The Slea Head Drive
Vibrant emerald foliage grows from rocky cliffs and glacial Atlantic waves crash against rocky shores as sheep wander aimlessly, grazing amidst ancient ruins where historic tales are locked deep inside the remaining stone walls.
Dingle Peninsula, located along Ireland’s southwest coast, contains a 30-mile (48-kilometer) loop called Slea Head Drive that wraps around the land mass, allowing visitors to tour this picturesque portion of Ireland.
The road starts in Dingle, the only substantial town along the peninsula. Dingle fits the traditional Irish mold as a major fishing port. The city also features a very unique resident: a bottlenose dolphin named Fungie. Since 1984, Fungie has taken it upon himself to lead vessels in and out of the harbor and has become a local celebrity: Dingle has immortalized their flippered friend with a life-size bronze sculpture located on Main Street near the harbor. Luckily for landlubbers, Dingle Dolphin Boat Tours depart on the hour every day (weather permitting), allowing people to watch Fungie splashing about in his natural habitat.
As you leave Dingle, you’ll quickly approach the Ventry Village. This Gaelic village is home to numerous ruins, including the Rahinnane Castle, which was built on a sixteenth-century ringfort and where the Knight of Kerry resided. Today, three of the four walls remain as well as the stairs leading from the first floor to the second floor, which you can still climb—carefully. The ruins are located just off of the highway and through a pasture, so you may want to wear boots.
Once you have hiked back to the road, you will soon see a scenic overlook at Slea Head. You can’t miss its life-size scene of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The white stone of the monument stands out in stark contrast to the backdrop of gray cliffs. The statue has been named the “Cornerstone of the Peninsula” as it is believed to have been erected to mark the boundary between two parishes of the Dingle Peninsula.
Just past Slea Head is Dunquin, the most westerly tip along the peninsula. Dunquin overlooks the now uninhabited Blasket Islands. The islands were inhabited until 1953, when the few remaining residents emigrated due to the exceptionally small population left on the island. Prior to departure, the islanders underwent much anthropological and linguistic analysis for their unique way of life. So, be sure to check out the museum in Dunquin for more historical and philological insights, or take a ferry to the islands to get a glimpse of how the islanders lived.
Between Dunquin’s striking jagged cliffs and the Irish countryside of Ballyferriter, you’ll find a church, a school, a hotel, a museum, and three pubs. Wander around a bit, visit a pub (or three), and grab some lunch. After returning to the highway, you’ll begin traveling eastward along a stretch dotted with ancient monuments and religious sites, including Ferriter’s Cove, where animal remains and stone tools dating to 3000 BC have been discovered.
Next you’ll come to Ballydavid, a fishing village offering the freshest fish around. While there, try your hand at catching some fish right from the shore. As you leave with a full belly, you’ll round the peninsula and soon reach the base of Mount Brandon, the second-highest mountain in Ireland. A route to the mountain’s summit begins here. Take a hike! You won’t want to miss the view.
Back at the base of Mount Brandon, you can finish the loop back to Dingle or, if you are interested in making your Dingle daytrip into an overnight stay, you can take another road to the north side of the Dingle Peninsula. Here you’ll come to the sandy peninsula of Maharees, which is bordered by Brandon Bay and Tralee Bay and covered with campgrounds and RV parks. A golf course is located at the base of the peninsula and a dive center can be found nearby at the fishing harbor, with numerous windsurfing and surf schools situated along the beaches.
So drive the Dingle! Whether you are a history buff, a photography guru, an animal lover, or an outdoorsman, there is plenty to see along the peninsula. Grab your boots and drive over to Dingle.