We are at the western edge of Europe visiting Dingle on the Atlantic coast of Ireland. In this page we are taking a drive out into the countryside to the Slea Head panoramic drive, enjoying marvelous scenery with lots of green hills, sheep, stone walls and archaeological sites. Following is the text of the movie. Photos, videos, links and maps will be added later.
You'll see stone ruins dating back thousands of years to when people were living a simple agricultural life and living in beehive huts. We'll walk inside some of them and show you the Gallarus Oratory, an early Christian Church made of stone.
We are out at the westernmost tip of the Dingle peninsula enjoying beautiful Irish scenery. All along the west coast of Ireland are numerous peninsula jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean, several with famous scenic drives such as Sky Road, Ring of Kerry and Slea Head on Dingle.
We will be driving from Dingle out around the peninsula and back again: beehive huts, Slea Head scenery and Gallarus Oratory. It's just about 25 miles so you can easily do it in half the day while stopping to look at the sights, and then head back into town.
Starting out this half-day tour from our comfortable hotel in Dingle, we get on our private minibus. The hotel is quite rustic even though as close to the town itself – there's cows in the back yard. Before we get out into the countryside for most of this section, we will have a quick drive through Dingle town give you some orientation. We do have another movie that's all about Dingle town in detail, but for now let's just have a look at some of the main streets and shops for just a minute, and then we'll hit the open road.
The town is primarily laid out along one main street and then another street along the waterfront, and you'll enjoy the variety of pastel coloration of these traditional buildings. There are enough shops in town to keep you busy for many hours and of course lots of restaurants and pubs.
Dingle is out on this peninsula, a little bit hard to get to, and yet it's one of the nicest places in Ireland. It's a small town and it's got the beautiful natural countryside, and there's historic sites including prehistoric stone houses, the Beehive Huts, and a very early church the Gallarus Oratory. It's not on the tourist route as much as more famous places like Killarney, Galway, Dublin and Cork, giving it a peaceful charm.
You can see more of Dingle town in our other movie about it, but for now it's time to head out into the countryside and explore the peninsula enjoying one of the most scenic drives in all of Ireland. When you get to the edge of this small town, the scenery quickly changes to a tranquil rural setting. Right away, you're out in the countryside, there are some big manor homes that are converted into bed and breakfasts along the way. You'll find a variety of accommodations out here, just a few miles outside of Dingle town. And that would make a very nice peaceful place to stay, or there are a number of good hotels right in Dingle town itself.
Fortunately the weather gods are with us on this fine spring day. We're travelling in the month of May and it's going to be a beautiful sunny day with blue skies and white puffy clouds, enjoying a private tour in our minibus provided by My Ireland Tours, and our guide Charlie. The comfortable coach has big windows so we got a fine view looking out at that green countryside rolling by. There are a few places to eat out here. We'll stop at a roadside cafe which is also a pottery shop later in the day, but our first visit will be to the Beehive Hut prehistoric stone structures.And we have arrived already.
Where they home for ordinary farmers or for monks? There's some controversy. So do you think it was only monks or farmers too? The huts, they'd be both. There we go. It's a short easy walk along a gravel pathway to get to the archeological site. It's slightly uphill, and as you get around the bend it seems like you have stepped back into the Middle Ages, or even a thousand years before that. We're lucky today that some of Ireland's prehistory is still quite visible with stone structures that have survived for thousands of years. It's believed this site was occupied until about 1200 AD by which time it had evolved into a farmstead for an extended family, with the habitation sites and with the corrals and room for livestock, farm buildings, and storage places. While there are many other beehive huts scattered across Dingle, this location has the best-preserved examples of some curious stone structures.
