ANOTHER favourite walk of mine, here, on Dingle, the sacred monuments of stone our forebearers raised seem still imbuded with the spirit of those who built them. If the weather is right, this is an uplifting walk.
Setting out, we take the gravelled path - signposted Gallarus Oratory - towards that unique stone structure created 13 centuries ago.
The design is inspired; perhaps the saint designed it. Light pours through a single shafted window in the gable. Nothing was used but stones, yet it is bone dry inside.
The hills rise behind, with stone-walled fields, and houses scattered on the lower levels. On typical Atlantic days, the sun pierces the clouds like a giant searchlight sweeping across the hills, dark at one moment, dazzling green at the next.
At the tarred road, we go left, a narrow road, lined with fuchsia, climbing gently and sometimes busy in summer. A stone plaque tells us we are in Baile na n-Áth. Opposite it, we take the unmade bohreen and go left at the road; it can be busy but we won’t be on it for long.
As it descends, the views of Smerwick Harbour and Wine Strand are magnificent. Passing a long, straight road on the left, we continue to a stile and visit the Cathair Deargáin settlement, a well-preserved collection of five hut foundations within a ringfort, with a commanding position over the plain stretching to Murreagh Strand, present-day Ballydavid village, Wine Strand with Binn Diarmada rising beyond and ,Cruach Mhárthain and Mount Eagle, south.
Looking right, we see other stone ruins, Tigh an tSeansailéara, the 13th century home of the Chancellor of Ardfert Diocese. The nearby church settlement of Kilmalkedar, built in the 12th century and the most important ecclesiastical foundation on the Dingle peninsula, is described as an “Irish Romanesque cathedral in miniature”.
Kilmalkedar was also a centre of learning. Within the church is a 7th century abcedarium stone, carved with the earliest surviving Roman lettering in Ireland.
There is also a holed stone, indicating earlier pagan worship, and an ogham-marked stone outside. Nearby is a crude stone cross, dramatic in simplicity and resilience, a relic of Celtic Christianity, the faith before the Roman frills.
Similar crosses stand at the monastic settlement on Skellig Michael, seven miles out to sea.
Back on the lane, we take the sign for the Pilgrim’s Way on the right, the route of old Saint’s Road to the summit of Mount Brandon for the pilgrimages to St Brendan’s shrine. Below it, is the small St Brendan’s well, still visited by the devout on Easter Day.
Reaching the road, we go right, descending gently, the sea ahead. Soon, a narrow path to the right, takes us to the enclosure to Argail Bréannáin, Brendan’s Oratory, which predates Gallarus. Further along, we see the steeple of the Church of Ireland, built in 1860 and now deconsecrated.
We pass the village of An Mhuiríoch and continue onto Murreagh Strand, host to many birds in winter. In summer, the rock pools teem with life.
We walk left along the beach - Dun an Óir and Cruach Mhárthain are landmarks in the distance ahead. The path up from the beach is sandy before we cross a field and, at a farmyard, follow the sign for the Way of the Saints. We come out to a farm with a castle on our right, a 16th century, Fitzgerald stronghold. The trailhead at Gallarus is only a few minutes down the path.
Start point: From Cork take the N22 to Killarney, then the N72. Veer right onto R563, and at Castlemaine go left onto R561, then left on to N86 to Dingle. Through the town to the R559, and take the right fork (going north) on the R559 outside the town. After 5km., signs indicate Gallarus Visitor Centre. Our trailhead is the car park.
7km., 2.5 including viewing.
Easy going. Pedestrian paths and side roads, beach.
OS Discovery Map 70
Blackrock Hillwalking Club www.blackrockhillwalkingclub.com
All Galway’s Bridge to Kate Kearney’s via Lord Brandons, post-Christmas Walk, one short pull up to Gap of Dunloe, meet Kate Kearney’s Cottage, 10am
Dunmanway Walking Club www.dunmanway.ie/walking
Seven Heads, Grade B, 10km., 3.5hrs, meet SuperValu carpark, 8.30am
Mallow Hill Walking Club www.mallowhillwalkingclub.org
Mangerton/Stumpa, strenuous, 6hrs., meet Mallow Garda Station car park, 8.30am, or Molly Darcys, 9.30
Slieve Bloom Walking Club www.slievebloom.ie
Durrow Leafy Loops, Grade A, 12km., 4hrs., meet Castle Arms Hotel, 11am
Emo Court Demesne, Grade C, 8km., 2-3hrs, meet entrance gates
Ballyhoura Bears Walking Club www.ballyhourabears.com
Ballyhouras St. Stephen’s Day Walk, Kilfinnane to Ballyorgan, Grade A, moderate, 5hrs., meet Kilfinnane 10.30am
Ballyhouras, Darragh to Ballyorgan, meet Dalys, Darragh, 1pm (to join the A walk)