Sunday, September 20, 2015

Slea Head and the Dingle Dolphin

Our hostess at our B&B in Dingle (St. Joseph's) strongly resembled my mother's aunts and cousins, and the genteel atmosphere,--linen cut work tablecloths, classical music playing in the dining room, doilies wherever a doily could be placed, impeccable cleanliness, and a sense of things being done correctly-- was a bittersweet reminder of my life when I was growing up. A life I have entirely lost.

Our plan for our full day in Dingle was to explore Slea Head Drive, which is a 50 km ring around the edge of the Dingle Penninsula, and which takes you into close proximity to some ancient Irish sites.  When I was first planning this trip, I thought we'd rely entirely on public transportation, and there IS bus service to every town we have visited on this trip, but really, to explore rural Ireland, it's best to have a car.  Alternatively, you could go with a group in a hired coach tour, but if you want to rely 100% on the Irish bus system, you'd need to allow a lot of extra time.  Also, while we're talking about driving in Ireland, it's pretty much essential that you know how to drive a stick shift.  You can request an automatic transmission when you book your car, but I overheard that there's no guarantee you'll actually get one and automatics are more expensive.

Anyway, we were on the road early in the morning and our first stop was Dunbeg Fort, an ancient promontory fort.  The fort itself is located on private farmland and you pay the farmer three Euros per person to see the fort.  Can you imagine discovering a major archaeological site on your farm?

A little further up the road (on a different farmer's land) were ancient beehive dwellings.  These were up a steep hill, with amazing views. We continued our way around the peninsula, stopping at various spots along the way to take pictures and enjoy the view.  Eventually, we parked at the Blasket Centre in Dún Chaoin and found the trailhead for the Siúlóid Na Cille loop and walked for quite a while along the cliffs. The paths are grass-covered and the turf underneath is strangely springy.  It's almost like walking on a mini trampoline. I felt a bit melancholy, as I knew I would.  I have resisted going to Ireland for a long time specifically because I knew it would make me unbearably sad to be back in the land of my ancestors. Particularly poignant was the sound of the wind in the grass on the hillside by the beehive huts.  My distant ancestors would have lived in something similar, probably.

 I was in two minds about taking the ferry out to the Blasket Islands--inhabited until 1953 after which the residents agreed to move to the mainland.  The Secret of Roan Inish (one of my all-time favorite movies) is loosely based on the story of the Blasket Islands, and they looked so gloriously isolated. I longed to hike to the top of the mountain on Great Blasket Island.  However, the ferry was expensive and a trip to the islands would have eaten up a lot of our time.  Instead, we got back in the car, drove a bit farther on, and had lunch at Tig Áine, an excellent cafe near the sea. I overheard one of the other customers tell our server that their cappuccino was the best he'd ever had, so I had to order one for myself and it was superb--dare I say, the best cappuccino of my life.

We completed the loop and got back into Dingle just in time for the last boat out to see Fungie, the "Dingle Dolphin."  I know what you're thinking, and I was thinking the same things myself, but who can resist the DINGLE DOLPHIN?  Fungie was a wild dolphin who swam into Dingle Bay on his own in 1983 and has stayed ever since.  The fisherman noticed how friendly he was and at some point, boats started taking tourists out to see him.  He seems to be attracted to boats--particularly small dinghies--and will cavort and jump alongside boats in the bay,  The trick is, no one knows where he is at any given moment so you spend a lot of time circling the bay, keeping an eye out, but for that you're rewarded with views of Dingle from the water, as well as cliffs and caves you wouldn't be able to see otherwise, and Skelling Michael, tantalizingly off in the distance.  The trip is free if Fungie doesn't make an appearance.

After nearly an hour of cruising around, we spotted him. He swam alongside the boat, leaping out of the water every few minutes.  It was so exciting to see him!  I tried to get a picture--difficult because he moves so fast-- but then I realized that I was looking at my camera, rather than Fungie himself, so I put the camera away and enjoyed the ride.  How do we know it's the same dolphin all this time?  Because of his markings and the distinctive notch in his dorsal fin--which I could clearly see.  Dolphins in the wild can live for as long as fifty years.

Later, we had an excellent dinner at the Boatyard Restaurant and afterwards, walked around the harbor and watched a Spanish trawler unloading its catch into a waiting truck. Dingle is a major fishing port, and since Ireland is part of the European Union, fishing boats from other countries in the EU may fish there.  Seafood is the main attraction on the menus of local restaurants (as in Castletownbere) and we ate a lot of really good fish during our stay on the Beara and Dingle peninsulas.
Dunbeg Fort

Beehive Dwellings

A view on Slea Head Drive

Blasket Islands--the distant cone-shaped hump is Skellig Michael,
where they are currently filming Star Wars

Waiting for Fungie

My only Fungie pic--see the fin on the left?


  1. I've been reading all of your trip posts and this is my favorite yet. Ireland looks so much wilder than I'd anticipated. I don't know how it's possible since I'm not well-travelled at all, but I understand the sense of melancholy at visiting your ancestral land.

  2. Thank you for bringing us along with you.

  3. The removal of the people from the island is intriguing; I am guessing the government offered the people homes on the mainland ... How bitter sweet to have the B&B remind you of times from your childhood and the people long gone.

    1. I read that because of rough seas, the islanders could only get to the mainland during half of the year. One year at Christmas, a young man fell sick and died because no one could get to the mainland for a doctor. That event was the final straw that led them to leave the islands.

  4. It continues to sound like a most lovely, wonderful trip. And I love the snap you did get of Fungie.