Monday, October 10, 2016

Ring Around Dingle

Ring Around Dingle
Slea Head
We can see the rain sweeping in towards our exposed hilltop position. There is a stand of small slanting rocks a 100 metres away. We get there, just in time, just before the sheep! The first burst of the rain is fierce but it rapidly eases off. Soon we are able to stand from our crouched position and take in the fabulous views out towards the Blasket Islands.

The Food Festival, including the Blas na hEireann Awards, is on in Dingle but Friday is a slack day and so we’ve headed out the peninsula. First stop is the long beach at Ventry and a long walk in the sun, always with an eye to the odd marauding black cloud, clears the cobwebs. Great views all around and this time, we just make it back to the car as that shower tries an ambush.

West along the road then, heading for the famous Slea Head but enjoying the many great views in between and, of course, those large tourist-friendly seagulls who come very close indeed, probably looking for a little food (which we don't have!).

View from Ventry beach
 We see the Slea Head beach as we drop and soon we are parked over it. But this time, we ignore the beach (until later) and take the path up the little mountain that leads to Dunmore Head. You leave a euro in a box at the start. It is a steep enough walk along grass and earth. And first there is a high stone wall to negotiate but that task is made easier as a few flat stone steps have been inserted at each side of the six foot barrier.

You rise rapidly, walking among the many sheep, great views behind you to the beach and indeed to another inlet further up. As you rise, more and more of the islands come into view, including lots of sheep, a few white houses and a beach. After that first shower clears, we continue our walk, comforted by the fact that we were now within reach of a concrete shelter on the top of the hill. We are there, standing on layers of old sheep shit, when another shower comes, so brief it is hardly worth mentioning.

The Blaskets, from Dunmore
 Time now to retrace our steps - there are other pathways but we are not that adventurous - and head back down and enjoy a few minutes on the beach before resuming the trip. We are being well fed in Dingle, as you might expect, but still we need something for lunchtime. The Blasket Centre is a regular stop for us on these trips, both for the marvellous portrayal here of life on the islands (when they were inhabited) and, more often, for its restaurant. And we enjoy a cheesy eggplant dish, with fries and salad, before resuming the drive.

A few minutes after leaving the centre we arrive at another great viewing point. This is Clogher Head and the walk is enhanced by taking the muddy wet path up to the high point. We use our sticks here! The path is pretty good - probably better in summer - and leads you though jumbles of mostly huge rocks until you reach the summit which gives us a 360 degree view, the sea, including the Blaskets again, accounting for most of it.

Slea Head
Sybil Head or Ceann Cibéal is one of the sights we can see from Clogher and now we are heading roughly in the direction. We are looking for Dún an Óir in Smerwick Harbour. Not too easy to find. So take note! At the edge of Ballyferriter, you will see brown signs pointing to a hotel (Ostan) and a golf club. Turn left here. When you reach a small bridge, take the right turn immediately before it. You still have a long narrow road and more to negotiate but now the signs for Dún an Óir appear.

Amazing it is not signposted from the main road as this is a historical site. It was the scene of a horrible massacre in 1580 of some 600 people, mainly Spanish and Italian soldiers of the Papal army which had surrendered to the British forces (who included Walter Raleigh). The memorial features heads and no bodies, a reminder that the prisoners, including women and children, were beheaded. You may read more of the details here

One of these large rocks on Clogher reminds me of a large reptile
 Today, instead of the groans and screams of the victims - the killing spree went on for two days apparently - all we hear is the lapping of the waves below and the odd sound from the sheep grazing on the grassy mounds that once were the defences. A memorial stone, featuring 12 heads, now stands here as a reminder of the 16th atrocity, a time when such crimes were quite prevalent. Not a highpoint of our trip.

The Dingle peninsula is full of marvellous sights and we saw another one at its best on the following day. On that Saturday evening, with the sun shining, we drove up to the famous Conor Pass and enjoyed the views down to Dingle on one side and towards Brandon mountain and Brandon Bay on the other side. Fabulous.
Silent reminder of a merciless massacre in 1580