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The Dingle Peninsula’s Wild Atlantic Way

"We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch, we are going back from whence we came." -John F. Kennedy

A Place Where Rugged Rules
At the very edge of Europe, the newest odyssey, the Wild Atlantic Way, extends for 1,600 miles along Ireland’s western seaboard. It is the world’s longest, most culturally rich coast that stretches from Malin Head  The Wild Atlantic Way is as close to exploring an open-air museum as you’ll get — exceptional landscapes, stunning flora and fauna — and packed with history and adventure, as I was about to find out.

Catch and Cook
In Dingle Harbor, County Kerry, the Atlantic offers an abundance of fish. Although I’d never before held a fishing rod, it seemed simple enough as Tom, the boatman, baited and gently placed my rod overboard. I asked how I’d know if I had a bite. “Oh, you’ll know,” was all he said as he walked away. He was right! I felt a strong tug on the line, began reeling and, suddenly, flopping before me — a large Ling fish. (When I returned home and told this tale, I predictably fell into that time-honored tradition of stretching my hands wide and saying “this big!”). Although my Ling would win no awards in a fish beauty contest, once cooked, it was yummy.

Don’t Let It Be Forgot
At the very edge of Europe, off the Dingle Peninsula lie the mystical Blasket Islands, a small archipelago renowned for its storytellers. A tiny population of traditional culture lived here, remaining strong in an isolated and rugged community and living simply from the land and sea. Visiting the Blasket Center with its galleries of artifacts and portraits of inhabitants, I felt the toil of their hard lives and had a keen appreciation for these long-ago people. Due to a declining population, the islands were abandoned in 1953. As its numbers dwindled, native author Tomas O’Crohan wrote the book The Islandman in part “so that some record of us might live after, for the likes of us will never be again.”

Someone once said “I believe one has to escape oneself to discover oneself.” Why? Because it’s easy to get lost in this fast-moving world and forget the lash of a salty sea breeze or the roar of waves. It’s easy to forget that somewhere brilliant sun is falling behind a historic relic or that lighthouses are still keeping watch over the sea. Easy to forget. But, if you want to remember, just think of the Wild Atlantic Way and go west!

Twenty years a-growing: a snapshot of Dingle, Ireland in 1994 

My mother-in-law is a big fan of National Geographic magazine and has more back copies in the house than you’d find in an overstocked medical-centre waiting room. I recently found an old edition that featured Ireland on the cover, which was published in September 1994 - exactly 20 years ago. For once, it didn’t contain the hackneyed images of donkeys, thatched cottages and remote islands beloved of National Geographic writers doing features on Ireland. There were photos of child beggars on O’Connell Bridge, U2 fans at a concert, President Robinson greeting school kids on Inishbofin, and youngsters with a pony in Clondalkin. Peace groups in Belfast  and Fungie the dolphin„„

The last 20 years have been tumultuous for Ireland with our great economic boom, followed by the crushing recession that we are still suffering the effects of. Fast-forwarding to 2014, we now have enormous debt, high unemployment, and emigration has returned with a vengeance.

Try as I might, I couldn’t get that 1994 National Geographic magazine out of my head. All those people who were photographed and interviewed - where were they now? How did they get on in the intervening 20 years, and what did National Geographic writer Richard Conniff and photographer Sam Abell make of their Irish experience? This article is about how I tracked down the people from that September 1994 National Geographic.

I found most of the people who were featured in the article, mainly through Twitter; that most 2014 
of things, a micro-blogging social-media site. Twenty years ago, random thoughts were kept to ourselves. Now, with Twitter, you can inflict them on the world. 

The photographer’s favourite photo of the entire shoot was Fungie the Dingle dolphin leaping out of the water, while a little terrier dog looks at him from a boat.

"I use the images from that Fungie experience to teach the principle of ‘compose and wait’ - a core principle of how I make photographs," Sam says.

"In this instance, I had been told that the dog in the photo had ‘a relationship’ with Fungi. For 20 minutes nothing happened, despite the barking of the dog. Then Fungie shot straight up out of the water. At the top of his leap he looked down, saw the dog, and chirped. Pandemonium. For the next spell of time we cruised the harbour with the leaping, chirping Fungi as our companion."

Still, Abell wasn’t sure he would be able to take a good shot: “I chased the two highly animated animals from one side of the boat to the other, despite knowing it was a futile approach to making a photograph. I knew from the Galapagos that when you see a dolphin leap, the moment is already past, photographically.”

