The Emerald Isle

The Emerald Isle Gaeltacht , where Gaelic is the first language of most of the inhabitants. There are also something like 2,000 prehistoric and early Christian sites to be found here, evoking an overriding sense of history and of the past. Among the finest of these is the extraordinarily atmospheric Gallarus Oratory, a remarkable little drystone building shaped like an upturned boat, its interior lit by one small window and a narrow door. Set in a field a short distance inland from Smerwick harbor, the oratory is thought to have been built between 800 and 1200. The solitariness of the Gallarus Oratory seems a world away from the busy, colorful life of Dingle, the fishing port and tourist center on the south side of the peninsula. Dingle, which for walkers wishing to take their time getting there, is 20 miles (32km) from Tralee via the Dingle Way; it has had an eventful history, including a period when it was a center for smuggling. Tralee, at the head of Tralee Bay on the northern edge of the Dingle Peninsula, is County Kerry’s chief town. It lies in the lovely fertile Vale of Tralee, celebrated in the song “The Rose of Tralee,” which gives its name to the Rose of Tralee International Festival. Fenit, west of Tralee on the north shore of Tralee Bay, was the birthplace of St. Brendan the Navigator, and legend has it that Brendan began his epic voyage in a curach (curragh) to cross the Atlantic to North America from the south coast of the Dingle Peninsula. In 1976–77, the British writer/adventurer Tim Severin proved that the saint could have done this by building a replica boat of wood and leather 36ft (11m) long, which he named the Brendan , and sailing it across the Atlantic, retracing Brendan’s original route. LEFT: Little Samphire lighthouse is located to the west of Fenit pier in Tralee Bay, County Kerry. 239