A Little Mingle Around The Dingle (& Then Some)
My mother’s and my whirlwind (and very scenic) tour of Ireland seemed to be starting off on the right foot (okay, minus the couple “miscalculations” we had encountered while driving)! We were only 24 hours in and had already enjoyed each other’s company and the Emerald Isle immensely. But we were on the move in this next section. It is probably the chapter of our trip when I wish we could have slowed things down and had two extra days to explore everything you’re about to read and see. But in contrast to the slow Westy travel mode, We were determined to squeeze in every bit of scenery and Irish beer we could in ten days. So buckle up as we travel through southern and southwestern Ireland, which includes the Dingle Peninsula...hence the title.
Rock Of Cashel, County Tipperary
We left off departing the medieval town of Kilkenny after devouring lunch at a quaint cafe on the main drag (if you haven’t seen our first day, read here) and we were heading towards one of our Ireland bucket list items: Rock of Cashel. We made it to Cashel without going down any wrong ways, which was a bonus, and as we approached town we realized the prominent Gothic cathedral and tower that was perched high on a brightly green plateau was in fact the Rock of Cashel. It was impressive from afar but as we reached the centuries old edifices, not only were we amazed with how well-preserved they were but we also felt as if we had stepped into a time warp.
After gaining perspective and warming up inside the theater, we emerged having a better understanding of the “Rock’s” history. The Rock of Cashel was the traditional seat of the kings of Munster for several hundred years prior to the Norman invasion. Eventually in the early 1100’s, the Rock was donated to the Church. Few remnants of the early structures survive but a majority of buildings that do, date from the 12th and 13th centuries and it’s quite extraordinary to be waltzing around such fascinating history. Below you’ll see some of the most famous features such as the Round Tower (the oldest and tallest at the Rock), the graveyard with a number of Irish high crosses and unique tombstones, Cormac’s chapel, and the Hall of the Vicars Choral. With parking so close, and crowds at a minimum in early May, we both agreed the Rock of Cashel was well-worth an hour or two stop. If not impressed by the ruins, then one has a 360 degree view of the radiant Irish countryside to admire!
Kinsale, County Cork
After a well-rested night on the top floor of an Airbnb rental in Cork, we were eager to begin the day exploring further south. When we were seated at home with computers in our laps months before, we had both envisioned falling in love with the towns of Cork and Kinsale in our minds. When we arrived in Cork the night prior, we decided it was just a little too crowded for our taste. Still, we enjoyed one of my favorite meals of the trip at a cozy pub for dinner. But it was a new day, and we headed straight for Kinsale, both of us crossing our fingers and hoping we had chosen the perfect Irish coastal town to explore. The internet can make it so easy to decide on places to go with pictures, blogs, and endless opinions from visitors. But when you have a limited amount of time on a trip, it can sometimes be stressful narrowing down the ones that best suit your desire and style. Thankfully with Kinsale we were right on the money!
Our excitement towards Kinsale grew when Googlemaps announced to make a sharp right on a precarious back road. Really? We both said throwing our hands in the air. This can’t possibly be the way to Kinsale. Apparently it was the very windy, hilly, and narrow alternate way. But as I was gripping the wheel with white knuckles (and praying a car wouldn’t come barreling around the next curve), we stumbled on a beautiful moment that I won’t ever forget. We had been wondering from a distance what the endless fields of vibrant yellow flowers were and here we drove right up next to one. We both stared out our windows in delight as we crept past. Then unanimously agreed ‘let’s stop and take a closer look!’ We pulled off, parked in a mud puddle along the world’s tiniest road, and crept under the iron gate. We probably were not supposed to but in that moment we couldn’t bear coming all this way without getting a closer look at the sheer beauty of these mysterious fields of gold. Later we learned these are actually crops, or rapeseed fields, which produce an oil for culinary purposes.
We arrived in Kinsale mid-morning and within minutes we knew this was our cup of tea. Like a true tourist, we were sucked into the first store we saw (which happened to be a delicious bakery) and eyed up the homemade carrot cake. We both promised the friendly clerk we would be back to purchase the goodies after lunch. Kinsale, population of just over 5,000, was our idea of the perfect picturesque Irish town. The buildings were tall, narrow, and painted in the most delightful shades of bright color. The small streets were made of neatly laid old brick and cobblestone inviting us to explore each road in front of us. We passed by and entered several friendly storefronts, restaurants, and art galleries. The crescent shaped harbor filled with boats and yachts that edged the town was icing on the cake. All this talk about cake, and eventually our stomachs began to grumble. I had only one restaurant in mind (called High Tide). Still to this day it was the one restaurant I wished I could have eaten at. But it never opened that day (so disappointing) so we decided that on our third day in Ireland we had better try the fish and chips. They were delicious! So was the carrot caked we promised to buy. It was really difficult to get in our car and say goodbye to Kinsale.
