Experience the Dingle Peninsula

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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."

- See more at: http://www.independent.ie/life/food-drink/food-news/even-the-godfather-of-cinema-melts-for-irish-ice-cream-30503204.html#sthash.FuB3SUxf.dpuf

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

- See more at: http://www.independent.ie/life/travel/ireland/is-dingles-fungi-real-or-a-fintastic-fairy-story-30477726.html#sthash.NWq0TQaL.dpuf

An Irish Dingle Peninsula grandmother’s secret to living to 100

Nora MacNamara (née Hickey),  pictured second from the left, with her husband, William, and friends. Nora and William married in 1947. And, as was typical at the time, the groom was much older than the bride. William passed away 27 years ago, in 1988.

Nora MacNamara (née Hickey), pictured second from the left, with her husband, William, and friends. Nora and William married in 1947. And, as was typical at the time, the groom was much older than the bride. William passed away 27 years ago, in 1988.

By Bryce Evans, Contributor
August / September 2014

My grandmother Nora MacNamara (née Hickey) turned 100 on June 15, 2014. From her retirement home on the Dingle peninsula, County Kerry – snuggled in the foothills of the Slieve Mish mountains and overlooking the clear blue Atlantic ocean – family and friends gathered to celebrate the centenary of a woman known to her grandchildren as simply ‘Granny Mac.’

What was the secret to Granny Mac’s old age and good health, many wanted to know.

Well, the beautiful surrounds of this corner of North Kerry provide a clue. The local area provides ample opportunity for fresh air, swimming, and mountain walking, even for a town girl like Nora, who was born and brought up in the county town, Tralee. As a teenager, Nora would cycle everywhere and swim often. A fellow resident in her retirement home is Mary Crean, daughter of Tom Crean, the famed Antarctic explorer, who left the nearby village of Anascaul to join Ernest Shackleton’s heroic polar expeditions of the early twentieth century. It would seem, therefore, that there is something in the Kerry air, in the people’s oneness with nature, that confers a resilience that matures into hardy old age. Not to mention the dietary benefits of plentiful local fresh fish and the pride that comes from her fluency in the Irish language, a linguistic identity shared with many in this part of the world.

But the romance of this explanation overlooks some of the harsh realities of my grandmother’s life. Born just before the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Nora lived through tumultuous events. As a child she remembers the cruelty of the ‘Black and Tans’ during the Irish War of Independence, a ruthless British military outfit sent to put down the nationalist Irish Republican Army. For six- year-old Nora felt the cold steel of a gun pressed against her young skull. Others were not so lucky. The young Granny Mac, who grew to be a devotee of the republican leader Eamon de Valera, was just eight years old when one of the worst atrocities of the Irish Civil War occurred on her doorstep. At Ballyseedy, just outside Tralee, a dozen republicans were shackled to a large mine, which was then detonated. Older than the Irish state (which came into being in 1922), and having seen the cruelties performed in its name, my grandmother has always possessed a certain wariness about the very state itself.

This wise skepticism – perhaps better described as quiet stoicism – was also forged by family circumstances. Nora’s grandfather was killed while a young man, trampled by a horse while laboring on a local farm.

A wayward uncle then stole off with the inheritance, emigrating to America where he drank all the family money, dying penniless and vagrant, leaving the rest of the family facing hard times. Consequently, many in her family had to emigrate. Another uncle, Canon Bryan Hickey, moved to England, where he covertly assisted the old IRA by stashing sticks of dynamite in his Manchester parochial house. Yet another uncle, John F. Healy, moved State-side, where he rose to become a renowned Fire Chief in Denver. Others in the family would die young: victims of Ireland’s poor public health record in the early twentieth century.

But the most important secret to old age, according to Granny Mac, is not diet, nor environment, nor the inner strength that comes by overcoming hardship. It is, for her, a matter of faith. On every wall of her creaking old house you are met with images of the saints, of the Virgin Mary, or of the dying Christ. Prayer is integral to her life and has guided her through much grief. It is this simple devotion to the Catholic faith (she still performs her daily decades of the rosary) that has sustained her so long. And so, if you are to ask her opinion on the secret to old age and good health, she will simply say ‘Le cúnamh Dé’ – with God’s help – all will go well.

