Tralee to Glenbeigh: 112 miles / 3 hours 36 minutes at 30mph
Tralee to Dunquin (The Blasket Islands)
With Tralee at your back, all roads lead west to a place that National Geographic once called “the most beautiful place on earth”: the Dingle Peninsula. Creep along the north of the peninsula, tracking west past through the villages of Camp and Castlegregory. The hulk of Mount Brandon (named after Saint Brendan) looms large after tiny Cloghane village; it’s the highest peak on the peninsula and marks the end of a Christian pilgrimage trail.
Next, along what is known as the Slea Head Drive, stop at one of the peninsula’s most mysterious sights: Gallarus Oratory. Completely made of stone, and in the shape of an upturned boat, Gallarus Oratory (and its adjoining 15th-century castle) is an early Christian church overlooking Smerwick Harbour. The coastal scenery revs up the drama after the tiny village of Ballyferriter (and the very beautiful Béal Bán beach), as you head towards the pretty Gaeltacht village of Dunquin, with views that stretch out to the deserted Blasket Islands.
Dunquin (The Blasket Islands) to Dingle
Should Dunquin’s super-pretty harbour or surrounds look familiar, don’t be surprised. The film Ryan’s Daughter was predominantly shot in the townland here. Don’t miss a walk along Coumeenole Beach, with its little rock pools, tiny caves and surging blue Atlantic Ocean. The views of the deserted Blasket Islands are great from here – the last residents were evacuated from the islands on 17 November 1953, and most settled in Dunquin.
You can take a boat from Dunquin out to the Great Blasket during the summer months, to explore quiet, pristine beaches and heather-flecked hills. Be on the lookout, too, for “An Fear Marbh” (The Dead or Sleeping Man), a Blasket island called Inishtooskert eerily mimicking a sleeping (or dead!) giant on his back.
After Dunquin, move north making a point of stopping at Louis Mulcahy’s pottery workshop at Clogher. Take the opportunity workshop to throw your own pot, and treat yourself to some homemade Lemon Drizzle Cake in the café. Continue via the tiny village of Ballyferriter (Beal Bán beach here is among Kerry’s prettiest), taking a short, but very well signposted detour to one of the Ireland’s oldest churches: Gallarus Oratory. A slightly sagging roof is the only sign of wear on this stone building now close to 1200 years old.
Louis Mulcahy Pottery
Along with his son Lasse and his Danish wife Lisbeth (a weaver based in Dingle), Louis Mulcahy has put the Dingle Peninsula on the creative map. And for nearly 40 years, Mulcahy has been creating pottery inspired by the landscape around him. Visit the shop at Cloghar and you can throw your own pot before visiting the great little café upstairs.
The Blasket Islands
Dominated by the Great Blasket, the largest of the islands, the Blasket Island group represent Ireland’s most westerly point (a claim held by Inishtearaght). Known as “Next Parish America” by former islanders and descendants, the Great Blasket is famed for its profusion of literary talent. Evacuated in 1953 due to the difficulty of living there, the island is accessed by numerous ferries and eco tours visiting on a seasonal basis.
Dingle next and a town showcasing the best of both possible worlds. Blessed with an arty bohemian vibe (local weavers, cheesemakers, potters and jewellers call the town home), Dingle at the same time maintains a traditional heart that never seems to erode (unparalleled traditional pubs and friendly locals speaking beautiful Irish are two of Dingle’s claims to fame).
The town beats with a culinary heart, too, and its annual food festival (October) is one of the island’s finest. Savour excellent seafood at Out of the Blue and the Global Village restaurants; enjoy the “craic” at Foxy John’s, half-hardware store/half-pub; or get to know “real” Irish cookery at the Dingle Cookery School (from summer 2014).