The scenic beauty of Kerry Co. Ireland presented its lovely welcome just on the other side of Tralee, where the wetlands stretched out into the bay and the Slieve Mish Mountains rose majestically, guiding my way out the peninsula to Dingle.
Dingle is a remote part of Ireland and despite the hoards of tourists that summer here, has retained much of it’s old world charm. A small village in size, the streets are lined to no end with colourful shop fronts (all occupied which is rare in most small towns)
and mostly pubs, art retailers and restaurants, many of which were still closed for the season on my visit. (A few of my favourites will be shared over the next couple days).
Accommodations are plentiful with the full range of comfort and convenience from boutique hotels, charming B&Bs, homey Farm Stays, and very affordable Hostel stays. I had the pleasure of resting my weary bones at the Hideout Hostile. Located down a quiet, yet commercial side street, this hostel exceeded any preconceptions I had! Michael (pronounced Meehal in Irish) is the proprietor. A local young man who has mastered the art of hospitality and provides a very clean and
comfortable space that is safe from crazy weekend bashers and was full of friendly travellers of all ages and nationalities. And only €20 with continental breakfast!!!
Most every local still speaks fluent Irish on the Dingle Peninsula, intertangling english with
irish throughout the conversation and the Kerry accent being fast and furious, with r’s steam rolling any remaining consonants. Accustomed to strangers, the locals were more than hospitable and willing to sit long spells chatting with this traveler about curious sites I had noticed, sites I need to come back and see and just life in general. I am in awe of the number of wonderful people I met in the day and a half I was there. From the fisherman who shared their stories over pints and cards to the old farmer in the corner reminiscing about his trip as a young man to America, to one of Irelands leading culinary movers and shakers meeting me last minute to talk about the Dingle Food Festival (another blog to come…)….. Hospitable is an understatement!
The Dingle peninsula, on the western coast of Ireland, has beckoned man for over
6000 years and much of his ancient past can still be found dotting the peninsula’s beautiful landscape. It’s preserved beauty has been praised by the likes of National Geographic, CNN and Rick Steves. Rocky earth has made agriculture near impossible, though the growing season comes sooner to this part of Ireland than most and today the dairy from a Kerry Cow is some of the finest in the world. Sheep is the bulk of what is found on the Dingle peninsula, with the mountain grass adding to the mild and distinctive flavour found only in Dingle lamb. The rich fishing waters are indisputable, and it was so refreshing to see the locals not only talking up the fresh selection available but eating it most meals as well (Which i have found is not so much the case in central east Ireland). Sadly due to EU regulations and poor decision making on part of the Irish government, the commercial fishermen of Dingle Harbour are suffering to lost rights of fishing, harsh quotas and the smothering on-slaught of other EU nations (Spain, Portugal, France, and even Egypt) swarming the Irish waters fishing beds, depleting the source, and even hauling back to their own countries not even for Ireland to profit. There are now only 4 Irish fishing boats amongst 20 others from other countries, in the relatively quiet Dingle harbour where twenty years ago one could find upwards of 40 Irish-only boats, day and night unloading the catch, preparing nets and awaiting the tide. Besides government over regulation and foreign vessels, the Irish fisherman also have to contend with a massive seal population inhabiting the Blasket Islands near by . Strict conservation protection laws as well as no natural predators have caused the seal to become a threat to the fishing population, to the fishing industry and to themselves from near lack of food supply. It was sobering to visit with these men so much a part of the sea, many of whom were 4th generation fisherman; now with their hands tied, their pockets empty and their hearts broken….but still going out to sea every morning before dawn to do what others from the Dingle coast have done before him for thousands of years and loving every cold, back-breaking moment.
A car is a must to explore the vast coast line of Dingle peninsula and discover it’s 2000+ monuments & ancient structures.
I unfortunately was on foot (well, after the cross country bus ride to get to Dingle) and only saw a small 10 mile stretch of the 30 mile coastal loop known as Slea Head Drive. The long tranquil walk down the narrow farm road was exhilarating, with occasional side steps of curiosity as rock formations or interesting paths would present themselves. At one point i ventured out in the direction of the sea on an old farm road to where i noticed a break in
the land, able to determine it was a cliff top, upon approach i could hear the sea hitting the rocks far below. A soggy trail led down a narrow path way, and soon guided my bum as i slid down part of the way to get a better view. Later i learned in the pub from my new fisherman friend Pòl, that this hidden cove was known as cuasa tower, and had not been used by
fishermen for near a century and at one point had a landmark tower perched high upon the cliff. As the day grew shorter and the road kept winding, I was getting wore down. I at least made it just 2 miles short of the most western point of Ireland and decided i better start making tracks back to town. Half way home, a friendly local and Irish dance teacher at the nearby school took pity on me and gave me a lift back to Dingle. The rest of the day was spent visiting with Sean Daly, Master Craftsman and owner of Dingle Crystal (blog to come soon) wandering the streets and shops, and discovering the hidden gems known as “Spirit Grocery”s (vlog to come soon!) and the wonderful people within.
August I will return to Dingle and give it the proper visit it deserves; to indulge in its numerous award winning eateries, to take a local fisherman up on his offer of going along solo fishing off the coast, to hike and camp a night out on the Blasket Islands, and to further explore (by car!) the countless natural wonders and ancient sites to be found on the Dingle Peninsula.