Instead of chasing the dolphin and dog around the boat, he composed a scene with no dolphin. “It’s a three-layer composition: layer one, the side of the boat with the dog; layer two, the sea; layer three, the coastal landscape. All that was missing was Fungie.”

"By and by, the dolphin appeared alongside the boat. The captain shouted, ‘Here comes Fungie!’ I sensed his imminent arrival and clicked the shutter when he shot into view, occupying the place in the composition that was vacant. There was no way to know I got it. It was the era of film, and I worked on faith. The end of the story is that the picture worked. It is considered a classic of the ‘compose and wait’ school of photography," Sam says.

The only Irish public figures featured in the National Geographic article still really active are Bono, Mary Robinson, and Fungie. It’s remarkable that when the photo was taken in 1994, Fungie had already been in Dingle for 11 years.

Jimmy Flannery Jr is chairman of Dingle Dolphin Tours, has been a captain since he was 17, and has taken people out to Fungie for 22 years. Just what has Fungie been up to since 1994, and has he ever got sick of it all? “He has never taken a break. He may go away feeding for an hour or two, but that’s it. There have been other schools of dolphins arrived over the years, but he’s not interested. The only reason that Fungie stays in Dingle is because he wants to,” says Jimmy.

Even though scientists estimate that Fungie is now pushing 40, Jimmy doesn’t see any evidence of middle age setting in. “He is not one bit slower. He is as lively as he ever was.”

Jimmy has been doing the trips for so long, he feels that he’s in tune with Fungie’s moods. “When you spend time with Fungie, you get to know him. During the first five minutes of the trip I know whether his form is good or bad.”

The skipper also feels Fungie has an uncanny power. “Fungie has this strength. He definitely knows what you’re thinking. I always worry about him. He is part of the family. If I’m having a bad day, I take a small boat out and chat to him,” Jimmy added.

Since 1994, Fungie has faced some challenges that did put him in danger. “The harbour was dredged and we coaxed him out a bit away from it. Then, a few years ago, a Spanish boat hit a rock coming into the harbour and breached its diesel tanks. Ten thousand litres of diesel were spilt. Again we coaxed him away from there by getting him to follow the boats.”

In the 20 years since he was snapped by Sam, many celebs have been anxious to see the world’s most famous bottlenose dolphin. Jimmy’s favourite was Pierce Brosnan, who swam with Fungie 19 years ago. Recent celebrity Fungie fans have included actress Laura Dern, and actor James Nesbitt.

Jimmy would love to know what Fungie makes of it all. “He has opened up the world of the ocean to thousands of people. A lot of people would never have gone out in the water if it wasn’t for Fungie. I often wonder does Fungie realise what he has created in Dingle. There are 18 people in full-time employment and enormous tourism spin-offs.”

Two little girls getting their First Holy Communion outside St Mary’s Church in Dingle made another arresting image for the article. The girl on the right is Angela Ryan. She still lives in Dingle, is married to Darren and has one little girl named Chloe, and a stepson, Killian.

"The other girl’s name was Michelle," Angela says. "She was in my class for a little while, but her family were travelling around because of her dad’s job, so she left a few months after the Communion. I remember the day vaguely. My aunt made the dress and the Communion was a really big deal. The same as all other Communions in Dingle! There are five of us in the family, and I have three sisters and one brother."

"I stayed in Dingle. I went to college for a while, studying Design Communication in CIT. College wasn’t for me, and then I met Darren and got married at 23. I have a 10-year-old stepson, Killian, and daughter, Chloe."

Chloe has cystic fibrosis and the family are passionately involved in fund-raising and awareness. Darren is to climb Mount Kilimanjaro next January to raise funds for Cystic Fibrosis Ireland.

"We have a great support system in the Butterfly Unit in Limerick Regional Hospital," Angela says. "We go there every two to three months. It was diagnosed in Limerick through the heel-prick test when she was three weeks old."

When Chloe is six, she will be taking a ground-breaking drug to treat CF called Kalydeco. “It’s the closest thing to a cure that they have,” Angela says, “and works on lung function. She can only take it because she has CF with the gene mutation G551D. Kalydeco works on that.”

Kalydeco is a first of its kind in the world, as it works to prevent deterioration and keeps people with cystic fibrosis at their current level of lung function. Since its sanctioning by the HSE last year, approximately 120 patients will be suitable for Kalydeco treatment.

