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Dolphin Tales and Great Blasket Island (Go Here!) - Dingle, Ireland (Days 9-11)

Moll's Gap, Gap of Dunloe, Torc Waterfall, Muckross Farm/House. Molly has decided a baby pet piglet is in her future. We've left Kenmare and have made our way to Dingle Harbour. — at The Dingle Peninsula.

This part of our self-driving travel took us through narrow mountain passes and around lakes.  Part of the time the road becomes single lane (but used for two way traffic) and you can't see oncoming traffic when you go over the rise, but if you are cautious, you will be fine.  The views are incredible and you will enjoy pulling over at the look-out points to admire them.  

This drive goes through Killarney and on part of the Ring of Kerry. We were heading north, so already going in the advised counter-clockwise direction around the Ring of Kerry. Rob and I had already done the entire Ring of Kerry on our previous trip and knew that it was not something we wanted to subject the kids to - though very scenic, it's a long time driving (for kids).  We had no interest in sharing the road with a gazillion tour buses all stopping at the same point, all clamoring for the same view. 

Since we were driving for 3 weeks, we were going to be seeing quite a bit of the countryside and coastline.  We could stay off the normal mass tourist route and still be awestruck by spectacular views and experiences.  There are other less crowded scenic loops (Slea Head Drive, Dingle and Sky Road Loop, Clifden/Connemara) that are just as (if not more) enjoyable.  This is the only way I would (and will) travel Ireland and this is how I recommend it to others.  For the portion of the Ring of Kerry that we did travel, we stopped at all the points of interest (Moll's Gap, Gap of Dunloe, and Torc's Waterfall) on our route and it was a perfect amount of driving through Killarney National Park.

Torc Waterfall

Coming out of Killarney National Park, we made our way over to the Muckross Gardens, Traditional House, and Farms.  It's a pretty big site and we had arrived close to lunch time.  I could sense the kids would have limited patience for any long waits, so we stopped at a Visitor's Center booth near the end of the parking lot and basically just said we're here with two clowns (pointed to the kids) and we want to make the most of our time.  The guide took one look at our boisterous group and said the house tour will be very boring go straight to the farm. Now, the Victorian house tour gets rave reviews, but traveling with kids, some things just aren't going to be as fun.  The farm sounded perfect and we figured this guide to be the expert on how we should proceed.  On the point, he was!

Muckross Traditional Farms is three separate working farms of varying size that you can explore.  Each has animals and traditional farm machinery.  We actually spent a long time visiting even though it was lunchtime.  Molly could not be dragged away from the baby pigs.  We may or may not have promised her that she can get one for a pet.    

There was even freshly made bread in the farm houses.  We watched it be made over the fire.  Perfect timing for a quick bite.  It was delicious! 

Found an obstacle course and completed it like champs!

Traditional schoolhouse - I think it made them miss school - hahahaha, but they did seem interested when they met a staff member and got to grill him about Irish school life. Recess was discussed in depth.

After lunch, we went and explored the external part of Muckross House while enjoying an ice cream cone.  Yes, traveling with kids.  May not get to see everything, but we find a way to enjoy the experience nonetheless.

Now, Dingle came so highly rated that we had an extra night planned.  There was quite a bit of scenic (no other cars/humans FOREVER) drive.  I could sense my travel companions wondering why we were still driving through the middle of nowhere.  Inside, I was just hoping upon hope that when we finally entered Dingle that it would satisfy.  Needless to say, we would return to Ireland JUST to go to Dingle.  It IS that wonderful!!!!

Driving around these curvy ridges, we would spot a car off yonder. Head's up, we should cross paths in 2 minutes. OH NO, there's an RV coming our way! Prepare yourself. 2-minute warning! BWAHAHAHA - driving in Ireland like newbies.

We pulled into the parking lot of our B&B in Dingle and were immediately greeted by a horse in the sea. Getting a bath? I'm not sure why, but this caused an eruption of giggles as everybody jumped out of the car.

Our view! Plenty of seaside pubs. We will be ok. — at Castlewood House Dingle.