Dingle Peninsula (Yes, Dingle)
We had a huge driving day upon us. Cork to Kinsale, Kinsale to Dingle town to check-in to our airbnb, then off again to explore the peninsula. Besides Kinsale, we were in the car with short breaks until dusk. Let me remind you that dusk is around 9 pm in May. This was about the time when both of us wished we could stumble upon a magic lamp and were granted one wish, in this case, one extra day to explore. Thankfully the Dingle Peninsula is a simply breathtaking place to drive through. The flat and rolling scenery turned more mountainous and even craggy in spots which I didn’t expect to see. The green fields became more vibrant shades of green, if that’s even possible in Ireland. The North Atlantic Ocean was also on our horizon and we were thrilled to be stepping foot onto a beach (who doesn’t enjoy a beach on vacation?). Inch Beach (pictured above) was a wildly beautiful scene but unfortunately it was so windy we couldn’t stay long. I guess that’s why it’s part of the “Wild Atlantic Way.”
We finally arrived in Dingle, population 2,000 and the peninsula’s main hub, in late afternoon. The online articles and posts we had read were spot on. It was a pretty charming place, set right along the harbor. We pulled into what we thought was our airbnb (WRONG!). I’ll never forget how insanely nice the front desk woman was (do you remember, mom?!). She called around attempting to find the mysterious bed & breakfast and once she did, she made a map for us with yellow highlighter and all (which now looking back was sort of funny because it was such a small town). Tourists…can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em. When we finally found the correct place, we were greeted AGAIN by another overwhelmingly nice woman. She showed us to our cozy room and we both surrendered by flopping onto the bed and closing our eyes. We were relieved to be stationary for a moment. And a moment is all it was. It took everything we had to get back off those beds. But today, out of all the days, we needed to stick to a schedule. I mean we could have stayed lying in our beds, but where is the fun in that?!
“Adventure” on Conor Pass
So, our plan was take a leisurely drive around the peninsula (and stop at a restaurant that had noteworthy prawn soup). But guess what? We took the wrong road and suddenly we were navigating through Ireland’s highest mountain pass. Adventures are often unplanned, right, or at least I told myself that as we putzed on up the notoriously sketchy Conor Pass. When I had read about this pass in the U.S. I remember thinking afterwards “You’d have to pay me to drive that.” Blind curves. Single lane road. Honk as you’re going around a corner. Back up if you meet another car (not just a couple feet, we’re talking drive backwards back up the pass while a car is driving forwards in front of you). These were the descriptions, people, and they were right. It would have been priceless if you could have watched a video of my mom and I craning our necks around each corner, looking for cars, and then exclaiming “Oh sh*t, here comes one!” Then we would race to try to find an area to pull off so the car could inch past us. It did happen once that I had to drive backwards and only because the Irish drivers are merciless (and drive way too fast). Spoken like a true aging woman, thank you! But I’ll admit, the whole experience was exhilarating (and a little bit fun!). This is where I say, if you’re ever in Ireland, YOU GOTTA DO IT!
After descending, we arrived once again in the bustling town of Dingle. This colorful fishing town, set around a busy fishing port and marina, was filled with eclectic eateries and traditional pubs, one of which we dined in that evening. We were so exhausted from our long day however that I recall us drinking a pint, eating our food in near silence, and racing back to those comfy beds. That was a day for the books!
Our favorite town in Ireland: Kinsale
Number of restaurants we had planned to eat at so far but they have either been closed, we couldn’t find them, or we took a wrong turn: 4
Number of argument we have had so far: 1 (It was about our long driving day…I think I was tired and my rump hurt. Sorry, mom.)
Next Up: Cliffs Of Moher (!!!!!)
You don’t want to miss the most treasured day of our mother-daughter adventure in Ireland! Next up, we witness the famous Cliffs of Moher on an insanely gorgeous Irish spring day. These sea cliffs are one of the most visited destinations in Ireland and now we can appreciate why. They are simply stunning in real life! We can’t wait to share.