Tag Archives: Dingle Skellig Hotel

Ireland, The Ring of Dingle, Famine, Immigration and Music

Ireland Dingle

“At the very edge of Europe, as far west as you can go in Ireland…. once described by National Geographic as the most beautiful place on earth… a place where the mountains roll into the ocean.

The plan now was to get back to the car and drive to the most westerly point of the Dingle peninsula which is called the Ring of Dingle or the Dingle Way depending on whether you are driving or walking.

We weren’t going very far so the flashing dashboard and the prospect of blowing up the engine didn’t worry me to any great degree and we left the hotel car park, negotiated our way out of Dingle and picked up the scenic road to what seemed like the ragged edge of the World with a coastline of jagged cliffs and inhospitable rocky inlets.

The road climbed high above the sea, sometimes close to the ocean and sometimes heading off inland and soon we came to a succession of small tourist stop off points advertising historic attractions and we pulled into a car park promising an Irish famine cottage and we purchased tickets from an old lady in a ticket shed in a bizarre transaction that took place through a half inch gap in a window as though she was highly suspicious of visitors or thought we were bandits who would steal the days takings which by mid-afternoon must have been worth all of about €15.

There was a strenuous walk to the cottage and a farm and behind us there were some wonderful views over the south of the peninsular, Dingle Bay and the Kerry Mountains on the opposite side which made it easy to understand why Hollywood film makers have chosen this place as a location for films such as Far and Away and Ryan’s Daughter.

Famine Cottage Dingle Ireland

Inside the cottage there was a recreation of a typical mid-nineteenth century family home and information boards about the famine and the consequences.  It seems that at that time Irish people lived almost entirely on potatoes and that a working man would eat as much as fourteen pounds a day – that is a lot of potatoes, roughly equivalent to two hundred and fifty bags of potato crisps!

Now, I know potatoes are versatile – boiled, baked, mashed, fried, hash browns, dauphinoise, gnocchi but I imagine this sort of diet can become awfully monotonous!  Unfortunately not only did the Irish rely completely on the potato they specialised in just one variety.  The Arran Banner was a heavy cropper but also particularly susceptible to the potato blight virus and a succession of harvest failures in the late 1840s led to starvation, death, farm failure, cruel and vexatious evictions by English absentee landlords and eventually mass emigration to the United States.

Interestingly it is most likely that the virus came from the United States in the first place (just like the phylloxera virus that infected French vine crops at about the same time) but regardless of this they blamed the English and five million Irish (80% of the total population at the time) chose to go there anyway.  Today nearly sixty million people in the USA, almost 20% of the population, claim Irish roots and twenty-two out of forty-four of US Presidents (including Barack Abama!) have claimed Irish ancestry.

For only €4 (senior rate) it was a good reconstruction and there was a curious ancient burial mound with an information board but a path blocked by a barbed wire fence and no real sign of where the ancient monument actually was so confused by that we returned to the car and carried on.

A little further along the road there were signs to fifth century beehive stone houses but I don’t think they were original and we had had enough excitement for one day at the famine cottage and the ancient burial site and any more and my head might have exploded before the car engine so we drove straight by.

Europe

Very soon we were at the most westerly point of the peninsula and could go no further and we were staring out at two thousand miles of water and next stop Canada and the USA.  At 10°27’ longitude Dingle claims to the most westerly town (as opposed to city – this is important) in Europe but whilst this may be true there are lots of other ‘most westerly’ claims to take into consideration.

The Blasket Islands (10°39’) at the end of the Dingle Peninsula are the most westerly point in the British Isles but these have been uninhabited since 1953, Iceland is the most westerly country in Europe and Reykjavik is the most westerly capital city (21°93’); Lisbon (9°14’) is the most westerly city on mainland Europe and furthest west than anywhere else are the Azores at 31°30.

When someone tells you that something is the biggest or the longest or the highest or the heaviest it is always worth checking up I find.  The most westerly point in Asia is Cape Baba in Turkey and in the United States it is Alaska which is also the most easterly as well because it stretches so far that it crosses right into the eastern hemisphere (a good pub quiz question that).

Another interesting fact about this place is that is was more or less the place where Charles Lindbergh crossed the Irish coast in 1927 in the Spirit of St. Louis in the first successful flight from New York to Paris.  I like this extract from his journals:

“I have carried on short conversations with people on the ground by flying low with throttled engine, and shouting a question, and receiving the answer by some signal. When I saw this fisherman I decided to try to get him to point towards land. I had no sooner made the decision than the futility of the effort became apparent. In all likelihood he could not speak English, and even if he could he would undoubtedly be far too astounded to answer. However, I circled again and closing the throttle as the plane passed within a few feet of the boat I shouted, “Which way is Ireland?” Of course the attempt was useless, and I continued on my course.”

