02 Jul

Ireland: The Highlights (part 1)

Dingle was just how we remembered it, except that they officially changed the name of the town back to the original Irish name: “An Daingean.” We had planned on taking the same bike ride we took five years ago, which was a highlight of that trip, but we had to wait since our first full day in Dingle was steady rain. It cleared up a little in the evening, which allowed us to take a hike recommended by Rick Steves* himself (in an Irish guidebook we took from Eileen’s parents). The hike took us out to an old tower of some sort and then to a lighthouse and some rocky cliffs. (pics below) Overlooking the water, we chanced upon the famous dolphin that frequents Dingle’s harbour (look at that! I spelled harbour the British way. My spellchecker is underlining it in red.). His name is Fungee (pronounced foon-gee, according to Rick Steves), and there are boat tours of the harbour which guarantee you see Fungee or you don’t pay. He is also immortalized with a bronze statue in the center of town. We were pretty proud of the fact that we got to see him for free, and on foot, no less.

At the lighthouse, I was fascinated by a particular pocket of water roiling against the cliffs below – an obvious death trap, which made it tempting to jump into. Is that strange of me? I wouldn’t say that I’m comfortable swimming in whitewater. I also fear being stranded in the middle of large bodies of open water. So why I had any urge to throw myself from a cliff into a whirlpool in the ocean is beyond me. It made me think about this Blasket Island museum we went to earlier in the day. The Blasket Islands are a group of small Island off the tip of the Dingle peninsula. People used to live there, but their small population dwindled to the point that there was only one child left – a boy – and no young women. So they ended up evacuating the Island in 1953.

Now no one lives there. The thing is, why did anyone ever choose to live there? The weather made it impossible to reach the mainland more than half the days of a year. Deaths at sea were not uncommon. It’s a harsh, brutal location to live.

I started theorizing that perhaps the Irish had a certain familiarity with pain. Maybe that’s why there are so many great Irish writers. I mean, the population of Ireland is about 4 million. It’s tiny. And yet, great literature.

But back to Dingle. Wandering around town on the first night, we came across a beautiful church and tried unsuccessfully to determine what time the next service was. The church remains open all day, so we went in and admired the architecture and stained glass from a pew close to the altar. After a quiet five minutes, an old woman entered and slowly made her way up the aisle, using the pews as her support. When she reached us, she explained that the next service was at 10:00. Eileen remarked that in place of a church bulletin, they seem to have a little old Irish woman who can read your mind.

So it was that when we left the church, we were pondering the Irish abilities of clairvoyance, when we were practically accosted on the street by an old Irish man whom we passed on the sidewalk and who shouted, “Oh, you must be an angel from heaven.” He basically ignored me and proceeded to have a conversation with Eileen about how nice it is to meet people. At one point, he kinda side-hugged her and felt her up. We think it was an accident. He was maybe half-drunk or senile. It wasn’t clear.

The bike ride was as great as we remember it, maybe even better this time because we took a different route, traversing the entire Slea Head Drive, as it’s called. Endless beautiful scenery.

Here’s that tower on the Rick Steve’s hike to Fungee’s neighborhood.

Fungee's Neighborhood
Eileen on the jagged rocks.

At the lighthouse to Dingle Harbour
At the lighthouse to Dingle Harbour

On the Slea Head bike ride.

Death Trap
This is what I mean by “death trap.” Get caught down there next to that rock and you are toast.

And here’s what I mean by beautiful scenery. This picture actually shows the Blasket Islands. The one on the far left, where the surf is washing up is the main island, the one people lived on. No more.

And this here is more or less at the tip of the Dingle peninsula. 65 degrees, sunny, a light breeze, and basically zero pollution.

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