First things first. We walked down the road and found some grub! Just me and another seafood chowder. Dingle has one main street through the village. We stayed at the end just past all the pubs, restaurants and harbor. It's an easy 10-15 minute walk, but you also have the option of a large parking lot at the harbor.

Played with the famous Fungie dolphin (he surfed our waves) and enjoyed an exhilarating boat ride in Dingle Harbour. — at Dingle Dolphin tours/fungie The Dingle Dolphin.

So, this was quite comical. A bunch of boats just swirling around waiting for one resident dolphin to pop up and swim with us. The story is that there's this wild bottle nose dolphin that has been living in Dingle harbor since 1983. He's a local treasure and seems to love the humans as he comes around when they come around. When we were out, we saw him play with a kayaker. Quite the show off! He kept pace with our boat and delighted us all.

You can get a ticket to see Fungie at the harbor.  We decided on a smaller boat and enjoyed being able to walk about and take pictures.  The landscaping is gorgeous - when we go back, I would like to get a kayak and go into the caves.  The larger boats were quite packed, but we did notice that Fungie seemed to be drawn more towards them.  He likes a crowd, that's for sure!  The tours all guarantee a sighting or full refund.  You won't be getting a refund.  That's a guarantee!  Ha ha, see what I did there?!

After the 1 hour boat tour, we decided to go to Oceanworld Aquarium which is across the street from the harbor.  It's small, but has a decent collection and there are activities for the kids to do throughout with a kids play area and even a short puppet show.  There are stingrays that you can feed.  There's also a penguin enclosure, but I found it unsettling.  It's a small enclosure and the penguins were pacing nonstop back and forth.  We were only at the aquarium for about an hour or so.  I wouldn't put it on a must-see list, but it was okay for the kids.

Next, we decided to hop on the Dingle Peninsula Loop (towards Slea Head).  It's a 30 mile loop, but we figured we would take our time on the lower half to see the sights marked on our road atlas.

First stop - Ventry Beach.  Relaxed here for a bit while the kids played in the sand.  This is calm water.  We had stopped at Inch Strand beach on the way into Dingle and it was serious waves.  The surfers were out, but we couldn't get anywhere near the water.  

Next, up was Dunbeg Fort.    

A promontory fort built on a sheer cliff. First phase 8th and 9th centuries AD occupation. Second phase 10th and 11th centuries AD. Carbon dating of around 580 BC suggesting even earlier activity in late Bronze Age. — at Dunbeg Fort.

There's an audio-visual that goes with your ticket to the fort.  We enjoyed the fort, but were really taken by the views over the sheer cliff. 

Ahhh, again, reminded we are in Ireland - mind yourself at the end of the cliff. Skirt it at your own risk. They allow you to use your own judgement. I LOVE it here!

Down the road is the lovely Stonehouse Restaurant. It was lunchtime and this place looked so inviting! I got the local beer and a stone crab sandwich. I can't remember what anyone else had, but they still had room for dessert. Everything was tasty!

Right next door was a sign for the Slea Head Famine Cottages and Animal Park.  No need to even move the car to get to it.  Just a short walk up the hill.  The kids were given food to feed the animals and off we went.

The Slea Head Famine Cottages - searching the base of the cliffs for shipwrecked material was a common feature of daily life. The cottage was inhabited right thru the Irish Potato Famine from 1845-1850. — at Slea Head, Dingle Peninsula.

This is about where we lost Molly. She was so creeped out (Gee, I wonder why?)  that she went out of the cottage and refused to enter any others.  It didn't help that her sister tricked her into seeing a few more creepy mannequins from a window opening.

One of the families that lived here had a particularly tragic tale. In the mid 1800's the couple had 6 of their children die at childbirth. Because none had been baptized before death, the church refused them burial at the church cemetery. They had to bury the children away from the rest of the family plots on their own land.  

It is hard to imagine the past hardship and horrific suffering that came of living on this land when looking at its vast beauty.  The population fell by over 2 million from both death and emigration resulting from the Great Famine.

That was it for our sight-seeing for the day and we went back to Dingle and enjoyed some time in the village.  

