The Slea Head Drive is Dingle Peninsula’s main attraction, a circular route driven clockwise, beginning and ending in the town of Dingle, Ireland. It encompasses the western end of the peninsula, taking in a number of ancient and megalithic attractions. Driving along the coast on a clear day also offers stunning views of the ocean and countryside. We didn’t have the good weather, but we still saw plenty in a day. Here’s a rundown of our adventures on Dingle Peninsula’s Slea Head Drive.
1) Dunbeg Promontory Fort
We stopped first at this small, Iron Age fort, built on a sheer cliff in two phases between the 8th and 11th centuries. A succession of earthen embankments leads to a drystone rampart protecting a beehive hut. Across the street are a parking lot, small visitor center with a movie, and a café. Admission is €3.00 per person.
2) Beehive Huts
There were once more than 400 beehive huts or clocháns dotting the hillside here on Dingle. Just off the road to the right are the Caher Conor beehive huts, a cluster of five structures, some attached to each other with interconnecting doorways. The majority of these 12th century huts were enclosed farmsteads, with banks and trenches acting as fences for the livestock. The corbelling technique of stacking stone in successively smaller circles gave them their distinctive shape. We paid our €3.00 each and climbed the path up to the huts. Rick’s favorite sign can be found in the toilet.
3) Slea Head
Slea Head, together with nearby Dunmore Head, are the westernmost points of mainland Ireland. A large crucifix and two religious statues stand on the right side of the road, overlooking the promontory. The Blasket Islands are (somewhat) visible in the distance.
4) Coumeenoole Bay
Popular with surfers, sunbathers, and fans of the 1970 film Ryan’s Daughter, our entertainment of the day was watching a tour Jeep bog down in the soft sand. The beach is vast, and the rocks are especially fun to play on. The locals swimming in the 58 degree water were crazy.
5) Dunquin Harbor
Down a winding road that starts at the Dunquin-Blasket Island Ferry building, we searched this place out because Rick wanted this shot. Visitors can get to Great Blasket Island from here, originally inhabited by a completely Irish-speaking group of farmers and fishermen until dwindling population forced them to be relocated in 1953.
6) Clogher Strand
Clogher Strand is a beautiful beach just east of Dunmore Head that requires a left-hand detour off Slea Head Drive. We satisfied ourselves with a picture from the pull-out where the R559 hangs a hard right.
7) Gallarus Oratory
Continuing around the top of the peninsula took us to this 1,300 year old, boat-shaped stone Christian Church. The oratory is unique in that it’s just about in perfect condition, aside from a slightly sagging roof. It’s more amazing when you consider that no mortar was used in its construction. There is a large parking lot and a small gift shop where we paid our entrance fee of, you guessed it, €3.00 each.
8) Kilmalkedar Church
We had to get out the GPS for Kilmalkedar Church. It’s near the Oratory, but a little tricky to find. It is free, though, and has a cool, old churchyard to wander through and send up the drone. (Rick packed this little guy in his suitcase, the Yuneec Breeze.) On the grounds are a tall ogham stone, containing carvings of the early Irish alphabet, a vertical sun dial, and two holy wells.
We made this drive on our first full day in Ireland, and it took us six+ hours. The next day we drove the west side of the Ring of Kerry. Read about 5 Free Things to do OFF the Ring of Kerry here.