Gems of Ireland's Dingle Peninsula: Dunquin Harbour, via @TravelLatte

Dunquin Harbour, Ireland’s Sheep Highway

When you’ve gone about as far west as you can on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, you’ll find a small stone pathway leading to the sea. This picturesque spot is another of Ireland’s Gems of the Dingle Peninsula, Dunquin Harbour.

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.

Dún Chaoin and Dunquin Harbour

It’s hard to say when or how Dunquin got its start, but it’s rooted firmly in ancient history. The Irish name, Dhún Chaoin, means “Chaoin’s stronghold.” Try as we might, we never learned who Chaoin might have been, but it’s easy to see why he built a stronghold here: arable land protected by mountains and sea cliffs in a stunningly beautiful landscape.

The village of Dunquin is the most westerly settlement in Ireland. Together with the nearby Blasket Islands, it’s known as the Last Parish Before America. Consisting of homes, farms, inns, and pubs, the township has one of the best views in the country, overlooking the Blasket Islands just off shore.

Gems of Ireland's Dingle Peninsula: Dunquin Harbour, via @TravelLatte

Even if you’ve never set foot in Ireland, you might recognize Dunquin. Many scenes from the 1970 Robert Mitchum classic Ryan’s Daughter were filmed here. Decades later, the tiny harbor received its 15 minutes of internet fame – more about that later. The hamlet is more rightly famous in literary circles as the birthplace of Irish language author, storyteller, and historian (called a seanchaí) Peig Sayers, who wrote of the life and culture of the Blasket Islands.

The coastline here is rugged, with dramatic cliffs overlooking the roaring Atlantic. In a country with beautiful views, we think this western end of the Dingle Peninsula is one of the most photogenic. A small cove near the village gives a bit of shelter where boats can come ashore among the cliffs. While barely more than a few square meters, this is Dunquin Harbour. It’s been the lifeline between the Blasket and the Irish mainland for as long as the islands have been settled. Regular shipments of supplies shipped out from the tiny dock, along with passengers, including visiting priests and doctors.

Gems of Ireland's Dingle Peninsula: Dunquin Harbour, via @TravelLatte

Dún Chaoin Harbour (Photo: Marcus Murphy)

The Sheep Highway

An enduring image of Ireland is of a narrow country road filled with sheep. Dunquin Harbour is one place where you might see that, with the added bonus of an incredible backdrop.

The last inhabitants of the Blasket were evacuated in 1953, leaving only buildings and sheep behind. Evacuees were given cottages and land in Dunquin, and so the ferrying of sheep began. Occasional boat loads of sheep arrive at the pier, to be run up to the green pastures surrounding Dunquin, giving the road up from the pier the nickname “The Sheep Highway.” It’s important to know that it’s only a highway for sheep, though.

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Several years ago, Dunquin found internet fame when a photo of an SUV stuck on the narrow road went viral. Apparently, a visiting Irishman had planned on camping at the pier to catch the first ferry the following morning. Instead, he had to be rescued by a tow truck. The episode caused the ferry to cancel trips for the day, and about 200 tourists missed an opportunity to visit the Blasket. No word on whether the driver ever caught the ferry.

Gems of Ireland's Dingle Peninsula: Dunquin Harbour, via @TravelLatte

Reminder: Sheep Highway is for Sheep, not SUVs! (Photo: Daily Mail)

Getting to Dunquin

Every Irish guide book worth having will suggest Slea Head Drive (aka: R559) as one of the country’s “Must Do” road trips. With good reason; the road rings the western half the Dingle Peninsula, sticking mostly to the coastal slopes below Mount Eagle.

Driving the R559 from Dingle town, you’ll approach Dunquin village from either the north or south. You’ll likely be mesmerized by the beautiful coastal views, but keep an eye out for the sign to the harbor. Bear in mind, this is a Gaeltacht; the signs are in Irish. Instead of a familiar brown sign pointing to Dunquin Harbour, you’ll see one for Cé Dhún Chaoin, and also for the Blasket Ferry. Depending on the time of year, you’re more likely to notice the large colorful signs for habour tours. Turn there.

There may or may not be a sign for your next turn; it’s a right just after the house. If you reach the dead end beyond the cemetery – some sort of cruel pun? – you missed the turn and need to backtrack. Once you’ve made the turn, you’ll come to a number of cars along the road around what looks like a driveway to nowhere. Find a spot and pull in (No car parks out here!), then follow the road down to the harbor.

Along with a walk down to the harbor, this local road is worth following into Dunquin. The views are phenomenal, and it rejoins R559 at Krugers Bar & Guesthouse.

Side note: If you’re exploring Ireland by bus, Krugers is the local bus stop. You’ll just have to walk about 1.5km south. Given the photo opportunities along the way, allow a few hours.

