Oh, What a Beautiful Morning, Oh, What a Beautiful Day …

Day 15 / Tuesday, 25 September 2012

It’s a gorgeous view from the dining room at Tower View B&B, don’t you think? If I haven’t said it before, I’ll say it here: eat your breakfast! Even if you don’t normally eat a big breakfast at home, you should have something substantial (not least because it’s a part of your cost of lodging at a B&B) to get you going. Once you’re on the road you don’t really know when your opportunity for a coffee break … or lunch … will come. You might get peckish if you haven’t had a good breakfast.

Even on a rainy day! The dining room at Tower View.

Even on a rainy day! The dining room at Tower View.

After breakfast, we said good-bye to all the animals—especially Benji—and got right on the Slea Head drive; the B&B sits right at the “entrance” to this scenic route.

It was windy and cold, but we followed the road—it’s very narrow—along the coast. Our first stop was the lookout at the Dunbeg promontory fort, just a couple miles past Ventry (pop. 405) on the southern side of the peninsula.

Actually, you stop right here and walk across the road to the entrance to the fort. The Stonehouse Restaurant is exactly what it looks like—dry stone masonry.

Actually, you stop right here and walk across the road to the entrance to the fort. The Stonehouse Restaurant is exactly what it looks like—dry stone masonry.

Promontory forts were built by the ancients as a defense for both animals and humans (the tribal family). Animals were kept within outer walls but in times of attack the tribe could retreat to inner walls; with the sea behind them on three sides, there was less to defend against intruders. Parts of this particular structure date to the late Bronze Age (800 BC), though it also has a crumbled beehive hut, which means it was used as recently as the tenth century.

I am really fascinated by this sort of history, and in 2003 Gerry and I visited Dingle and took the walk down the hill to the fort. It’s an important site, well worth seeing (when you stoop under the lintel, you think, Boy, they were really short), but while the photos I have here don’t really show it, it’s a not-insignificant hill to climb back up when you’re (ahem) older and not a hiker. It would’ve taken pneumonia-me awhile to get back to the car.

That’s the fort down there behind the horse, right on the edge of the cliff.

That’s the fort down there behind the horse, right on the edge of the cliff.

This little donkey had plenty to say—and a lot of personality. Again, you can see the fort down there. Here’s another great view of that.

This little donkey had plenty to say—and a lot of personality. Again, you can see the fort down there. Here’s another great view of that.

On this trip, we were squeezing the drive onto an already full day, so we had to make choices, and here we chose not to walk down to the fort. We did commune with the donkey, however. 🙂

Here’s a zoom of the fort. And when my 2003 travelogue is finally posted, there will be other photos, closer up.

Here’s a zoom of the fort. And when my 2003 travelogue is finally posted, there will be other photos, closer up. Don’t forget, as well, you can click on any photo to enlarge and zoom.

This gives you a little idea of how steep the climb is. These are the fields to the west of the fort.

This gives you a little idea of how steep the climb is. These are the fields to the west of the fort.

The thing about the Slea Head drive is the views are so spectacular you want to stop every few feet. Fortunately, there are turnouts all along the road to facilitate this. (Also to facilitate two vehicles’ passing, should you encounter oncoming traffic. Most people tend to drive in the direction we did, though: clockwise.)

It’s very dramatic along this drive. I mean … doesn’t this just make you happy? It does me.

It’s very dramatic along this drive. I mean … doesn’t this just make you happy? It does me.

Same spot, looking the opposite direction; those are the Blaskets up ahead, so we were past Glanfahan but not yet to An Cros.

Same spot, looking the opposite direction; those are the Blaskets up ahead, so we were past Glanfahan but not yet to An Cros.

Here you can see the (very narrow) road and the little pullout; I’m looking behind us, so Dunbeg is back that way, around that curve.

Here you can see the (very narrow) road and the little pullout; I’m looking behind us, so Dunbeg is back that way, around that curve.

Now looking across the road. Sheep are everywhere. Fences mean little.

Now looking across the road. Sheep are everywhere. Fences mean little.

Now looking back out to sea; that’s the Iveragh Peninsula, probably Valencia Island.

Now looking back out to sea; that’s the Iveragh Peninsula, probably Valencia Island.

The rain kept quite a few away, I’m sure. And by this time in September we’d reached the “off season,” although I personally love September in Ireland for that very reason. (February is even more off—and also colder.) I’ve read that in July and August, these roads are practically impassable, there are so many tourists, which is why I’ll probably never visit then. This is also why the drive is traditionally driven clockwise, though there are no posted signs requiring you do so.

Continuing on to another pullout; you can see the road is only one lane wide. We’re at Slea Head.

Continuing on to another pullout; you can see the road is only one lane wide. We’re at Slea Head.

This is An Cros, at Slea Head; you can see Dunmore Head beyond the red car.

This is An Cros, at Slea Head; you can see Dunmore Head beyond the red car.

