Why is it you prefer one place over another or might call one place “favorite” out of many places? I’m sure there is a psychological answer, some underlying preferences to which we’re prone yet unaware. Or maybe it’s something more inaccessible and mystical; something we just know through and through, needing no assistance from reason to clarify.
Whatever the answer, undeniably my favorite place on the eight-day Rick Steves tour of Ireland was the harbor town of Dingle, located in south-west Ireland, County Kerry.
We were only there for a day and a half. It seemed blissfully like much longer.
We began the morning by leaving Ennis and a visit to the Cliffs of Moher, Beautiful Ireland, Part 1 – Ennis and the Cliffs of Moher then a long bus ride to Dingle. As we entered the Dingle peninsula, I could sense we were entering a special place. The landscape felt a little more remote, the vegetation a little greener, the hills a little more substantial. Occasionally we would catch a glimpse of the ocean. The roads were now more narrow, the traffic more sparse, all good signs.
And then we arrived at the harbor town of Dingle who boasts a population of 2000, and comically, 53 pubs. Nestled between large hills to the north and the bay to the south, driving through the narrow streets lined with colorful restaurants and shops, I knew we were in a place I’d enjoy tremendously.
The tour group stayed at two adjacent bread and breakfasts, Milltown House and Clonmara, just on the opposite side of the harbor into which the river Milltown fed, allowing for a beautiful view of the town across the water. I cannot compliment more the coziness and comfort of the accommodations; there could not be a more lovely place.
Since we arrived late afternoon, we quickly moved into our rooms and made way to the large lawn area next to Milltown House where we were treated to a bird of prey exhibition, up close and personal. Though incredible to watch and to hold, the highlight might have been when one of the Harris Hawks landed on my Guinness. A replacement was quickly procured.
Afterwards, it was a tasting of Irish whiskeys and then dinner. After the meal, the jet lag made itself known, but before an early bedtime, Kirsten and I took a quick walk along the short coast during sunset to have a look at the harbor. The tide was coming in and in the distance you could see the mouth of the harbor, and just beyond the Atlantic Ocean. The evening was perfect with a light breeze. I was comfortable in shorts and a long sleeve. Frustrated with my body though, that it would not let me carry on and enjoy the solitude of the point, we headed back to the B&B. I stared out the window of our room in my fatigue for quite some time, across the harbor to town, wondering what a more energetic, alternate Derek might be experiencing.
The next morning was a wonderful breakfast and coffee, then off to a tour of the Dingle Peninsula. If Dingle was my favorite town of the trip, the tour of the peninsula my favorite excursion, so much so that it will have its own entry (coming soon!)
We returned to Dingle mid-day and after a lunch, we were treated to a harbor cruise. The feature of the outing, and one of the town’s tourist attractions, was to take a ride out onto the harbor to catch a glimpse of the patron dolphin, Fungie! A resident of the harbor since 1984, Fungie the dolphin was quite the attraction with multiple boating outfits advertising “Guaranteed sighting or your money back!” There was even a bronze statue of Fungie in the small common area near the docks.
After 15 minutes or so of wandering about the water, a Fungie sighting happened! We were hardly the only ones. Four other boats with 30 or so passengers all swarmed around the area in a circle, people hanging off the edges like lunatics to see the dolphin pop his head out of the water for four or five seconds. I wondered how many cell phones and cameras were resting at the bottom covered in barnacles. Fungie appeared once more for about the same amount of time, and then he was done. I’ve seen pictures where he’s quite a bit more energetic, leaping from the water. It was not to be our day for such a performance.
The remainder of the tour was quite nice and relaxing. We exited the harbor through its mouth and entered the North Atlantic Ocean, trolling along the beautiful cliffs and through the blue-green water. I asked someone why the water was so incredibly blue. Apparently, this is what ocean water looks like when there’s no industry mucking it up (save a few small fishing operations.) It was a gloriously sunny afternoon, perfect for such a cruise.
Returning to the docks, we were then on our own for dinner and the evening. We walked around the streets a bit, stopped into a local grocery, then found a pub for dinner, after which we went to another pub where some live Irish music awaited. Our fabulous guide Stephen knew the owner and reserved for us prime tables to watch the show. The band consisted of four women, including a young teenager on the fiddle. It was heartening to see the more seasoned players show her the ropes of playing pick-up music, and congratulating her at the end of songs for her solos; a mix of building her confidence and passing on heritage to the next generation.
We walked a mile or so back to our B&B with a little light left in the sky. The next morning was another amazing breakfast, and then we loaded to head on to the town of Kilkenny in central Ireland. As we were driving out from the peninsula, I thought how I could have stayed many weeks in Dingle and been quite happy, the colorful harbor town, her many pubs and lively streets, the high green hills and calming shores, and the surrounding countryside of the peninsula, all spoke to me very deeply, fashioning contented feelings that needed no words.
On the way to Kilkenny, we had a limerick writing contest, and so I’ll finish here with our entry. Co-authored by myself and Kirsten, we could not let go of the silliness of Fungie the dolphin, so, without further ado, this is what two English degrees buys you:
There once was a dolphin named Fungie
who was very sad and so lonely
but he swam in the bay
and said, “I think I’ll stay”
and made Dingle a whole lot of money.