Gems of Ireland's Dingle Peninsula: Dunquin Harbour, via @TravelLatte

When You Go

  • If you’re using a GPS from Dingle town, check your route. If you’re driving south on Slea Head Drive (R559), many directions give you a shortcut over Eagle Mountain. It is a beautiful drive, but you will miss the drive around the Slea Head, with stops at the Famine Cottages and the Slea Head Viewpoint. The shortcut leaves R559 at Páidí Ó Sé’s Pub, turning right toward’s the mountains. While you miss the drive around Slea Head, you are treated – eventually – to a picture-postcard view of Dunquin and the Blasket Islands. If it’s cloudy, stick to R559.
  • Dunquin Harbour is about 20 km from Dingle town on Slea Head Drive R559; slightly longer going north versus south. (Remember, Slea Head Drive is a loop here.) The shortcut over Eagle Mountain saves about 5km, but may take longer as the road is more primitive.
  • If you’re a hiker, the Dingle Way passes by Dunquin Harbour and village on its 180km route. The gentle but picturesque terrain is home to many trails, detailed in Dingle Peninsula: A Walking Guide.
  • The area is dotted with inns and Bed & Breakfasts. It’s a great area to “get away from it all,” and a good base if you’d like to spend a few days exploring the region.
  • If you’re visiting Dunquin on a day trip around the Dingle Peninsula, you’re likely to arrive around lunch time. While sites like TripAdvisor list a few cafes and restaurants in the area, we noticed there are many more than shown.
  • There are no services along most of the Slea Head Drive – including in Dunquin. Be sure to fill up your gas tank in Dingle town, or before your tour of the Peninsula.
  • Ferries to the Blasket Islands leave the harbour hourly from 1030 to 1430, April through September, weather permitting. Their Facebook page is regularly updated. More ferry options are available at Ventry, near Dingle town.
Gems of Ireland's Dingle Peninsula: Dunquin Harbour, via @TravelLatte

This is the drive you’ll miss if you take the “shortcut”. The squeamish may prefer taking the mountain route.

Also worth visiting in the area (map):

  • Dunquin Pottery and Café on Slea Head Drive, said to have the best fruitcake ever.
  • The Blasket Centre explores the heritage and culture of the Blasket Islands.
  • Louis Mulcahy Pottery offers workshop tours and an open workshop experience, along with a café and a showroom of exquisite Irish porcelain and stonewear.
  • Kruger’s Pub, mentioned earlier, is the birthplace of CAMRA, the now international Campaign for Real Ale. You should stop for a pint to show your support!
Gems of Ireland's Dingle Peninsula: Dunquin Harbour, via @TravelLatte

Descending Eagle Mountain towards Dunquin and the Blasket Islands.

Have You Been?

While the harbor is beautiful and definitely makes you think of simpler times, we found the entire western half of the Slea Head Drive made us feel like time slowed down. There is no hustle-bustle here. It is green and quiet, with the smell of grass and ocean. The pictures you’ll take will be beautiful, but what we wanted most to capture was the atmosphere of the Dingle Peninsula.

See also  Our Stay at the Limerick Strand Hotel

If you’ve been to Dunquin Harbour, we would love to hear your thoughts about it. If you haven’t visited, have we inspired you to include this stop on the Dingle Peninsula? Either 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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29 comments on “Dunquin Harbour, Ireland’s Sheep Highway

  1. Pingback: Ireland’s Scenic Slea Head Drive - TravelLatte

  2. I love Ireland! I didn’t know about the sheep highway though! Will need to check it out next time i’m there. Thanks for coming to Fly Away Friday! Hope to see you tomorrow for our 50th link up!

  3. Wow, it looks absolutely gorgeous there! I was really hoping in New Zealand that we would have a traffic jam thanks to sheep but it didn’t happen, haha! I guess I need to get to sheep highway! Thanks for joining Fly Away Friday, hope to see you tomorrow for the 50th one – exciting things happening! xo

    • Hey Kana – Congrats on #50! (No people, she’s not 50. She’s timeless!) Glad to have been part of it, and we’ll see you for this one, too. Thanks for reading! We kept hoping for that road full of sheep, but only found one little guy standing by the side of the road. Sounds like our sheep spotting is about the same as yours. 🙁

    • Thanks, Kelly! We hope you get to visit, too. Very different than the islands you’re normally on, eh? But you’ll love it. Thanks for reading!

  4. I’d love to go there, and walk the sheep highway. Makes me wonder abotu people though, wouldn’t you think the road is too narrow for an SUV? The views are amazing! Ireland sounds amazing, and, looking at your photos, Dunquin Harbor would be a place I wouldn’t want to miss.

  5. Lovely piece about Dún Chaoin. That is my favourite place on earth. There is nothing nicer than sitting in Kruger’s Bar sipping a glass of Guinness and talking to Màiréad behind the bar. Listening to the locals speak as Gaeilge (in Irish) gives me pleasure beyond measure. Tá an blás is deise acu ann (they have the nicest accent there) I would move there tomorrow if I could (But it is my belief that English speakers ought not live there until they have learnt Irish because the people of Dún Chaoin are so polite that they will speak English for you which erodes the already fragile and diminishing Gaelteacht areas in Ireland.)

