By Andy Christian Castillo
I didn’t know what to expect when I booked a cheap Norwegian flight to Dingle for a week-long writers workshop.
But it didn’t have the style like other European cities: Amsterdam, Rome, or Paris, which run away with your heart the moment you step off the train.
Thus, I descended apprehensively into Cork airport.
But then everything changed in County Kerry. Rolling hills stretched away into a soft horizon, sheep and cattle grazing inside stone walls. I traversed roads carved into the landscape; banks hedged either side overflowing with fuchsia wildflowers.
And on the Dingle Peninsula, blue sea foamed hundreds of yards below as waves crashed white against jagged black rocks.
This was the place I’d first envisioned, greener than St. Patrick’s Day.
The region is steeped in rich farming history dating to prehistoric times. These days, fishing is a strong industry. Decaying structures including churches in overgrown graveyards and prehistoric buildings there for thousands of years can be seen along the coast. And the views everywhere are breathtaking.
It’s a photographer’s paradise. Most of my time driving a rental car down Slea Head Drive, a road that circles the peninsula, was spent out of the car, camera in hand, soaking it all in through the lens.
At night, tourists overflowed from bars spilling out onto the streets; jovial, laughing. I ate fish and ate well, washing it down with dark Guinness.
Wandering the streets, camera in hand, music followed me out from crowded restaurants.
That week, I attended a writer’s workshop, learning from experienced writers like Ann Hood, Boston poet Charles Coe, and educator Dinty Moore. It all seeped into my skin until I felt like I was going to explode.
In these times, when class ended, I escaped walking among sheep.
For the adventurous traveler
One particular day stands out amidst the rest.
Another photographer, Andres, and I drove down the peninsula and stopped at a small cove, leaving our car by the side of the road.
We trekked into a farmer’s field, over a stone wall, following a narrow trail. Cresting a rise, the wind pounded the coast like the waves pounded against the rocks. The path ended, we continued on a muddy sheep trail.
Sheep stepped aside as we tight roped around a cliff’s edge, leaning against rocks. We scaled out on sandstone rocks, jagged; their faces carved into upturned blades by the sea. Rain, perpetually a cloud away, soon chased us back from the rocks to the grass.
Hitchhiking is OK!
The Dingle peninsula is ideal for adventurous travelers. There’s plenty of opportunities to hike, and hitchhiking is totally acceptable. A few hostels can be found nearby.
I stayed about 20 minutes away in Annascaul at Paddy’s Palace, a cheap hostel near Inch Beach. I wasn’t impressed. One bathroom and a separate shower served about 20 guests on the second floor. It wasn’t clean and there were rarely ever attendants.
It was, however, very inexpensive, and the drive to Dingle gave me a chance to experience the region in a unique way. I got to know the roads intimately; every hairpin turn, every knife edge curve, every straightaway sufficiently long enough to pass slower drivers.
Later, I moved to Rainbow Hostel, an overall better experience.
Dingle isn’t just for those who want to rough it, though. For travelers who prefer comfort, bed and breakfasts abound and luxury dining is prevalent.
After a week I left Dingle, driving up the coast to Galway, where I stopped briefly.
Then, drove to The Burren, a barren region on Ireland’s southwest coast in County Clare, where the Cliffs of Moher are.
It’s said that J.R. Tolkien frequented The Burren, and many Lord of the Rings scenes with Gollum was inspired by its apocalyptic rocks and low shrubs.
Castles and ruins materialized around every bend. I stopped briefly at Dunguaire Castle, a 16th-century tower house on the side of the road.
After checking in at The Burren Hostel, a quirky, unique hostel with a great vibe, I set out for the famed cliffs. They didn’t disappoint.
The Cliffs of Moher rise sea 700 feet at the highest point like an open accordion set on its side. Seagulls swooped, dove, whirled like the whirling waves below. Wind slid off the ocean, racing up the cliffs, pushing me back with force.
A muddy path led along the cliff’s edge, precarious in some places, worn from many footprints. . I took it.
About seven or eight people fall off the edge every year, I overheard. It was easy to see how it’d happen. Brave souls tested their limits, wandering from the path. They crept out to the very edge, peering over at the waves below. Others scaled-down rocks to their merit.
Friends yelled to return, which they finally did.
Finally, I reached O’Brien’s Tower, which is at the end.
Dingle Travel tips
Dress warmly, and for the weather. It rains in Ireland; a lot. Forego shorts and t-shirts. Pack pants and waterproof jackets.
While there’s a pretty good bus system in Dingle, I’d suggest renting a car if possible. It opens up so many possibilities. That being said, make sure to check with your credit card about rental car insurance policies. They’re unique in Ireland. Also, remember that cars drive on the left side.
It’s possible to walk or cycle, but it’s not for the faint of heart. Roads are narrow; vehicles drive fast. If you do decide to use your feet, though, make sure to pack adequate reflective gear. Everyone wears it.
Research sightseeing treks. Attractions are spaced miles apart, so make sure you know where you’re going before setting off.
In the city, however, there are myriad amounts of restaurants and pubs. At any given moment, within 50 feet, you’ll find a dozen places to eat. The music scene is also amazing.
Norwegian airlines offers great flight deals.
Check them out. Seriously.