Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Don't let Drizzle around Dingle get you Down

Well it was bound to happen, our first day of grey drizzly weather and it wasn't looking like it was going to clear any time soon.  We were driving around Slea Head on the Dingle Peninsula today and I have to say, the grey weather added to the beauty of this rugged coast line.  The fields seem to look greener in contrast to the grey & it made for some wonderful photography.   The Slea Head Drive leaves Dingle & loops around the peninsula and returns back into Dingle. 

The peninsula of Dingle is one of Ireland's government protected gaelic speaking areas called 'Gaeltachts'.  Dingle's Irish name is Daingean Un Chuis which has been shortened to An Daingean, to fit on signposts.      Most of the villages in the region are signposted in gaelic so it was a relief to know that our Ireland road atlas had both the anglicized & the gaelic versions of the names.

Ventry Bay, Dingle Peninsula
Our first picturesque stop out of Dingle was at Ventry where small laybys allow you to park slightly off the road to admire the view down onto Ventry Bay.

About 4 - 5 kilometres from Dingle is the village of Fahan.  Here you can walk down to the Dunbeg Fort, an Iron age fort built on a sheer cliff overlooking Dingle Bay, with evidence of an early settlement dating back to 500 BC.   While many of these sea facing forts were primarily built as defensive structures and a refuge of last resort during an invasion, excavation results did not reveal conclusively what the site was used for. 

Beehive Huts, Dingle Peninsula
Near Dunbeg on the opposite side of the road are a series of 'ringforts' commonly known as Beehive huts which we're told, have been sitting there for over 4,000 years!  While it's hard to believe that these piles of loose stones could have been sitting there all that time, I don't doubt it.  The stones are piled in a downward & outward direction known as corbelling, so as to direct the rain away from the interior keeping them remarkably dry inside. 

Dwellings & stone fences, Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry
Slea Head is located at the western tip of the Dingle Peninsula and the most beautiful & rugged part of the peninsula.   As you round the corner at Coumeenoole South. there is a life size white crucifix with Mary & St John standing below it.   The white of the statue is in stark contrast to the grey rock behind it. On a clear day, it can be seen by fishermen, giving them a landmark by which to identify Slea Head by.

Coomeenoole [North] Strand, Slea Head, Dingle Peninsula

Crucifix with Mary & St John, Couneenoole South, Slea Head, Dingle Peninsula 
Further on around Slea Head, we turned left at Coumeenoole North & drove down to get a closer look of the coastline.  To your left is the fine white sandy Coomeenoole North beach. There is a path all the way down to the beach & on a fine day we would have ventured down there.  To your right, you see the jagged rocky outcrops which rise out of the Atlantic close to the Coastline. Like the near by Inch Strand beach north of Dingle, Coomeenoole beach was another location for the filming of 'Ryan's Daughter', a movie I must watch again, now that I have been to the area where it was filmed.

Slea Head. Dingle Peninsula
The Dingle Peninsula has one of the most rugged Atlantic coastlines in Ireland. At Slea Head at the tip of the peninsula, on a clear day, you have a good view of the Blasket Islands. But today, a shroud of grey mist hung low over the Atlantic Ocean which separates Ireland from the US & Canada. 
Slea Head. Dingle Peninsula

Mind how you go - Seagulls at Slea Head, Dingle Peninsula
(the Atlantic Ocean is somewhere  there in the misty background)
Just north of Ballyferriter along the R559 there are two historic sites well worth a visit.   First is the Riasc Monastic Settlement which hadn't been on our radar but a small sign pointing in the direction of this site caught our eye.

Riasc Monastic Huts. Reask, Dingle Peninsula
This early monastery is thought to have been founded in the 6th century, however little is known of the history of the site.   There are the foundations of six 'clochans', or monastic huts which have all been built with dry stone walls.  When whole, these would have looked like the beehive huts that can be seen elsewhere on the Dingle Peninsula.
The Reask Stone, Reask Monastic Site, Dingle Peninsula
This standing stone at  the Reask monastic site shows the original circle design which apparently represented the sun. The cross was later added to turn the pagan symbol into a Christian one.

Further up the R599 a small brown sign on the left directs us to the Gallarus Oratory on the right.  The Gallarus Museum was closed [Monday] when we arrived but we were able to drive up & park close to the entrance to the Oratory & walked around it free of charge.

Gallarus Oratory, Dingle Peninsula
Gallarus Oratory is a remarkable early Christian Church dating from an incredible 800AD. Built without any sign of mortar, the technique used as mentioned previously, is that of 'corbelling' apparently developed by Neolithic tomb makers. The most startling thing you notice when you step inside this structure is how dry it is! 

Gallarus Oratory, Dingle Peninsula
We would have liked to have visited the Kilmalkedar Church which is close to Gallarus but 'Aoife' our Sat Nav just couldn’t work out where it was sadly.  It would have been well worth a visit if you can get directions before you set out, or failing that, ask someone along the way!  We had done neither & with time limited, we ended up flagging it & moving on.  Later when I investigated where Kilmalkedar was, I realized that if Aiofe had turned us left instead of right, we'd have found Kilmalkedar easily.  It was a disappointing blow. 

We headed back down into Dingle for one last drive around the town before heading to our next destination, Glin in County Limerick.  While an extra day in & around Dingle would have been ideal, we had decided to forfeit a day here so we could spend a night over on the Aran Island of Inishmor in a few days time.   We had planned to drive over the narrow & picturesque Connors Pass, but had been discouraged from doing so by our B&B proprietors because of the poor weather conditions & poor visibility, so heeding this warning, we took the more direct route to Glin via Tralee & Listowel.