From this most westerly point that we could go today we drove back inland along the north side of the peninsular which was not so scenic or dramatic and eventually the road returned us to Dingle and the hotel.

The weather was a real surprise.  I was expecting continuous rain and slate grey skies but it was warm and sunny and in the late afternoon we sat in the garden of the hotel with a glass of wine and watched the boats slipping in and out of the harbour in pursuit of Funghi the dolphin and enjoyed the peace and serenity of the verdant emerald countryside and the unexpectedly indolent ocean.

Later we walked along the coastal path back into Dingle to eat at a sea food restaurant next to the harbour and after an exceptional sea food platter we followed that with a visit to a gaily coloured pub where there was lively Irish music entertainment which went on way past normal closing time.

With no sign of the pub closing or the music stopping we called our own personal time and walked in the moonlight back along the coastal path to the hotel.  It was our last night in Ireland and while we walked along the moonlit path I wished that it had been our first!

Dingle Ireland Murphys Pub

Ireland, Dingle and Funghi the Dolphin

Dingle Harbour Ireland

“The bicycle shop that is a pub also sells vegetable seeds and items of hardware.  I go inside for an inner tube and some cabbage seeds , but I don’t really need them so I have a pint instead.” – Pete McCarthy

When I woke early in the morning I knew instinctively that it was going to be a good day because the sunshine was leaking into the room through the gaps in the curtains and a peek outside confirmed a blue sky and a golden yellow sun centre stage.

The Dingle Skellig hotel served a good breakfast – a full Irish which in truth was much the same as we call a full English but with a white pudding (black pudding without the blood) which was something I had never had before but found rather to my liking.

After breakfast we didn’t wait around too long at the hotel because the day was so fine we wanted to take a walk to nearby Dingle.  On account of the good weather we choose the coastal path route next to the bay where the sun was decorating the surface of the sea with a scattering of sparkling patterns like precious jewels carelessly thrown into the water and the meadow behind the sea wall was adorned with pretty wild flowers that were dancing like dainty ballerinas in the gentle breeze.

It was only a short walk and very soon we were in the harbour area where tourist boats and private yachts were moored up alongside fishing boats that had only recently returned and where crew were going through the daily chores in preparation for another fishing expedition later.

Funghi Dingle Dolphin

The most famous resident of Dingle is without doubt a dolphin called Funghi (a strange name I agree, I’d have called him Flipper or something more appropriately aquatic) who has taken up residence in the bay and will obligingly turn up to entertain holidaymakers when they take a boat ride out to find him.

The Dingle Dolphin Boat Tours Company is so confident that Funghi will appear and perform that they offer a one hour boat trip into the bay for €16 but free of charge if he fails to turn up. There is something about dolphins that sends people all weak kneed with excitement, like seeing the Northern Lights or a field of golden sunflowers and we are no exception so we purchased our tickets and climbed aboard the boat.

The sun continued to shine and the surface of the water was flat calm as the boat made its way out into the bay and expectation and excitement started to build in equal measure as everyone on board scanned the surface of the water to see the dolphin.

I wanted to see him of course but part of me was thinking that I’d seen one before so if he didn’t turn up then this would be a free boat ride but thirty minutes into the ride the surface of the water was broken and there was a flash of fin and a shiny grey back and so I knew then that we would have to pay up.

For fifteen to twenty minutes the skipper of the boat patrolled the bay looking for more sightings and sure enough Funghi kept appearing first to starboard and then to port as though he was just teasing everyone on board.  Just as the whole thing was getting rather tedious and I thought it would be good to go back to port the dolphin decided it was time for a show and he leapt out of the water several times sending plumes of water into the air and soaking people leaning over the railings trying to get a better view.  He kept this up for several minutes and then swam to to the shallow water and rested a while, no doubt to get his breath back.

Northern Ireland Blue Flag

It was a wonderful display and according to the crew not one that can be guaranteed every trip so when we returned to the port and it was time to pay up I was more than happy to hand over the money for the trip.  Some people might be critical of animal displays like this but it seems that Funghi enjoys this human interaction and he is completely free and wild and in no way compelled to give his daily aquatic performances.

After the excitement of the boat trip and the dolphin performance we now took a leisurely stroll through Dingle, along streets of brightly coloured shops and houses and I was astonished by the number of pubs. The ratio of pubs to population must surely be the highest that I have ever come across anywhere there was even a hardware store that was half shop selling nails and garden tools and half bar selling Guinness and Jamesons!

I liked Dingle and if yesterday Ballybunion had been quite appalling then this place was going straight into my personal top ten! It was lunchtime now so after a casual glance around the harbour front tourist shops we found a crimson pub with hanging baskets full of cascading flowers and had the obligatory lunch time Guinness before taking the coastal path back to the Dingle Skellig hotel.

