Dingle Bay & Castlemaine Harbour
Dingle Bay runs approximately 40 km /25 mi from northeast to southwest into the Atlantic Ocean. It is approximately 3 km /1.8 mi wide at its head, and 20 km /12 mi wide at its mouth. It is flanked on the south by the Iveragh Peninsula and on the north by the Dingle Peninsula. (Photo – www.docbrown.info)
There are no notable islands within the bay, but sections of the northern coastline feature spectacular stacks, sea arches, caves and virtually inaccessible coves.
Castlemaine Harbour is the easternmost part of Dingle Bay, where the Maine River estuary meets the Atlantic, from which it is sheltered by the protective fingers of Rossbeigh, Inch Strand, and Cromane. Although once used by shipping, the Harbour is now too silted up to be used by commercial vessels.
Killorglin (Co. Kerry / West)
Killorglin (Cill Orglan, allegedly from Cill Lorcan – Lorcan being Irish for Lawrence) (pop. 1400) is an attractive little market town on the River Laune, with great views of Dingle Bay.
There are several excellent pubs and a couple of decent eateries. The Bianconi Inn in the town centre is one of the last of the chain of hostelries founded by the famous C19th transport magnate, now a very good pub / restaurant. Nick’s is a legendary steak and seafood restaurant.
The Town Hall is said to have been built with the help of Andrew Carnegie, presumably to house a Library.
Dromavalla old church, now in ruins, was dedicated to Saint Lawrence, and serviced in the C15th from an Augustinian Monastery near Milltown.
St James’ church (RC), a neo-Gothic sandstone edifice, was built in 1887 to replace a previous structure erected in 1837 with a thatched roof and a mud floor, which had rapidly fallen into bad disrepair.
The Blennerhassett Monument was erected to commemorate Townsend Blennerhassett, a member of the Kerry Militia, who was drowned in 1867 while attempting to rescue a colleague.
Puck Fair is one of Ireland’s oldest and most unusual festivals. A young girl is chosen as Queen of Puck, and escorted by 12 damsels. On August 10th (St. Lawrence’s Day) a wild mountain goat is caught, welcomed by the Queen, paraded and ceremonially crowned as King Puck; the unfortunate animal is then elevated to a high perch where he overlooks a horse and cattle fair that lasts three days – the Gathering, the Fair and the Scattering.
The festivities become increasingly raucous as up to 100,000 revellers (nowadays mainly from the European mainland or the USA) indulge in a marathon of drinking, music and dancing while they enjoy the Guinness Busking Competition, open air concerts, jugglers, fire-eaters, sword-swallowers etc.
Puck Fair has been held annually in Killorglin for over 200 years, and is popularly believed to honour a herd of goats that stampeded, giving the townsfolk advance warning of the approach of “Cromwell’s troops” (although Cromwell never travelled this far west, his Roundheads did great damage in nearby districts).
Another version is that the former local landlords, the Blennerhassetts, turned an ordinary fair into a “goat fair” in order to avoid a late C18th tax levied on cattle, horses or sheep.
Some say it dates back to the pre-Christian festival of Lughnasa, when feasting and sacrifices marked the start of the harvest season, and that the goat is a pagan fertility symbol. Lughnasa undoubtedly has the same origins as an ancient festival in Lyons devoted to the Celtic deity Lugh (god of Light), replaced there by the Feast of Saint Lawrence, also celebrated over three days – the Vielle (Vigil), the Féte (Feast) and the Dispersement (Dispersal).
It is possible that Puck Fair started when the Norman founders of Killorglin dedicated their settlement to the same saint and imported the Gallic festival.
The Ballykissane Monument was erected to commemorate the death of three volunteers involved in Sir Roger Casement‘s plan for the German ship Aud to land arms and ammunition locally. In April 1916 they were travelling to Valentia to take over radio equipment for the purpose of signalling to the Germans, but took a wrong turning and were drowned when their car plunged into the sea.
The Killorglin area has many quiet roads and wonderful walks. It is possibly best known for its numerous idyllic fishing lakes, such as Lough Nakirka for trout fishing and Cara Lake for salmon. There are also river and sea fishing facilities available from Ballykissane Pier on Castlemaine Harbour.
Milltown & Castlemaine (Co. Kerry / West)
Milltown (Baile an Mhuileann) (pop. 350)(not to be confused with the Baile an Mhuileann / Milltown outside An Daingean / Dingle) is a large village that has grown substantially in recent years with a mixture of Tralee / Killarney commuters and alternative lifestyle seekers.
Built on the banks of the Ahsullish stream, and bordered by Kilcolman Abbey Demesne, Milltown has seven pubs, two take-away restaurants, three schools and a range of commercial services for the surrounding area.
Bushfield House, known as Kilcolman / Kilcoleman Abbey from c. 1820, was originally constructed from the remains of an older tower house on former MacCarthy Mór lands granted by King Charles II to the Godfrey family in 1668. It was destroyed by fire in the 1770s and reconstructed by Sir William Godfrey, 1st Bart, High Sherriff of Co. Kerry (d.1818).