- See more at: http://www.independent.ie/life/twenty-years-agrowing-a-snapshot-of-ireland-in-1994-30530773.html#sthash.9wyDRHer.dpuf

The Dingle Peninsula’s winding Wild Atlantic Way

From Killarney’s misty lakes and tumbling falls to the craggy coast and hedge-hemmed fields of the mountainous Dingle Peninsula, County Kerry knows nature at its most exuberant. You’d be disappointed if the locals felt a calling for accountancy – and, sure enough, the raw beauty has inspired and attracted musicians, writers and artisans. The results are as splendid as the views…

What to see & do
The Dingle Peninsula’s silver-screen good looks land it some plum roles – notably in Tom ’n’ Nicole’s Far and Away, and David Lean’s Irish-rebellion-era Ryan’s Daughter, shot largely on mountain-flanked Inch Beach. You’ll have to imagine the Anglo-Irish tension as you crunch clam shells underfoot along miles of sand – it’s blissfully peaceful nowadays. Check out film stills over fruity tea brack at dune-top Sammy’s Bar (00 353 66 915 8118, inchbeach.com).

You have to go and see  Fungie the famous dolphin on your visit www.dingledolphin.com

It’s hard to resist (or avoid) fiddle-de-dee music in Kerry – in the kind of pubs O’Neill’s could only dream of replicating. In Dingle town, you’ll find the best craic in  John Benny’s, Murphy’s Pub and the Dingle Pub . The best traditional bar in the town is without a doubt is Curran’s Bar where you buy a a cap / socks alongside a pint of Guinness.

Toe-tapping demands boot-filling. Luckily Ryan’s Daughter didn’t just put Dingle on the cinematic map: the 18-month shoot inspired locals to think outside the spud, and 40-odd years on, the area’s a hotbed of brilliant restaurants and fantastic produce. Follow the peninsula food trail (bit.ly/PLBkap) to discover the glorious array of seafood, artisan brewers, cheesemakers and ice-creamists – or if you’re in Dingle for the October food festival (dinglefood.com), they’ll come to you.

Art galleries, jewellery studios and potteries are as abundant as the fuchsias lining Dingle’s lanes. In Dingle town, make a beeline for Kathleen McAuliffe’s (kathleenmcauliffe.com) bags and silver jewellery, and Lisbeth Mulcahys (lisbethmulcahy.com) alpaca scarves and woven throws – then head for Ballyferriter and her husband’s pottery (louismulcahy.com).

As if by centrifugal force, this Irish-speaking (Gaeltacht) area gets more Irish the further west you go – so it makes sense that the tiny Blasket Islands, off Dingle’s wild, westernmost point, produced the greatest Irish-language writers. Dramatic views of the now-deserted isles are framed by the brilliant Blasket Centre (Dunquin; £3.40), which celebrates the lives and tales of Tomás O Criomhthain and Peig Sayers.

Dingle’s archaeological line-up proves creative types aren’t a recent arrival. These aren’t imagination-stretching ruins, either – the upturned-boat-like Gallarus Oratory is as shipshape as when Christians first prayed here 1,300 years ago. You’ll get a world’s-end shiver looking out the gritstone doorway over Sybil Head to the Atlantic. Time-travel some more, to 8th-century Dunbeg Fort (dunbegfort.com; £2.50) and 12th-century Kilmalkedar Church.

The Slea Head drive round Dingle’s craggy far reaches is wowy, but windscreen scenery won’t get artistic juices flowing. Strike out on waymarked trails  or peat-squidgy paths from the Conor Pass for epic views of Mt Brandon tearing Wedgwood-blue holes in the clouds.

Where to stay

Self Catering : You will find good self catering accommodation here http://www.dingle-region.com/catering.htm

Bed and Breakfast - You will find good Bed and Breakfast  accommodation here http://www.dingle-region.com/bed.htm

This is what I do in Dingle, Ireland

Jimmy Flannery Jnr, Fungie tour skipper

Kate Butler

Photograph: Domnick Walsh PHOTOGRAPHY Tralee Co Kerry 

I ’ve been running Fungi tours since 1989. The dolphin first appeared in Dingle harbour in late 1983 or early 1984, and in the middle of that decade I was fishing with my older brother and I would take people out on Sundays to see it, but on a very small scale.

I went to fishery school in Donegal for a year in 1988 and when I came back, my wife Bridget and I decided to buy a boat with my father and we started to run the trips properly.

