The Dingle Peninsula: Irish Postcard Country

Wednesday, May 25, 2011 | Dingle, Ireland (map)

A perfect Irish coast at Slea Head, Dingle Peninsula
After our hair-raising run-ins the day before along just one small stretch of the Ring of Kerry (known in online travel forums as "The Ring of Tour Buses"), my mom and sister and I weren't eager to experience a whole day of the same. So at the recommendation of our B&B's owner, we instead opted to drive around the Dingle Peninsula, just up the coast. There we visited the wide, mirrored expanse of Inch Beach, ate fish and chips beside the port in Dingle town, and made the scenic drive to Slea Head, the peninsula's most extreme point.

The Dingle proved to be about as Irish as I could have imagined. Of course, the scenery looked like the postcard images sold in tourist shops back in Dublin, with jagged cliffs plunging down to the sea, greener hills than any we had yet seen, more sheep than people, and very moody weather.

But more telling still was the language. In fact, the prevalence of Gaelic—or "Irish", as the Irish call
it, to distinguish it from the version spoken by their cousins the Scots—had surprised me ever since our arrival in Ireland. Throughout Dublin and every other city we visited, streets were labeled in both English and Gaelic, and the plaques and brochures at tourist sites also showed both languages. For those who aren't familiar, it is fairly indecipherable, though my mother certainly tried. ("Shannon in Gaelic looks like that name my mother wanted to name me.... It's a good thing my father didn't let her.")

But the Dingle Peninsula's residents went even further in maintaining the purity of the local tongue. As soon as we reached the peninsula, English dropped off the road signs completely. When locals spoke to one another on the streets of Dingle township, it was nearly all Gaelic all the time. Estimates of native Irish speakers today number between 40,000 and 80,000, and many of them live in this region, though Irish language courses are mandatory in schools throughout the country.

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