Ireland Recap Day 5: Ballyseede Castle & The Dingle Peninsula

The morning of Day 5 was the closing of the chapter on Ennis and the start of the adventure in Tralee. We spent the morning having our traditional Irish fare one last time at the Old Ground Hotel and figured out directions to Tralee and the Ballyseede Castle Hotel. It would be a long drive taking us back through Shannon and Limerick to Tralee and the edge of the Dingle Peninsula. The driving in Ireland was getting very easy at this point. My sub-conscious had finally stopped screaming about being on the wrong side of the road (actually I think it left all together and was waiting at my Kia parked at Detroit Metro) and I was getting the hang of spotting street signs and direction markers.

On the way down to Tralee, we stopped to take some scenic photos (a panoramic is here which is kind of big) before getting to Ballyseede. The castle is more of a fortified mansion, but it says castle in the title, so we officially slept in a castle in Ireland. The castle was undergoing some renovations, so we could not get everywhere, but that was o.k. since we had bigger plans of driving around the Dingle Peninsula and the Slea Head loop (we call it the Dingle Ring). We checked into our rooms, except for Anne & Roger whos room was not quite ready. We also were introduced to Arthur, the castle's Irish Wolfhound who was very docile and slept quite a bit...usually were you wanted to walk through.

We piled in the van and headed towards N86 for our first stop in Camp and Ashe's Tavern for lunch. The pub was very tiny but there were only a few people and that made it even more cozy. An older couple also came into the pub a bit later and wanted to talk all about what was going on back in the States and also gave us a lesson in some simple Gaelic phrases. A little bit outside of Camp is a great area to stop alongside the road and take in the valley below (another panoromic shot).

The next stop/attraction was a little after the town of Dingle (or An Daingean as the Irish government wants it called) to a stone fort known as Dunbeg. As a brief tangent, the story behind the rename of Dingle to An Daingean is quite amusing if you have some to research and read about it, there is a huge push by the government to preserve Irelands heritage which most people are in favor of. But the folks of Dingle are quite against renaming of their town, and many of the welcome signs to An Daingean were spray painted over with the old name of Dingle.

The Dunbeg Fort is an iron age fortification which is teetering precariously on the edge of the sea. It is a dry stone structure with some amazing views of the coast. On either side of the fort are fields of sheep, natures lawn mower, who all seemed to be attracted to Jen. We figured out the color of her raincoat is close to that of the people that tend and feed them.

Continuing on our drive out to Slea Head, we stopped to get some pictures of a beehive hut (another dry stone structure) and enjoy the winding road and coastal views. Slea Head is at the western edge of Ireland and overlooks the Blasket Islands which were occupied through pre-history until very recently when they were vacated in 1953. The sloping hills and fields overlooking the ocean and islands is quintessential Ireland. The beauty of this sometimes harsh landscape is worth the drive.

We rounded Slea Head and found our way to the Reask Monastic Site. The roads are very narrow leading to this place, so tour buses won't get you there. There are some beautiful stone carvings from early Christianity and a wind fired kiln at the south end. Nothing remains of the buildings but low walls and a cross-slab standing stone which sits in the middle of the compound. Excavations revealed the ruins of an oratory, four clochans (stone huts), a graveyard and about ten stone slabs.

Back on the R559, we headed to the Gallarus Oratory, a dry stone church probably built in the 8th or 9th century. The construction is done in such a way to allow rain water to run off, leaving the inside dry. A tip on seeing the Oratory, when you see the sign for parking on the left, keep driving about 200 yards to a public access point where you can get the Oratory for free. The first parking lot is apparently on someones property and they charge a small admission fee to cross their land and see the Oratory (thank you Rick Steves for pointing that out). There is a gift shop and restrooms there, so if you need any of that, then it's worth stopping at the first parking area.

Our last stop was to the Kilmalkedar Church site. The cemetery is still actively used, and it appeared as though there was some work being done on the ruined church (perhaps to shore up the walls and prevent further crumbling). Kilmalkedar Church is an excellent example of the Irish Romanesque style of architecture and dates back to the 12th century. There is a a great stone cross outside of it, along with a sundial and an ogham stone. The stone is said to be a place where people would go to 'seal a deal' by touching thumbs through the hole at the top. In modern times, it is used by couples to renew their vows and commitment to one another by touching thumbs then kissing. Located just across the road is another ruined structure of a house or abbey, not really quite sure as there was no markings, but it was fun to explore just the same.

The fog and rain had finally set in so we we made our way back to the Castle for the evening (and I think my driving had gotten the better of Anne who missed taking her Dramamine). Jen, Dave, Stephanie, and I opted to head back into Tralee to find some cheap grub. While this sounds really lame, we came across a McDonald's and we all just had to know: was it as bad as it is in America. We stopped for a quick burger, I had a quarter-pounder (which really should be named in some metric equivalent, like the 0.113 kilogrammer or something...anyhow, the burger was actually quite tasty! A sign in the McDonald's read that they only use Irish beef in their burgers, so no kangaroo.

Back at the Castle, we spent the rest of the evening in the Castle's pub joking with the barkeep and reminiscing on the sites of the day.

Some pictures of the adventure can be found here.

Day 6 Preview: The Road to Killarney and the Pounding Drizzle .