A couple of weeks back we were sitting around talking after dinner when we realized two things. First, it was now staying light outside well past eight o’clock and secondly, we hadn’t been on a local trip since we spent the weekend at Dromoland Castle in County Clare in January. At first we talked about going to Galway, but with the idea for a long weekend being somewhat last minute, hotel prices in that iconic Irish city were astronomical (one place that has very mixed reviews on TripAdvisor was charging €300/night!) so we decided to look elsewhere. On a whim I threw out Dingle – a beautiful seaside town in County Kerry that is best known for its rich musical history and traditions, beautiful beaches, and stunning vistas – and from there things just fell into place.
When I checked hotel and b&b prices and saw (1) a number of places still had availability and (2) they weren’t charging an arm and a leg for the pleasure of your company, I knew if nothing else we were going to have an opportunity to explore a part of Ireland we’d never seen before. The majority of Dingle’s lodgings are bed and breakfasts and visitors have a range of options, ranging from luxury to bare bones so there’s really something for everyone. After doing more research, I narrowed our choices down to three options, all of which were within walking distance of the center of town. After looking at photos and reviews of those three, we chose to stay at Milltown House, across the harbor from Dingle. Why Milltown House? It’s really quite simple: they have an Irish wolfhound named Seamus who is as much a part of the place as their morning breakfast or the home’s history with the movie Ryan’s Daughter. It also didn’t hurt that our two night stay cost only €209 with breakfast!
Our trip began as several of our other Irish journeys have before it: us not understanding the directions our Garmin was spouting at us and not being able to interpret the road signs properly. We ended up going the wrong direction for about fifteen minutes only to turn around and get it right on our second attempt. We stopped after about two hours to have brunch in Adare, which was the first of our amazing meals throughout the entirety of the trip. When we were about 1.5 hours outside of Dingle we came to a major bout of traffic that was due to a terrible accident up ahead (on the way home we drove past where the accident occurred and I have a sinking feeling I know exactly what happened *shudder*). We were rerouted along some country roads which only lead to even more traffic on lanes that couldn’t handle the amount of cars that were trying to pass. Eventually, after a man with a voice box yelled at us repeatedly, we were able to turn around and drove toward a different route. All told, the delay and detour probably added another hour and a half to our trip. This detour is not without precedent though: we’ve never been to County Kerry without having to dramatically detour our route. I’m sorry to say it’s kind of our thing.
As we pulled in to Dingle, Alan asked me to take out my phone and figure out where Dingle Distillery was located as we wanted to stop in for a tour. Well, I didn’t need to do that because the distillery is literally located at the top of the lane where our b&b was.
What was also interesting was the fact that a huge crowd had gathered outside and the gates were locked. I was a bit confused that so many people would be at such a small distillery, but when we checked in to Milltown House, the owner told us Top Gear was in town filming a new episode. Normally that wouldn’t have mattered one way or the other to us, but Matt LeBlanc is a new addition to the crew and Friends is my All Time Favorite TV Show in the History of Forever so I thought it was kind of cool. We didn’t think anything more of it as we walked around the shore at the b&b and then decided to see if we could catch the 4 p.m. tour of the distillery, so when we walked up and they were wrapping up filming we just kind of strolled over to see if there was still room. Well, what do you know, Matt LeBlanc drove by in a €400,000 Rolls-Royce Dawn and we were literally less than five feet from him. Joey has aged really well, I must say. (We actually saw them filming several more times throughout the weekend, but we never saw them outside their vehicles, so no personal sightings or fan photos to speak of.) Once all the Top Gear commotion died down, the owner of the distillery told those still waiting for a tour that it was on them since we’d had to wait so long. We hadn’t, but I thought it was a very nice gesture for their customers, especially since you can’t actually buy any of their product onsite so they really only make money from the payment for the tour.
I’ll write more about our visit at the distillery in a follow-up post, but suffice to say, it was a very informative and interesting way to spend a couple of hours. Alan and I have toured Islay so we have a good understanding of how peated scotch is made, but there’s been some question in our minds on the differences between double and triple distilled whiskies, as well as what it means when something is copper pot or pot still. Our tour leader, Joe, was a fount of information and he delivered it in such a way that even the biggest noob could understand why the Irish are naturally very proud of how they distill.
One of the cool things about Milltown House is the fact they have a fully licensed bar on premise which means they can sell alcohol to guests. This often facilitates a nice gathering in the evenings downstairs and we would have loved to join in with the already gathered crowd when we returned from our tour, but we had been able to secure reservations at Out of the Blue, a restaurant that came highly recommended to us by several of Alan’s co-workers (and the internet, in general). Bidding adieu to our host and fellow travelers, we walked into town for an epic seafood feast. Going back to Islay for a second, ever since that trip I’ve been keen to try eating langoustines again and when I saw Out of the Blue had them on the menu, I immediately knew what I was ordering. I also had to get the lobster bisque and dessert which meant by the time we walked out of the restaurant a few hours later I was stuffed to the gills.
