We get a late-morning start out of Doolin and follow Ann’s advice to drive the N69 to the Killimer Car Ferry to get to Dingle, our final destination for the day. The weather – again – is tres gorgeous and Dave and I are both acquiring a tan. We expected to come home with wool sweaters, a cap, and some trinkets for our families but never did we expect to land back in the States with a Florida-esque tan.
Despite the sun, the day is still a bit chilly so we’re dressed appropriately for the 20-minute ride across the Shannon Estuary. Estuary? I think that means it’s the mouth of a river but I’m not up on my river vocabulary and maritime terminology so I look it up. An estuary is a semi-enclosed coast body of water with one or more rivers or streams flowing into it, and with a free connection to the open sea. They are made up of brackish water. Awesome. As we’re making our passage, I tell Dave I could take a ferry every day over brackish water because this brack is so peaceful. There’s something soothing about spending 20 minutes listening to the whir of the ferry’s engine while staring into the brackish-ness. Dave starts singing “Don’t Pay the Ferryman” by Chris de Burgh which sort of ruins the moment, but only for a moment. (p.s. we did pay the ferryman and he was very nice about taking our euros).
We disembark from the ferry and head to Listowel, a stop our friend Ann recommended for lunch. Listowel also happens to be County Kerry’s mecca for writers and we arrive during Listowel Writers Week. Woo-hoo! Not only am I in the country of some of my all-time favorite authors but there are actual Irish writers walking about the town. I pretend I’m one of them.
Once again, with time being fluid and all, we arrive in Listowel around 2 p.m. and Dave is ready to eat Babo or anything resembling a plate of chips. Given that it’s a special week, parking is at a premium so he quickly slides into a spot and the high curb greets the hubcap with a lovely scraping-scratching-head-turning crunch. Uh-oh. It turns out to be the only damage the rental car suffers through our trip. After inspecting the slightly crumpled hubcap, we walk through the town square where street musicians are playing, of all things, Bruce Springsteen’s “The River.”
Unlike Springsteen, these guys have pint holders on their mic stands and they’re all filled with an afternoon pint of Bulmer’s cider. Empty cider glasses line the bench behind them confirming the fact that it’s always happy hour somewhere. We check the menus of a few cafes and decide on Lawlor’s where we order the cauliflower, leek and cheese soup. I love it but the leeks end up not loving my stomach.
We walk about the town square and visit the Kerry Writing and Cultural Centre which is packed with writerly types for the special week. The museum portion of the center is closed (kind of) on account of the workshops but I’m not to be stopped so I head upstairs to the special rooms dedicated to some of Ireland’s finest including John B Keane, Bryan MacMahon, and Brendan Kennelley, among others.
Remnants of the morning’s workshops remain in some of the rooms including plates of cookies and Dave helps himself to two sugar cookies as I scan the displays in each room. Babo obviously approves of the cookie stealing. There’s a reading going on downstairs but it’s standing room only and nearly 4 p.m. and we need to make our way to Dingle which means one more hour of driving and then another hour of trying to find the Towerview B&B because, once again, the directions are as vaguely outlined as the Shroud of Turin: Arriving in Dingle, turn left on the first roundabout and go along the waterfront. Turn right on the second roundabout. Our B&B is the second house on the left. It’s as if everyone arrives in Dingle from the same direction which isn’t the case.
Our track record for getting lost to the B&B remains in tact. We arrive in lovely, lovely Dingle and take the main drag as Clare directs us and as our Shroud of Turin seems to indicate as well. We end up in the parking lot of a church. Maybe God is trying to tell us something – hey, lapsed Catholics, it’s time you get your heathen selves back to a church and not just for picture-taking.
We call Mary Griffin, our B&B hostess and tell her we’re tragically lost because we now know that’s the way to describe it. She says, “oh no, you should not be spending your time driving all around Dingle when you’ve just arrived. Now I’m going to take you the long way because that is the only way to get you out of this mess. It’s a long, long way but once you’re at the B&B, you’ll see that you’re only a short walk from the center of town.”
