Long before we had set foot in Ireland, we had heard of Dingle. We read of the island’s rugged coastline on the Wild Atlantic Way, with the Dingle Peninsula jutting defiantly into the cold waters, pointing to the next parish over, America. We heard it was a Gaeltacht, where the Irish language and traditions came first, if not only. In the middle of this hilly landscape sits Dingle Town. We envisioned an Irish version of the Wild West.
You might guess that’s not what we found. However, Dingle Town does not disappoint!
Gems of Ireland
Ireland is heavy with history; laden with ancient sacred sites, Medieval castles and abbeys, and Celt and Viking origins. The island is also rich in natural beauty, from the famous Cliffs of Moher and Giants Causeway, to the rolling hills and valleys of the Boyne River Valley. Weaved among the history and beauty is Ireland’s renowned culture. These are the gems of Ireland, and we will highlight some of the them in this ongoing series.
Putting the Dingle in the Dingle Peninsula
You might not suspect it, given the town’s comparatively small footprint and 2000 or so residents, but Dingle has been an important and bustling village for the better part of a thousand years.
Dingle’s importance was established following the Norman invasion of Ireland, when the town was developed as a port. By the thirteenth century, more goods were being exported through Dingle than nearby Limerick. In the fourteenth century, it was the home of major wine import businesses and, by the sixteenth century, Dingle was one of Ireland’s major trading ports. Fish and hides went out, and wine flowed in. Spanish and French fishing fleets used the port as their base, and pilgrims traveling to the Shrine of Saint James in Galicia began their voyage from Dingle.
What goes up, must come down. During the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, and the Nine Years’ War, Dingle was sacked and burnt a number of times. In the 1700s, Ireland’s famous linen trade grew from Dingle, only to fail when Great Britain began producing cotton in the 1800s. By then, the city’s fishing industry was growing. With the arrival of rail in the 1890s, Dingle’s canning and curing industry carried the town, only to eventually be overtaken by larger fisheries elsewhere.
As in most of Ireland, tourism is the major industry today. The Dingle Peninsula draws thousands of visitors each year, with the attractions of Dingle Town being a large part of that. Ironically, it’s the town’s ability to host major tourist attractions yet still be a charming seaside village that keeps visitors coming.
The Gems of Dingle Town
One of the best things to do in Dingle is just wander through town. You’ll find quaint shops like the Mad Hatters, sweet treats like Murphy’s Ice Cream, and traditional crafts and souvenirs. When you’re hungry, you’ll find everything from pub and diner fare (at The Diner) to locally caught Dingle Bay fish at Murphy’s Pub. (It’s Ireland…there are Murphy’s of every sort!)
Of course, there’s a lot more to Dingle Town than snacks and souvenirs! We’ve rounded up a handful of activities in or very close to town, a handful of restaurants, and a slew of Pubs where you can indulge in Ireland’s great pastime, Craic!
Fungie the Dolphin & Dingle Bay Tours
Since the 1980s, Fungie the Dingle Dolphin has been stealing hearts from locals and visitors alike. So much so, that the Atlantic Bottlenose has become the town’s mascot, and even has his own Wikipedia page! Wander down to the port and hop aboard a Dingle Dolphin Boat Tour for about €18 per adult, &euor;8 for kids 12 and under. The hour-long cruise of Dingle Bay promises a meeting with the legendary resident. No Fungie – no money. How’s that for a money-back guarantee?
Dingle Oceanworld Aquarium
In another post, we said one of the last things most visitors to Ireland think about is a beach. We’re pretty sure that penguins are even further down that list, but that’s exactly what you’ll find at the Dingle Oceanworld Aquarium! Following a million-Euro renovation, the aquarium is home to Ireland’s largest collection of sharks, a jellyfish tank, and a special Reptile & Otter exhibit. There’s even a walk-through aquarium tunnel, a touch-tank, and an Amazon rain forest exhibit. Admission is €14.50 for adults, €11 for students and seniors, and €10 for children. Family packs start at €43 for four.