When we were fishing, we used to see Fungi at the mouth of the harbour. We didn’t take much notice then because it was common to see a pod of dolphins or the odd stray during fishing trips. But this one seemed to be sticking around. Then the film crews started arriving when they realised he had been there for a couple of years.

The fishermen named him Fungi. It was just a nickname, and that was that. I was 18 when we started and now my son, Colm, has just got his skipper’s ticket, so he’s starting to take the boats out, too.

We have 11 licensed boats in the Dingle Boatmen’s Association and we work on a rota system. The trip lasts an hour. It takes about 10 minutes to get to the entrance of the harbour, where you normally find Fungi. We spend the next 40 minutes playing with him and 10 minutes coming back in.

Fungi is a wild animal and sometimes he might be fishing or taking a few hours off. He’s not trained, so if he doesn’t want to go near people, he won’t. If he does, it’s fantastic.

You need a lot of patience because he’s wild and most people understand that. It’s an extraordinary feeling to get into the water with him.

He is about 15ft long, and if he comes within a couple of feet underneath you, it takes your breath away. Money cannot buy that feeling.

We never feed him. He is completely wild, although there are certain things he will do that you can predict. It seems at times like he’s trained, but the truth is he has us trained. You can’t train an animal without a reward, and there is no reward for Fungi, only that he likes the attention.


After the first 10 minutes down there you can pretty much tell what kind of mood he’s in — whether he is playful or quiet. He often likes to “run” alongside the boat with the people cheering. You put the throttle down and he sits in beside you, and every 15 seconds he’ll surface to the cheers of the people. It’s unbelievable.

The experts say he’s a fully grown male bottlenose dolphin who is well able to look after himself. If he didn’t like what he was doing, he’d go away and do it somewhere else. Some days he just won’t appear.

We also know that when there’s a run of salmon it can be difficult to see Fungi because he’s fishing an awful lot. During the winter, he spends a lot of time inside the harbour, feeding on razorfish. So it goes in cycles.

You get experts trying to study him. There’s not an awful lot they can say except: “Yes, it’s the same dolphin.”

We have photos of him going back to 1984 or 1985 and you can see he wasn’t fully grown then. He is now, so that would make him somewhere in his late 30s. The life span of a wild bottlenose is supposed to be about 25 years, but a dolphin in captivity can live for more than 40 years.

The business won’t go on for ever as one day Fungi will be gone. What will we do? I’ve had a couple of big trawlers and my son is now qualified to skipper them, too. At the moment, though, we’re sticking with Fungi and we’re open for business all year round.

Time and place: Dingle Peninsula Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh

The 83-year-old former commentator and “voice of the GAA”, remembers an idyllic childhood growing up near Dingle — when he wasn’t on fire

Mark Keenan

Muircheartaigh often visits Dun SionMuircheartaigh often visits Dun Sion

I am from the village of Dun Sion, three miles east of Dingle — or Daingean Uí Chúis, as we called it. There were eight houses near the sea in an area of dairy farmers. My earliest memories are of going to the fields, and my very first memory — I was about two, I’m guessing — was of the time my jumper took fire.

I suppose I must have decided that the step in front of the kitchen range would make a lovely seat. I felt intense heat on my back and ran out of the house shouting. I was the fourth of eight children, four boys and four girls. My older brother Nais ran after me and must have thrown water on me to put the fire out. I remember looking at the big black hole it had made in my jumper.

Our village and household were bi-lingual. We spoke Irish and English, sometimes with one running into the other. I remember learning all our catechism as Gaeilge and then having to do it again in English — I think some bishop issued a directive insisting on it.

We went to the mixed school in Dingle where boys and girls were taught together until first class. We walked six miles a day, three miles there and three back, across the fields. We had the nuns until first class, then the boys went to the Christian Brothers.

Until the 1920s, homes in our area were single-storey and usually built with thatched roofs. In the 1930s they became two-storey with slate roofs — things were changing since we had a government of our own.

Our house was two-storey, built of stone and the slate most likely came from Valentia Island by boat. All the houses had big kitchens with a stove under a big chimney in the gable. The stone was cut by skilled travelling masons. It was important to get a good one or else you’d end up with damp. You also tried to get the best chimney maker possible because a good one could get the draughts just right.

When we had free time, we’d go salmon netting in the estuary. Someone would go out in a boat and others would stay on the shore holding the net, which was then drawn around in a circle. Sometimes we caught nothing but old crabs but it was great fun.