As noted, this particular point—the titular Slea Head—was packed when Gerry and I were here in 2003 (perhaps about a week earlier in the year). Today it was just three vehicles, some sheep, and that crucifix. I searched and searched and finally found some information about the statuary. The locals call it, simply, the Cross, and because we’re in the Gaeltacht, that’s An Cros to you. It was put up sometime before the 1960s—funded by an Irish-American lawyer who was a relative of a local priest—to mark the boundary between Dingle Town parish and the parish of Ballyferriter. And, of course, to dazzle the tourists. 🙂

So we parked, got out. There were a couple of guys with a camera on a tripod and an enormous zoom lens … whale-watching. Alli made friends immediately. She’s good at that. 🙂

Whale-watching guys mugging for the camera. (Jill’s photo.)

Whale-watching guys mugging for the camera. (Jill’s photo.)

Another pull-out, another photo. Here we’re barely past An Cros, looking at Lure (the rock), just off Dunmore Head, and the Blasket Islands in the distance. See the farthest one? They call it the Sleeping Giant. Can you see it? He’s lying on his back.

Another pull-out, another photo. Here we’re barely past An Cros, looking at Lure (the rock), just off Dunmore Head, and the Blasket Islands in the distance. See the farthest one? They call it the Sleeping Giant. Can you see it? He’s lying on his back.

Approaching Dunmore Head.

Approaching Dunmore Head.

Rocks! Lots of ’em!

Rocks! Lots of ’em!

On the R559 approaching Dunmore Head. I can’t tell you why this little strip of land fascinates me so, but it just does. I imagine myself in that little grey house, looking out and seeing the sea on both sides of me, and I kinda shiver. In a good way, I think. (Margaret’s photo.) Don’t forget, you can click on any photo and see it larger, and if you click again, you can zoom in.

On the R559 approaching Dunmore Head. I can’t tell you why this little strip of land fascinates me so, but it just does. I imagine myself in that little grey house, looking out and seeing the sea on both sides of me, and I kinda shiver. In a good way, I think. (Margaret’s photo.) Don’t forget, you can click on any photo and see it larger, and if you click again, you can zoom in.

Western tip of Dunmore Head.

Western tip of Dunmore Head.

You get a good view of the Blasket Islands from this point.

You get a good view of the Blasket Islands from this point.

The head of the Sleeping Giant through the zoom lens. To me it always looks like the head of a crouching dragon but I guess you could see Abraham Lincoln too.

The head of the Sleeping Giant through the zoom lens. To me it always looks like the head of a crouching dragon but I guess you could see Abraham Lincoln too.

Back in the car, drive a little further, probably to the Ballinglanna area.

Now we’re past Dunmore Head on other side of the Blaskets.

Now we’re past Dunmore Head on other side of the Blaskets.

Looking back the way we’ve come. This is not exactly like having your house on the celebrity tour in Los Angeles, but it might as well be.

Looking back the way we’ve come. This is not exactly like having your house on the Homes of the Stars celebrity tour in Los Angeles, but it might as well be.

Even if you had all the conveniences inside the house, what a pill to get groceries, medical care, etc. It’s beautiful here, but I’m not sure I could do it… (Margaret’s photo.)

Even if you had all the conveniences inside the house, what a pill to get groceries, medical care, etc. It’s beautiful here, but I’m not sure I could do it… (Margaret’s photo.)

At last we were at the Blasket Centre in Dunquin (pop. 74). This lovely heritage museum opened in 1993, forty years after the last group of islanders—the Great Blasket had been inhabited for at least three hundred years—was relocated to the mainland. It was a harsh life, made more so because there was no shop, no doctor, no priest. There had been no school since 1941. The crossing to the mainland was dependent on the weather, and once there, it was still a twelve-mile walk to the nearest doctor.

Still, they stayed. In the 1920s folklore scholars were delighted to find these people were perhaps the only group of Irish speakers who could not also speak English. These people were encouraged to write their life stories in their native tongue, and several of those books have become celebrated classics.

While Jill and Alli enjoyed a cup of tea and a bowl of soup in the snack shop, Margaret and I browsed through the exhibits and watched a moving documentary about life on the Great Blasket. (And also shopped in the bookstore, of course!) And then … back in the car!

Clogher Head, near Ballyferriter, looking west toward Sybil Head and the Three Sisters.

Clogher Head, near Ballyferriter, looking west toward Sybil Head and the Three Sisters.

I believe this is Dún an Óir village.

I believe this is Dún an Óir village.

The other side of Sybil Head and Smerwick Harbor, taken near Gallarus.

Smerwick Harbor and the other side of Sybil Head, taken near Gallarus.

We were on our way to see Gallarus Oratory, I for the second time. Again, I can’t tell you how excited I get over old piles of rock; this one is reputed to have been built in the 700s. Or 800s. They’re not really sure, frankly. They’re not sure about a lot of things. Was it an early Christian church? Or a gravesite? What they do know is it is an almost perfect example dry rubble masonry (that is, no mortar); each slab laid at a tilt so that water runs off, rather than inside. (Rick Steves claims he’s gotten wet inside it on a very rainy day, but others claim not to have, so I don’t know whom to believe. But I’ve seen the thing up close, and it looks pretty snug to me.) Margaret and I undertook the hike up the hill (not that difficult, really, unless you’re unwell). Wow.