Childhood on Blasket island Dingle Peninsula inspires films

Filmmaker Simon Hambrook tells Sharon Ní Chonchuir how a hippie upbringing off the Kerry coast has become a source of creativity

CHILDHOOD memories are precious to us all. They give us a sense of where we came from and the people and places that shaped the adults we have become. Imagine how it might feel if your childhood memories consisted of life with your hippie parents on the Great Blasket Island at the end of the 1970s. Can you picture how such a childhood might have impacted on the person you are today? These are the questions filmmaker Simon Hambrook is grappling with as he makes the second in a series of films about his early life on the Great Blasket Island. He made his first film, the 12- minute The Isle of My Youth in April of last year and it has since appeared at the New Designers Exhibition in London and at Keswick Film Festival. Now he is in the process of making a follow-up film called The Isle of My Heart .

“This all started when I began to write a book about my family’s life on the island about a year and a half ago,” says Simon, who at that time was living in Torquay in England. “I realised I missed Ireland and the island so much. It ignited my desire to return and made me want to make a film about what the island means to me.”

His early life on the island is certainly an unusual one. His parents were searching for something different to the lifestyle on offer in the UK in the 1970s. “They saw an ad in The Times asking people to come and work on the Dingle Peninsula,” says Simon. “It seemed like the thing for them.”

And so it proved to be. They worked for a local businessman, leading horse-riding trips, doing handiwork and eventually moving out to run the café and hostel on the Great Blasket Island in 1977.

“They moved there with my brother and lived there with sheep, goats and visitors,” says Simon. “I was conceived there and spent my first two and a half years living there.”

The Hambrook family moved to another island off Connemara in the early 1980s but often returned to the Great Blasket. Simon’s most vivid and formative memories are of his time there.

“I remember Patrick Dunleavy, the only other permanent resident of the island, giving my brother and me sweets. Our parents never gave us sweets so this was really something special for us. I remember another girl called Sinéad sharing her chocolate with me. I remember coming back to the island and finding our toys still hidden in the sand from our previous visit. Mostly, what I remember is the shape of the island looming on the horizon and it feeling and looking like home.”

He recreated his memory of Sinéad offering him chocolate using Super8 film in the opening of The Isle of My Youth and this struck a chord with people.

“It really captured the feel of that moment and people thought it was a real bit of footage,” says Simon. “This new film will be more focussed on recreating more of those memories on the island.”

The first part of the new film will feature his life in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The second will be shot in 60mm format and will seek to portray the special abandoned atmosphere of the place. “Our cameras will look at the village from the sea and from the hill and capture the vast expanse and power of the island,” he says.

The final part of the film will follow the filmmakers as they journey to the end of the island, shooting the sights they see.

“Our arrival at the end of the island should make for a suitable ending for the film,” says Simon.

It is unlikely to mark the end of his infatuation with the island.

Once shooting is over, he then plans to remain on the Dingle Peninsula.

“When I came back last year, I knew then that I had to come back and live here,” he says. “It’s taken this long to make it happen but now is the time.”

He also hopes to make even more films about the island in the future. “Dylan Thomas started writing a script for Twenty Years A-Growing’ — Muiris Ó Súilleabháin’s book about his life on the island and I would love to film that,” laughs Simon. “It’s perhaps a little too ambitious for me just yet.”

© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved

Top ten mistakes to avoid when traveling to Ireland / the Dingle Peninsula

Top ten mistakes to avoid when traveling to Ireland / The Dingle Peninsula


Just read a list of mistakes not to make on your trip to Ireland. Most of them were stupid, so I thought I’d create my own.

When I was in college, we read a book called The Ugly American. There are reasons why Americans are not universally loved in other countries. My high school Spanish teacher once told us he was glad he could speak Spanish without an American accent so he wouldn’t be associated with the other Americans he encountered in Spain. We Americans have many endearing qualities. We also do stupid obnoxious things when traveling. Forewarned is forearmed, so here are ten things you should never do when traveling, especially to Ireland.