  6. Pingback: A Dingle Peninsula Beach Break - TravelLatte

  7. Pingback: #TheWeeklyPostcard – 6 April 2018 - TravelLatte

  8. Dunquin really looks like how I imagine Ireland would be, beautiful. Driving around Ireland definitely seems like the way to go. Although, wow that is narrow! Ah Ireland, one day! #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • We thought the same thing! In fact, the little road with the Dun Choain marker passes through a valley that is exactly what we imagined Ireland to look like – rolling emerald hills dotted with puffy white sheep, stone walls with rusty gates, and a small creek winding through the valley. And when you get out of the car, all you hear are the ocean breeze in the grass, and an occasional cow. We could have stayed there for ages! Thanks for your comment, David!

  9. I’ve not been here but I love the idea of a highway just for sheep! Sheep, not SUVs indeed! I can imagine how annoyed the tourists would be when the gentleman made them miss The Blanket … any word on whether he survived their wrath??(not whether he caught the ferry haha). #feetdotravel

    • Ha! I read that he “escaped unharmed,” but they probably only meant from the car. I would be worried about facing the people who came out to see the harbour and islands, but I’d be petrified to have to go explain that to the wife! 😉 Thanks for reading, Angie!

  10. Wow, this looks amazing! I have still somehow not been to Ireland yet but this would be such a cool place to include on the itinerary! Love the sheep and the narrow path but boy I would not be happy with that driver! Looks beautiful and glad you managed to visit such a cool spot!

    • What’s amazing is that you haven’t been to Ireland! Funny how we tend to put off destinations that are close by. You would love it – there’s actually a Dingle Cycling Challenge that goes right past Dingle Harbour. It happens every May, I think, so there’s a good excuse for you to visit! Thanks for stopping by Lexx. Now get to Ireland! 😉

  11. Pinning for travel planning! We hope to go to Ireland in 2019 and the sheep highway is just the kind of place I want to visit! Ireland has so much beauty!

    • It really does! Every time you turn around, there’s another gorgeous scene – whether it’s the character of the towns, a monastery in beautiful decay, or long hills of pasture dotted with sheep. Truly a photographer’s dream. We hope you have a great trip, and thanks for reading!

  12. We have travelled a little bit around southern Ireland in our Campervan and we have to be so careful planning a route so we don’t get stuck! Great post, introducing us to another place to go on our to do list! #feetdotravel

    • Boy, we saw some campervans in places that we thought surely they’d get stuck! Meanwhile, we were slow going in our compact rental, afraid we might get stuck in a spot or two. They probably thought we were just fraidy-cat Americans who didn’t know any better. 😉 Thanks for reading, you two. Hopefully you can get back for another camping trip around Ireland!

  13. Loved the atmosphere you captured of the Dingle Peninsula. Ireland is on my bucket-list and would love to see all the sheep walk up Sheep Highway…they look so cute. lol. Great tips on how to visit Ireland’s Dunquin Harbour, Sheep’s Highway. Great photos! #feetdotravel

    • Atmosphere – that’s the word for it. More than just scenery – the people, the smells and sounds…it all comes together in so many special ways. I think Dunquin Harbour is typical of the Irish spirit, too. There are better – or at least, easier – places to come ashore a little further away. The people who settled in Dun Chaoin, though, found the best they could and happily made do. Although, you can’t get much better than that view from the village! Thanks for your comment, Stephanie!

  14. We didn’t have much time in the area so we did the Ring of Kerry instead of Dingle with the plan to go back and do Dingle hopefully soon. Road trips in Ireland are just so much fun and the scenery is just spectacular. Although not the place for an SUV! #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • I think it’s good sometimes to leave something to come back to cross off your list. There certainly are enough of those in Ireland! I also think it’s a good idea not to do the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula in the same trip. That way, you can more fully appreciate each one, and you can enjoy them without feeling too rushed. Hope you get to head back to Ireland soon! Thanks for stopping by, Anisa. 🙂

  15. I would love to go here just to see the sheep running up the highway. I love sheep a lot. Thanks for sharing all of the great information as I’ve never heard of this spot in Ireland. #WeekendWanderlust

    • We have to say, we were disappointed that we did not see a lot of sheep as we drove through the Irish countryside. From what we gathered, they only bring the sheep over a couple times a year, so you really have to have the Luck of the Irish to catch that view. Even without the fluffy sheep, it’s a beautiful view! Thanks for your comment, Sarah.

  16. Oh my gosh, I’d love to see this sheep highway! That tourist getting stuck is too funny! Reminds me of here in Regensburg we have very small alleys and someone followed their GPS so far into one of the alleys the fire department had to come and cut him out of his car. Here’s your sign! haha #TheWeeklyPostcard!

    • They had to cut him out? I would be so mad if I did that! At least this guy was able to get towed out…although you’d think he would have just hit reverse before getting so far in he got stuck! People are craaaazy! 😉 Thanks for reading, Lolo!

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