It was pretty windy as we were walking up the hill to the Gallarus Oratory. I loved this image of the undersides of the leaves, blowing up in the wind.

It was pretty windy as we were walking up the hill to the Gallarus Oratory. I loved this image of the undersides of the leaves, blowing up in the wind.

Looking back down the hill we’re walking as we head to the oratory; now we’re looking northwestish at the Three Sisters from the other side, across Smerwick Harbor.

Looking back down the hill we’re walking as we head to the oratory; now we’re looking northwestish at the Three Sisters from the other side, across Smerwick Harbor.

There is it—the oratory (church)!

There is it—the oratory (church)!

Let’s get a little closer.

Let’s get a little closer.

Some say it looks like an upturned boat. Whatever. I don’t think that was the point.

Some say it looks like an upturned boat. Whatever. I don’t think that was the point.

A little cross, also very old—before they had the sorts of tools that could carve those magnificent high crosses we’ve seen.

A little cross, also very old—before they had the sorts of tools that could carve those magnificent high crosses we’ve seen.

The back side.

The back side.

This had to’ve been a lot of work.

This had to’ve been a lot of work.

Inside, taken with flash.

Inside, taken with flash.

And that was it. It was lunchtime and we still had a four-hour drive to our next B&B in Lahinch (pop. 600), so we needed to get off the peninsula. Naturally, that’s when we got a little turned around. Emily (GPS) finally put us to rights, though not before she took us up a one-lane horse-cart track. Pretty exciting, I must say.

Even when you’re lost you can see some pretty things, though; this is heather.

Even when you’re lost you can see some pretty things, though; this is heather.

One last stop as we’re leaving the Dingle Peninsula.

One last stop as we’re leaving the Dingle Peninsula.

On the peninsula, all roads lead back to Dingle town, where we caught the N86 to Tralee (pop. 23,693) and the N69 through Listowel (pop. 4,338) to Tarbert (pop. 805), where we would catch the Kilrush Ferry. This was a mad dash, because crossing the Shannon here would save quite a bit of time; we just weren’t certain how long we might have to wait for the next ferry.

It was rainy, windy, and cold on the ferry; I didn’t get out. That’s my little collection of flora on the dash.

It was rainy, windy, and cold on the ferry; I didn’t get out. That’s my little collection of flora on the dash.

Fortunately, the wait was mere minutes. We had a few nervous moments looking at the price schedule while we were in line to pay; it’s very confusing and slightly alarming. As it turns out, it was twenty euro (I think) for our car and passengers to cross.

From Killimer (pop. 482) on the other side we called Edel Kenny, our B&B hostess, to let her know we were on the way. We were all pretty hungry and were considering stopping for a pub meal somewhere along the road. “Oh, you’re close,” she said. “You can eat when you get here. Take the N67.” This was counterintuitive, but it turned out to be a great choice of route. So off we went through Kilrush (pop. 2,694), Kilkee (pop. 1,024), Doonbeg (pop. 206), Quilty (pop. 194), and Milltown Malbay (pop. 1,580), and finally we were in Lahinch.

Edel had given us directions to the Craglea Lodge B&B, “but if you pass it, just go on in to Kenny’s Bar and they’ll help you.” Because, it turns out, Edel is a Kenny. The bar is owned by her brother, the shop across the street (Kenny’s Woolen Mills & Gifts) by her sister. All of this is at the top of Main Street, where it ends at Church Street; and they all live in a group of homes just behind that (frankly, I’m surprised the Kenny compound isn’t on the map!). We easily found the B&B but Edel, a nurse, had to work until eight o’clock, so we went into town for some supper.

I loved Lahinch the last time I was here and thought it was a great, central location (in spite of our lodging in the Village of the Damned, which is a story not yet published in the 2006 travelogue). I’d been sick that time, too (flying on airplanes is apparently hazardous to my health), and had a wonderful Guinness beef stew at Kenny’s Bar that I am certain was instrumental in my recovery. The seating arrangement is different, and for a while I wondered if I’d remembered wrong … but I’ve since found a video taken there with the old arrangement I remember.

The Kenny public house on Main Street in Lahinch. Highly recommended. (Jill’s photo.)

The Kenny public house on Main Street in Lahinch. Highly recommended. (Jill’s photo.)

We were there about 5:45 and had to wait for the kitchen to open; in the meantime shops on the street were closing up, although Jill and Alli went out for a quick look around. I was exhausted from the drive, so I stayed put and had my first Guinness of the trip. Kenny’s is quite cozy and snug, the waitress (not a member of the fam but a longtime employee nonetheless) was friendly and attentive, and the barman was, too, talking to us from behind the counter as he rinsed and dried glasses one by one. (Later no one believed me when I said he was British, not Irish … but I was right. Ha! There are a lot of not-Irish folk waiting tables in Ireland, including an American girl at the Shelbourne and Germans at the Pearl Brasserie.)

Eventually the kitchen opened, food was served, and it was good. I had the beef and Guinness pie with a salad and veg.

