Someone elsewhere in Ireland said to us, rather ruefully I thought, ‘Ah, they know how to promote themselves in Kerry’. And it is true that Kerry has been very successful in attracting visitors to its scenic wonders. And none more so than on the Dingle Peninsula.
The Dingle stretches 30 miles into the Atlantic Ocean and is dominated by the range of mountains which form its spine. It’s an area of sea cliffs and sandy bays, of rolling hills and mountains, Mt Brandon being the second highest mountain in Ireland.
We started our trip at the southern end, driving to the impressive Inch Strand, a 5klm sand spit jutting out into Dingle Bay. It was used as a location spot for the film of Ryan’s Daughter some years ago. It’s a huge space with wonderful reflections and a popular place for all manner of watersports, being a safe environment.
Just along the coast we came across a ‘watersport’ of a very different kind – a triathlon was taking place and we watched as a large group of athletes launched themselves into the sea. Later on we saw some of them cycling along the narrow, car filled roads around the whole peninsula which must have been a challenge
The roads on the Dingle are notoriously narrow and twisty which can make it a slightly difficult drive. But the views of heather and gorse flowering above cliffs and rock strewn bays make you realise why Dingle is on everyone’s tour itinerary.
The town of Dingle is known worldwide for being the place you can see Fungie the Bottlenose Dolphin. He was first spotted in 1983 and has been resident in the area ever since. He regularly interacts with boats, kayakers and swimmers and there is a theory that he was an escapee from a dolphinarium. But he has certainly spawned a trade in Fungie tour boats and drawn a lot of people to the town.
Unfortunately, the day we visited the sea conditions were not very good and we chose not to go on a tour but instead drive on the Slea Head.
It is recommended that you do the Slea Head Drive in a clockwise direction to avoid meeting tour buses on the narrow roads and it is certainly good advice. Even a car coming the other way round caused a bit of a traffic jam at one point – mainly because the driver refused at first to back up to a wider section of road behind him.
At Slea Head you get views of the Blasket Islands. These islands have been called Next Parish America based on the idea that the next church parish west of here would be in America, though, in fact, the next Roman Catholic parish is in Newfoundland, Canada. The islands were abandoned in 1953 due to a declining population and the fear that the islands could be cut off from emergency care in severe weather. During the summer months you can take a boat trip out to the islands which apparently abound in wildlife.
Having completed the Slea Head circuit we backtracked to Dingle and took the road up to the northern coast via the Connor Pass, one of the highest road passes in Ireland. From the top of the pass you get fantastic views of both the north and south sides of the peninsula with corrie lakes in between. It really is worth making the journey up here for these views.
From here the road drops steeply down to reach the coast at Brandon Bay. Here sailboarders and parasurfers were at play.
Instead of completing the circuit by following the road to Tralee we took another pass from north to south coast. This was much lower than the Connor but no less beautiful and had the benefit of having very little traffic on it.
This was to be our last night in Kerry and it so happened that it coincided with the finals of the All Ireland Senior Football Final. We had noticed that all over Kerry people were flying green and gold chequered flags and there were notices all over encouraging the ‘lads’ to win the game against Dublin. This was, in fact, a replay of a game played two weeks before which ended in a draw: 1-16 apiece. Now, you may wonder at that score but this is Gaelic football we are talking about where the goals have a netted goal as in soccer and tall posts as in rugby. It’s a game where you can throw the ball as well as kick it and I still don’t understand the rules!
So tired from our drive we trundled into Killorglin and found the best Tapas restaurant we have ever eaten in. I don’t know about you but I am often disappointed with tapas – especially when you get tiny quantities of food which amount to not much more than expensive snacks. But Sol y Sombra is a restaurant set in a former chapel and it is glorious. We ordered five tapas which were beautifully cooked and were more than enough for us.
We then repaired to a nearby pub to offer our commiserations to the locals drinking in there – because Kerry had lost the match by 1-18 to 0-15. But the locals, who had clearly been drinking most of the afternoon were not downhearted saying they would win next year. And when a guitarist struck up everyone joined in the singing, though they weren’t always singing in tune nor the same song!
It was a fitting end to our time in Kerry. We had been through some lovely scenery, climbed a mountain and had met some really great people.