19 Mar Touring The Dingle Peninsula
Starting points for the famous ‘Ring of Kerry’ drive are Castlemaine (north of Killorglin), or Tralee. For scenic drama a clockwise tour is recommended (although the scenery at first is quiet and undramatic) with good dune beaches at Inch and small hamlets like Anascaul, with its two unusual pubs; the strange, secretive tarn to the north, Anascaul Lake, is worth a brief detour.
Dingle is the peninsula’s main tourist centre, constantly lively during the summer. It is by no means undiscovered, as anyone arriving during its festival season (July – August) will note, but it never seems quite as overcrowded or touristy as Killarney. The town is extremely well-kept, with restored shop-fronts and colourful inn-signs. The harbour is particularly appealing – bright fishing vessels moored in a lovely natural haven. In former centuries smuggling was a major source of income.
Beyond Dingle is Ventry, where you may see upturned currachs (canvas covered canoes) on the beach. Follow the road marked Slea Head Drive round Ireland’s most westerly point. The whole area is riddled with forts, souterrains, standing stones and crosses. On the hillsides you will pass a number of strange little stone huts known as beehives or clochans. There are over 400 in the area altogether, and the more perfect specimens may have been reconstructed from the original stones as storage places. Dunbeg, near Ventry, is one of the best sites: an Iron Age cliff-top fort with beehive huts near by.
By returning to Dingle again, you can start the final dramatic leg of this drive, over the Connor Pass, past the 953m summit of Mount Brandon. Once over the pass, Brandon Bay opens before you in a fantastic geological model of lakes, rivers and rock strewn contours. The seafaring monk St Brendan set sail from these shores in the 5th century. In 1976, Tim Severin recreated this voyage in a similar craft of wood and leather to discover whether St Brendan could have reached America before Columbus (he concluded that it was indeed possible). Once down near sea level, the northern coastal strip is a quiet and easy drive past long beaches and more humdrum farmland.