Afterward—we were still waiting for Edel to return—Jill walked down to the little Spar (like a convenience store in the States, but in Ireland conveniently located in the middle of town) for bottled water and some fresh fruit. Nothing fresh available, and the proprietor told her she’d have to drive into Ennistymon (pop. 881) for a grocery store. What? I was pretty sure there was a Centra grocery store in the next block—and there was. Why did the guy tell her there wasn’t another grocery in town? Maybe because she was American and he could have a bit of sport with her? Who knows!

Then I drove everyone to the pier to have a look at the sea and to get a layout of the land. If I hadn’t been sick, this would have been an after-dinner stroll, of course. I also drove them to have a look at the Village of the Damned. It’s not Pepto-Bismol pink anymore—it’s been painted white—which improves its ambience not one whit.

By this time we were tired, so we checked at the B&B and caught Edel’s teenaged daughter returning home from a music theory lesson, so she let us in. And all was well until I learned there was no wi-fi. I’d been very frustrated with the trouble I’d had getting online, particularly at places whose websites had declared the availability of it when I was making reservations. “You can go down to Kenny’s,” I was told. (Not what I had in mind, but it ended up being a minor inconvenience.) Edel returned from work and came around to introduce herself. She’s chatty and friendly. (In the Small World Department, Edel works at the nursing home where I went to the Sunday walk-in clinic back in 2006.) And then I was really ready for bed!

Edel, house dog Drago the Labradoodle, and Alli.

Edel, house dog Drago the Labradoodle, and Alli.

Today’s Observation

I know I keep going back to the cultural differences in table service, but here’s another one: it’s a problem, in Ireland, in my experience, to split tickets at a table. Here in the States, the server often asks, “Will this be one ticket or separate tickets?” In fact, servers tend to assume separate tickets. This seems reasonable to me, but everywhere we went, if we asked—always ahead of time—to have separate billing, it seemed as if we were asking for something unusual and difficult. Some places really weren’t happy about it. At Kenny’s they were nice enough about it, but it was clearly out of the ordinary, and I’m not the sort of person who likes to ask for special favors.

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The Obligatory Flat Tyre

Day 14 / Monday, 24 September 2012

A damp morning and since we were not technically in a B&B, there would be no breakfast on the premises. Jill knocked on the door around 8:30 and said they couldn’t be ready at nine because they’d slept rough … and that was fine. It took me longer to do everything—go up and down stairs, walk across the street, eat breakfast—due to my two pneumonia symptoms (huffing and puffing, and legs that felt like lead), so a little delay took the pressure off me.

Except, as it turns out, we needed every moment of that delay: Margaret and I took a load of bags to the car and discovered a flat tire. Actually, a flat tire on a rental car in Ireland shouldn’t come as a surprise—I read somewhere years ago that it is more common than not having a flat. Certainly Gerry and I had one on the 2003 trip (we did not on the 2006 trip, but we drove two different cars in two different weeks, so that may have had something to do with it).

So we stood there for a moment on the nearly empty Kenmare street (see the photo), wondering what we should do next (OK, OK, we knew what to do next—remove the spare tire from the trunk—we just weren’t in the mood, at 8:35 a.m., to do it). And about that time, a man drove by in a little beat-up Celica (I think it was a Celica).

“Do ye need some help?” he said in that lilting Kerry accent. The Kerry brogue is nearly unintelligible to me, but I had the presence of mind to realize he was offering help, and said, “Yes, yes, oh, God bless you, yes!”

“I’ll go around,” he said, swirling his hand in a circle. Kenmare’s main shopping district is a triangle, and traffic only flows one way; he was already past us. He took off. Margaret and I looked at each other; we may have giggled with relief. 🙂

And then there he was, all business and speed, changing the tire and the whole time keeping up a monologue of advice about what to do about the tire—don’t call the rental car company, just go get the tired fixed—and how much to pay. Most of which I could not understand. 🙂

Kenmare is dead at 8:35 in the morning. Thank God this guy—I never got his name—happened by. Yes, he is wearing Crocs.

Kenmare is dead at 8:35 in the morning. Thank God this guy—I never got his name—happened by. Yes, he is wearing Crocs.

His beautiful black dog got out of his car with a tennis ball in his mouth and coerced me into playing with him: he’d thrust the ball out along the street with his nose, and I’d kick it back.

“He’ll do that forever,” his owner said. “Never gets tired of it.”

A self-entertaining dog in Kenmare, Ireland.

An intense self-entertaining dog in Kenmare, Ireland.

Finally he was done, wouldn’t take money for his efforts, and Margaret and I needed a pot of tea in the worst way. So we ambled on into the Lansdowne Arms Hotel—directly across the street from our lodging and where we’d been headed before we noticed the flat tire—for breakfast. I called Alli quickly and told them to take more time because now we were getting a late start.

The Lansdowne Arms was lovely. Very civilized. We were greeted and seated and had a pot of tea in about two minutes. I’ve just read this is a family-owned hotel, so I suspect the woman who did all three of those things (it’s just not that busy at that hour of the morning in Ireland) was a family member. I explained to her about our tire situation and she got me a name and directions before we left.

Soon Jill and Alli showed up to have some breakfast, and while they were finishing up, I left to get the tire fixed. No sense in taking everyone, so the other three walked around Kenmare and shopped, since now it was around ten o’clock.

