The Dingle Peninsula
This trip is an introduction to the Dingle Peninsula (Corca Dhuibhne), starting from Tralee and taking a figure-of-eight route to see as much of the scenery as possible and learn something of the history of the area.
Tralee is the county town of Kerry and so is the centre of commerce in the area. Most people have heard of the annual Rose of Tralee festival, but there are plenty of other attractions for a visitor to the town.
The Ashe Memorial Hall in the centre of Tralee houses both the tourist information centre and the County Museum.
The history of the county from pre-historic times is on permanent display in the museum.
Not to be missed is the Geraldine Tralee Experience, where the visitor is taken on a tour through the streets of Tralee as they were in 1450, complete with sights, sounds, smells and a commentary in a language of your choice.
The National Folk Theatre
The Siamsa Tire, or National Folk Theatre started in 1972, and the company now have their own purpose-built theatre just across the road from the museum. The performances consist of song, mime and dance in the traditional style, and play to packed houses all through the summer months.
Strange but True ..
One of the pieces in the Siamsa’s repertoire is Clann Lír, adapted from the legend about the four Children of Lír who were turned into swans by their wicked step-mother.
During the interval at one of the performances of this show, a couple were discussing whether stories in folk-culture could have their origins in fact. The gentleman was overheard to say to his wife, “Ya know, honey, I guess this story really happened some time long ago.”
Unfortunately, her reply could not be overheard!
“All those who are bound for the ‘Merickay Line
Be at the Windmill in ten minutes time.
Some will be laughin’ and some will be cryin’
And so it will be till the end of time.”
The Conor Pass
The route from Blennerville passes for a time along the north coast of the Peninsula, with some fine views down to the sea. Follow the road on through the village of Camp and past the turning for Castlegregory, when the road will turn south and head across the mountains through the spectacular Conor Pass, with views of Tralee Bay to the north and Dingle Bay to the south.
All over the peninsula during the summer months, the edges of the fields are a mass of red flowers from the fuchsia, which was introduced for hedging during the 1930s and has now run wild across the countryside.
Conservationists needn’t worry – he is free to come and go as he pleases, but with plenty of fish to eat and half the boats of Dingle trained to come and play with him every day, the dolphin is having a whale of a time!
Ventry, Fahan, Slea Head, Dunmore Head, Dunquin
Pass through the village of Ventry, where horse races used to be held on the beach and where once upon a time Fionn mac Cumhail defeated the King of France, the King of Spain and the King of the World in a fierce battle (or so the story goes).
At Fahan, just before Slea Head, there is an iron age promontory fort on the coastal side of the road and a community of beehive huts scattered over the hillside on the other.
Past Slea Head now, where two ships of the Spanish Armada sank in 1588 and two others narrowly escaped the same fate.
On past Dunmore Head, with the Blasket Islands coming into view across Blasket Sound, to see the harbour at Dunquin at the foot of a steep cliff.
This used to be the landing place for the curraghs from the Blaskets, in the days before the islands were evacuated, and visitors can take a boat trip over to the islands from here.
In the distance is the Blasket Centre, with tourist information and restaurant.
The Blasket Islands
The last inhabitants left the Great Blasket in 1952, leaving behind hundreds of years of history of a once thriving island community. The Blasket Centre at Dunquin has a fascinating exhibition of what life was like on the islands at one time.
This early monastic building dates from the 8th century and is a striking example of dry stone building. It is said that church buildings of this type were modelled on earlier ones made of wood, shaped like an upturned boat.
Note the corbelled roof, built without mortar, each course of stones held in place by its own weight.
From Gallarus, take the road back to Dingle and from here keep to the coastal route through the little village of Annascaul.
If time permits, take a road to the left at the signpost for Annascaul Lake.
Although this is a narrow, rough road, the view of the lake at the end of it, hidden away in a steep valley among the mountains, is well worth the trouble.
Still keeping to the coast, the next stop is the village of Inch. Its Irish name, Inis, means island, but it is really a sandy peninsula reaching out into Dingle bay. A Blue Flag beach with a lifeguard in attendance, Inch is popular for bathing and windsurfing.
The Antarctic Explorer
Passing through Annascaul, you will notice a blue and white building on the left-hand side of the road. This is the South Pole Inn, built by Tom Crean, the Antarctic explorer. Born in Gortacurrane in 1877, Tom Crean enlisted in the Royal Navy in 1893 after leaving Annascaul aboard a boat from Minard, Annascaul to Cobh, Co Cork and then on to England.
In December 1901 he volunteered to join the British National Antarctic Expedition led by Commander R F Scott RN, and served in the Discovery, remaining in the Antarctic until 1904.
In 1910, Crean was selected for the British Antarctic Expedition, setting sail on the Terra Nova as a petty officer.
He was in the final supporting group to Scott’s party of five who reached the South Pole in 1912.
In 1914, Crean joined the Imperial Trans-Atlantic Expedition led by Sir Ernest Shackleton. When their ship was crushed in ice, Crean was in the party chosen by Shackleton to sail from Elephant Island to South Georgia aboard a 23 foot lifeboat. They later returned to Elephant Island, saving the lives of all those they had left behind.
Crean retired from the Royal Navy in 1920 and returned to his village of Annascaul, where he opened the “South Pole Inn”. He died in 1938 after a short illness and is buried in Ballinacorty graveyard.