Once described by the National Geographic Traveler as the most beautiful place on earth, the 10 mile / 16km wide Dingle Peninsula protrudes from the southeast of Ireland. The Dingle Peninsula is a place of intense allure for visitors --- a place that many feel is truly the Ireland they dreamed of, or have seen in many beautiful images. Dingle offers a countless variety of undulating green landscapes, rocky hills, long sandy beaches and staggering cliff edges. The warm Gulf Stream reaches the peninsula, giving has a wonderful mixture of sometimes rare and unusual flora and fauna. The region is littered with with relics from both the Stone Age and Bronze Age, as well as the Early Medieval period.
Irish Language in Dingle
The western end of the Dingle peninsula is one of Ireland's Government-protected Irish (Gaelic)-speaking areas, called Gaeltachts, pronounced "GAYL-TACHTS". Dingle, the main town of the region and the one which gives the peninsula its name, is known in Irish as Daingean Uí Chúis. This is generally abbreviated to An Daingean, pronounced "ON DAN-GIHN". Many of the towns and villages in the region have Irish names too and it may sometimes be confusing to see the Irish names on signs when you are expecting are looking for a place by its English name. If in doubt, stop and ask a local.
The Slea Head Drive
The road loop around the peninsula runs about 28 miles / 45 km in total, and begins and ends in Dingle Town, which is also referred to by its Irish (Gaelic) name An Daingean. You are advised to give yourself about three or four hours to travel the circuit of the peninsula by car, as you will want to stop off at many of its beauty spots. The route takes its name from one of its attractions Slea Head --- the point in Europe that is closest to North America. To facilitate traffic on the narrow roads, motorists are advised to take the loop in a clockwise direction, especially during the busier tourist months of May to August. The area is also very popular with cyclists, while many coach tours take the circuit, following a set itinerary each day. Tip: To avoid traffic, set out early. Most of the traffic does not get going on the road until 9am. Alternatively, in the months of May and June, Ireland's daylight stretches long into the evenings (on a clear day in June, good light can stretch to at at least 10pm) so setting out later, for example at 3pm, may be do-able. Tip: Remember to pack some food. While there are bars and restaurants serving good food in many of the villages, some of the attractions in Dingle, such as Reask Monastery, are quite remote.
Attractions on the Slea Head Drive
Some of the most noteworthy stops on a tour of Dingle Peninsula include
- Inch, which is a pretty village with a glorious beach
- The surviving Gaelic-speaking villages of Ballydavid and Ballyferriter
- Ferriter's Cove, a bay at the wetern edge of the peninsula, which excavations reveal was inhabited between 4,000 and 6,000 years ago
- Dominating the peninsula is the frequently mist-covered Mount Brandon, which at 3,300 feet, is the country's second tallest mountain
- Gallarus Oratory, an early medieval stone church, on the edge of the peninsula near Ballyferriter
- Reask monastery, ruins from an Ecclesiastical-period construct whose layout has nevertheless been well preserved -- these are a fine example of the "land of Saints and Scholars", when Ireland was the focal point of religious study in Europe
- Inscribed Ogham Stones, from the early medieval period are also located at Reask monastery, near Ballyferriter
- The spectacular Blasket Islands, the largest of which, the Great Blasket,was until the mid 20th century home to a small community of Irish language speakers and writers - note: you will need to take a ferry to visit the island.
Movies Set in the Dingle Area
The Dingle Peninsula has been associated with the film industry since the 1960s, with several movies being shot in the area -- locations chosen, no doubt, due to their stunning natural beauty.
The Playboy of the Western World (1962)
This comedy, based on the popular Irish play, starring Gary Raymond and Siobhan McKenna, was filmed largely on Inch beach.
Ryans Daughter (1970)
David Lean's double Oscar-winning movie starring Robert Mitchum was one of the first big Hollywood pictures to be shot in Ireland. Movie fans from all over the world visit the Dingle peninsula each year in search of the many spectactular locations that featured in the film, such as the schoolhouse in Dunquin.
Starring Gabriel Byrne and Liam Neeson, this tale of King Arthur and the search of the Holy Grail needed some natural, unspoilt scenery reminiscent of simpler times -- which is why director John Boorman chose Dingle.
The Field (1990)
Directed by Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot), and starring Richard Harris, John Hurt, Brenda Fricker and Brendan Gleeson, The Field is a powerfully dramatic, and poignantly Irish story. The gritty screenplay was adapted from a theatre drama by Kerry's greatest modern writer, John B. Keane.
Far & away (1992)
The opening scenes to Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman's charming and earnest (if a little embarrassing for Irish audiences), historical romance are filmed in some of the most panoramic locations of the Dingle coastline.
Dingle Peninsula. Image by Anders Mohlin