Paddy FitzGibbon was the man who owned the boat. Paddy was originally from Listowel, a solicitor and a bachelor. He loved the outdoors and the sea, but one day Paddy fell out of his boat. When we got him out of the water, he asked me to run to his house and bring some dry clothes back for him. I grabbed pants and what I thought was a shirt but it turned out to be a pyjama top.

In the evening, we did our homework by candlelight. I was chief candlemaker. One day a man called to my father and told him there was something in the water moving towards our place. Everyone had land that looked out on the sea. We went down to the water and retrieved what turned out to be a big barrel of wax.

I would use the frame of an old bicycle to make the candles. I’d cut off a piece of the tubing so it was clear at both ends and run a length of string through it, tied to the middle of a nail at one end which would keep it centred. I’d block the other end with a potato and then pour the wax into it. We didn’t get electricity until 1947 — after I’d left home.

All sorts of things washed up on that beach, particularly in the war years. There were barrels and boxes, mines and now and again the bodies of German sailors. The local security people would take them away to be buried. I think they were repatriated after the war. One year three planes — German and British — crashed into Mount Brandon within a short time of one another.

The greatest excitement for us came on market day, the last Saturday of the month. We’d be up at five rounding up the cattle for market with the dogs, making sure the animals were fed and clean.

Walking on air

Dingle five-piece Walking on Cars have come far since their first gig in a youth cafe

Lauren Murphy Published: 24 August 2014

Monday mornings are to musicians what Kryptonite is to Superman. Any interview with a band conducted­ at the onset of the week should entail bleary eyes, pounding heads and copious amounts of caffeine — particularly if they’ve been gigging the previous evening. Walking on Cars, however, aren’t the cliched young upstarts you expect of band on the rise. “We’re actually not that cool,” protests keyboardist Sorcha Durham, shaking her head. “We’re not,” confirms her bandmate, guitarist and vocalist Pa Sheehy. “I usually spend about an hour in the green room after the gig, have a cup of tea, then I go to bed. I’m such a loser.”

All right, so the previous night’s gig was at the Rose of Tralee festival — this makes more sense when you learn the band are from nearby Dingle — but there is an unashamed lack of bad behaviour within the quintet’s ranks: no doing shots with Dáithí O Sé at the bar, no fussy demands for their backstage rider. We sip tea in a bustling cafe in Cork city, the clank of the coffee machine making it necessary to strain to hear Sheehy’s low, shy mumble. Not to be confused with Little Green Cars (the young indie-folk-pop Dubliners also comprised of four young men and a woman), the Dingle troupe — all former schoolmates from the Kerry town —formed four years ago after a variety of abandoned college degrees in Cork and London (Sheehy) and temporary jobs in local restaurants (Durham).

“Dingle is tiny, so everybody knows each other,” explains Durham. “The other three members had been in bands together as teenagers, so everybody had played with each other at various times, apart from me. I had just done classical piano, mostly, and written my own stuff. Then Pa rang me out of the blue one day after coming home from London, and we got together and started playing tunes. Then the lads came along and we decided to start a band, really.”

Their no-nonsense approach has paid dividends. After spending months rehearsing in bassist Paul Flannery’s “messy kitchen” and playing their first gig in a Dingle youth cafe, they spent time honing their craft and writing songs. Their debut single Catch Me If You Can proved moderately successful in the charts and was playlisted by several regional radio stations when it was released in May last year. Subsequent singles, and songs from their latest EP, Hand in Hand, have been similarly well received. They reckon their burgeoning popularity is primarily down to the support of regional radio rather than the internet or social networking.

“When we used to play gigs in Dingle, there’d be 40 or 50 people squeezed into a little bar called McCarthy’s, and we’d be delighted, thinking, ‘This is the job — this is unreal,’ ” recalls Sheehy, laughing.

“A year later, we’re going to Dublin and playing a venue that holds 850 people and it’s like, what the hell is happening? It was all down to little regional stations playlisting Catch Me If You Can. RedFM, BeatFM, iRadio, Spin South West — they’ve all been amazing to us.”

“Our videos have done quite well,” Durham adds. “Last year we did loads of gigs around the country. The first time we played Waterford, for example, there was a 200-capacity venue; the next time it was 1,000. So we’ve started small and our ­fanbase has kept building since then.”

The lifeblood of Dingle’s music scene is the Other Voices gig series, which has run for 12 years. “I’ve seen those musicians around Dingle for 10 years — since they were boys and girls, really,” says Other Voices organiser Philip King. “They came to Other Voices and saw various different people come and play. But they also come from a place that has real music in it, which might give Walking on Cars a unique sensibility in the world of pop music.”