This is where I went, about five miles out of town. (Note: in Ireland it’s spelled tyre.) The driver of that SUV pulled in after me, but I’m such a goof I parked to the side. So this other fella swooped into the bay and was taken care of first. Rude, dude!

This is where I went, about five miles out of town. (Note: in Ireland it’s spelled tyre.) The driver of that SUV pulled in after me, but I’m such a goof I parked to the side. So this other fella swooped into the bay and was taken care of first. Rude, dude!

The shop was about five miles outside of town. Of course, five miles feels like a hundred when you don’t know exactly where you are going and you’ve left the metropolis (Kenmare is pop. 1,700) behind.

There could be worse views, from one’s office, than this. That’s the Killarney Road (the R569).

There could be worse views, from one’s office, than this. That’s the Killarney Road (the R569).

While I stood there, camera in hand, it began to rain. And then it was a regular ol’ cloudburst.

A storm blew in very quickly.

A storm blew in very quickly.

Here you can actually see the rain drops. :)

Here you can actually see the rain drops. 🙂

By the time the rain passed, the tire was plugged. The shop owner, Mike, had “essential tremor” and shook a little, but not when he worked. He was very efficient and nice; the tire cost just ten euro to fix.

So—a little delay, but not enough to ruin the day. I drove back to Kenmare, loaded up the gals, and we were back on track. We were on our way to the Dingle Peninsula. Alli had especially requested that our itinerary include Dingle, and I understood: I’d been here in 2003 and had fallen in love with the place. Those gorgeous, velvet-soft hills on the peninsula were like nothing I’d ever seen before.

But first we had to traverse Macgillycuddy’s Reeks. This is the rugged terrain in between Kenmare and Killarney National Park, all along the N71.

Heading into the mountains outside Kenmare, headed north-ish and west-ish. (Margaret’s photo.)

Heading into the mountains outside Kenmare, going north-ish and west-ish. (Margaret’s photo.)

Macgillycuddy’s Reeks. See the little bit of road hanging off the hill? (Margaret’s photo.)

Macgillycuddy’s Reeks. See the little bit of road hanging off the hill? (Margaret’s photo.)

It was raining off and on but we stopped all along the way to take photos, finally arriving at Ladies’ View on the southwest end of the park. So-called because Queen Vicki passed through here in 1861, and her ladies-in-waiting thought the view was quite nice. And it is.

What the ladies viewed: the lakes of Killarney from Ladies’ View. Yes, it was raining.

What the ladies viewed: the lakes of Killarney from Ladies’ View. Yes, it was raining.

We drove on through the park and stopped at one of the lakes. (Margaret’s photo.)

We drove on through the park and stopped at one of the lakes. (Margaret’s photo.)

Everything looks so grey, but it really was pretty. Jill and Alli took a lot of photos here but I haven’t seen them.

Everything looks so grey, but it really was pretty. Jill and Alli took a lot of photos here but I haven’t seen them.

And then it would stop raining for awhile …

And then it would stop raining for awhile …

…when it did, we’d have rainbows! This one—our third—was really spectacular. Not sure where this was, except somewhere on the N71.

…when it did, we’d have rainbows! This one—our third—was really spectacular. Not sure where this was, except somewhere on the N71.

Once you’re in Killarney, you grab the N72 for about two miles, and then the R563. So you’re off the fancy road. 🙂 You continue northwest to Milltown (pop. 838), where you pick up the N70 for a couple miles until you get to Castlemaine (pop. 187), where you hang a sharp left onto the R561. This is where things get really interesting. The R561 hugs the southern coast of the Dingle Peninsula, and I do mean hug. Pull up Google Maps and have a look.

I have never had a problem with mountain driving, but them I’m always the driver. These extremely narrow roads with no shoulder, just a sheer drop-off, weren’t as easy for the passengers. When we got to the magnificent strand (beach) at Inch, we stopped for a breather. 🙂

The strand at Inch, looking west toward the tip of the peninsula.

The strand at Inch, looking west toward the tip of the peninsula.

The strand at Inch, looking due south. It’s hard to tell, but those mountains you see are actually on the Iveragh Peninsula, across the Castlemaine Harbour.

The strand at Inch, looking due south. It’s hard to tell, but those mountains you see are actually on the Iveragh Peninsula, across the Castlemaine Harbour.

IMG_0114

I was fascinated by the clouds and the sunlight shining through them onto the water (in the center of this photo). Again, the southwest corner of Ireland is like fingers on a hand, a series of peninsulas. This photo is taken from the southern edge of the Dingle Peninsula looking across at the Iveragh Peninsula.

The last ten miles from Inch into Dingle town veer away from the water’s edge, which was a little relief. We stopped several places

Everybody snapping photographs—even me!

Everybody snapping photographs—even me!

That’s the Great Blasket Island up ahead, on the other side of that shining water. (Margaret’s photo.)

That’s the Great Blasket Island up ahead, on the other side of that shining water. (Margaret’s photo.)

Dingle’s velvet valleys look soft enough to touch. (Margaret’s photo.)

Dingle’s velvet valleys look soft enough to touch. (Margaret’s photo.)