According to local historian John Knightly, “The house was renovated under the second Baronet, Sir John Godfrey, according to ambitious plans drawn up by the famous architect, William Vitruvius Morrison. However the general economic decline of the 1820’s and family misfortunes meant that only the stables and service wing, with its flemish gables, were completed as planned.
“Later, in the early 1840’s, the third Baronet, Sir William Duncan Godfrey, further modified the main block of the house, adding an attic storey, a turret emblazoned with the Red Hand of Ulster, the traditional shield of a Baronet and assorted gables, pinnacles and buttresses. Inside the main reception rooms were remodeled in the then popular Gothic style with fine plasterwork by local craftmen, making liberal use of the Godfrey crest. The entrance hall was dominated by a fine bust of Eleanor, Lady Godfrey carved in Florence in 1817.
“The house was the centre of a 6,000-acre estate and was lived in continually by the Godfrey family until 1958. The last owner, Miss Phyllis Godfrey, confronted by a dreadful infestation of dry rot, was eventually forced to abandon the house for the gate lodge where she died in December 1959.”
Despite some valiant attempts to save it, the house was demolished in the 1970s, leaving only the evocative gateway.
Kilcolman parish church (CoI), an attractive building in the centre of the village, hosts a popular Organic Market on Saturdays.
The church of the Sacred Heart (RC) serves the parish of Listry.
Milltown holds a number of annual festivals and events, including the World Bodhran Championships.
Milltown is linked by the R563 to Killarney.
Castlemaine (Caisleán na Mainge). the small town that shares its name with the most sheltered part of Dingle Bay, is situated above the estuary of the River Maine as it flows from its source in the Slieve Mish Mountains.
Castlemaine derives its name from Castle Maing, erected by the Geraldines in 1215 on a rock in the river to guard the southern border of their territories. Forfeit to the Crown after the Second Desmond Rebellion, it was besieged for 13 months in 1598-1599 and changed hands several times during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms before it was finally destroyed by Cromwellian troops in 1652. A Constable of Castle Maing continued to be appointed until 1832, receiving income from fisheries and fairs.
Castlemaine used to be an important port, but like the Harbour, the river is now too silted up for any but the smallest craft.
During the War of Independence, an IRA ambush near Castlemaine in June 1921 killed four members of the British security forces.
During the Civil War, Castlemaine was attacked by anti-Treaty forces in January 1923.
St Carthage’s church (CoI) serves the old parish of Kiltallagh.
St Gobnait’s church (RC) in Boolteens-Keel is a handsome late C19th edifice set in well kept grounds.
Boolteens, a local townland, was immortalised by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd in their The Deeper Meaning of Liff as a word meaning “the small scatterings of foreign coins and halfpennies which inhabit dressing tables. Since they are never used and never thrown away, boolteens account for a significant drain on the world’s money supply.”
(The notorious Countess of Castlemaine was Barbara Villiers (1640 – 1709), courtesan and mistress en titre of King Charles II, who bestowed the titles Baron of Limerick and Earl of Castlemaine on her unfortunate husband Roger Palmer, upon whose death they became extinct; ennobled as the Duchess of Cleveland in her own right, she was briefly the owner of Dublin’s Phoenix Park and was an ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales).
(The English MP and arts patron Richard Child was made Viscount Castlemaine in 1718 and Earl Tylney of Castlemaine in 1731; he probably never visited Ireland, and both titles became extinct with the death of his son in 1784. William Handcock, MP for Athlone and Governor of Westmeath, was made Baron Castlemaine in 1812 and Viscount Castlemaine of Moydrum in County Meath in 1822, but died childless in 1834; his nephew Captain W Wright, Commisioner of the Victoria Goldfields, named the Australian city of Castlemaine in his honour in 1854. The 5th Baron Castlemaine was Lord Lieutenant of County Westmeath until 1922, and the title is still extant).
The song The Wild Colonial Boy opens with the lines “There was a wild colonial boy, Jack Duggan was his name / He was born and bred in Ireland in a place called Castlemaine.” The song may be based on the career of Jack Donahue, a local thief who was transported to Australia. He escaped and continued as an outlaw, but was eventually captured and shot in 1830. There is a small pub called Jack Duggan’s on the Tralee Road.
Ballygamboon Wood is a scenic location with great views across the Slieve Mish mountains, declared a European Special Area of Conservation as a dry heath and habitat for the rare Killarney fern.
Tom & Eileen’s Farmhouse B&B, very highly rated by travellers since 1960, is now run by the original owners’ daughter Mrs Phena Buckley.
Castlemaine House is a pleasant B&B overlooking the River Maine a few kilometres from the town.
Castlemaine is linked by the N70 to Tralee and by the R561 to Faranfore on ByRoute.
Fybagh is a small linear settlement with few services other than a post office, shop and school, and little in terms of public infrastructure, i.e. a fairly typical Irish “ribbon development” community.
Pasture along the coast at Fybagh (Photo by Pam Brophy)
Aughils is a hamlet at an ancient road junction.