That said, with only a few days in town I wasn’t going to let myself feeling like a roly-poly diminish our ability to go pub crawling so I pulled up my big girl pants and we walked over to Dick Mac’s Pub, one of Ireland’s most iconic whiskey bars and for good reason. Afterward, we stopped into John Bennys Pub, recommended by the b&b owner, but by that point I was feeling really gross and fading fast so we called it a night and walked back to our room.
We were excited to wake up to blue skies and birds chirping, a rare enough occurrence in Ireland in spring. After breakfast with another couple who gave their baby a tambourine to keep him occupied (it didn’t work) and then who proceeded to bang on his high chair table with a spoon. Naturally it was a less than pleasant way to start our morning and put me in a bit of a mood.
This is Alan trying to ignore the loud baby with terrible parents, Alan takes a turn playing Give Me Fuel, a newly-launched iPhone game from the very talented team at Wonderspark*. If you like video games you should try it.
Once we had consumed more calories than is generally advisable, we rushed back upstairs and headed out for a drive along Slea Head. I’ll write a more comprehensive post about it a bit later, but since it was a large portion of our day, I didn’t want to leave it out in the trip summary. Suffice it to say, it was an amazingly beautiful drive and I felt so fortunate to be able to see it, just a mere four hours by car from our house in Dublin. It’s sometimes hard to believe that places this beautiful still exist in the world, but indeed they do.
When we were finished with our drive, I was feeling a bit wiped out so I took a longer nap than anticipated, and by the time Alan got me up we had missed our opportunity to hop on one of the harbor cruises to see Fungie, the famous Dingle dolphin.
Some info about Fungie from a tourism website:
Fungie is a fully grown, possibly middle aged, male bottlenose who weighs in at around 500 pounds and measures in the region of 13 feet. Although it is by no means unique to find these usually social, open creatures living alone in a “restricted” zone and befriending humans, it is still a relatively rare world event, and Fungie is Ireland’s first recorded occurrence. From observation of body scarring it seems he does still frequently encounter other whales, dolphins or porpoises, proving perhaps he is neither true hermit nor outcast from his own kind, but rather that he is simply content with his current circumstances. No one really knows why some of these creatures suddenly take to a solitary way of life, but perhaps his persistence in maintaining it and physical conditions would at least indicate the area is a welcoming home with not too many natural dangers. During the summer months Fungie is often seen taking fish in the harbour mouth. On several occasions he has been observed catching a fish commonly known as a Garfish, a species which had not previously been recorded as part of a dolphin’s diet. During the winter months he must travel further afield for his nourishment.
Generally speaking, I am not a proponent of dolphin shows or places like Sea World but seeing a dolphin in the wild is never not fun. The thing I can’t wrap my head around with this particular dolphin is why he’s chosen Dingle Harbor as his home and why he seems so unwilling to leave. If you read accounts of people – fishermen, mostly – who have been coming and going from this area for decades now, he started out as a shy presence but after a handful of years became quite animated and would lead the boats in and out of the mouth of the harbor with much fanfare. One of the current tour operators comes from a family of fishermen and he first reports seeing Funghie when he was 11 years old. On the drive over to Dingle, I posited that it’s probably not the same dolphin but based on identifiable marks on his body, researchers have confirmed he is. I can only conclude that when a wild animal seems to domesticate himself it’s because there’s something wrong with the animal but what it might be, exactly, no one seems to know. The fact that Fungie also consumes a diet that is not at all in keeping with what most dolphins eat is also strange but I guess you make do with what you have, where you have it? I truly cannot say but I imagine the death of Fungie – which given his age and the lifespan of dolphins in the wild is sooner rather than later – is going to pose a major threat to Dingle’s tourism as there are currently eight boat companies running multiple daily tours to visit Fungie. He kind of reminds me of Parks and Recreation’s ‘Lil Sebastian character.
With several hours of sunlight left to us, we decided to take a walk along the edge of the harbor out past a folly and to the de-commissioned lighthouse. There and back it totals 6km and was the perfect late afternoon stroll (if you don’t count the horrendous stench from all of the cow dung in one particular part of the field). Interestingly enough, while standing near the light house (specifically in the spot where Alan is pictured in b&w below), we noticed a small boat off the tip of the land mass across the harbor. A few seconds later I spotted a dolphin weaving in and out of the water. Fungie sighting achieved!