These stone domes were first built about 3,000 years ago, it's believed, and they were probably the homes of ordinary people, of the farmers who lived in the area, several generations living together under one roof. It's fun that you can walk right into the structure and get a real immersion experience. We're inside the Beehive Hut, which is a prehistoric house dating back thousands of years, and there are large slabs of rock at the very top to hold it all together like a keystone. It's amazing. And this is a very nice complex that we're visiting, it's like a farmhouse with a big hut and little hut, and walls around it. These people had a subsistence economy that just provided the basic needs from what they could grow and catch and fish. They used the mountains for gathering and the the more rough patches for animal grazing, and the arable land for farming. A small amount of trading would have taken place but largely they were self-sufficient, fully utilising all their resources for their main staples of oats, barley and wheat. That was before the days of potatoes, imported much later from the New World.
This style of prehistoric stone dome dwelling is not unique to Ireland. It's found in the south of Italy and other places throughout Europe, dating back to the Iron Age, thousands of years ago. It's estimated there are the remains of about 400 Beehive Huts scattered throughout the Dingle peninsula. This seems to be the most intact and accessible combination of huts right on the side of the road, so it's a great place to stop and learn about them. They're called Beehive Huts because of the shape, not because there was any bees inside, these were for people. It's believed that people have been living on the Dingle peninsula for at least 6,000 years, living a settled life as farmers and fishermen in a Neolithic culture. Archaeologists have counted nearly 5000 stone structures and ruins and remains on the Dingle peninsula. It is the highest density of Irish prehistoric structures in the entire country.
Ireland drives on the left side of the road, so when you take this route clockwise as we're doing, you get the best view of all. It's a narrow winding road, right along the edge of the cliff, but you could drive it yourself. It's very well-paved and protected by a stone wall, but it's nice to have Charlie driving for us. By this point of our drive along the Dingle peninsula we have pretty much reached the westernmost part. We're approaching Dunmorhead, which is the westernmost tip of Ireland, and therefore could be considered the westernmost portion of Europe. Well that depends on how you define Europe. For example, if you include Iceland, then Iceland's the westernmost point. If you include the Azores Islands off of Portugal, they are further west. But if you just look at Europe as we generally think of it including Ireland, the island of Ireland, we are now driving along the westernmost part of Europe. And you can see from the scattered settlements that we truly are at a remote and rugged place. We are so remote that nearly half the people speak Irish. We're in the Gaeltech community.
There are a number of scenic lookouts along the way and some side roads that you want to pull into. So you don't just take this drive and stay in the car and go around and be done with it. You want to stop, maybe every 10-15 minutes, and get out, take a stroll, enjoy the sights, and grab a few photos – especially nice when your local driver guide knows some out-of-the-way spots. Way out on this western end our driver brought us to Camino Beach. We get out of the van and walk down the driveway. It was pretty windy, you almost get blown away here, but it's worth it. Keep going downhill to get this view looking out over the ocean and down at the beach, flanked by a rugged rocky shore. In the summer, a few brave souls might actually try and swim here, but of course for us in this wild day in May, we're just looking at the beach with our jackets, on safely up on the hill, just taking some pictures. The wildflowers came to life with this wind and put on a spectacular show.
Somehow you might feel that you're at the end of the world out here in a very nice way. One could say unspoiled, a more natural setting than the hustle-bustle of many European locations. Dingle is "far and away," the title of one of many movies that were filmed on location here, including the last two Star Wars movies, Ryan's Daughter, Excalibur, The Field, parts of Harry Potter, and The Quiet Man, and Marley & Me. There's no doubt it's a scenic location, and very much up to date with well-maintained roads that make it easy to drive. One of the most famous places to stop is at the Dun Chaoin Harbor and pier. There's a little parking area along the road and then you walk down, it's rather steep walking down but you can't drive it, and it's often quite windy out here on this peninsula that juts into the North Atlantic. But you'll find that this little walk is well worth it. You want to keep going down and around the bends so that you can see the view on both sides. A small ferry boat departs from this little harbor out to the Blasket Islands just offshore. You can see them in the distance.