Our initial plan had been to call in to Glin & find out what we could about the “Fitzgerald’s of Glin” & whether they were connected to the James Edward Fitzgerald that our small town in New Zealand was named after, we were then going to shoot through on to Doolin in County Clare. 

I’m so glad we didn’t as our experience in Glin was fabulous.

Old Glin Castle. Glin. Co. Limerick
The history of Glin is a tale of two castles – one very old, the other more a manor house than a fortress.  The ancient castle of Glin still stands – or, at least the shattered remnants of it’s tower remain. Built in the medieval ages, it was badly damaged in assaults during the 1600's.   The old castle ruins consist of a massive square tower on a rock, in the bed of a small river, close to its junction with the Shannon. Near it is an ancient bridge, where the only pass over the river was situated, which the castle was most probably built to protect.
Gates into Glin Castle, Glin
The present day Glin Castle was built between 1780 and 1790 & although it is called a castle, it is actually a Georgian house. However, the first Glin castle was built around 1200 & has been home to the great Norman family of FitzGerald, also known as the Geraldine's, for over 700 years.

Glin Castle Gate, Co. Limerick
The heirs to Glin Castle for all those generations were known as the Knights of Glin. Sadly just last October, the last Knight of Glin, Desmond Fitzgerald, passed away. He was the 29th Knight of Glin, a traditional title which had been passed down to the eldest Fitzgerald son for centuries. As the 29th Knight had no son’s, the title would now become extinct. He is survived by his three daughters & his wife, known by her title of 'Madam'.
Just to give you a little intro into the Fitzgerald’s & why they may have some connection to my small home town in New Zealand - back in 1857 not long after land had been cleared to make room for houses & stores, a name was sort for my little home town.

Glin Castle, Glin, Co. Limerick
At this time, the Superintendent of Canterbury [Canterbury being the region in which this small town was going to be a part of ] was James Edward Fitzgerald. He was apparently born in England but it was reported that he was 'of the Fitzgeralds of Limerick'.

At the time of deciding upon a name for this small town, the name of 'Fitzgerald' was considered a possibility, after the Superintendent himself. Eventually, it was decided that the name of the town be 'Geraldine', after the Superintendent’s ancestors in Limerick, who were commonly known as the Geraldine’s. And so it was that our small town was named.

Glin Castle Estate, Co. Limerick
It was a long shot, but I got the idea that it might be interesting to find out if our James Edward Fitzgerald was connected to the Fitzgerald’s of Glin, who for many generations have lived in Glin Castle.   When I mentioned this possible connection to those at Tourism Ireland NZ, contact was quickly made by them, with the Shannon Development people who subsequently mentioned it to one of the historians in Glin, Rosemary.    I was supposed to have been in contact with Rosemary before arriving in Glin, but had not, so I felt it was now unlikely that we would find out much now that we were arriving unannouced.

At the local cafe, we were told that our best option for finding out some history of Glin, would be to go to the Heritage Centre at the old church around the corner.  To our surprise, it was there we found the lovely Rosemary, who even more suprisingly, had been awaiting our arrival!  It was also a coincidence that we should find her actually at the Heritage centre for she was rarely there & had only popped in to finish off some work.  Had we found the heritage centre closed as we undoubtedly would have, had Rosemary not had work to complete there, we would almost certainly have moved on to Doolin for the night.

It so happened that the Madam had also been told of our visit and interest in Glin & the possibility, albeit remote, that our James Edward Fitzgerald, may have a distant link to her late husband’s family.  To our surprise, she had told Rosemary that she would be ‘delighted’ to meet us if & when we arrived in Glin!  Now we weren’t expecting that!! 

Of course, we could not turn down this opportunity to meet with the Madam & see inside the Castle, which was now her private residence.   So it was, that we decided to find accommodation in the village & stay the night & meet up with the Madam the following morning.

Our next lucky find, was our B&B in Glin.  A beautiful Georgian style home owned by Willie & Siobhan Moloney.  When we rang & spoke to Willie, he asked that we stay where we were & he’d drive down to the town centre where we were parked & we could follow him back to Barker House, how's that for service!

Barker House B&B, Glin
Barker House B&B is a 4-star two storey Country House B&B with a long drive up to the entrance, giving you the feeling of importance as you arrive at the front door.

Barker House B&B Guest Room, Glin
We spent the evening relaxing in the plush guest living room & chatting with Siobhan & Willie about Glin and our little town of Geraldine & it’s possible link to the Fitzgerald’s of Glin.  It turned out that Siobhan’s brother had only been in Geraldine, New Zealand last year while over for the Rugby World Cup.  He’d even sent a friend of her’s a postcard from Geraldine because her name was Geraldine.  As well, Siobhan  & Willie’s son went to New Zealand a few years earlier to play Rugby there for a couple of seasons.  

After hearing our story of the naming of Geraldine, Willie was keen to explore the possibility of Twinning their village of Glin with our home town of Geraldine in New Zealand!

“Out of small things, big things grow"



  1. Thanks for stopping by GotIreland.com today and for your comment on the Slea Head post. I'm glad you shared your blog with me. I love the pictures you took down around Dingle. It certainly is a beautiful part of our country. I'm glad you got to experience it first hand.
    Looking forward to browsing/reading more of you blog.
    Best wishes,


    1. Many thanks Liam. I'm hoping a return trip to Dingle will be bathed in sunshine so I can see the beautiful landscapes that abound around this gorgeous place.

  2. You might need to stick around for a bit to get that sort of sunshine, but I suppose that wouldn't be such a bad thing :)