Sunday, June 9, 2013

Ring-a-ding Dingle

Bank holiday in Ireland.  No one can quite tell me for sure what it means except the banks are closed on Monday (as well as many government offices) and everyone tries to stretch the three day holiday as far as we can.  Pamela and I drove two and a half hours to the western coast of Ireland, County Kerry to the resort town of Dingle.

The Ring of Dingle is a drive around the peninsula with amazing natural and archeological sites, one after another.  Make no mistake, this is a resort town. Lots of locals and tourists dedicated to having a good time far into the wee hours of the morning.  Stopped for tea at a small restaurant, by the time we left a band had set up in the courtyard and was loudly playing a mix of old Irish tunes and ancient American Rock-And-Roll.  An audience of almost 100 had gathered, the local pub was selling beer.  Instant party!!!

The town of Dingle seen from the summit of the Connor Pass (highest pass in Ireland)

Stayed at the OFlagherty's Bed and Breakfast.  They also own a pub in Dingle that has been in the family for three generations.  Angela was a wonderful hostess, full of advice, a rich deep voice and infectious laugh.  She recommended a local archeological tour of the peninsula.  Saturday morning we hopped into a 14 passenger van, and our host guided us on a three hour tour.  First thing he asked of the 14 strangers was where we were from.  All 14 of us were Amercan... from Oregon, Texas, Minnesota, North Dakota, east coast, southern states... he said that was typical for his tours... we all wished for a little more Irish mix.

Off we went careening down one lane coastal roads with traffic going both ways, including huge commercial tour buses coming at you, going around you and sometimes coming to a screeching halt when everyone realized there really wasn't enough room to pass one another between the rock cliff and the small stone barrier supposedly protecting you from a 500 meter drop into the sea.  At this point drivers stare each other down and wait for someone to back up to the nearest wides spot in the road... then we very carefully share microscopic amounts of paint as up to a hundred people on bus, van and assorted cars hold their breaths and pray some nut isn't barreling down on us from around the next corner, oblivious to our dance of drivers, death and the deep blue sea.  Who said Ireland wasn't exciting.

The Blasket Islands seen from a particularly wide section of road.

Off the far western reaches of the Dingle Penninsula are the Blasket Islands.  Gray, bare and somewhat forbidding on our day at the coast, the Islands were inhabited until 1953, when the last residents were relocated to the mainland.  Gaelic speaking, tough, resilient and articulate, they could withstand the elements of nature but not the attrition of their young people off the islands in search of treasure in Dublin, England, mainland Europe or most romantically... to America.  There is a Blasket Island interpretive center, on the mainland overlooking the islands that is surprisingly sophisticated and an amazing honor to the people of the islands.

The keystone archeological attraction is the Gallarus Oratory.  The name in Gaelic means 'church of the place of the foreigners'.  Built sometime in the 5th, 6th or as late as the 12th centuries (depending on the expert your listening to at the time) this small church is built of shaped stones without mortar and is waterproof.  Other oratories like this exist in ireland but few if any in as good a state of preservation.  Hermits, monks, religious pilgrims and others have gathered here for centuries. 

The Gallarus Oratory

We visited several other sites dating as early as the 6th century, and some modern places.  Pottery and jewelry and specialty craft centers dot the picturesque countryside.  The sense of history is not limited to centuries ago.  Our guide gave us a running commentary on the bays, inlets and cliffs used as movie sites for the movies "Ryan's Daughter" and "Far and Away."  I now know where Robert Mitchum stayed during the weeks they filmed "Ryan's Daughter" and where Tom Cruise came out of the Ocean in "Far and Away."  The Irish love and live their history.

Not everything is hunky-dory in the land of leprechauns however.  After our tour of the area, Pamela agreed to accompany me on a three hour eco-tour by boat around the Blasket Islands out of Dingle.  Bless her heart, she layered up to keep warm, we bought our tickets and a nice hot cup of tea while we waited for our boat, the Grevious Angel, to whisk us away.  Tried to go on a boat when we went to Doolin to see the Cliffs of Moher, but the seas were too choppy, as the tour company warned us they might be, and the boats did not run that day.

But the seas were mild, other tour boats had just departed for other locations and our boat came into sight.

The Grevious Angel approaches the dock.

Friend, Pauline, says the appropriate curse is 'May his children never go hungry' but I have other words for the scurvy captain who came within 50 feet of the dock, decided there weren't enough tourists to make it worth his while, turned his boat around and scurried to the other end of the bay, refusing to take us out.  The tour operator was mortified, refunded our money and informed us we had missed the last opportunity to take any boat out on a tour.  Like I said, I have other curses in mind, but I'm a guest in the country and already know this poor excuse for a sailor is not representative of the gracious and generous people we have met.

St. Brendan the Explorer

Speaking of sailors, we have learned about St. Brendan the Explorer, an adventurous monk who started several communities, performed miracles but most impressively went on a sea voyage with fellow monks.  They had many, now well published, adventures... most spectacularly an account that experts now believe was a trip across the Atlantic to Newfoundland long before Columbus and even long before Eric the Red sailed out of Scandinavia.

St Brendan's Cathedral, or what's left of it is in Ard Fert, north of Tralee.  It has been built, rebuilt, burned, destroyed, added to and subtracted from over the centuries, but in addition to a Friary nearby is still an attraction and point of interest for those following the religious and cultural history of Ireland.

Wide angle shot of the interior of St. Brendan's Cathedral

On our way home we took the long route around the southwestern tip of Ireland, including much of County Kerry and County Cork.  Kate Brown's pub was a wonderful stop for lunch, with an eclectic collection of art and artifacts to entertain the visiting tourist. 

Interior of Kate Brown's Pub... strange artwork

Stopped in Skibbereen for tea and biscuits at a restaurant called 'The Church Restaurant.'
Stained glass windows, lovingly restored, overlooked what used to be the sanctuary.  Tables on the main floor echoed more eating places in the balcony.  One poster next to the wall depicted a burned out sanctuary.  Turns out, the owner bought the church, turned it into a restaurant, it burned in 2002, and by 2006 she had lovingly restored it.  But the surprise we discovered in the fine print was that since 1833 the church had been a Methodist Church... and a small Methodist community still meets in Skibbereen every Sunday.  That's some form of church karma Pamela and I have.

The Church Restaurant... Methodist from 1833

For all our United Methodist friends, I am not recommending this for us!!!!  But even in Ireland, surprises abound and I remain OMOTIC.

New use for an old Methodist Church

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