About halfway back we met up with a woman who had hiked the Beara Peninsula and was now making her way along the Wild Atlantic Way. The entirety of her solo trip was one month long and at that point she was two weeks in. I don’t generally like interacting with strangers, especially while I’m trying to enjoy nature, but given that we had just been discussing whether we should walk the Cotswolds Way this year or wait until next year, when she struck up a conversation with her, we didn’t brush her off. We ended up talking a lot about the pros and cons of walking tours, the best gear for such treks, and more unfortunately, wrapped up on American politics. I tried to remain respectful of her points of view (which differed drastically from my own) but when she started in on how Hillary Clinton is worse than Donald Trump I was forced to educate her on some areas in which she was flat out wrong. It turned out she is a Bernie Sanders fan and when I asked her a couple of questions about his philosophies it became glaringly obvious she actually knows nothing about him – or Hillary or Donald for that matter – and was just parroting what she’d heard others say. When I expressed my concern about his ability to handle the military from day one due to his inability to answer an interview question of what he would do about various worldwide crises, she said he should have just said he’d make community college free for everyone. While that’s an admirable goal, I’m not sure how it’s going to help with the problem of Israel and Palestine, but I digress …
When we finally made it back to the room, Alan looked into the restaurant recommendations his colleague had given him and we booked a reservation for a restaurant called Global Village Restaurant. I knew absolutely nothing about this place except that Alan said they had a tasting menu and it was fancy. I didn’t know how fancy a place in Dingle could be, but thankfully I’d packed one nice outfit so I donned it and off we went back into town.
But! Before we could get to the end of the street Seamus decided to join us for a ramble. And he kept walking. We got to the end of the road and he showed no sign of going home so I walked him back. And he followed me. We did this again one more time until finally I jogged the length of the lane back to the b&b and made him enter the gate. Thankfully he found a friend in a neighborhood dog and decided to stay and play with him because I’m not sure I would have known how to keep him from walking all the way into town with us.
Back to the restaurant … Let me just say straight away, if you’re ever in Dingle YOU HAVE TO EAT HERE. The food, from start to finish, was sublime. I’m not bragging when I say we’ve been fortunate enough to eat at some truly tremendous restaurants and I’d put the food at Global Village up there with just about any other restaurant. It could easily hold its own against the majority of San Francisco’s legendary culinary hotspots. We had our waitress provide wine recommendations and each glass was a perfect compliment to the meal that was placed in front of us. One of the wines was the most tropical sauvignon blanc I’d ever tasted and I’ve vowed to track it down and order a few bottles of my own.
As we were getting ready to leave the restaurant, one of the waitresses asked if we were going to continue our evening at the pub. We said we were, told her where we were thinking of going, and she told us it was a tourist trap and recommended her friend’s pub, Kennedy’s Bar, instead. On her advice, we walked a bit up the road and entered a candle lit pub with low slung ceilings and a bunch of nooks and crannies. It perfectly encapsulated one of the things I love most about old pubs in Ireland – everything has been built around the way the interior was laid out decades prior (centuries in some cases). My understanding is that Kennedy’s only re-opened last year after having been closed down for 30 years and the space remains relatively the same as it was back then (edited to add: confirmed it re-opened in June 2014 after having first opened in the 1930s). It also felt like a place locals hung out which we appreciated. I also enjoyed the fact they had White Hag Brewery’s Irish Heather Sour Ale, which on second tasting I maintain that I still think is the best darn sour beer I’ve ever had.
Wanting to hear some of the traditional music Dingle is so famous for, we wandered out the door and down the street to O’Sullivan’s Courthouse Pub where a session was already in progress. After awhile a few more musicians joined the group and the music continued.
The band wrapped up its set just before midnight and then we hoofed it back through town, across the bridge, and back to our room at Milltown House. With our walk on the beach in the morning, our hike out to the lighthouse in the afternoon, and our walk to and from town we logged a very reasonable number of steps for the day which helped cement the idea that we could very likely do a walking holiday and not die from the experience.
The next morning I woke up ridiculously early – 5 a.m. – which sucked but I was reading a good book so it wasn’t entirely dreadful. Unfortunately when I went to take a shower the hot water cut out and by the time Alan tried to shower our room had zero hot water. Boo. We mentioned this at breakfast but we were assured the water was boiling in the boiler and no one else had complained of no hot water. Since we have a history of hot water cutting out on us, I have come to believe we might be cursed in this regard. We packed up our room, said goodbye to Seamus one last time (I felt bad because another couple was leaving at the same time and the girl was trying to get a picture of Seamus but after our jaunt the evening prior he seemed to be really into me and didn’t really pay her any attention). We drove into town, gassed up, went shopping for some souvenirs, and then hit the road back to Dublin. Miracle of miracles, I only fell asleep once or twice and only for ten minutes at a clip. I am notorious for sleeping on long drives so this was quite the accomplishment.
And that, my friends, is a long weekend in Dingle.
*Disclosure: Wonderspark is the brainchild of our dear friends Seppo and Ei-Nyung. We are also nominal investors in the company.