My Celtic Adventure | Killarney National Park and the Dingle Peninsula

Galway set the quaint-ness bar pretty high, but our night in Killarney was a good competitor. We overnighted at a hostel downtown just minutes from a small web of shops, restaurants and a beautiful church. Killarney’s main attraction, though, is its national park – a sprawling 25,425 acres (about 40 square miles) of forests, lakes, rivers and bog land. It has one of the most diverse wildlife populations in the entire country, boasting unique herds of native red deer and black cows.

We saw the park in a mode of transportation about as quaint as the town itself – a morning horse-drawn carriage ride.

Killarney National Park
St. Mary’s Church fades into the background as we head into the park.
Killarney National Park
Early morning sunlight.
Killarney National Park
These are the park’s famous Kerry cattle – they’re members of the last wild herd of their breed in Ireland.
Killarney National Park
We crossed the River Deenagh – one of hundreds of waterways in the park.
Killarney National Park
Red deer! There are about 700 of these guys living in the park.
Killarney National Park
What’s a little rain if it means there are views like this?
Killarney National Park
Even the rain itself was pretty.
Killarney National Park
Our horse companion, Bella, looks at one of the castle ruins in the park.
Killarney National Park
Looked a little like the White Mountains to me!
Killarney National Park
I know this is kind of the same photo as the last one, but I liked them both so here they are.

Continuing into the Dingle Peninsula, we made a quick stop at Inch Beach. Don’t let its name fool you – Inch Beach is the longest beach in Ireland. Its sand stretches 3 miles from end to end.

Inch Beach
The grasses and dunes around the beach are home to all kinds of birds.
Inch Beach
The water and the sky.
Inch Beach
We even made a new friend! This friendly gal was running around the beach saying hello to everyone she saw.

Then, it was off to Dingle, the namesake of the peninsula. In fact, it’s the only town on the peninsula. The rest of the land is spotted with smaller villages, but Dingle’s population is only just under 2,000 residents – so you can imagine the size of the rest of the villages. It’s raw, untouched, natural Ireland at its best.

The town itself was a colorful coastal array of shops and pubs, perfect for a lunch break and a bit of exploring. Then, we hopped on a boat to say hello to Dingle’s most famous resident – Fungie the dolphin.

Dingle
Dingle is home to over 50 pubs and restaurants. Not so bad for a town of 2,000 residents.
Dingle
There’s Fungie! Well, not really. The real Fungie lives out in Dingle’s bay – we’ll visit him a bit later.
Dingle
The town of Dingle as seen from the bay.
Dingle
We took a boat like that blue one to say hello to Fungie.
Dingle
Fishing has been a source of income for this town for ages. While other industries have come and gone, this one remains.
Dingle
Off we go! We watched the town of Dingle get smaller and smaller as we headed out into the Atlantic.
Dingle
Irish cliffs from the other side.
Dingle
Into the wild Atlantic.
Dingle
We said hello to some other sea-adventurers.
Dingle
And then Fungie stopped by to say hello! I wasn’t quick enough to get a photo of him, but he made several brief appearances to investigate this new boat of travelers.
Dingle
We got the full sea-farer’s experience when a storm rolled through our path. But eventually the sun came back out!
Dingle
What a beautiful trip!

Next came one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever had the privilege to see. There’s a 30-mile loop around the peninsula, called the Slea Head Drive, famous for its ocean views, sprawling green fields and dramatic coastline. From it you can see the Sleeping Giants and the Blasket Islands, two iconic Irish spots steeped in legend. Just remember to drive the loop clockwise – doing otherwise may have you swimming with those legendary giants!

Dingle Peninsula, Slea Head
First, we stopped by a farm on a hillside to say hello to some of the peninsula’s other residents.
Dingle Peninsula, Slea Head
So many sheep!
Dingle Peninsula, Slea Head
Nobody knows for sure when these beehive huts were first built, but scholars presume that many predate the 8th century. This one is currently being used by a farmer to store supplies, though its original function is unknown. Beehive huts can be found throughout Ireland with a higher concentration on the Dingle Peninsula and in County Kerry as a whole.
Dingle Peninsula, Slea Head
Nope, that’s not a dog house. It’s a chicken house.
Dingle Peninsula, Slea Head
Look closely – there’s a giant sleeping in the distance.
Dingle Peninsula, Slea Head
Green fields as far as the eye can see.
Dingle Peninsula, Slea Head
And when the green fields stop, then there’s the blue ocean as far as the eye can see.
Dingle Peninsula, Slea Head
Truly a once in a lifetime experience. Nothing like miles and miles of unbridled nature to make you consider your place in the world.
Dingle Peninsula, Slea Head
The sun was setting as we reached the most western point.
Dingle Peninsula, Slea Head
Every so often, the sheep from the mainland are brought out to the islands to eat the grass out there. They’re led down this path, where they board boats and head west.
Dingle Peninsula, Slea Head
I don’t think there’s anywhere else like this on Earth.
Dingle Peninsula, Slea Head
Those little villages in the upper right were just about the only places of human residence on the peninsula.
Dingle Peninsula, Slea Head
What a peaceful place for a giant to sleep.
Dingle Peninsula, Slea Head
One happy explorer.
Dingle Peninsula, Slea Head
Dunmore Head, the most western part of Ireland.
Dingle Peninsula, Slea Head
Goodnight, Mr. Giant.

We retired in a tiny village on the peninsula for the night, where our hostel, the pub attached to it, a few cafes and a few homes seemed to be the only signs of human life for miles. Annascaul, population 299 in 2011, is truly a haven for nature seekers or those simply wanting to get away from the hustle and bustle of anywhere else. We enjoyed a lovely dinner at the pub and a fun night of karaoke with a few of the locals. It was the kind of small-town fun that makes you want to take a gap year in a place like that.

And the best part of our night in Annascaul? Absolutely zero light pollution.

 

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