The long, long way turns out to be two miles max. We’re greeted by a marigold B&B and Penny, a black and white border collie who is ready to herd all guests to the door with a happy doggie smile and a wagging tail. We are desperate for dog love and give Penny a major rubdown.
In the back yard and across the street are sheep, ponies, and a few chickens. This is my kind of place. Mary loads us up with maps of Dingle and the surrounding area along with pub recommendations, of which there are more than 50 to choose from; this is our kind of town. It’s a Saturday night and a bank holiday weekend so Mary warns us the town will be packed and there will be many a hen and stag party. I’m thinking, what? They let the chickens come to the pubs here? But she explains that hen parties are akin to our bachelorette parties and the hens (women) will be dressed up in their weekend finery as they crawl from pub to pub.
We decide on Murphys and walk into town. What strikes me as more odd than my suntan is that there are small palm trees dotting the landscape. I keep forgetting we’re near the ocean. I’m eyeing Dingle Bay for Fungi (fun-ghee) the Dolphin who’s made the town famous. You see, in the early 1980s, Dingle fishing crews began noticing a bottlenose dolphin following their boats and playing around them. Now, eleven tourist boats go out every day in the summer and wait for Fungi to appear. If he doesn’t you get your money back. Dave is convinced it’s a total sham and that the original Fungi died years ago and that there are fifteen Fungis hidden all over Dingle Bay that do the job now. Fungi never appears to us but we also didn’t get in a Fungi tour boat to see him.
Murphy’s is crowded but we find two stools at the bar. I order up a plate of steamed vegetables and Dave gets an egg salad sandwich and chips. I decide I’m going to brave a pint of Bulmers. Brave as I can be, I’m unable to get the cider below the halfway point before trading it in for a Smithwick’s. The band begins their trad session and we stay for awhile. A guy from Australia comments on Dave’s “You Am I” t-shirt and says how much he loves the band.
After dinner and a pint or two we move on to check out Dick Mack’s, the former haberdashery-turned-pub. Here the crowd is lively and in the back room the hen and stag party crowd is singing Hallelujah by Jeff Buckley. Dave goes to check it out and I queue at the bar where I’m joined by Tony, a short Irish man wondering if we’re from America. By this time in the trip, we’ve realized that as much as we’d like to think our Irish roots allow us to blend in with the natives, we still look very much the Americans. He begins telling Dave and I about his brief time in Seattle. We have trouble following the story, not because we can’t understand his accent but because his story seems to have a fair amount of holes in it. From what we gather he tried to get into the country illegally and got caught but we listen and nod.
Meanwhile, I’m captivated by the fact that I’m drinking a pint while sitting on the old cashier’s counter. Behind me on the shelves are a pair of rubber wellies, a few tattered oxfords, a bottle of shoe polish and a crumpled can of mushy peas. Everything makes sense except the can of peas. Dingle is turning out to have the same friendliness and vibrancy as Galway yet it feels a little smaller here and a little more close-knit. We converse with a guy from Paris who’s on holiday. He’s a photographer but his specialty is architecture. He’s having a blast capturing the atmosphere at Dick Mack’s. We begin talking about the overall low-stress vibe everywhere we go in Ireland and he agrees, telling us that everyone in Paris is too uptight. We close down Dick Mack’s with the regulars except we don’t we’re closing down the pub because, in Ireland, las call is not called out like it is in the States.
We wobble out of the pub and see the joke on the door next to Dick Macks. This about sums up how directions are given in Ireland: Where is Dick Macks? Opposite the church. Where is the church? Opposite Dick Macks.
As our friend Matt O’Connor advised us on our first night in Galway: “We know where we’re going so what’s the problem?”