Sheehy agrees that seeing international bands play tiny venues down the road had an impact on Walking on Cars. “It’s been such a huge part of us, growing up,” he nods. “Other Voices started when I was about 16, and the bands I’ve seen going through Dingle — the likes of Elbow, Bell X1, James Morrison, Amy Winehouse — it’s crazy, the amount of superstars who’ve come to Dingle over the years. It was inspiring.”

Several labels had been courting the quintet, impressed by the maturity of their sound, as well as Sheehy’s swarthy voice and thoughtful lyrics. The band had ­considered signing with Universal Ireland, but were aware of how limiting an Irish label might be. “We were flattered when they came along — but there was always that question: if we sign to a label in ­Ireland, how far can we go with them?” Sheehy says. “It wasn’t long after that some UK interest came along, so we weighed up our options and it seemed to make more sense.”

Having signed with Virgin EMI after a lunch in Abbey Road Studios, Walking on Cars spent most of this summer between Dingle and London, recording tracks for their debut album, which is tentatively scheduled for release early next year. Their first London gig next month is already sold out; dates in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles are pencilled in for September. There seems no reason why they should not follow in the recent footsteps of Irish acts such as Kodaline, Hozier and James Vincent McMorrow, whom they name as a big influence. Their forthcoming date at Electric Picnic will be their ­biggest to date, and is something they are excited about — even though Sheehy admits he’s never been to the festival.

“I told you, I’m such a loser,” he groans, pulling the peak of his baseball cap over his eyes in mock-embarrassment.

“There’s this music shop in Dingle, and Maz, the woman who owns it, does these podcasts,” explains Durham. “She had us in to do a session one day and she asked us, ‘So, what are the things you want to have done in the next few years?’ ‘Play Electric Picnic’ was one of them; another one was ‘record a CD and put it out’. And basically everything we said to her, we’ve achieved this year.”

What, then, are the band’s newly formed ambitions and goals for the ­coming year? “I try not to think too far ahead or too big, because you set yourself up for disappointment,” says Durham, sensibly. ”A No 1 album would be nice, but you don’t wanna say it out loud.”

“I think we just want to accomplish elsewhere; do what we’ve done here in the UK, Europe, the US. That’s the goal,” adds Sheehy with a shrug.

“We’re at the stage now where we’re ready to play in other places and release stuff. We’re just going to keep writing and releasing and see what happens, rather than aiming for this or that market. Fingers crossed, we’re just gonna go for it.”

The reality of rural Ireland in the Dingle Peninsula

Gerard O’Regan

Published 23/08/2014 | 02:30

At the time she was a young American woman, and with her husband and three young children, she moved into a rented house on the Dingle Peninsula in the mid-1970s. Her choice of abode was a small village called Clahane, about 20 miles west of Tralee. Her mission was at one level simple - but also complex and controversial.

As a New York-born anthropologist, Nancy Scheper-Hughes was determined to try and find out at first hand why there seemed to be such a high rate of mental illness in rural Ireland. So she and her family lived among this rural Kerry community for well over a year. She was determined to sample, at source, the emotional undergrowth which influenced the lives of the local people. Her children went to school there, where her husband got a job as a temporary teacher.

Although she was greeted at first with some understandable suspicion, the locals gradually took her into their confidence. She would mix and converse with them in places like the local mart and creamery. Sometimes she would be the only woman in the fairly male-dominated pub of a night. The conversation, often stilted with the caution of the countryman, could sometimes be frank and free-flowing, hinting at some darker secrets. She listened, observed, went home and wrote up her notes. Eventually her anthropological study would be published in book form under the title Saints, Scholars, and Schizophrenics.

It was a searing, highly judgmental analysis of rural life over 30 years ago. The book is still widely regarded as a classic of its type - but for the people in this part of Kerry, many of its conclusions and findings were devastating. Basically she accurately sketched a time and place, when an old small farming-based way of life was in unstoppable decline, and which has now disappeared forever.

Back then, the local marriage rate was among the lowest in the developed world, driven by economic necessity, and a Famine-inspired legacy, which held that on no account could a farm be divided. The soulful presence of often mournful Catholicism - as it used to be in rural areas - weaved its own distinctive pall.

Emigration then, as it is now, was the great social safety valve. It was also a source of unrelenting heartbreak.

