What is there to do in Dingle? Too many things to count.
This post only lists 10 things, but one could easily find 50 to 100 things to do in Dingle – a peninsula off the south-west coast of Ireland. It’s a bit out of the way and often missed by the whirlwind bus tours that circle the whole country in 10-14 days. But Dingle is such a worthy destination in and of itself. It alone is reason enough to travel to Ireland. One could spend a week, a month or a summer there and never tire or it. Dingle has a mystical landscape. It is a thin place where the veil between this world and the eternal world is thin. Plus it has a great downtown, shopping, good food, beautiful beaches, culture, heritage and some of the most outstanding traditional Irish music in the country. No matter how much time I spend in Dingle, I always want to stay longer.
What Should I Do in Dingle?
People ask me all the time, “What should I do in Dingle?” So here are my top 10 pics in no particular order. The map below shows the location of each recommendation. Make Dingle a stop on your Ireland tour. Allow 3 days and do all 10 things. You’ll never forget the experience.
View Ten Things to Do in Dingle in a larger map
1. DINGLE ARCHAEOLOGICAL TOUR
There are several historical or archeological tours in Dingle. I’m sure all are good. But when given choices I try the smallest or most local business first. Dingle Tours offered by Dennis Ryan was fabulous. Denis is a one man show and the #1 rated activity in Dingle on TripAdvisor for a reason. His tour is an intimate experience with a local who picks you up at your hotel or B&B and drives you around the peninsula in his car. Denis imparts a wealth of historical and cultural knowledge about the region and all his tours are flexible and personalized. Denis offers an unforgettable tour that is affordable. Contact him at Tel: 086 3252996 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
2. SEE THE HARRY CLARK WINDOWS
Most people are thrilled to see one stained glass window by the renowned artist, Harry Clarke. But the Sacred Heart Chapel, once run by the Presentation Sisters in the stone building next to St. Mary’s Church on Green Street has 12 lancet stained glass windows – all by Harry Clarke. The Sisters are gone and the building is now run by the Diseart Centre of Irish Spirituality & Culture, and they will have to escort you. To stand in the presence of these windows when the sun comes streaming through is a “must do.”
3. COURTNEY’S BAKERY
I’m not a big fan of bakeries but OMG! The Irish buns and bread baked here are to die for. Just across from the Harry Clarke windows in a little shopping courtyard. Talk about comfort food in a relaxed setting! This is a treat.
4. WEST KERRY CRAFT GUILD and CAIFÉ LITERTHA
Shop at the An Gailearai Beg – West Kerry Craft Guild shop on Main Street (18 Main Street) near the Dingle Pub. Shop is operated by the Guild and has many crafts at affordable prices, all made by local artists. This is a great shop for special, meaningful gifts to bring home. Also, take a look at Caifé Liteartha, the bookstore of Seoirse Luasa, Ireland’s foremost bibliophile. He’s been in business for over 45 years and can locate copies of old books or help you match books with interests. Located on Dyke Gate Lane.
5. LISTEN TO TRADITIONAL IRISH MUSIC
Going to Dingle and not hearing traditional Irish music is like going to Maryland and not eating a crabcake. Dingle defines trad music. Ask your friend, hotel operator, B&B host or anyone you know and trust who knows Dingle to recommend their favorite spot for music. There are many. My favorite is the Dingle Pub on Main Street just across from Benners Hotel. It’s got a lot of space so it’s easy to fit a good number of friends. Most days I’m in bed by 9:00 pm but that’s when Dingle folks are just starting the exciting part of their day. Staying up is worth it, because these sessions are some of the richest in Ireland. It’s Irish traditional music at its finest.
6. VISIT THE CAROL CRONIN GALLERY
Dingle has many artists. But Carol Cronin will tell you the story (if you ask) about how living on the Great Blasket Island transformed her as an artist. And it shows in her work. I was mesmerized by her ability to capture in her paintings, the emotions I felt when I visited Dingle. When I asked her about if living in a “thin place” like Dingle affected her art, she allowed me to record her answers in a short video interview.
7. CHECK OUT THE HARBOR – BETTER YET, GO FISHING
I don’t even care for fishing much. I tend to get bored. But I’m married to a fisherman and see the importance of a destination like Dingle for fishing. Dingle is a working harbor where people earn a living from harvesting the sea. Watching these fishermen operate these massive boats and handle the fish can be a cultural experience. The ships are big and colorful, making for interesting photographs. There are several places to find out about head boats that go out for the day. Being able to get on a boat and see Dingle and the Blaskets from the water is a whole new Dingle experience.
