the charm and sample some great food, coffee, and brew. Speaking of food, a day in Dingle is not complete without Murphy's Ice Cream and a coffee. Murphy's was started by, well, the Murphy's in 2000 with the goal of making the best ice cream in the world made from milk from the indigenous breed of Kerry cattle (did you read Part 1 of this blog?). Coffee-flavoured ice cream is amazing with coffee.

And that concluded our day-long tour of the Dingle Peninsula. Again, I highly recommend a tour with a local for the inside scoop, such as Rabbie's. As with Killarney National Park, it was just enough to whet our appetites for more. I would love to do some rugged hiking on the coast, explore the ancient sites in more detail, meander countryside trails, and become better-aquainted with quirky Dingle. If you like movies, a fun theme trip might be to research all the movies shot on Dingle Peninsula (there are many) and explore all the filming locations.

That also concludes our Irish adventure. What a time it has been! We were smitten with the charm and energy of Belfast. We saw the big sights of big Dublin. We loved the confidence and coziness of Cork. And we were mezmerized by the Killarney National Park and the Dingle Peninsula.

But we left a lot for 'next time'.


Rated 0 out of 5 stars.
No ratings yet

Add a rating
bottom of page