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Mountain Passes and Racing Sheep: The Dingle Peninsula

This entry is part of a series, Ireland 2009»

Dingle

We set out to conquer tour Dingle today, after stoking up on the usual breakfast goodies at the Maigue Restaurant. Dingle’s a pretty fair ride from Adare, but with good roads to Tralee we made great time at first. We took a short detour through Rathkeale, where John showed us how the Gypsies live these days. I got the distinct impression that John didn’t approve much of these folk, and that the feeling was probably widespread. Apparently petty crime and other distateful happenings follow these people about like Pigpen’s dust cloud.

We traveled through Newcastle West; did you know there are several towns in Ireland named Newcastle? Then through Abbeyfeale, where a great abbey once stood; naturally. From there we headed through back roads to Tralee: Knocknagashel, Reanagowan, Muingnaminnane were but three of the interestingly named towns we saw.

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Our first goal of the day was to visit the Kerry County Museum in Tralee. This museum (and accompanying gardens) is a fine tourist stop. They have rotating exhibits upstairs, and this time there was a great “tale” about an Irishman who became one of England’s top spies. I’d give you all the details, but then MI-5 would have to kill us both.

Downstairs there are permanent multimedia exhibitions. The basement houses the Medieval Experience, an almost Disney-like tour and history with life-like dioramas that show what life in Tralee would have been like in about the 1400’s or so.

Orange Roses

Touring the museum took quite a while, but we still found time to stroll through the rose garden that stands just outside the exit. Such a profusion of color and aroma! Picking was prohibited, but that was okay; I wouldn’t have known which to choose.

O'Dwyer's BarFrom Tralee we moved on to the actual peninsula, through Blennerville and Derrymore to Camp. We left the main road there, still traveling along the northern coast. At Kilcummin we becan the long climb up Conor Pass. I noted along the way that several of the roadsigns seem to have been, well, not vandalized, exactly; but clearly edited by someone. Turns out, Dingle is one of the Gaeltacht areas. Under Irish law, they’re supposed to use signage entirely in Gaelige. However, the residents of Dingle (An Daingean) chose not to change their name! The Irish national government changed all the roadsigns, and locals helpfully changed them back.

John mentioned that this, and similar actions, by the residents of Dingle have led to an ongoing tiff with the government. Even threats by the state to withhold funding of various items hasn’t deterred the Dingle populace, however. Did I mention that the Irish all love a good fight?

Conor Pass is quite a high point, over 615 meters (about 2,000 ft.) above sea level. From the top you can see both coasts of the peninsula. The road was built about 1850, to bring famine relief supplies more quickly across from Limerick and Tralee to Dingle. At that time, few other roads led to Dingle Town, and shipping by sea wasn’t working out well.

Racing Sheep

We stopped at a nice little waterfall near the top, taking photos and admiring the view to the north. When we continued on up the road, we had to stop and adjust our car’s position a few times to let other cars by. That road is narrow, and the drop one one side is amazingly far! PJ and I were glad we had John to do the driving for us. We noticed a lot of black-faced sheep watching us from the heights. I guess there’s not a lot for a sheep to do up there besides tourist-watching.

At the very top of the pass we stopped again to take photos of the scenery and the islands in the distance. There was an ice cream vendor there, working the crowd, and a large bus full of Italian tourists helped him make his daily quota. Paula, John and I also chipped in a few Euros to the cause. The ice cream was very tasty!

Murphys Pub, Dingle

The Italians were a mannerless and noisy lot, rather like a constipated Don Rickles whinging at a hungover Kathleen Madigan about the seagulls attacking his hat. I was bumped and pushed around while trying to take a few photos, nearly dumping my camera over the edge.

As we headed down the south side of Conor Pass we were treated to a race with the fabled Racing Sheep of Conor Pass. What, you never heard of them? Well, there are almost always sheep in the road there. And they run very fast when you come up behind them, challenging you to pass them. When you try that, they take off up the steep cliff, daring you to follow them. John has better sense than that, of course, so we simply waited them out and waved as we passed.

Dingle Town is small, and I bet if you look in your Funk & Wagnalls you’ll find it under “quaint.” We walked around and captured a few more pounds of digital pictures, then decided we were late for lunch. Again.

