Ireland/Britain 1998 day 10: Dingle Peninsula

I’m much more active the next day – 29 January 1998 – beginning with a visit to Foxy John’s, a hardware store/bike shop/pub where I hire a bike for the day. Following a loop route in my Rick Steve’s guidebook, I head out to Slea Head, the westernmost point in Europe. Along the route there’s the dramatic scenery of steep cliffs and ocean views as well as the cultural ruins of antiquity. Some of the latter include the Fahan clocháns, stone huts expertly built without mortar the resemble beehives or igloos. These were once used as habitations and still shelter the sheep that wander freely over the peninsula.

At Slea Head itself, a point marked by a stone crucifix and a statue of the Three Mary’s weeping, I’m amazed that the sheep are standing on the steep cliff itself in a place I didn’t think sheep could even get to much enjoy grazing. The sea is dotted with jagged rocks known as the Blasket Islands, once home to community of rugged islanders. Sadly the Blasket Islands Interpretive Center and the ferry to the islands themselves are closed for the season.

Heading back inland I pass through the village of Ballyferriter where Ireland’s official bilingualism is abandoned and all the signs are solely in the Irish language. The sun is already starting to set so I decide not to stop and cheat myself of a uniqiue cultural experience. The final site on the tour is Gallarus Oratory, a small stone church resembling an overturned boat that may date back as far as 800 AD. I get chills thinking of the small community worshiping here over a thousand years ago.

Back in Dingle, I shower off the offensive smell I’ve gained while peddling around the Slea Head loop. Jessica, Amy, and I head out An Droichead Beag or the Small Bridge Pub, which true to its name is built over a bubbling stream. The music is good (they even sell an excellent recording called A Mighty Session) and the company is even better. Jessica and Amy try to fix me up with the local women (they both have boyfriends at home) with little success and mostly we enjoy conversing. Jessica even offers to let me stay at her flat in Paris. I accept the offer and start thinking of ways to revise my itinerary to piece in a side trip to Paris.

My time in Dingle turns out to be much the opposite of my time in Killarney, quiet, contemplative, and understated. I enjoy it all the same and consider Dingle one of the loveliest places on Earth.

Bicylcing to Slea Head
Pedaling to Slea Head. I was so proud of myself for managing to get this shot with the self-timer.

Slea Head Sheep
Baaa! How did these sheep get out on this cliff?

There’s no subtlety in Irish warning signs.

Ireland/Britain 1998 day 9: Dingle

Early in the morning of 28 January 1998, I board a bus in Killarney to Tralee and from there another bus to Dingle the main town on the Dingle Peninsula. The entire journey takes about 6 hours since Dingle is a bit off the tourist path, especially compared to Killarney. This is one of the reasons its worth visiting. Another is that the peninsula falls in a Gaeltacht region, a place where the Irish government supports traditional language and culture. A big draw of course is that the small town of 1,500 is home to over 50 pubs which are renown as some of the best pubs in Ireland for Irish trad. Many of the pubs do double duty including Dick Mack’s which is part pub and part leather-working shop.

On Pa’s recommendation I check into the Grapevine Hostel, a pleasant and cozy place to stay albeit quiet compared to the Súgán. There I meet up with Sonia, a young and attractive German woman I met on my first night in Killarney. She spent last night in Dingle and is heading out again on the next bus. We go shopping together in Dingle, each time we enter a store Sonia bellows out “Hello!” in the European fashion. I end up purchasing a blue woolen sweater, a charcoal gray lambswool scarf, and a little knit cap that rolls up much like the on Pa was wearing (I still wear all three of these articles of clothing). These prove to be practical purchases as the temperatures during my time in Dingle dip down into the 30’s and 40’s, the coldest of my entire six weeks of travel.

Back at the Grapevine I meet up with Jessica again as well as a Canadian woman named Amy. They determine that it is too cold to go out, so I end up going out alone for a lonely pint and somewhat subduded music at a pub called Teach Thomáis. Then I call it a night.

Fisherman working with their nets on the Dingle Harbor.

Sonia and I agreed that port towns like Dingle and Hamburg are the most beautiful places to visit.

A wrecked ship on the Dingle waterfront.