Inspired by the beauty of Ireland, legendary country singer Johnny Cash wrote his popular ballad, Forty Shades of Green. Ireland is a magical land of spell-bounding beauty, rich historic sites, and welcoming people. Road-tripping through the countryside is one of the best ways to explore historic sites, connect with engaging locals, and see every one of those 40 shades of green.
If you're ready to tackle driving on the left side of the road and dodging all the sheep and cows, the Dingle Peninsula is about as authentic Ireland as you will find – and with far less traffic and tour buses than the Ring of Kerry.
Exploring the history and landscapes along Slea Head Drive
Slea Head Drive is a circular route that runs approximately 40 miles around the geographically blessed Dingle Peninsula. This mountainous finger of land juts into the Atlantic Ocean and has supported various tribes and populations for almost 6,000 years. Familiar to movie buffs as the location of the movie Far and Away, this remote section of Ireland is filled with archaeological monuments dating back to the Stone Age.
Along the route there are numerous artifacts providing a peek into the history of this storied land. Thatched roof cottages abandoned over 150 years ago during the tragic Potato Famine remain with scattered artifacts left behind. Before the famine, over 40,000 people lived on the peninsula. Today there are about 10,000 residents and 500 sheep.
As you explore the ancient landscapes in the shadow of Mt. Brandon, you will discover prehistoric ring forts along with early Christian landmarks including stone churches and beehive huts once home to monks. The tip of the peninsula, Slea Head, is marked by a crucifix facing the sea. From here – Ireland’s most westerly point – there are spectacular views of the Blasket Islands and a stunning beach where powerful waves crash over the craggy cliffs.
Slea Head Drive begins and ends in the delightful town of Dingle. Characterized by hilly streets and brightly painted houses, the layout of the streets still reflect its origins as a walled borough. In the Irish language of Gaelic – which is still spoken along the Dingle Peninsula – Dingle translates as "Daingean Ui Chuis" meaning Fortress of Hussey. The Husseys were a Flemish family who settled in the area in the 13th century.
Today Dingle’s most famous resident is Fungie, the Dingle Dolphin. Paddy Ferriter, the Dingle Harbor lighthouse keeper, first began watching a lone wild dolphin escort the town’s fishing boats to and from port in 1984. Today, Fungie still lives in the harbor and has become quite the tourist attraction with visitors traveling into the harbor on boats to catch a glimpse of this friendly and mischievous Dingle citizen.
Although the town is known as a fishing port, the pubs of Dingle are one of its best experiences – and it has over 50 to choose from. There you will find plenty of traditional Irish folk music and all types of local characters. Two of the most unusual pubs are Dick Mack’s and Foxy John’s.
Dick Mack’s was named after a late leather craftsman and cobbler, Richard MacDonnell. As Dingle’s most well-known pub, it has attracted celebrities such as Julia Roberts, Sean Connery, and Paul Simon. Their names are commemorated with stars on the sidewalk right outside. Think Hollywood Boulevard on a much smaller scale. This family owned pub carries on the cobbler tradition as part pub and part leather shop. Stop in for a pint of Guinness and you will likely hear an impromptu ballad, folk song, or poetry reading. And, of course you can pick up some leather goods while you are there – doesn’t everyone pick up leather goods at the bar?
Then there’s the handyman’s dream, Foxy John’s. It’s a pub on one side and a traditional hardware store on the other. Down a pint of Guinness while browsing their selection of hammers. Brilliant. Inside, the local characters will entertain you with plenty of craic. And in case you were wondering, "craic" is a term derived from Middle English meaning loud conversation and bragging talk. Sounds about right for a pub filled with Irishmen!
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