Dingle Road Sign

Just across from the marina is a pub with the catchy name of (wait for it) “The Marina Inn.” John said the food was good in spite of the name, so we went in. There weren’t a lot of folks in there for lunch, but then, we were seeking grub at about three in the afternoon, which is more like time for high tea than lunch. The Marina Inn has two bars, and several seating areas for hungry and thirsty tourists. Not that we were tourists, mind you. I had my camo hat with, and the cameras don’t really suggest “tourist” anymore. Shoot, even the locals have them nowadays. You have to be Japanese and ride on a tour bus to be mistaken for a visitor these days.

The choices were hard to make, as per usual. But we muddled through somehow. Paula Jo chose a Crab Gratin, I found a Guinness Irish Stew that sounded right, and John sampled their Seafood Chowder. Each meal was really enough for two. My stew was mostly about the meat this time, but I dug around and salvaged up enough veggies from the bottom of the pot to officially make it a full meal. Chips were served with everything, of course, and I had to revive myself with a pint. PJ declared her crab dish “adequate,” which means she cleaned it all up and would have taken some along as a snack for later, if there had been more.

We made a grand circle tour after Dingle, clockwise around past Slea Head, Dunquin and Clogher Head. We saw Great Blasket Island in the distance, looking like a bishop laid out for his funeral. There are some very old stone houses along the way, and I mean old; a thousand years at least! Called beehive huts, we were amazed at several things about them. First and most obvious, their age. How small they were, especially given they were multi-family dwellings. And how well they were preserved. These abodes were built to last! A bit drafty, and certainly they would leak like the Titanic after its famous altercation with that oversized cocktail cooler. Even with mud stuffed in the cracks!

Beehives

We traveled next to one of the oldest churches in Ireland: The Gallarus Oratory. This building, tiny by comparison to later churches, is in impeccable shape; at least the stacked rock portion of it is. The claim is that the rock is water-tight all ’round; it wasn’t raining that day so I couldn’t say, but the inside floor was dusty-dry.

I suspect there was a layer of something inside and out that is now gone. Such a layer would have been smooth, and whitewashed to make the whole structure shine. They had to have done something to make it brighter inside, as there is only a small window pointing east, and a short, narrow door on the west to admit worshipers.

OldestChurch.gif

Built somewhere between the 6th and the 10th centuries, it stands out in the middle of farmland, with no town in sight. The name means “church of the foreigners,” since Christian missionaries of that era were all from outside Ireland. A truly amazing monument!

From Gallarus we trekked back through Dingle Town. The day was growing late, which means the sun was at least noticeably to the west of vertical. Far enough over that I was sure there was only five or six more hours of light for us. Time to head home.

Dingle Boats

On the way back we saw a famous inn: The South Pole Inn. Turns out, one of the greatest explorers of Antartica, Tom Crean, hailed from Anascaul, Ireland. He joined the English Royal Navy as a lad of 15, and set out to see the world. He went to Antartica in 1901, with the Scott Expedition. This exploration didn’t reach the South Pole. Scott tried again in 1910, with Crean along. Scott and four others died on the return trek from the South Pole. Crean won a medal for saving the life of one of the party.

Tom went a third time to the Antarctic, in the Endurance Expedition led by Sir Ernest Shackleton. This group became ice-locked until 1915. Crean, Shackleton, and four others took to the sea in a 20-ft. boat to seek help, finally reaching South Georgia over 800 miles later.

Conor Falls

Crean joined the fighting in World War I, then retired in 1920. He returned to his home town and opened the South Pole Inn. He was shunned by most of the locals the rest of his life, for serving in the Royal Navy. (Remember, Ireland fought the English one last time, in 1922-23, for their independence.) He died in 1938, the pub closed, then was reopened as a working museum.

We didn’t stop for a cold pint there, though; all of us were tired from the riding/driving, climbing and walking. John dropped us off and retired to help his family with some after-dinner chores. We were home again, but too tired to eat! We snacked on vittles we’d stored in the room, then collapsed into a fatigued slumber. This vacation stuff isn’t for the faint of heart, as we were finding out…

Enjoy the (Too Tired to Eat) Heat!

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