The Dingle Distillery has been producing artisan whiskey (and gin and vodka) in a converted saw mill since 2012. The site is conveniently located just west of Dingle in Milltown, on R559. Tours are offered year-round, though hours vary by season. Be aware that children under 10 are not allowed, and that the only samples you’ll get are of gin and vodka (which still aren’t bad). Whiskey, it turns out, must be aged a minimum of three years to legally be called whiskey in Ireland. In such a young distillery, it’s a precious commodity. Tours are €15 per adult.
Fancy a gallop on the beach? For a unique Irish adventure, take a trek in the saddle at the Burnham Riding Centre! Technically, Burnham is across the inlet from Dingle, but close enough that we’ll count it. After all, there’s not a much better way to enjoy the gorgeous Dingle countryside than on horseback. Just think of the memories (and Instagram opportunities) you’ll be making. There are several options, ranging from a 30-minute ride to Dingle Bay, up to a full day adventure on Ventry Beach and Mount Eagle. Be sure to check ahead; some rides are seasonal and may require a minimum number of riders.
Historic & Cultural Sites
St. Mary’s & An Diseart
Every Irish town needs two things: A church and a pub. Not surprisingly, many times they are in close proximity. For example, Dick Mack’s Pub is a Dingle mainstay. Where is Dick Mack’s? Opposite the church. Where is the church? Opposite Dick Mack’s. (So says the sign at Dick Mack’s.) More on Dick Mack’s later. First, let’s talk about that church, St. Mary’s, and An Diseart.
While St. Mary’s is beautiful from the outside, she is unique inside. The usual columns that fill a church of this size are absent. Instead, there is a great altar that looks like a suitable set for Game of Thrones. The stately neo-gothic building next door was the Presentation Sisters Convent. In 1922, the sisters commissioned Irish artist Harry Clarke for the chapel’s twelve stained glass windows. The windows depict six scenes from Jesus’ life, and were only seen by the nuns. Today, the convent is home to the An Diseart Institute of Celtic Culture and Art, which is open to the public. Upstairs, in the convent’s cenaculum (convent-speak for dining room), is a modern take on The Last Supper by American artist Ella E. Yates. During her residency, she also painted the frescos telling the story of Presentation Sisters’ founder Nano Nago.
St. Mary’s and An Diseart are on Green Street in Dingle.
Hussey’s Folly and the Dingle Lighthouse
In Irish, Dingle is called Daingean Uí Chúis, which means Fortress of Hussey, named for a Flemish family who settled in the area in the 13th Century. Hussey’s Folly is not that fortress. Together with Dingle Lighthouse, though, it’s a wonderful hike for some incredible views.
The lighthouse was built in 1885. It’s a counterpart to Eask Tower, to the west of the harbor. Sailors would lower their sails when Eask Tower was spotted, in order to make the turn into the harbor when they approached the lighthouse. Nearby Hussey’s Folly served much the same purpose. It was built in 1845 as a project to provide work during the Great Famine.
You can see the landmarks by land and by sea. Cruises leaving from Dingle Harbour sail right past them for some good photo ops, but going by land is a good excuse to #OptOutside for some light hiking. The route from Dingle town, as shown by KerryGems, is about 6km (roundtrip) with great scenery!
You can drive to the landmarks, starting at the roundabout at Bridge Street (by Charthouse restaurant):
- Following the N86 east, there is an unmarked right-hand turn after 1.5km. The narrow road will take you to a parking area literally at the water’s edge. You can see Hussey’s Folly from there, and walk along the beach to reach it. From there, the lighthouse is another 500 meters (or so) along the shore.
- Take N86 east to L8036, and bear right at the sign for D´un S´’ion / Binn B´an. Just past Beenbawn Cottage is a large parking area, where the trail to the lighthouse begins. Along the way, you will also pass the Ballintaggart Racecourse and Ogham Stone.