Such a great photo of Margaret! (Taken with Margaret’s camera.)

Such a great photo of Margaret! (Taken with Margaret’s camera.)

A little further down the road, Alli and Jill.

A little further down the road, Alli and Jill.

And then we were in Dingle (pop. 1,929). Dingle town—after all the tiny villages and hairpin curves you have to traverse to get here, which make you feel like you’re on the edge of the world—is bigger than you think it will be. It was also a lot more touristy than I remembered (and yet it had some of the nicest shops).

We found our B&B easily, but no one was home (it was only noon-ish, though; people have things to do), although there was washing out on the line, so they hadn’t gone far. So we went back into town for lunch.

It’s so hard to decide on a restaurant when you are driving in a crowded town. But—being still short on breath—I didn’t have the energy to walk the whole, hilly town to decide where to eat after the stressful drive, so we ended up in a place that wasn’t all that great … but would do.

The itinerary called for a spin around the Slea Head drive (pronounced SLAY Head)—a tour of the very tip of the peninsula that offers not only spectacular scenery but also some very interesting antiquities. It was, in fact, what we’d come to Dingle for, and I thought the setting sun would be nice. (We were, after all, in the spot at which one could truly say, “Next stop, America” … or at least “Next stop, Newfoundland.”) It was 1:30 and we’d be done by 5:00, with plenty of time to relax. However, Jill and Alli wanted to shop, so it was decided to do the drive in the morning.

We went our separate ways to shop—mostly because I just can’t keep up. And Margaret and I found many nice places to shop! Ha. We learned there is no VAT on books or children’s clothes. (I bought two books: High Shelves & Long Counters, and Ireland Unhinged. Margaret also purchased the former; we were amused to see we’d discovered it independently of one another.) Alli wanted to find the pub at which the movie Leap Year was filmed … but as you might guess, no part of it was actually made here, though the town figures largely in the plot.

St. Mary’s (Catholic) Church, on Green Street. Built in 1862, with services offered in Gaelic, because we’re in the Gaeltacht (although it didn’t feel as alien to me as it did in 2003).

St. Mary’s (Catholic) Church, on Green Street. Built in 1862, with services offered in Gaelic, because we’re in the Gaeltacht (although it didn’t feel as alien to me as it did in 2003).

Main Street, Dingle. (Margaret’s photo.)

Main Street, Dingle. (Margaret’s photo.)

I was fascinated by what was at the end of the street—and on that hill!

I was fascinated by what was at the end of the street—and on that hill!

An interesting old home on Main Street.

An interesting old home on Main Street.

Finally we made contact with the B&B, subsequently ran into Jill and Alli, and were off to our lodgings, the lovely Tower View B&B run by the delightful Mary Griffin. Of course, first I had to get lost finding the car, because that’s my way. 🙂 If I don’t have a map I get panicky, and I can get “turned around” easier than anyone you know. And all that walking in the rain. Good grief!

The Tower View, on Main Street (although the street may be called something different where they are), in Dingle. Plenty of parking! (Margaret’s photo.)

The Tower View, on Main Street (although the street may be called something different where they are), in Dingle. Plenty of parking! (Margaret’s photo.)

The view from our room: there really is a tower up there! (Eask Tower, built in 1847 to guid ships into the mouth of Dingle Harbor, which has a “blind” mouth.)

The view from our room: there really is a tower up there! (Eask Tower, built in 1847 to guid ships into the mouth of Dingle Harbor, which has a “blind” mouth.) That’s a wooden hand pointing to the left. 🙂 Remember, you can click on the photo to enlarge it, then click again to zoom in.

The B&B is very near the water, which you can see in this photo taken from the driveway. The rain had quit for the moment.

The B&B is very near the water, which you can see in this photo taken from the driveway. The rain had quit for the moment.

Tower View B&B is quite nice; I’d definitely stay here again. (I think it’s been featured in Rick Steves’s travel books,* so if you are coming during spring or summer, you should reserve way ahead. Like now.) Mary and her husband keep a small “petting zoo” (surely for the Yanks!) and an immaculate home with lovely rooms. Their dog, Benji, begins to herd the sheep the minute he has an audience.

A bucolic scene at dusk, sheep grazing peacefully. But note the pair of ears pricked in the lower right. (sigh)

A bucolic scene at dusk, sheep grazing peacefully. But note the pair of ears pricked in the lower right. (sigh)

Yes, that’s Benji, herding sheep, even when they don’t need to be herded. :)

Yes, that’s Benji, herding sheep, even when they don’t need to be herded. 🙂

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Sundown is really spectacular here in Dingle.

We didn’t go out that night, just spent it quietly reading and getting to bed early for a change. (I worked.) We’d need to get an early start, since the Slea Head drive had been moved into a day that had a very long drive. And a ferry ride!

* It should be noted I have a different preference in guide books.

Today’s Image

In Kenmare, the tire-changer’s black dog was exactly the sort of dog I love. He was—in the words of a dog rescue organization I try to support—a Big Fluffy Dog. He wasn’t overly familiar, didn’t feel the need to poke me with his nose; he also wasn’t restless, didn’t need to be called back. He was a dog of good behavior. But then … he spent a lot of time doing what you see here.

