National Geographic once called it “the most beautiful place on earth”. It’s suffered the Vikings, welcomed Hollywood and its most famous local is a dolphin. This is the Dingle Peninsula
We begin at Dingle itself. Pushed out towards the bay by a modest set of mountains, Dingle is arguably one of the island's more charming towns. Eclectic little fashion and jewellery shops on Green Street give way to intimate and cosy pubs such as Ashes and Foxy John’s. The latter is a DIY store with beer taps and, consequently, the only pub in the country where you can sink a pint and satisfy your hardware needs at the same sitting.
Full of local flavour
Dingle’s cinema is a one-screen time portal. There are probably bigger TV screens out there, but they could never match this place for atmosphere. Café Litreacha on Dykegate Street combines the quaint calm of a bookshop with the tastiest toasted sandwiches around. And Fungie the dolphin still demands company. He gets is by the boatload, too. Dingle’s most famous resident even has his own Twitter feed for hungry fans @fungiedingle.
A coastline packed with views
West of Dingle town lies a staggering coastline. Take the road to Ballyferriter village and go for a walk on Beál Bán beach, which is only really known to locals. Once you see the views of the vast Atlantic you’ll see why they’ve kept it to themselves.
Stick with the coast as far as the Cloghar Cliffs where author and Dingle local Felicity Hayes-McCoy suggests you take a stroll. “You probably want to bring your camera,” she advises. “Even on a grey day the high walk through green fields above the heaving, foam-flecked Atlantic is terrific.”
Standing on the windy pedestal of Cloghar headland is the workshop and store of renowned Irish potter Louis Mulcahy. Pop in for a slice of lemon drizzle cake or a goat's cheese salad in the café; or try your hand at making your own piece on the wheel downstairs.
Louis’s son, Lasse, who runs the pottery with him, says the Blasket Islands in the distance are one of the area’s other gems: “Looking out over the Blaskets, you can imagine the Spanish Armada sailing through the Blasket Sound almost four centuries ago; or you can picture the tiny dots of the island fishermen in their naomhógs (traditional boats) heading out to sea in search of mackerel.”
If weather permits, take a ferry to the Great Blasket. The beaches verge on the tropical and the insight into gruelling island life until it was abandoned in 1953 is something you won’t forget in a hurry.
Of course, the Dingle Peninsula is not just known for its scenery, it’s also famous for its characters. Take local man, Tom Crean, Antarctic explorer. It was on the icy planes of the South Pole where one of Dingle’s greatest sons made his name.
Annascaul’s South Pole Inn was once owned by Crean. Pull up a chair by the fire and warm your feet after walking the sights, then head off again to follow the road along to Minard beach, where a ruined castle stands watch for invaders swinging in over the horizon.
Pick a seat on a smooth stone and think to yourself how National Geographic had it right.
It’s time they came back.