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Even though driving and cycling in Ireland is challenging, it’s a great way to experience the great outdoors. There’s an abundance of scenic driving and cycling routes in my home county of Kerry, and one such route is the spectacular Slea Head Drive at the tip of the Dingle Peninsula.
The route never fails to impress me and is a strong contender for the best drive in Ireland accolade. Slea Head Drive forms part of the Wild Atlantic Way in Kerry.
Before you sit behind the wheel of an Irish car, I highly recommend you read my Tips for Driving in Ireland post.
Slea Head Drive (pronounced slay), a combination of the R559 and R549 roads, starts and finishes in delightful Dingle, a town noted for its fine restaurants and craft shops. Regardless of entry route into Dingle, I would strongly advise travelling this drive in a clockwise direction for your own safety and sanity.
Heading west from Dingle town the first stop will be Ventry/Ceann Trá where the blue-flag sandy beach is the star of the village.
If you’re going to purchase an ice-cream in Ventry, I suggest you finish it before venturing further as the steering wheel will require both hands for the next few miles. Beauty and danger are often mutual partners and the mechanically challenging stretch of road to Slea Head/Ceann Sléibhe offers travellers one of the most beautiful views you will ever find.
Even with two eyes and full concentration on the mechanics of the journey and the fact that I’ve travelled this road many times my jaw still drops with amazement. The below picture shows how perilously close the road veers to the edge of the cliff on this part of the journey.
I’ve a soft spot for placid animals and these two posers were perfectly poised for a photo shoot on a recent visit. Again the view is eastwards over Dingle Bay towards Ventry and Dingle. The shadow on the right of the picture is the Iveragh Peninsula of South Kerry. Beehive huts (Early Christian dwellings) and Dunbeg Fort are on this stretch of road.
A large white stone crucifixion scene on the right hand side of the road marks Slea Head. Pull your car into the small lay-by at this spectacular point to admire the appealing vista on offer. More animals will await you, this time of the winged variety.
Once rounding Slea Head, the road travels north towards Dún Chaoin/Dunquin where Coumeennoole Strand is now visible from the road. The headland which stretches west of this beach is Dunmore Head/An Dún Mór, the westernmost point of mainland Ireland. The next parish is Boston.
Approaching Dún Chaoin, a better view of Inis Tuaisceart is on offer and it’s easy to see why this island is known as The Sleeping Giant and An Fear Marbh (The Dead Man).
A fine stretch of road by Kerry standards leads to the viewing point near Clogher Head/Ceann Sratha. In the picture below, Clogher Strand/Trá An Chlochair is in the foreground, Ferriter’s Cove is further north with The Three Sisters/An Triúr Deirféar peaks at the top of the picture.
In another couple of miles one will reach the village of BallyFerriter/Baile an Fheirtéaraigh, a contender for the most romantic place in Ireland.
Your next stop should be Béal Bán beach, although on this trip my stop was frantic rather than romantic. My teenage car threw a tantrum and not even the efforts of four tourists pushing its muddy rear could get it to start. Like any teenager, it inexplicably complied a few minutes later. Here’s what my car wanted me to admire whilst on hold for breakdown cover.
Before Murreagh/An Mhuiríoch one will see signs for Gallarus Oratory, an early Christian Church worth having a look at for its construction method. More beach awaits at Murreagh, this one perfect for a sunset stroll.
The last urban centre, per say, on the Slea Head Drive is An Feothanach/Feohanagh with the cliffs of Ballydavid/Baile Dháithi west of the village. After An Feothanach one may be tempted to return to Dingle via the L5005 but you’d be missing out on Brandon Creek/Cuas an Bhodaigh, the departure point for St. Brendan’s pre-Columbus trip across the Atlantic.
The R549 veers south at a right angle returning to Dingle with Mount Brandon, the highest mountain in Ireland outside of the McGillycuddy Reeks, on the east side of the journey. And it’s on this stretch of road you’ll find something that’s by and large absent on the rest of Slea Head Drive: trees. The journey ends upon returning to Dingle town.
TIPS FOR SLEA HEAD DRIVE
- Set aside a day to travel the Slea Head Drive at a leisurely pace. This will allow time to sight-see and soak up the spectacular scenery, scenery which my camera cannot do justice to.
- As mentioned at the start, drive this route in a clockwise direction (i.e. follow my instructions).
- As the Dingle Peninsula is a Gaeltacht (i.e. Irish-speaking area) all road signs will be in Irish. I’ve listed both the Irish and English version of place-names here as some car rental maps only list the English version. A list of the most common Irish signs and their translation into English can be found on my Tips for driving in Ireland post.
WHO ELSE LIKES THE DINGLE PENINSULA?
BBC’s Top Gear programme filmed an episode on Slea Head and elsewhere in Kerry where host Chris Evans compared his 1976 Rolls Royce to a modern version driven by fellow host Matt LeBlanc. Both presenters spoke highly of the experience with Evans telling his UK viewers that “sometimes paradise is just a ferry away”.
National Geographic writers and photographers are regular visitors to the Dingle Peninsula, first calling in 1986 where the area was described as being the most beautiful place on Earth.
And if you’re still in doubt, the Dingle Peninsula was voted one of the best places in the world to take a photograph by users of PhotoShelter, a portal for professional photographers worldwide.
But why let the cameras have all the fun. See it with your own eyes and judge whether Slea Head Drive is the best drive in Ireland.