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Rick Steves’ Europe: Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula - The next parish over is Boston

Rick Steves on

I once met an elfish, black-clad old man in the little town of Ventry, on Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula. When I asked if he was born here, he paused, breathed deeply, and said, “No, ’twas about five miles down the road.”

I asked him if he had lived here all his life.

He answered, “Not yet.”

When I told him where I was from, a faraway smile filled his eyes as he looked out to sea and muttered, “Aye, the shores of Americay.”

The Dingle Peninsula gives the traveler Ireland in the extreme. It feels so traditionally Irish because it’s part of a Gaeltacht, a region where the government subsidizes the survival of the Irish language and culture. While English is everywhere, the signs, songs, and chitchat are in Gaelic.

This sparse but lush peninsula marks the westernmost point in Ireland. Residents are fond of gazing out at the Atlantic and saying with a sigh, “Ah, the next parish over is Boston.”

 

Fishing once dominated Dingle, but tourists and movie-makers are well onto the region now. Several films feature the peninsula, including "Ryan’s Daughter" and "Far and Away." Its offshore islands were the hideout of an aging Luke Skywalker in the most recent "Star Wars" trilogy. What had been a trickle of visitors has surged into a flood as word of Dingle’s musical, historical, gastronomical, and scenic charms spread.

About 30 miles around, the peninsula is just the right size for a day-long driving or cycling tour. Hopping on a bike, I assess the gathering storm clouds and zip up my parka. In Ireland, good and bad weather blow by in a steady meteorological parade. A little rain will just add to the experience. Cycling these roads is like a trip through an open-air museum. The landscape is littered with a half-million sheep and dozens of monuments left behind by Bronze Age settlers, Dark Age monks, English landlords, and now Hollywood directors.

In the darkest depths of the Dark Ages, when literate life almost died in Europe, peace-loving, scholarly monks fled the chaos of the Continent and its barbarian raids. Sailing to this drizzly fringe of the known world, they lived out their monastic lives in lonely stone igloos or “beehive huts” that I pass on my ride.

Rounding Slea Head, the point in Europe closest to America, the rugged coastline offers smashing views of deadly black-rock cliffs. The crashing surf races in like white stallions.

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