Colaiste Ide Ogham Stones
Ogham stones are sort of like ancient street signs. Ogham is a primitive written alphabet used before the sixth century. It was carved into standing stones, usually as a territorial marker with the local chieftain or family’s name. There is a collection of seven Ogham stones lining the driveway of Colaiste Ide (or Burnham House), a Gaeltacht girls’ school near Dingle. The stones, however, are not related to the school. They were collected from around the Peninsula by Lord Ventry, and planted here. Most come from near Ballinrannig (not far from Gallarus Oratory), where another Ogham Stone remains.
Burnham House itself is of note as the former home of the Baron Ventry, a major landowner on the Peninsula and elsewhere. The Georgian estate was the family home from the 1800s until the 1920s. (The current 8th Baron Ventry has lives in the family home in Scotland.) The home has been run as a girls’ school by the Sisters of Mercy since 1927.
Colaiste Ide is definitely worth seeing if you planned on visiting the Burnham Riding Center. From Dingle take Slea Head Road (R559) west. You will see a sign for Colaiste Ide on the left after 2.5 kilometers. Follow the signs from there.
Have you ever seen a lighthouse without a light? Eask Tower has an enviable spot on a bluff overlooking Dingle Harbour. The solid stone building was erected in 1847 to help ships navigate, and provided a needed source of work during the Great Famine. Instead of a light, the “hand” on the tower points ships towards the harbour, which cannot be seen from the sea entry. At 600-feet above sea level, the tower has a commanding panoramic view over most of the Dingle Peninsula. It’s said you can see all the way to the Blasket Islands on a clear day.
Getting to Eask Tower is a bit of an adventure, involving narrow roads, possibly fence-hopping, and a slight climb. Follow the directions above for Colaiste Ide, except stay right at the fork on the main road. Drive on for about 3km, and you will come to a small parking area and gated entrance to the trail up to the tower. (You’ll see the tower on your right before you get to this point.) There are mixed reports on if and when the €7 parking/admission is charged.
Pubs & Craic agus Ceol
A highlight in Dingle is the Craic agus Ceol, an evening of fun and traditional (or trad) music. Don’t forget that it’s Irish first in this region, so don’t be surprised if you can’t understand a word of it. The Craic begins flowing nightly around 9ish. Pub crawls begin, well, whenever you want them to. Here are half a dozen of the most recommended. Sl´ainte!
Dick Mack’s is reportedly Dingle’s most well-known pub. Besides being across from the church, it’s been frequented by stars like Sean Connery and Timothy Dalton (and many more who haven’t played James Bond). There’s even a Hollywood-style walk of fame. What makes this pub unique, though, is the lingering influence of Dick Mack himself. Richard MacDonnell was a cobbler and the pub, run by his son now, still offers leather boots, belts, key fobs as well as libations. On Green Street. Across from St. Mary’s.
Whether you want to get hammered, or just want to get a hammer, Foxy John’s can fix you up. On one side – the left side – is a tradition bar. On the other, the local hardware store. Plus, bike rentals in the back. As in many small towns, one shop often does double (or more) duty. The quirky mix of hard drinks and hardware has made Foxy John’s quite the attraction. On Main Street near Green Street.
You’ve got to visit the oldest pub in Dingle, and that is said to be Lord Baker’s! It’s original owner, Tom, wasn’t a lord but was quite the man about town. He purchased the pub in 1890, and sold wine and spirits, tea, flour, wool, and farm supplies. (Much like the other pubs, Baker’s filled many needs.) The industrious publican was also an auctioneer and county councilor, and wrote poetry in the Irish language. He became such an important fixture in Dingle, the townspeople gave him the unofficial title “Lord Baker.” You can soak in the history of Lord Baker’s on Main Street at Orchard Lane.