Traveling in the month of May was perfect. You've got lots of wildflowers out here, the weather is very nice, and there are hardly any crowds at all. Charlie has some more interesting stops waiting for us up ahead. This community is quite small, with a population of less than 200 people, but you'll find a pub, a youth hostel, and some bed-and-breakfasts. Available it looks like a bigger population might be here with all these houses, but most of the houses are vacation homes of the affluent people who live in Dublin, and may only come out here for a couple weeks of the year. The rest of the the houses are empty.
Continuing along past this rugged coastline, with small hidden coves and green rounded hills, our driver finds a good spot to pull over for another scenic view, a beach called Clogher – fresh air and stretch our legs and grab a few more pictures. You could hike this coastal route. There is a trail that goes along the shoreline and inland. You could do some or all of it, 180 kilometers, that would take you about eight or nine days.
Next up is Louie Mulcahy pottery. You might think it's just another roadside gift shop but this is a rather special place because their pottery is reputed to be the best in all of Ireland. They also have a famous cafe with homemade food, so we stopped for a cappuccino and a scone. Louie personally makes all these pots in his workshop. You can also sign up for classes, or just step inside and make your own pot, with or without instruction. Louie makes all of his own glazes from scratch with natural ingredients, and the pots are blended from stoneware and porcelain clays, producing works of art that are strong and durable.
Back in the coach with Charlie.
we're going to go through a town called Ballyferriter. Ballyferriter is the largest of the villages out here on the west end. it has two shops, a restaurant, a post office, and several pubs. A few hundred people live in the area, and 75% of them speak Irish as their first language. Cows grazing in the pasture in this lovely rural landscape as we come upon the final stop of our peninsula tour.
One of the most amazing of the ancient structures on Dingle peninsula is the Gallarus Oratory. It's an ancient stone church made with no mortar at all. The stones are just piled one on top of the other for a very snug fit. It's one of the oldest and most-famous churches in the whole of Ireland.
The Gallarus Oratory is an ancient stone church here in Dingle, estimated about a thousand years old, and it's built from stone with no mortar at all. It's the corbel style of structure with stones stacked closer and closer as you reach the top. The church is in almost perfect condition showing how incredibly well it was constructed in the first place. The building technique again was the corbeling system, where one row of stones overlaps the row underneath, with the building getting more narrow as it grows higher. The structure is waterproof and airtight, forming a sheltered space for intimate religious activities. Presumably they came on Sundays and holy days to conduct mass. It was obviously for a small congregation. There wouldn't have been a very large population back in those days because of famine, disease, plague, infant mortality, warfare, short lifespan. Living conditions were difficult, and yet the masons were able to come together and build this structure of everlasting beauty. It's rectangular in shape, about 8 meters long, five meters wide, and five meters high. The one door has projecting stones above with square holes in which the door was hung. The east wall has a deeply splayed window, measuring about 15 inches by 10 inches. The building's a perfect specimen of dry rubble masonry. Lovely today that it was not crowded, you could be inside the little church and have it all to yourself.
Early May is a beautiful time to be visiting Dingle, and the weather was so splendid it held up all day long, sunshine, blue skies. Although it famously rains a lot in Ireland keeping the fields green, in the summer time it just gets about 3 inches a month, which is not bad at all. They say two days out of three there'll be no rain in the summertime, and the temperatures are pretty mild all year round, ranging from winter high of about 49 Fahrenheit to a summer high of about 69 Fahrenheit.
It's a short drive from Gallarus, and we quickly find ourselves back in Dingle town completing our half-day tour. We saw all of that in the morning, and now we're back in town looking for lunch, and shopping. We have a separate movie about Dingle town and many other movies about Ireland that you can find in our collection. We upload a new movie every week so please subscribe to our Channel then you'll be notified and if you enjoyed the movie how about a thumbs up and we always welcome comments down below. It really helps us spread the word, thank you. Before we go let's have another quick look at Dingle and review our trip with a slideshow just walking through town and admiring the many different shop fronts is one of the most fun things you can do while you're visiting. We have another movie in preparation about Dingle town that you'll soon be able to find in a be sure to look at our Ireland series for the complete picture that opens the door to this magical country.