Southwestern Ireland has a number of peninsulas that jut out into the Atlantic and are noted for their spectacular scenery. Each peninsula has a road circling them with little roads jutting off of them into the sea. Today we toured the Ring of Dingle, a challenging drive to say the least.
Roads in Ireland are very narrow and lined with hedges that may or may not have stone fences beneath them. You just can't tell by looking at them: only by running into them. That's why we chose the full insurance coverage package when we rented our car. The locals who are used to the twists and turns of the roads, drive at a rapid clip and tend to stack up behind us as we gawk at the scenery. Good thing we're not here during the main tourist season.
So far we have been somewhat disappointed by the weather. It hasn't rained, but we haven't seen the sun either. The high cloud banks prevented our views today from being even more spectacular. However, when we look at photos of the area that are for sale, few of them feature blue skies either. Our B & B host said that we are lucky to not have come here last summer when it rained every day. No wonder that everyone we meet looks to sunny climes when it's their turn to take a holiday.
The Dingle Peninsula is hilly, almost mountainous and covered with green, mostly grass, occasionally trees. The hills are punctuated by farm houses and villages and stone fences that must have taken incredible, back breaking labor to construct. Animals, mostly sheep grazed placidly on the hillsides. Every so often we came across lovely sand beaches, but it's hard to imagine anyone swimming here in the cold north Atlantic. Fresh seafood is for sale in every town and fishing still looks like one way people make a living here. So far we haven't seen any very poor or very rich people. We drive down remote little lanes and suddenly come upon a clutch of nice homes, small stores and restaurants, and of course the pubs.
This area is also known for the extensive archeological ruins that have been found along the coast from the end of the Stone Age and into the Bronze Age.
What's left to see is the stone fortifications these long ago people built to protect themselves. We saw the spot where scholars believe St. Brandon the Navigator left in the 6th century to sail to the New World. There were many ancient stone piles to see; some of them were shaped like bee hives. However, each ruin had someone sitting in a ticket booth collecting a fee and those expensive Euros pile up fast. After a while we decided that one stone pile looked a lot like another. and kept our wallets closed.
The Blasket Islands Interpretive Center was an impressive building commemorating a very small group of people who lives on these islands just off shore of the peninsula. At their height they numbered about two hundred people and lived primarily from the sea. They tried to raise animals, but the photos of people loading their cows into row boats so they could be taken inland to be inseminated, made this look like no easy task. Because the people were somewhat isolated they hung on to Irish language and tradition and became an attraction to language scholars who wanted to learn the old Gaelic spoken there. But by 1953 there were only twenty people left so they all were evacuated.
The Dingle Peninsula is still embroiled in linguistic discussions. In 2005 the government ruled that it would be an "Irish only" area and everything there must have an Irish name.
Dingle town was changed to An Daingean and all the street signs including traffic caution signs are in Gaelic only. It sounds like the locals were none too happy to have these changes. People are generally in favor of retraining the language, but if visitors can't find where they are going, that rather detracts from the tourist business, a major money maker here.