Dingle Ireland Murphys Pub

More Dolphin Stories:

A Boat Ride with Dolphins in Croatia

A Boat ride with Dolphins in Kefalonia

A Boat Ride with Dolphins in Greece

A Boat Ride with Dolphins in Wales

Ireland, a Castle, a US President, a Mountain and a Sunset

Killimer to Tarbert Ferry

The ferry from Killimer to Tarbert took about twenty minutes and for €18 transported us four kilometres across the Shannon estuary and saved us nearly two hundred kilometres and two or three hours of driving.

Back on dry land we found the coast road and headed west and came first to the village of Ballylongford which is famous for a castle and for being the birthplace in 1850 of Horatio, later Lord Kitchener and we took a detour from the main road to visit the castle ruins.

Carrigafoyle Castle was known as the guardian of the Shannon because of its strategic command of the shipping lanes that supplied the trading city of Limerick upriver.  It was destroyed in a fierce siege that took place at Easter in 1580.  Such was the damage to the castle in the engagement that it was never repaired. Its ruins still stand, including the outer defences and moat, and the effect of the bombardment is clear to see.  The castle was open to visitors and there was free admission so we climbed the spiral staircase to the top of the battlements and took in the views over the surrounding countryside.

Carrigafoyle Castle Ireland

Our next destination was the seaside town of Ballybunion which enjoyed enthusiastic reviews in the visitor guidebook so we made our way into the town and found a parking spot.  We almost immediately wished that we hadn’t because whoever wrote the reviews must have been under the influence of mind altering drugs.  It was grubby and unpleasant with a street full of shabby pubs, greasy cafés and loud amusement arcades – it made Blackpool look classy so we didn’t stay long, returned to the car and moved on driving past a statue of a golfing Bill Clinton which is claimed to be the first ever public statue of the ex-President to be erected anywhere in the World (apparently he once played golf at Ballybunion).

It had been our intention to eat in the seaside town so now the challenge was to find an alternative so rather than follow the coast road we headed inland towards the market town of Listowel to find somewhere suitable.  Listowel is not the sort of place which is at its best at just past lunch time on a Sunday and most of it was closed but we found a pub where we had a Guinness and a disappointing sandwich and then left without looking back and continued the drive to Dingle.

It seemed to me that north Kerry is not an especially scenic or appealing part of the country and I was glad when we hit the Tralee bypass which took us quickly around the town in a sort of sling-shot manoeuvre and we entered the more dramatic landscape of the Dingle peninsular with the black Slieve Mish mountains rising to our left as we travelled further west into more picturesque and appealing countryside.

After a few kilometres there was a decision to be made, either follow the direct route to Dingle through a flat valley between two mountain ranges that went south or to follow the coast road and enjoy a more scenic route towards the Conor Pass.  We choose the scenic option which took us towards the second highest mountain peak in Ireland, Mount Brandon, which despite this distinction is part of a curiously unnamed range.  Mount Brandon is nine hundred and thirty metres high and the tenth highest in the British Isles.

Away from the coast the road started to climb and as it did so it became much narrower and we passed signs prohibiting coaches and large vehicles from going any further as the road reduced to single carriageway with infrequent passing places as it weaved its way through sharp black cliff faces on one side and a sheer drop on the other.

More than once we had to collectively breath in as we squeezed past traffic coming in the opposite direction with barely a tissue paper width between car bumpers and I was momentarily distracted from the warning lights and the fear of mechanical failure as the risk of collision and bodywork damage seemed much more likely.

Eventually we reached the windswept top where under a blue sky with high white clouds floating by like a flotilla of sailing boats there were stunning views in all directions, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the town of Dingle to the south and right below us a high soft green valley casually strewn with lichen embroidered boulders and punctuated with inviting blue mountain lakes.  I liked this better than the Cliffs of Moher and I could have stayed longer but we were keen now to complete the final few kilometres into Dingle and to find our accommodation for the next two nights at the Dingle Skellig Hotel.

Richard had promised that this was a lovely hotel and he was absolutely right and after we had settled in we sat and relaxed with a Guinness and simply enjoyed the views over Dingle Bay and the Kerry mountains beyond under a marble cracked crazy paved sky and next to a meadow casually decorated with wild flowers.

We might have walked into Dingle that evening to eat but there was a meal offer at the hotel that was too good to miss so we stayed there instead and dined late into the evening until the sun slipped away and left behind a sprawling sunset and then a clear sky which made us optimistic that the good weather would continue into the next day.

Sunset Dingle Ireland

“As the sun went down it seemed to drag the whole sky with it like the shreds of a burning curtain leaving rags of bright water that went on smoking and smouldering among the estuaries and around the many islands”                     Laurie Lee – ‘As I walked out one Midsummer Morning

For anyone interested in what makes a sunset, find out about it here:        Rayleigh Scattering and Sunsets