The town of Dingle, with a population of 1300, is the gateway to the peninsula Its brightly painted homes, shops, and pubs line the few streets that run up from the busy fishing harbor.
We reached it after driving south from our previous night’s stop at Doolin and then traveling through Limerick. We crossed the Conor Pass, which runs from Dingle on the southern end of the peninsula towards Brandon Bay and Castlegregory in the North. It is the highest mountain pass in Ireland, a tight, precarious road, weaving its way around the sharp cliff faces and past waterfalls and the high corrie lakes.
We travelled around the now famous Slea Head Drive, a one-way, single-lane loop around the far-western end of the peninsula, which leaves from and returns directly to Dingle Town. This is rugged and desolate country. The local people reclaimed the land with hard labor, clearing the stones, building stone fences, and transporting seaweed and sand to improve the clay soil. From one viewpoint we saw fields high up on a hillside where potato bed ridges still lay untouched since the fated planting of 1845 when the potato famine occurred. At other points we saw breathtaking panoramas of the coastline with steep cliffs falling into the sea, isolated beaches, and the Blasket Islands.
These islands are famous for the literary and linguistic heritage of the former inhabitants. The number of people living on them declined as a result of the persistent emigration of its young people, until eventually the Island was abandoned in 1953 when only 22 inhabitants remained.
The western end of the peninsula is almost still a solely Gaelic speaking area. All the road signs are in Gaelic and are difficult to pronounce.
The film “Ryan’s Daughter” takes place at a village on the Dingle Peninsula in the immediate aftermath of the 1916 Easter Uprising, and was partly shot on location near Dún Chaoin and Coumeenole Beach, Slea Head.