The morning’s breakfast is a godsend after a late night out, and I eat an extra piece of toast hoping that will sop up the remaining Bulmers in my system from the night before. Today is the day when we officially hit the wall and it’s also the day that the weather is tremendously brilliant. We’ve been going non-stop since our flight touched down and Dingle, with its casual attitude, is like a sedative. But there are ancient ruins to see as well as stunning views of the peninsula along R559 to Slea Heag. After considering a few of the more ambitious options, we decide we’ll take a drive around the peninsula, do a little shopping in town, and relax by the bay.
Here’s the point in the trip where I simply cannot contain my love for the sheep any longer. Everywhere I look there are sheep. Not just sheep but sweet little lambs that Dave keeps calling “food” but I’m ignoring it because, in my head, every sheep I see is used solely for wool sweaters and nothing else. And leave the lambs out of this; they are insanely cute trotting next to their mothers. I concoct a plan whereupon we buy a B&B, raise some lambs in the backyard, and every day at 5 p.m., Alice and Macy would put on a sheep herding show. Oh, and I’d make my famous vegetarian biscuits and gravy so we’d be a hit with the vegetarian tourists.
The first ruin is the Dunberg Fort that’s been in existence since800 AD. The fort is from the Iron Age and is perched atop a sheer sea cliff at the base of Mount Eagle. The photo above is the view from the fort. All around the fort are, you guessed it, sheep grazing in the green, green grass. I can barely stand how damn cute they are.
From Dunmore Head you can see the Blasket Islands. You can’t quite see it in the photo above but in the distance is a twisty lane down to the beach where we got stuck like Chuck behind a bunch of cars. Dave had to back the car uphill for about a quarter mile. It turned out to be one of the most stressful moments of driving.
This is the point where we’re both too tired to go on so we turn around and head back to town. I shop a little, Dave gets honeycomb ice cream which is really caramel, and we sit on some rocks and stare at Dingle Bay. Dave nearly falls asleep but I’m searching the water for Fungi. Here’s the thing: whenever we go on vacation, I never see wildlife. Never. It’s like all the animals know I’m coming and decide to play a big joke on me and hide. I swear if we ever went to Yellowstone, I’d be the only person to never see a bear or even an elk. No wonder I’m so attached to the sheep! At least they don’t hide.
For dinner, we choose the Blue Zone, a gourmet pizza place where we fill up on garlic bread and pizza with goat cheese and roasted red peppers. I am full and tired by my second slice and think it’s going to be an early night. Dave suggests going to Foxy John’s for at least one pint. This is a converted hardware store but not nearly as lively yet as Dick Mack’s. Our good pal Tony happens to be there and we wave to him from across the room. The hens are out in full force and we’re watching the parades of bubble skirts and dresses and women tripping along the cobblestone streets in their high heels. The fashion in Ireland? It’s something, I’m just not sure what that something is. The women dressed for the hen parties seem to prefer a bubble skirt or tiered skirt with a wide belt. I’m talking wrestler-belt wide. And the heels. And lots and lots of eye shadow, typically in the same shade as the dress.
We’re feeling a little torn down and slightly old in the Foxy John’s crowd so we head back to Murphy’s. A duo is getting ready to play and we have a good laugh because they look like an older version of our friends and fellow musicians, Mark Messerly and Brian Ewing. I suggest we go stand in back and this is when I get my second wind.
We end up staying all night and dancing with some of the locals as well as a couple from England. Dingle is a small town, made even smaller when we notice that a couple that was in the row across from ours on the flight from JFK to Shannon is also in the crowd. We’ve been in Ireland almost five days and we’ve been traveling about and here is a couple from our flight? We also run into a family staying at our B&B and hang out with them for a bit. It’s a super end to our stay in Dingle. Galway still remains number one in our visit but Dingle is a solid number two. Even if Fungi didn’t show his dorsal fin.
The Babo Rating (1 cookie being Tragic!; 5 cookies being Brilliant!)
All of my cookies go to the sheep …