That is, staring at the spare tire.

That is, staring at the spare tire.

He was completely fixated on that tire—head pointed down, standing stock-still. What was it about that tire?

I’ll tell you: he’d dropped his small ball through that hole. None of us saw that. He waited and waited, then lay down next to the tire, never taking his eyes from it. When his master lifted the spare, the source of his anxiety was revealed, rolling toward the curb. (Not for long: the dog snapped it up again, ready to resume his game of catch with me.)

Tags: Kenmare, Dingle, Tower View B&B, Slea Head drive, Iveragh Peninsula, Dingle Peninsula, Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, Ladies’ View

The Dingle Peninsula Is a Jewel Too (2/2)

Tuesday, 16 September 2003
Killorglin, Co. Kerry – Tralee, Co. Kerry

From there it was off to the Dingle Peninsula; it’s a Gaeltacht region, which makes sign-reading even more of an adventure. The term Gaeltacht refers to Gaelic-speaking areas of Ireland. “Up to the 16th century,” the D-K Eyewitness Travel Guide says, “virtually the entire population spoke the native tongue. British rule, however, undermined Irish culture, and the Famine drained the country of many of its Gaelic-speakers. The use of the local language has fallen steadily since. Even so, in the Gaeltachts 75 percent of the people still speak it, and road signs are exclusively in Irish—unlike most other parts of Ireland.” There are three principal Gaeltacht regions in the Republic: in Kerry, Galway, and Donegal (which is the largest). And in Ireland, you’d say they are speaking Irish.

So: off to Dingle of the breathtaking views, right on the edge of the world, or so it seemed. The roads were tighter, smaller, the sea so very blue. It was windy, and cooler, more like what I’d been expecting. And the houses were of every hue imaginable!

This is Dunmore Head, Dingle Peninsula, 2003.

This is Dunmore Head, Dingle Peninsula, 2003.

How green was my valley, eh? Taken near Inch, 2003.

How green was my valley, eh? Taken near Inch, 2003.

The R561 hugs the coastline all along the peninsula and offers spectacular views. And the strand (beach) at Inch is very fine.

Stopped at Inch, looking right. This is the way we will go on.

Stopped at Inch, looking right. This is the way we will go on; the road’s right along the edge of those cliffs.

Stopped at Inch, looking left. That, my friends, is a beach!

Stopped at Inch, looking left. That, my friends, is a beach!

I wanted to come here for the antiquities, so our first stop was the Dunbeg Stone Fort. Dating from the Iron Age (500 BC to 500 AD), this is one of the best-preserved promontory forts in Ireland.

Just a two-minute walk down a deceptively steep incline (it took me more than two minutes to get back up!), the small fort is situated on a sheer cliff that projects into Dingle Bay.

It doesn’t look like much from a distance, does it? Although that incline looks fierce. Dunbeg Fort, 2003.

It doesn’t look like much from a distance, does it? Although that incline looks fierce. Dunbeg Fort, 2003.

But then you get closer. It’s a very pretty spot. The ancients knew how to pick the good locales.

But then you get closer. It’s a very pretty spot. The ancients knew how to pick the good locales. Gerry on the right.

Stone forts usually had a large stone wall enclosing a considerable area of a cliff edge, and were primarily defensive structures, refuges of last resort during the Celtic invasion of the country.

This lintel is very low; they must have been a short people.

This lintel is very low; they must have been a short people.

They foraged and grazed animals outside the walls, retreating inside them when threatened.

They foraged and grazed animals outside the walls, retreating inside them when threatened.

Of course, they only had to defend three sides—they had the sea at their backs. Dunbeg, 2003.

Of course, they only had to defend three sides—they had the sea at their backs. Dunbeg, 2003.

And in sight of Dunbeg, beautiful farmland. 2003.

And in sight of Dunbeg, beautiful farmland. 2003.

From there, we drove the Slea Head Road around the southern end of the peninsula, the sea almost constantly in sight. As the road rounded the promontory, we came upon a roadside shrine, a sculpture of the crucifixion in stunning white, known locally as “An Cros,” which is, simply, “The Cross” in Irish. At this spot the Blasket Islands came into full view, and there were lots of eager photographers, including me.

An Cros, Dingle Peninsula, 2003.

An Cros, Dingle Peninsula, 2003.

This was also the spot at which we blew the front left tire. I’m told you haven’t really experienced a driving trip in Ireland unless you’ve had a flat, so—aha!—this was the day for that. We emptied the trunk of all our luggage, pulled out the spare, and then I couldn’t figure out the jack to save my life! Never one to agonize (or stand shivering in a gale), I marched up to the nearest male driver and asked for help. He and his wife were British, wearing sandals and shirtsleeves on a day when I was bundled in my fleece jacket. He very kindly helped us change the tire, and pointed out that our left rear tire also appeared to be going flat (it was).

This is exactly the lay-by where we had our flat tire, looking off to the right. Those peaks in the distance are called the Three Sisters.

This is exactly the lay-by where we had our flat tire, looking off to the right. Those peaks in the distance are called the Three Sisters.