In her book, Scheper-Hughes is especially insightful on how this relentless drain of youth and energy from a community can sap its very lifeforce. And while the majority of each new generation would leave, she controversially suggested many families unconsciously ‘selected’ one of their offspring who would stay. He would keep the farm going and look after his parents in their declining years. She suggested carefully honed dynamics within the local community, such as the attitude of priest and teachers, connived in this form of social engineering.

- See more at: http://www.independent.ie/opinion/columnists/gerard-oregan/summer-slips-away-and-the-same-old-sadness-returns-to-haunt-rural-ireland-30530061.html#sthash.WQ2b89Sr.dpuf

Even the Godfather of cinema melts for Murphy’s Irish ice cream

In an interview with the ‘Wall Street Journal’, he called the country beautiful and the people “extraordinary”. But even more excitingly, he could be responsible for a surge in gastro-tourism, thanks to his paean to Irish ice cream.

Murphy’s hand-made ice-cream shop on Wicklow Street in Dublin

"Irish ice cream is among the best in the world, which no one knows," he claims.

Francis Ford Coppola is not only a legendary director; he is also something of a bon vivant, being the owner of several luxury hotels, as well as a vineyard.

And of course he’s absolutely correct, as every self-respecting, 99-guzzling Irish person will agree. We’re a nation obsessed with ice cream, with one of the highest consumptions of it, per capita, in Europe but sometimes it can take a famous visitor to make us appreciate just how good we have it, ice cream wise, in this country.

Ice-cream makers claim the reason it’s so delicious is because of our excellent and pure dairy produce. Kieran Murphy, who along with his brother Sean, is behind artisan brand Murphy’s Ice Cream (their flavours include Dingle Gin, as well as sea salt) says it’s all about our wonderful milk and cream.

"The reason that we went into business is because coming over - my brother and I grew up in New York, even though our father is Irish - it just seemed that the dairy here were head and shoulders above anywhere else we visited, and if the milk and cream were so good, then the ice cream should be as well," he says.

"We have this ancient dairy tradition here, which is fantastic, and we have one of the oldest milking breeds in the world, the Kerry cow. We’ve got our cows on grass where most other cows elsewhere are all shoved into pens and little milking factories, and ours wander the hills and munch away - and they’ve done all sorts of studies that prove that when cows are fed on grass, the milk tastes better."

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The taste of Dingle

A boat on Dingle harbourDingle, one of the many picturesque towns along the Wild Atlantic Way, is not short on photo opportunities. Photograph: Picasa/Mat Follas

I drive on to Dingle, and am literally stopped in my tracks by the stunning scenery as I approach the peninsular. It erupts suddenly into a mountainous land and I drive along a stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way - one of the world’s longest coastal driving routes - to Dingle, stopping to take photos and walk on the sandy beaches.

In Dingle the next morning, I’m met by Martin Bealin of Global Village Restaurant who generously spent most of the day with me showing me the sights. These include the local brewery where they make Tom Crean’s, a very good Pilsner style beer, then onto the Dingle distillery where they’re making a name for themselves producing an superb gin, originally produced to maintain the cash flow whilst their whiskey was maturing. It’s a few years yet before the whiskey will be ready but if it’s anything like the gin, it’ll be very good indeed. An hour with Maya Binder, a Swiss-trained German cheese maker who produces some wonderful soft farmhouse cheeses is heaven to a cheese lover like me.

Maya Bind of the Little Cheese ShopMaya Bind of the Little Cheese Shop. Photograph: Tom Parker

Dinner at Martin’s restaurant that night is exceptional, better than some Michelin starred places I’ve eaten at. A few drinks with the local food fraternity in the pub next door, that also doubles as a hardware store, sees me agreeing to return for their food festival between 3-5 October and his new venture, the Dingle Cookery School.

I didn’t want to leave Dingle, it’s a special place; a town of 1800 with 52 food establishments, amazing producers and a happy, relaxed vibe, I look forward to returning.

Is Dingle’s Fungi real… or a fintastic fairy story?

A sceptical Kim Bielenberg arrives in Dingle on his bike, determined to solve the great dolphin mystery. Has Fungi really been frolicking for 30 years?

I arrive in the harbour in Dingle on my bike as a confirmed Fungi sceptic. I am quite happy to accept that there is a dolphin out there in the bay, but is it really the same one who has been flipping about for 30 years?
Traffic is bumper to bumper as I pedal less than furiously into town and for once I enjoy the satisfaction of overtaking cars and the never-ending tourist buses.

