Slea Head Loop Drive (June 5)

The Dingle Peninsula is considered by some to be the most beautiful part of Ireland. The peninsula is about ten miles wide and about forty miles long. The Slea Head Loop covers almost all the highlights in only thirty miles. It did take almost five hours with stops.

The Gallarus Oratory was built about 1300 years ago. Shaped like an upturned boat, it’s finely fitted stone walls are still waterproof. Some details here.

Not very large inside, probably room for a dozen or so monks.

It is thought that the altar was under the only window.

A name has been identified with the headstone but nothing is known about the person.

The lintel stone is huge.

It may be waterproof, but it’s not dirt proof. Plants grow in the cracks between the stones.

The stone masons were so skilled in shaping the stones that no mortar was needed and the structure has stood for over 1300 years.

Bob doesn’t understand why the larger stone is on the bottom of the window. Marilyn doesn’t understand why he finds that surprising.

This lios or ring fort or fairy fort is an excellent example although this one is unexcavated. The circular interior is enclosed by an earthen bank and contains traces of three or four huts and a souterrain (underground structure) probably used for food storage and hiding place for the leader and family. It’s not very clear from the pictures but the bank rises almost fourteen feet above the interior.

The entry fee included the opportunity to pet and feed sheep and other animals. The sheep were fairly aggressive but turned away quickly when they realized that one had no food for them. Marilyn wanted everyone to see the dark brown sheep at the right of picture below. Bob was drawn to the black sheep. The donkeys are included just for fun.

Murphy’s Castle is an example of a ring fort with beehive huts (well, at least the foundations). It has a souterrain (defined before, read everything or miss some things) where the families stored food and hid from their enemies. As the sun enters the souterrain in the spring and autumn (through one of the doorways) it lights up a stone at the back of the tunnel.

The souterrain on the right was lit through a doorway like the one above.

The alcove on the right is probably a cooking space.

One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to the Great Blasket Center. This is an excellent modern cultural museum about the life and times of the island. The largest of the islands, Great Basket, was the only inhabited island, with the exception of the lighthouse on Teareght (which looks like a pyramid). Life on the island was very primitive — no doctor, no priest, and little except about 100 acres of arable land and the bounty of the sea. More about the islands in general here and Great Blasket in particular here.

Great Blasket Island.

The only inhabitants lived here in the wind shadow of the mountain.

Teareght no longer has a lighthouse.

Almost every little harbor has a beach and, if the weather turns balmy, almost every beach has people enjoying the sun and the water. The stone houses are just filler. Actually, while awaiting dinner the night before, Bob went down to the pier and tested the water. It was not as cold as some of the springs or mountain streams we’ve been in.

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