Another fine breakfast in Ireland to fuel us for our day of adventure!  I can never resist an eggs benedict and to have it topped with the freshest of fresh salmon - yummy!  The half-pints kept to their usual homemade pancakes.  We were quite spoiled by the included made-to-order breakfast at each B&B.

Breakfast was only the opening act of a fantastic day.  We were so lucky to make it to Great Blasket Island.  This day will remain one of my favorites of our 3 week adventure in Ireland.

Dunquin Harbor.  Now, I knew we could get over either from Dingle Harbor (45 min. ride) or from Dunquin Harbor (20 min.).  I thought a shorter ferry would be better in case the water was rough and also, it should be less crowded.  Well, let me tell you - leaving from Dunquin Harbor is a TREAT!  My advice is to call ahead and book.  We were really lucky to get on ANY ferry, let alone the next one going out as they were fully booked.  I had no idea and had not pre-booked since we were there early morning.  We heard the ticket lady call and ask if they could squeeze us on and off we went.  They often don't ferry because the sound can get quite rough with any bad weather.  While we were there, we were told that they had not gone out the day before and already knew they would not be going out for the next several days.  One other thing, bring CASH.  We were down to coins to pay for our tickets.  Rob and I still talk about how the stars lined up just right for us to get to Great Blasket Island on such a gorgeous day.  We fully appreciate our luck! 

Ermagawd! We are still alive! The great adventure to see the Great Blasket Island. An amazing experience from start to finish.  A must-see Ireland experience for sure!

This is the the path to the pier for the ferry. It was GORGEOUS! I couldn't stop taking pictures of our walk down to the water's edge.

And then, we realized how we were getting to the island. First, a dingy. Stern conversations with the kids followed.

Life vests. What could go wrong?

Here comes our ride!

The dingy took us to this boat for the ferry over to the island.

Rob so scared.

Kids oblivious to danger. Beyond thrilled - I loved seeing their excitement!

Our destination awaits!

Oh, look. There's a dingy on this side to take us ashore. Again, stern conversations with the kids.

But first, we had to wait for the helicopter to drop supplies.

We made it! Looking back to mark where we have to return to get off this island.  We were given a 3 1/2 hour window for exploring the beach and abandoned village.  It's 1100 acres in size and mostly mountainous terrain.  We talked to some visitors who made it over to the other side and they said there were no signs of previous habitation.

Warnings posted for the visitors!

Great Blasket Island. Inhabited until 1953 when the last 22 people were moved to the mainland because the govt could no longer guarantee safety. The island once boasted 175 residents. Uninhabited today but open to visitors. We explored the ruins and enjoyed the beach! — at Great Blasket Island

There are guided tours describing life on the island. Also, there's a teahouse with light snacks and drinks. Remember how we barely covered our tickets over? It's cash only. Thank goodness, we had packed some grub and water. The teahouse is only open while the ferry operates. Nobody lives on the island, but we did notice in some of the ruins, backpacks and signs of camping. We heard that some university students were staying on the island researching.

We could see the inviting beach as we ferried across. But, we almost thought we wouldn't be able to get to it. There's a tricky path to get down to it. No, you can't just run down the hill. This facing rock wall is actually the zig-zag path down. I think I scooted down on my bottom for part of it. Just so you know, going up is much easier than going down. All part of the adventure! I walked down the beach and it looks like they are building a path down. Or, it could have been an old path that fell apart.
They made it - so did we.  So will you.

Path down to the beach!

Good bye Great Blasket Island.

We continued and completed the Dingle Peninsula Loop.  Slea Head is breathtaking.  I think it is headed in the direction of the Cliffs of Moher in terms of visitors as word gets out.  We encountered some traffic and had to do some tricky backing up to figure out how to get by oncoming traffic.  At one point, we were in a line of at least 3 cars on a sheer curvy cliff backing up to let an RV get past.  It was such a beautiful day that I'm sure it got crazy later on.  We were lucky to come through early in the day on our way to Great Blasket Island.  They really should make sheer-cliff- side-single-lane-pretending-to-be-wide-enough-for-two-cars roads in Ireland one way.  It's okay though.  You will be fine.  Still more than well worth self-driving.  Way well worth it!    

Up Next - Days 12-13 Spanish Point, Ireland

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