Going back isn’t always a bad move: Dingle revisited
After 40 years absence we have just returned from 5 days on the Dingle peninsula, Co Kerry.
Back then in Dingle Town although there were no main roads, car parks, bus service or restaurants the town of 1500 people boasted over 50 pubs, many housed in the main streets’ shops. It was commonplace, and some might say extremely handy, that whist trying on a pair of shoes or booking a ferry ticket you could enjoy a pint of the Black Stuff!
Ah the Guinness; although not 17p a pint anymore (€4 today) it remains the same creamy nectar it always was; you can almost spoon it from the glass and it still tastes better over there than in England. Another thing that is just the same is the friendliness and natural charm of the people, always able to pass the time of day with you and always with a smile on their face. This may be due to the Guinness or perhaps the other timeless thing, the sheer beauty of their surroundings. These are not just ‘nice views,’ this is an ocean and landscape that fills you with joy and gladdens the soul. There’s rolling green countryside, amazing Atlantic ocean views with waves crashing over ancient cliffs and the highest mountain pass in Ireland, the Conor Pass which equals the drive round Slea Head at the top of the peninsula for the wow factor!
And opposite Slea Head the broody, mystical mounds of the Blasket Isles. Once a thriving Irish speaking community until with a dwindling population the islands were left abandoned in the 1950s. If the sea is kind you can visit the old village from Dingle harbour and wander round the deserted cottages. If not (or maybe as well) visit the wonderful Blasket heritage centre in Dunquin (April till October). Housed in a marvellous purpose-built centre looking out to the mysterious islands, through film, photos and interactive and audio presentations from the islanders’ memoirs it gives a real feel of what life was like. Check out the fantastic glass mural in the entrance created to evoke the light and shade and daily workings of the people.
The peninsula offers so much to do and see and marvel over. There’s magical drives, cycling and walking with many a craft shop or pottery in which to browse and take some refreshment along the way. Wide, sandy Inch beach, exhilarating to drive on, is popular globally for its surfing on the Atlantic swell. This is the beach made famous as one of the locations for David Lean’s 1969 film Ryan’s Daughter which brought the peninsula and it’s simple fishing and farming community to a much wider audience.
The appearance of Fungi the dolphin in Dingle Bay some 20 odd years ago added to and increased the appeal of the area and Fungi liked it so much he’s still there and regularly pops up to say hi to boatloads of tourists.
If windsurfing’s your bag then head out to Castlegregory further round the peninsula where against a backdrop of magnificent scenery the southerly winds attract surfers from far and wide. There are many other blue flag beaches and seldom are any of them busy.
For history lovers there are archaeological remains and sites aplenty, from the famous early Christian Gallarus Oratory built between the 6th and 9th century to the beehive huts from the 12th century, standing stones, and in Ventry museum many artefacts from the Stone, Bronze and Celtic Iron age.
For exploration of another kind visit Annascaul and on the river you’ll find the South Pole Inn once the home of Antarctic explorer Tom Crean, part of Scott’s Discovery and Terra Nova expedition as well as part of the support party looking for Scott and his team on the ill-fated return from the South Pole. The pub is in a lovely setting and crammed with memorabilia (a museum is due to open upstairs in 2014)
Food and Drink
So after action-packed days on the peninsula, or chilling, depending on your taste, you return to Dingle which now has all the modern facilities and comforts that tourists demand (including its own microbrewery and distillery) and thoughts turn to eating and drinking. There are traditional inns, gastropubs and restaurants, coffee shops, ice-cream parlours and cafes. Everyone is catered for, with budget pizzas to pancakes, fish and chip shops to veggie, upmarket European to seafood – seafood chowder is a must.
They all offer value for money and provide a great plate of freshly made food served with smiles. As one local lady said to me when I commented on the portion size “sure the Irishman likes to be fed.” There are no ‘samples’ here as my mother used to call the ‘stylish’ meagre offerings of upmarket places in England. Almost every pub has entertainment in the evening and in the season every evening and some afternoons – oh the joy of traditional Irish music.
No matter how many pints of the Black Stuff you have, the walk back to your lodgings is always a safe one. Accommodation is plentiful, whether a hostel, b&b or a 4 star hotel there’s something to suit everyone’s taste.
There’s a lot more I could tell you but the tourist office on the harbour front is friendly and very helpful. So what are you waiting for? Go, enjoy and delight your senses and your soul. With easy access to Dingle from Kerry, Shannon or Cork airports and all routes down offering their own bit of magic along the way, your Irish adventure is within easy reach.
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