One wonders, in this place, why anyone is left in Dublin, or London, or Paris, when it would be better one would think, to live in a tent, or a hut, with this magnificent sea and sky, and to breathe this wonderful air, which is like wine in one’s teeth.
– J.M. Synge, In West Kerry
The last of southwestern Ireland’s five great peninsulas, Dingle (w www.dingle-peninsula.ie) is perhaps the most distinctive of them all. Arrowing westwards for over 50km, its heavily glaciated topography is especially irregular, with an L-shaped ridge of mountains that peaks at its north end at Mount Brandon, the highest summit in Ireland outside of Macgillycuddy’s Reeks. Five-hundred-metre Mount Eagle at the very tip of the peninsula sets up a truly spectacular drive, cycle or walk around Slea Head. On the coasts, the long, exposed sandbars at Castlegregory and Inch draw surfers and windsurfers, while the deeply recessed, sandy beaches at Ventry and Smerwick Harbour encourage gentle swimming.
Dingle has an unusually rich heritage, including over five hundred Celtic clocháns (corbelled, dry-stone beehive huts), among which the most compelling is Dún Beag, dramatically perched along the Slea Head Loop. Further round the loop is the early Christian Gallarus Oratory, with its stunningly simple dry-stone construction. The peninsula is also one of the strongest Irish-speaking districts in the country, known as Corca Dhuibhne (meaning “the followers of Davinia”, a Celtic goddess); courses in Irish language and culture can be arranged at Feileastram Teo, An Portán, Dunquin, and through the museum in Ballyferriter. As the main settlement at the heart of this thriving Gaeltacht (which officially begins just west of Anascaul and Castlegregory), Dingle town (An Daingean) feels like a capital. It supports some top-notch restaurants and places to stay, complemented by a vibrant traditional-music scene, and is perfectly located for varied day-trips. One of the best of these is the boat trip to the abandoned Blasket Islands just off Slea Head, which were responsible for an astonishing body of Irish-language writing in the early twentieth century.