O’Flaherty’s (Ui Fhlaithbheartaigh)
Behind an unassuming red door, beneath the sign Ui Fhlaithbheartaigh, is a mecca of Irish trad music, language, and culture. Publican Fergus ´O; Flaithbheartaigh leads sessions with local and visiting musicians most every night, spilling music down Bridge Street towards the harbour.
O’Sullivan’s Courthouse Pub
On The Mall (R559) towards Main Street is the Courthouse Pub, owned by famed Irish musician and singer Tommy O’Sullivan. With Tommy at the helm, the “house band” (officially Artists in Residence) includes some of the most respected musicians in Ireland. Trad sessions are held nightly, with an early session (6ish) on Sundays.
An Droichead Beag
Sitting beside a small bridge leading to the road over the Conor Pass, An Droichead Beag (which means “the small bridge”) is known for mighty sessions of Irish traditional music every night of the year. Not sure where the small bridge is, but An Droichead Beag is on the corner of Spa Road and Main Street.
A Few Bites: Where to Eat in Dingle
Whether you decide to stay in Dingle, or just stop in for the day, a bite to eat is in order. You won’t find traditional fast food in Dingle (thankfully!), but the options include pub food and lighter fare. In a place like Dingle, surrounded by farmland, we think a locally sourced sit-down meal is not to be missed. We can’t vouch for each, but here are three restaurants that come well recommended.
- The Coastguard Restaurant at Dingle Skellig Hotel
- Prix Fixe menu from €29 to €45 and up.
- Some of the best views in Dingle come with breakfast and dinner at the Coastguard Restaurant, overlooking the Harbour and the mountains of the Iveragh Peninsula. You might even catch a glimpse of Fungi the Dolphin. The Coastguard uses locally sourced products and fresh seafood from Dingle, and received an AA Rosette for Culinary Excellence in 2016. Its location makes it a great spot to watch the sun fade over the Dingle Peninsula. On N86.
- Chart House Restaurant
- Modern Irish; Prix Fixe menu from €34, a la carte mains are €22 to €35 per plate.
- Named the best restaurant in Dingle and County Kerry, but still informal and comfortable. Chart House sources local produce for seasonal menus, drawing from local producers, their own garden, and the port just next door. On N86 at the Mall (R559).
- Doyle’s Seafood
- Award-winning Seafood; A la carte mains are €20 to €33 per plate.
- First opened as a pub in 1790, Doyle’s has been one of Dingle’s leading restaurants for the last quarter-century. Chef Proprietor Sean Roche and team prepare modern and traditional seafood (and meat) dishes with locally sourced and organic ingredients. On John Street just off The Mall (R559).
- The fastest route takes the N86 from Tralee straight to Dingle. The 47km drive will take at least an hour.
- A more scenic route takes you along the northern side of the peninsula and over Connor Pass, the highest mountain pass in Ireland. This drive starts on N86 and continues on R560 and R559. Distance is still about 47km, but will take a little longer. (Not recommended during inclement weather.)
- Bus 275 will take you from the Tralee Bus Station on John Joe Sheehy Road, right to the Dingle bus stop near the harbour. The trip will take about 80 minutes.
- Killarney to Dingle is about 65km, and will take a little over an hour. The route leaves Killarney on N72 towards Tralee, but then follows local and regional roads. It’s an enjoyable drive through Irish countryside, past Inch Beach, and along the southern part of the Dingle Peninsula.
- Bus 288 leaves from the Killarney Coach Park, and arrives in Dingle about 90 minutes later.
Getting to Dingle
Dingle is the largest town on the Dingle Peninsula, and is easily reached from both Tralee and Killarney. Buses serve the city, but Dublin Rail does not. As part of the Dingle Way, it’s a popular walking and bicycle route as well.
Have You Been?
If you’ve spent some time in Dingle town, we would love to hear about your experience. Where did you go, and what did you see? If you haven’t visited, we hope we’ve inspired you to visit this gem on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. Please let us know your thoughts in the comments. Feel free to ask any questions; if we don’t know the answer, we can find it!
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