8. TAKE IN THE VIEWS FROM MAM CLOSACH
Most everyone knows about the Slea Head ring and Connor Pass – scenic drives mentioned in all the guide books. But there’s a shorter, easier drive, used mostly by locals, that offers panoramic views of the western end of the peninsula. The drive to Mam Closach starts at a turn off the Slea Head loop drive near Dunquin. I’ve marked it on the map Google map at the top of this post. This road cuts back across the hills toward Vestry and into Dingle town. It sort of slices the Slea head loop in the middle. There are some fabulous views from this road. (2 places marked on linked Google map) At the mark closest to Dunquin are spectacular views of the Blaskets. At the summit of the hill, the panoramic views of the west end of the peninsula are vast. This road less traveled is a superb place for personal reflection and pictures.
9. WALK, WALK, WALK
BEACHES / STRANDS – The most intense way to experience Dingle is by walking. It’s then that you notice the details in the landscape – the lines, the curves, the effects of wind, the smell of the sod, the sounds of the birds and the waves crashing. The beaches (aka “strands”) are stunning with vast shores that stretch way out into the water especially on the windswept north side where Mount Brandon rises out of Brandon Bay. Magical things happen on these strands. My favorite strand is Fermoyle (identified on map at top of post). Another great walk is the Pilgrim’s Path from Ventry to Ballybrack, named for all the pilgrims who forged the path when they came en masse to make a pilgrimage to Mount Brandon.
MOUNT BRANDON – The BEST walk is the walk up Mount Brandon from the end of the Pilgrims Path. It’s the easiest walk up the mountain that any healthy walker can accomplish. Mount Brandon, 9th highest mountain in Ireland at 3000 ft is considered a holy mountain. In pagan times people walked the Pilgrims Path up to the summit to give thanks the Lugh, the sun god, for blessing the harvest. In Christian times, St. Brendan prayed at the summit looking out toward the sea. He was inspired by a vision he received there to set out on a voyage to find a “Land of Promise.” One can feel the energy of the pilgrims and the spirit of Brendan on that summit. And the walk is doable.
10. ST. SENAN’S CHURCH
On the north side of the peninsula above Castlegregory, Route 560 stretches out to Rough Point. On the way is the little village of Kilshannig (marked on the map). The name Kilshannig derives from the “Church of St. Senan.” Church ruins and a cemetery (noted on the map above) sit right at the water’s edge. The shore below is often awash with stuff that comes in off the ocean floor – sea glass, stones, china fragments. Some of the old graves have been washed out and there may be bones about from those graves. At first it’s startling, but then the notion that our bodies really do all return to the earth in one way or another sets in. There is an old cross pillar slab in the church ruin that dates to the 7th century. Kilshannig is a thin place with panoramic views of the Ocean, Brandon Bay and the mountains, particularly Mount Brandon. This little slice of Dingle is where I go in my mind when I want to feel like I’m in Ireland.
GOOGLE MAP OF DINGLE SITES
As stated before, all of the sites mentioned above are identified on the google map which you can see independently on Google Maps at this link http://goo.gl/maps/UJZLy
Other sites – all very popular and worth seeing are – the Gallarus Oratory, the drive around Slea Head, Kilmalkedar Church with its ogham stone, the famine cottages, the Folk Concerts at St. James Church (just off Main Street – cemetery there is also interesting), the coastal forts and the bee hive huts. All worth seeing and are in the guide books, as well as known by the locals.
THE BLASKET CENTRE – MUST SEE
The Blasket Centre on the mainland in Dún Chaoin on the tip of the Dingle Peninsula is a heritage centre and museum with gorgous interpretive displays that honor the community that lived on the Blasket Islands before the final evacuation in 1953. The Centre tells the story of island life and the community’s struggle for existence. It also has grand displays on the language and literary legacy, including Peig – the biography of an island woman that was dictated in Irish and then translated. The Centre also features displays on the island culture and industry, which was fishing and farming, traditional life including modes of work and transport, home life, housing and entertainment. It is the next best thing to actually visiting one of the Blasket Islands.
I was going to put this interpretive centre on the top ten list. I enjoyed my visits there. But the fact that the Centre doesn’t accept credit cards is a huge negative for me and for the guests that I bring to Dingle. It wouldn’t cause me not to go, or not bring them, but it’s a pet peeve of mine with Ireland attractions. Credit Cards are the safest, easiest and form of payment for American travelers. I travel to Ireland annually. Paying with my cards helps me keep track of expenses, earns me points and is very convenient. Last September my wallet stolen in Dublin. I had 70 euros in it and that was gone forever. But I was able to cancel my credit cards in one evening, incur no charges and have new cards delivered to a future destination (Enniskillen) within 48 hours. That’s the way to travel.
I see the refusal to accept credit cards in order to save on the fees as short sighted. Credit card fees are a cost of doing business, especially if you receive foreign travelers. I’m no longer patronizing places that don’t accept cards and I’m not putting those sites on our tours. However, you may be okay with it, and in that case the Blasket Centre may be a meaningful stop.
UPDATE 3/12/15- After a conversation with Micheal de Mordha at the Blasket Centre, I’ve found that credit cards are accepted in the Book Store and the ability to accept them at the Centre is forthcoming this year. Yay!
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