Hiking the Dingle Way: Stories Discovered
Whether you choose a self-guided or guided Dingle Way Hike, the Dingle Way Trail is a fantastic introduction to one of the most scenic parts of Ireland. The trail follows a route through the Dingle Peninsula in Co. Kerry, which juts out into the wild Atlantic Ocean as Europe’s most westerly tip. Hiking the Dingle Way brings you into contact with ancient Ireland via its archaeological sites, the natural beauty of the island’s hills and coastline, as well as a plethora of charming seaside towns where a warm Irish welcome awaits.
The name Dingle is an anglicised term meaning “valley” that replaced the original Irish place name of An Daingean, which translates to “fortress”. The Gaelic name was officially revived by the Irish government in the mid-2000’s, much to the chagrin of the locals. It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, so many continue to refer to the town as Dingle.
Discover the stories behind some of our recommended pit stops while hiking the Dingle Way in Ireland’s Kingdom county.
FairyFort Ringfort: A site of myth and magic where Dingle hikers should tread lightly
On the Dingle Way route between Dingle town and Dunquin, there’s magic afoot. Here, Iron Age fairy folklore is alive and well. Make a stop while you’re hiking the Dingle Way to learn about the myth and superstition that lives on to this day at these sacred sites, known as fairy forts.
Don’t make the mistake of disturbing the fairies’ rath or lios, what these ringfort mounds of earth and stone are referred to in the Irish Gaelic language. They are believed to be protected by supernatural forces and imbued with the magic of Druids. The history of the forts and their association with fairies link to the pre-Christian settlers of Ireland known as the Tuatha Dé Danann and Fír Bolg, who are the subject of Irish legends passed down through the ages. Folk tales endure about the sanctity of these sites, with bad luck reputed for anyone who tampers with them. Fairyfort also has a pet farm on site where you can meet local sheep, lambs, goats, horses and donkeys while exploring the fabled ringfort. Sprinkle your Dingle Way hike with a little fairy dust when you stop here.
Dunbeg Fort: Remarkably picturesque site on the south side of Dingle Peninsula
Outside the town of Dingle, the Dingle Way hike takes you to the saddle between two hills. Between Cruach Mhárthain and Mount Eagle, towards Slea Head and the Blasket Islands, discover the rocky promontory of Dunbeg Fort. Much of the original fort has been lost to erosion or stormy weather due to its precarious location on the western seaboard.
Meaning “little fort” in Irish, the strategic position and views were no doubt advantageous for the site’s earliest inhabitants. They lived in the drystone clochán within the fort. The location would have served as an excellent surveillance place, helping to protect locals and to raise the alarm of sea-bound invaders.
The fort itself is thought to date back to the Iron Age. Although it’s now disappearing, you can watch an AV presentation about the history of both the fort and local area and admire the stunning views that lead the eye out to Skellig Michael in the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a worthwhile stop as you hike the Dingle Way between the town of Dingle and Dunquin.
Dunquin Pier: Ireland’s Sheep Highway & Scenic Viewpoint along Dingle Way
Ireland’s most westerly settlement is Dunquin, a township with beautiful views of the Blasket Islands and the pounding Atlantic as it reaches the shores of rugged, dramatic cliffs that overlook it. What’s more, Dunquin Pier and village is along the Dingle Way Trail: – no need to go out of your way to visit. Many of the scenes of the 1970 classic Ryan’s Daughter were filmed here.
As the last inhabitants of the Blasket Islands were given land and buildings in Dunquin back in 1953, they left behind sheep. The ferrying of the animals began and a narrow, meandering stone pathway was designed in Dunquin Harbour, specifically for sheep to climb and descend the adjacent hills for pasture. Its snaking, raised edges removed the danger of losing sheep to the steep drop. This movement of animals earned the Dunquin Pier road the nickname “The Sheep Highway”.
A few years ago, one motorist famously tried to drive down the Sheep Highway in his SUV, causing commotion and leaving over 200 disappointed tourists in his wake, as ferries had to be cancelled for the day while his car was towed. Luckily, as you follow the Dingle Way hike on foot, there’s no risk of making the same mistake!
Also located in Dunquin, you’ll find Kruger’s Bar. One of the more famous Dingle Peninsula restaurants due to its location, it lays claim to being the most westerly bar in Europe: next stop, America! When Ryan’s Daughter was being filmed in Dunquin, it became a haunt for many of the actors and crew. That’s only one part of the pub’s starry history, established in 1936 by the fascinating local character, Muiris Kavanagh. After an illustrious emigrant life in America, he settled back in Dunquin. His bar became a haven for Irish and international artists, scholars and actors thanks to his connections and reputation as a host and storyteller. It’s just the spot to rest your bones at the end of a long day of hiking the Dingle Way.
At Kruger’s Bar, enjoy a welcome break for food and drinks. If you’re lucky enough to get a space next to the window, enjoy beautiful views of the surrounding lush, green fields. Live traditional Irish music is frequent, so order a Guinness and settle into the cozy, old-world atmosphere – likely alongside a some fellow Dingle Way hikers!
An enigmatic, dry-stone building awaits visitors to the Gallarus Oratory. It’s a slight detour when hiking the Dingle Way Trail: a 1.5km side-track, adding 3k more to your trail route between Dunquin and Feohanagh. Located on the West side of the Dingle Peninsula, it’s unclear when the oratory, a small church, was built. Estimates place it somewhere between the 9th-12th century BC.
In what could be perceived as a nod to the seafaring heritage of the area, the building is shaped like an upturned boat. It’s the best preserved early-Christian church in Ireland, thanks to the corbelling technique used by laying stones at a slight angle that allows water to run off the building. Situated within a monastic enclosure, the now National Monument more than likely housed a secular area used by monks as workshops, as well as a sacred burial place, marked by a cross.
Legend has it that if you could fit through the window, your soul would be ‘cleansed’ and you would be fit to access heaven. As the corbelled stone building measures 18cm in length and 12cm in width, this sadly isn’t possible…perhaps the early-Christian builders were trying to tell us something! The nearby Gallarus Castle, a 15th century building established by the FitzGerald family, is one of a small number of surviving castles on the peninsula. Although access is restricted, given the important role of the Fitzgerald dynasty in Irish history, it’s worth breaking trail on your Dingle Way hike to make a visit to the Gallarus’ landmarks.
As you can see, there are many noteworthy historical and mythical places to explore while hiking the Dingle Way. Whether you’d like to touch the myth and magic of pre-Christian Ireland at Fairyfort Ringfort, hike a trail that take you within scope of windswept cliffs of the Atlantic Ocean, or if you’re looking for a more laid-back, relaxing place to find rest after a long day’s hike, the Dingle Peninsula is alive with places and their stories, making the trail alive for passing visitors.