From the same spot, I looked left. Not a bad place to spend a few minutes. :)

From the same spot, I looked left. Not a bad place to spend a few minutes. 🙂

Jamie’s Eighth and Ninth Travel Tips: When renting cars abroad, before you purchase the often-pricey insurance offered by the rental company, check your own auto insurance to see if you are insured. You might well be! Also check with your credit card company, since many of them insure you if you rent the car using their card. I was covered under both these situations—except in Israel, Jamaica, and—you guessed it—Ireland. So, in the event you are not covered, do purchase insurance. Once back on the road, we called Avis, and they simply told us to purchase a new tire, for which they’d reimburse us. It was all very easy, and we were glad we’d opted for the insurance.

Approaching the Blasket Islands, just off the Dingle Peninsula, 2003.

Approaching the Blasket Islands, just off the Dingle Peninsula, 2003.

The flat tire was only a momentary set-back, however, and from Slea Head we drove on to the Blasket Centre, which honors the unique heritage of the Blasket Islands.

A different view of the Blaskets; that’s the Blasket Centre in the distance beyond the fence, right on the edge of the water. It was a gorgeous day.

A different view of the Blaskets; that’s the Blasket Centre in the distance beyond the fence, right on the edge of the water. It was a gorgeous day.

Lying 5 kilometers off the west coast of Kerry, the largest of these, the Great Blasket Island, was inhabited continuously for at least 300 years. It was a hard life—no electricity, no running water, a three-mile crossing to the mainland, weather permitting, followed by a five-mile walk by road for a priest, or a twelve-mile walk to reach a doctor—but in this isolated location, the Blasket islanders retained their own culture and tradition, at the very heart of which lay their continuing use of the Irish language. ‘Discovered’ in the early 1900s by scholars who were delighted to find perhaps the only outpost of Irish speakers who could not speak English, and who had, not coincidentally, a rich storytelling tradition, the islanders were encouraged to write their life stories in their native tongue. This experiment yielded a priceless literary legacy, dozens of books that are still in print.

Sadly, the population began to fall as emigration stole the young islanders away to America, leaving the old and infirm, and in 1953 the government decided that the island should be abandoned after the tragic death of a man who fell ill but could not be visited by a doctor for three days, due to inclement weather.

Although in researching this part of the story I ran across a twelve-year-old published rant damning the (then) proposed Blasket Centre (the author called it Dingle Disneyland), I found the building and its exhibits to be respectful and enormously moving. And of course I bought books there!

Finally rounding the tip of the peninsula, we then found our way to the Gallarus Oratory, one of the most famous sights in Ireland. “This stone building,” the ticket stub says, “is about 1300 years old. It is a perfect specimen of dry rubble masonry …”

The Gallarus Oratory, Dingle Peninsula, 2003.

The Gallarus Oratory, Dingle Peninsula, 2003.

Shaped like an upturned boat, this miniature church is probably the best preserved early Christian church in Ireland—and after centuries of buffeting by Atlantic gales, the building is still completely waterproof! This is due to the technique called dry-stone corbelling, in which the stones were laid at a slight angle, lower on the outside than on the inside, allowing water to run off. I found this … just astonishing.

It’s really something.

It’s really something.

A very old slab cross at Gallarus Oratory.

A very old slab cross at Gallarus Oratory.

Again, the ancients certainly knew how to pick their spots. I took this photo standing in the doorway of the Gallarus Oratory. We walked up that path from the little museum. But what a spectacular view! (And notice we’re looking at the Three Sisters from the other side now.)

Again, the ancients certainly knew how to pick their spots. I took this photo standing in the doorway of the Gallarus Oratory. We walked up that path from the little museum. But what a spectacular view! (And notice we’re looking at the Three Sisters from the other side now.)

Those narrow roads on the Dingle Peninsula served to make me a more assured driver. Earlier in the trip, every approaching car caused me to begin muttering “Move over, move over, move over already!” as I myself scooted to the far left, scraping trees and brush in the process. Then it began to dawn on me that driving in Ireland was just a gentle game of chicken—the other driver was going to move over, of course he was going to!—but just not until the last possible moment, to avoid inflicting on his own car the pain I was inflicting on mine.

Good-bye to the beautiful Dingle Peninsula as the sun lowers over the see in the west. Another of my favorite photos.

Good-bye to the beautiful Dingle Peninsula as the sun lowers over the sea in the west. Another of my favorite photos.

We ended our day in Tralee. Our B&B, the Tralee Townhouse, was in the town center, so we strolled around until we found a pub—the Abbey—with a television tuned to the Manchester United game (must-see TV for my traveling companion), and settled in with hearty pub food and a hearty crowd around us. Once the men at the table next to us heard my accent, they were full of questions, where was I from, and so forth. And once the word Nashville was spoken, we had to raise our glasses to the recently deceased Johnny Cash. As I recall, there were a few country songs sung that night too. 🙂

One last story, before I leave you with this day: the pub across the street from the Abbey—called Seán Óg’s (or Little John’s, for us non-Irish speakers)—had an amusing slogan across its front facade, which read “Drinking Consultants.”

Next: the little Ford gets a new tire!