As I lock up my bike near the Fungi statue and attempt to solve the dolphin mystery, a man in a Munster jersey chips in with his own contribution to the debate.

"I reckon there must have been nine or 10 Fungi the dolphins since this whole thing started," he says.

Dingle all the way: Kim Bielenberg meets Tom Sheehy, skipper of the Lady Laura.

According to the official version of the story, Fungi is heading for 40 years of age and has been in Dingle since 1983. Locals insist a bottle-nosed dolphin can live up to the age of 50, but is he not a bit long in the tooth to be still leaping about?

Two years ago, rumours spread that he was dead - an event that would be nothing short of a financial calamity - but Kerry County Council was moved to issue a statement he was very much alive and flipping.

If someone in Dingle had discreetly replaced the celebrity creature, it would be quite understandable.

Has any town ever depended so much on a wild aquatic mammal? At least eight boats take visitors to see Fungi in continuous runs - some dolphin botherers camp here for the entire summer just to swim with Fungi. There are dolphin T-shirts, key chains, and he even gives his name to a pizza in a local restaurant.

I hop on the boat at lunchtime. In what is an effective marketing ploy, the boatmen do not charge passengers if Fungi is not seen. They only collect the money after the dolphin has appeared.

The lady in the ticket office reassuringly tells me he almost always shows up.

We chug out into the bay on the Lady Laura and there is an air of excited anticipation. At first there is no sign of any dolphin and I wonder if the trip is going to be worthwhile. But in the distance, on the far side of the bay close to the shore, a small cluster of boats indicates there is movement in the water. Suddenly, a child in front of me shouts: “There he is, there’s Fungi, look there!” And there, for a brief moment, is the most famous dolphin in Europe, but how do I know it is Fungi, rather than some random dolphin, who just happens to be in the area?

"You can tell it’s him because there is a little nick on his fin which he got from a propeller 20 years ago," one of the boatmen tells me. A glance at old pictures later on seems to confirm this.

At first the elderly dolphin moves slowly through the water, only appearing every 15 or 20 seconds. But then, amid gasps from the crowds on the boats, he grows in enthusiasm, moving higher out of the water, as cameras whirr in the background.

He dips, tilts, arches and twists, and then he gathers up speed and the boat rushes to follow. Suddenly he flips high out of the water, showing off his white front, and he repeats this show several times.

Fungi gives the people what they want

Some feel he is a peculiar animal in that he seems to prefer the company of humans to that of other dolphins. Is he really wild any more if he has hung around for so long, posing for all-comers?

Skipper Jimmy Flannery says: “Other dolphins come into the harbour. Sometimes he will interact with them and sometimes not.”

There is even some speculation he originally came from some kind of dolphin show. Maybe he had escaped or was brought to the Kerry town by canny tourism executives. Jimmy dismisses these rumours out of hand.

"If it was as simple as bringing in a dolphin and putting it in the water, every town by the sea would do it. It just wouldn’t work. It would be like putting a tiger in a field and hoping he’ll stay there."

Jimmy first saw Fungi when he was an 11-year-old boy. His brother, a fisherman, took him out to see him. He started taking passengers out to see the dolphin in 1987 and it is now his full-time job. The whole family is in the Fungi business.

"I still think the fact that there is a dolphin here is remarkable and I feel Fungi is part of the family," he says.

It may seem implausible that a dolphin would hang around for so long, but I am beginning to become a believer. The alternative scenario, where he was replaced by an identical sociable creature who dutifully appears day after day, is even more far-fetched

There is a natural dread in the town about what will happen when the inevitable occurs and Fungi glides off through the foam to meet his maker.

"I really don’t know what I’ll do," says Jimmy. "I’ll have to cross that bridge when I come to it."

Back on dry land there is a buoyant mood in the town as it enjoys one of its best seasons. Emma Riordan, who runs the Rainbow Hostel and Campsite, says: “It has been a good year. Because of the good weather, we have a lot of Irish people who are choosing to have staycations.”

I meet up with Kate, a teacher from Canada, who has just travelled for days across Connemara by bike, and has now got a bus to Kerry. She finds the narrow roads hazardous, but thinks the people are very friendly.

Having arrived with jet lag, she says she likes to party late at night and sleep late in the morning, and is usually woken by the women who run the B&B.

After confirming Fungi may indeed be real, it’s time for me to hop back on the bike and head for Cork

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