Walking Ireland’s Wild, Remote, and Rugged Dingle Peninsula

For centuries, the Dingle Way has beckoned those interested in experiencing Ireland’s quieter side.


Photos by Michelle Heimerman

I don’t see how we’re making it to dinner, I said to my husband, Taylor, as we picked our way up a craggy hill, our backs to the North Atlantic. We were 13 miles into a 43-mile, three-day trek across the Dingle Peninsula, Ireland’s westernmost promontory.

We had set out that morning from the music-filled port town of Dingle, hiking toward Dunquin, a tiny settlement facing the Blasket Islands archipelago. Just before lunch, we’d wandered off the path to explore the ruins of a 7th-century monastery and had gotten slightly lost finding our way back.


Now we were late cresting the peninsula’s shoulder. Over the ridge we could just spy Mount Brandon, a 3,000-foot-tall pilgrimage site, once an outer edge of the known world. Below us, scalloped beaches beckoned. This was all made less glorious by knowing we had five miles to trek before we could sleep, and that the one year-round restaurant in Dunquin might close before we got there.

We were walking the Dingle Way to mark our 15th wedding anniversary. Our years together had been mostly lucky and happy, but during the pandemic we’d faced illness and disappointment in close quarters. Our kids had been home for a year and a half; California’s wildfires had raged near our house. It felt like the right time to reset, to reflect on our lives.

We’d arrived in Dingle exhausted and frazzled the day before. Hiking out of town that morning, along the shoulder of a busy road, I wasn’t sure I’d chosen the right sort of celebration. Wouldn’t it have been better just to rest? But eventually we had walked down flowering hedgerows and picked through sparkling pastures. We’d admired the village of Ventry and eaten lunch on an empty beach.


Now it was late afternoon. As we walked across the knobbled hillsides toward Dunquin and watched the sun’s shadow cross stony ridges, I considered the ways that hiking here was inviting us into a different rhythm, where we might imagine time at the scale of centuries, space at the pace of the foot.

It felt intimate to take paths that people had traversed for thousands of years. A few miles back, in a pasture overlooking the water, we’d passed beehive huts, round stone enclosures where early Christian hermit monks had passed solitary lives. A few hillsides over there was a prehistoric henge.

The stones began to call me. They evidenced such ongoing, deliberate work: to shelter, to worship, to survive. No less than great European cathedrals, the henges and huts around us were incredible, anonymous feats of intergenerational labor. Even the stone pasture walls we walked alongside, marking a remote hill line, must have been there for centuries. Now they were woven with bluebells, gorse, and orchids: They held lives within lives.


I thought of all the people who had worked here, high up, hefting one stone at a time. What if you imagined this was your whole life’s work? I said to Taylor, as we clambered over one more stone wall perched on an improbably high rocky slope. To raise some sheep, to mend some walls that would outlive you?

We listened to the burble of a ferny stream. Then Taylor rejoined me, turning the question toward our lives: If you could only move a few stones in a lifetime, what stones would they be? What walls do you want to mend? His words hung in the air.

A few minutes before 8 p.m., the light sinking low, we got to dinner—an unremarkable but hugely restorative fish and chips at Kruger’s Bar, which bills itself as “Ireland’s most westerly bar.” We watched the marigold sun slink between black islands. We slept like stones ourselves, and when we woke, surprised ourselves by being ready to walk again.


The next day was less hilly. We traced a windy beach, identifying lapwings and sea thrift plants, grateful for a shorter hike—only 10 miles. By afternoon we were drinking cider in Ballyferriter, nearer Mount Brandon’s base, toasting our day’s walk over delicious salmon.

Our final morning, we had 15 miles to go, this time over Mount Brandon. Before our climb, we visited the Gallarus oratory, a roughly thousand-year-old structure, perhaps Ireland’s best-preserved early Christian church. It is graceful, spare, and small; stone walls narrow to a steep, improbable peak. A slim door opens onto a cell with one window.

When we arrived, the window was casting a beam of morning light, seemingly falling just where a visitor might kneel. Taylor and I marveled at the beveled stone, not a bit of mortar in sight. We talked again about the labor of sustaining something that lives beyond any one life—in this case, a room for hope, prayer, and light.

We left the oratory. The sun climbed higher: We began scaling Mount Brandon, which was steeper than it looked, and rockier, too. High up the slopes, wind rang in my ears. I remembered that people had come here for ages to honor Brandon, a 6th-century saint who may or may not have once set sail for what is now Iceland. Before that, people had worshipped the Celtic god Lugh. The hike was also hard going. For long periods I couldn’t think at all. The rise seemed endless. At the crest, a fierce wind swept my hat away.


What I love about walking days is this: The body falls into rhythm. From this rhythm, the mind grows clear. On and off throughout the hike, I heard myself thinking: What are the walls in my world that need mending? How can I leave something strong and lovely to the future? What is my work? What is my stone?

The questions had become a mantra. As we descended the mountain, and the wind grew still, I hoped that clarity, too, had a smooth round shape, a weight I could touch and carry for the road beyond.

Journalist, teacher, and playwright Tess Taylor is the author of five poetry collections and the editor of Leaning Toward Light (Storey, 2023). She’s been drawn to Ireland’s literary contributions and green landscapes since she was in college, reading the works of such writers as Eavan Boland, Seamus Heaney, and Brian Friel.
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