Posted by: Jerry Garrett | January 16, 2010

Ireland’s real Dingle, not “Leap Year” Dingle

Ireland's real Dingle Peninsula has a beauty that shames the movie "Leap Year" and its fictional "Dingle" (Jerry Garrett Photo)

Dingle is hard to find on a map of Ireland. That’s because, with the country’s increasing emphasis on restoring its native languages, “Dingle” has ceased to exist.

Officially, anyway. Now, “Dingle” has become “An Daingean”. Maybe that is why the makers of the film “Leap Year” couldn’t find it. Instead, their made-up “Dingle” is a sorry imitation, and an insult to anyone who has been to the real one.

The real Dingle is magical in its beauty and its allure. Let me take you there.

Dingle Harbour, in a keyhole inlet

The city of Dingle is about three-quarters of the way out on the Dingle Peninsula. It is the jumping-off spot for one of the greatest driving routes in Ireland – only a 32-mile loop – and my personal favorite. (Let’s argue about the other contenders, shall we, in true Irish fashion: The Ring of Kerry? Sheep’s Head Peninsula? Copper Coast? Galway’s Sky Road? The drive in County Wicklow? Ironically, the “Leap Year” filmmakers, in their fractured use of Irish geography actually included portions of two of those – without identifying those either! Can you guess which ones?)

Slea Head Road tends to be a bit narrow!

The most famous portion of the Dingle drive is called Slea Head Road, and it is spectacular, to be sure. More on that below. But to get out on the Dingle Peninsula proper, it is necessary to go through the fancifully named city of Tralee (home of the famous annual Rose of Tralee festival and beauty contest; next year, I’m entering my daughter Shannon!)

Extra time is needed for photographing cows, sheep and pastures along N86.

Most people take N86 from Tralee to Dingle; it takes about an hour, minus all the stops you’ll make to take picture of emerald pastures, sapphire lakes and herds of black-faced sheep. A left turn at Lougher takes you to Inch Beach, perhaps Ireland’s widest sandy beach. Filmmaker David Lean used it in the opening scene of the 1972 epic “Ryan’s Daughter”. That’s the one Sarah Miles is seen walking across with a parasol.

Sarah Miles at Inch Beach

Continuing on to the town of Dingle, you eventually come out of a series of rolling hills and valleys to the coast. Dingle is a storybook setting for a seaport, inside a keyhole-shape inlet from the sea. Be careful, or you will fill your camera’s memory card right here.

To do the Dingle loop anti-clockwise (my recommendation, since driving on the left, you will have the sea closest to the passenger side of the car), follow the signs for R559 to Ventry. Continuing past Ventry Bay, the road gets narrower, and the views almost seem to envelop you. You pass some quaint inns, and the ruins of stone huts of vanished Potato Famine victims and the peninsula’s original Iron Age inhabitants.

Crucification scene statues at Slea Head

The peninsula’s tip, Slea Head, is marked by a white statue of Christ. On clear days, the Kerry Peninsula and Skellig Islands can be seen to the south.

Around Slea Head, you pass fabulous sandy beaches and turquoise seas, with the Blasket Islands in the distance. A ferry to the islands leaves from Dunquin Harbour. The scenery is jaw-dropping in this area. Mr. Lean built a village here in the shadows of Clogher Head for the filming of the bulk of “Ryan’s Daughter”. The village is gone but locals still talk about the filming, which lasted nearly two years; oldtimers claim they were extras in the movie – as the village’s children.

Blasket Island ferry dock

There are many places to stop along here, but Murphy’s Ice Cream is highly recommended. It is hand-made, right in Dingle.

The views along the north side of the peninsula defy description. Suffice it to say, you must climb Clogher Head, ogle the Three Sisters and look for whales and dolphins frolicking in all the little bays and inlets along here.  In summer, a second location of Murphy’s has just opened along here, and is a perfect place for a time-out with off-highway parking and a panoramic view.

Feeding the flock behind Murphy's Ice Cream

Continuing on to Ballydavid (don’t take the R559 cutoff at Murreagh; it takes you prematurely back to Dingle) and Smerwick Harbour, the road eventually takes a sharp turn back south at Brandon Creek, through a valley alongside the Mount Brandon and Brandon Peak (Brandon, a popular name hereabouts!). Eventually you wind up back in Dingle. Caution: Don’t look for “Dingle” on road signs; you’ll only see directions and distance to “An Daingean”.

Back in An Daingean, if you have the time, you could take the “long way” back to Tralee through Conor Pass. That way, you get to see beautiful Brandon Bay, Castlegregory and more of Tralee Bay.

Southern Dingle coastline and Knockmoylemore and Lack mountains

I can’t tell you how long to allot for a visit to Dingle. Somewhere between an afternoon, and a lifetime.

But I promise you this, if you take this drive, it will change you. Your standards of scenic beauty will never be the same. Dingle will be burned into your memory. And you will always think of the “Leap Year” filmmakers, who couldn’t find the real Dingle, as what the Irish call “eejits.”

Jerry Garrett

January 16, 2010



  1. Nice post on Dingle! Very informative, and I didn’t know Dingle was a part of Leap Year (fictional or not). Now, I’ll have to watch it. :(. Anyway, thanks for the mention!

  2. Wonderful post. We visited Dingle in 2007 and it did indeed change my standards of scenic beauty. The greens are greener and the blues bluer than any other place I have been. I would recommend at least a weeks stay to explore everything.
    I saw the movie Leap Year last night, and was very disappointed that not one shot of this beautiful place was used.

  3. Beautiful photos, Jerry. You’ve captured the most beautiful place I’ve even been. Oh, to be in Dick Mack’s, sharing a joke or two with Oliver, the criac at The Small Bridge, or listening to Fergus in O’Flaherty’s. Thanks for a little slice of the peninsula’s magic.

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to add your comments, and for your touching insights. My daughter and I were reminiscing recently about an unscheduled stop we made at a tiny, seasonal Murphy’s Ice Cream outlet out on the Dingle. The folks behind the counter were so over-the-top kind, we felt like life-long friends after five minutes. We expanded an ice cream stop into an afternoon of chatting, feeding the goats, watching for dolphins in the cove, and talking about how the lady behind the counter had been an extra – one of the children – in the filming of “Ryan’s Daughter” 40 years before. Unforgettable! And I can say that about nearly every place we’ve ever stopped in Ireland to take the time to enjoy the people as well as the scenery.

  4. I have yet to earn the honor of experiencing Dingle; however the movie Leap Year has developed an interest and priority in our travel plans. Planning a trip in 2012, and it will be a leap year! What is the best time of year to plan our week-long stay?

    • Any time from late spring to early fall is wonderful there.

  5. I love the movie, Leap Year, but was frustrated that so little scenery was shot….now I know why. Your pictures are magnificent (the green meadows are not my desktop background) and the drives you describe sound fun and enchanting. My husband and I would love to visit Ireland someday, and I think Dingle must be the first stop! (After Dublin, of course). Never having been to Ireland (we’re from St. Louis, MO, USA), how long a drive is it from Dublin to the REAL Dingle? Thanks!

    • Well, they are building a freeway (motorway) from Dublin toward Limerick. Every time I go there, they have completed a bit more of it. I don’t know exactly where it is intended to end up (knowing Ireland, it is just supposed to meander). But I have been able to drive from Dublin airport to Dingle in less than three hours. The drive is half the fun. We drove through Tralee the last time, just at the time the Rose of Tralee beauty pageant was being held. That was an unexpected treat!

  6. By the way….where DID they film “Leap Year”?

    • Check out my other post on this subject, “Ten Myths about the Filming Locations in Leap Year.”

  7. i think i should blogroll you in my blog reading list.

  8. stunning green nature their country is so beautiful! they most be also as beautiful people keeping up this nice green piece of earth. a reflection of the artist as they say or the maker? i will indeed have to check it out someday soon! Z.

  9. I have to agree with you, Jerry. I took my daughter to Ireland for 8 days as a graduation from High School gift this past summer. It was as much for me as it was for her since my father’s family immigrated to the US from County Mayo around 1900. I put Dingle on our itinerary because a riding stable there got good reviews on a travel app and we wanted to ride Irish horses on the beach. It was an unbelievable 2-day stay for us. We drove the peninsula road, saw the white cross and the white sand beach, had Murphy’s ice cream, and caught a glimpse of Fungie leaping from the water while we we riding on the beach. And all of that was in the pouring rain – which made the memories that much more memorable. It was the highlight of our trip and we have often relived that time with all the pictures we took. Some day we’ll be back.

    • Thank you for sharing those eloquent thoughts. Its magic can sometimes be difficult to put into words!

  10. I am from SE Asia and most people i know have or want to visit England. However i have always have had a fascination for all things Irish although i have never visited Ireland. I like the fact that they speak English unlike most other European countries and they are mostly Catholic, like me. It is my dream to visit Ireland some day and the movie Leap Year, never mind the geographical mistakes, still has presented some stunning visuals and i am more determined than ever to see some of those visuals some day.

  11. It’s a shame the movie did not actually film there. I went last year & while I fell in love with all of Ireland, Dingle was absolutely breathtaking. It was as if I was standing in a painting. It was magnificent.

  12. I watch a lot of movies.when it comes to LEAP YEAR.I was very much attached to the locations and the way the film has been shot.Only after watching the film. I started digging deeper about Ireland and the locations in the film and I explored much more about Ireland.Before South Africa was my no.1 destination now its IRELAND.Anyway thanks to the directors for choosing a lovely place to shoot the film.

  13. I have to dissagree a little with you Garret, despite the geographical mistakes, ever since i watched the movie Leap Year I’ve been so enchanted by the irish culture and the scenery. And this curiosity was what dragged me here for the first instance; even though all this mistakes that you’re pointing I cannot find the movie as an insult, in my opinion that sentence it’s very harsh on a movie that printed such a beautiful country, if not I wouldn’t have searched for the claddagh ring, the irish laguage, the castles, and the small towns they try to picture there, so lets give the movie some credit. Im from latin america and now for sure -thanks to this movie- you’ll have soon a new excited tourist 🙂

    I consider myself a fan

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