1. Don’t come unprepared.
Good websites are essential. The Dingle Region Website is probably the best  http://www.dingle-region.com .

Do your research before you come, check and verify it with as many sources as possible, and carry the information you need as you travel for constant reference. That way, you’ll be ready for anything, expected or not.

2. Travel as a local as much as possible, rather than as a tourist.
I call this traveling through the “back door.” Where I grew up, in the hinterlands of eastern Colorado, only strangers knocked or rang at the front door. Friends come through the back door. That’s so true in Ireland. A big tour company will show you great scenery through the window of the coach, as you follow all the other coaches to attractions and shopping areas that give the driver a commission on sales. Get away from those, find the locals, and learn how they live and what they value. Your trip will be so much better. The next suggestion is an excellent way to make this happen.

3. Don’t neglect the pubs.
The two most important social centers in Ireland are the pub and the church, in that order. While the church is essential to Irish culture, the pub is where it is really experienced. That’s confusing and contradictory to Americans, who often don’t know the difference between a pub and a bar. A pub may HAVE a bar, but it’s far more a place to socialize, meet people (not in the “pick up” sense of many American bars) and truly experience the life of a local.

4. Don’t travel in the peak season.
OK, so this one may not be avoidable, depending on when you have your time off. But if you can, visit Ireland during what is called the “shoulder” season. High season in Ireland is the summer, from June through August. Mid-September through October, and April through mid-May are times when far fewer people travel, so you’ll avoid crowds, find the locals less stressed, and even save money on airfares. You can travel the low season (winter) if you want, but the weather is not as friendly and many attractions are closed. Not bad if you spend much of your time in pubs (see above) and stay away from the tourist traps. This can be especially good if you like walking in the rain, but bring a good woolly jumper and a plastic mack.

6. Don’t miss out on the music.

Irish traditional music (or TRAD, as aficionados call it) reaches the soul more thoroughly and effectively than almost any other type of music, whether you’re Irish or not. I have played, sung, listened to, and experienced TRAD music in many different venues, and I never cease to marvel at the emotional impact it has on those who experience it. I have played and sung with Germans, Scandanavians, Europeans, Americans, and those of many different backgrounds; all of whom have chosen this style of music because of the way it attracts. It’s astounding.


7. Don’t limit yourself to the bigger towns.
As above, remember that bigger places, such as Dublin, see a lot more tourists, so they become jaded and offer what they think you might like, more than something you really should experience. Find time to get out into the country side, the small communities that are the heart of Ireland. Stay in a local B&B (instead of a hotel) and ask the landlady some probing questions about her favorite ways to spend some quality time. I know of a couple who own a B&B in Dingle who also do archaeological tours of the peninsula. That kind of discovery can make an already enjoyable trip into the experience of a lifetime.

In the UK and Ireland, every neighborhood in the big cities has its own local pub, where neighbors and friends gather regularly. That’s even more true of smaller towns, where the controversies of the day may be forgotten for the moment over a few pints. That’s when you start to experience the music and the stories that make the Irish people famous.

8. Learn about the history of the country.
The Irish are said to have a long memory. The famine of 1845 is a recent event. This past April we commemorated the anniversary of Brian Boru rising to become High King of Ireland in 1014 AD. The ONE THOUSANDTH ANNIVERSARY. I mentioned archaeological tours above. There are passage tombs a Bru Na Boinne that are older than the oldest pyramids of Egypt. The story of Ireland goes back ten thousand years or more. Don’t miss that when you go.

When we took the loop road around the Dingle penninsula, we saw clochan (stone huts) that are still tight against the rain hundreds of years after they were built, and the Gallarus Oratory, built along similar lines and just as solid as it ever has been. We saw standing stones so old that nobody knows why they were set up, and pillar incised with Ogham, one of the oldest forms of writing known to man.

I have a friend who says that every stone next to every road and field in Ireland has a story. You’ll find that the locals know those stories and will be glad to tell them to you, especially if you buy them a pint. Speaking of which, don’t forget that in Ireland, the custom is that you buy a round for you and your friends, and they return the favor, unlike America, where everyone is responsible for his own drink. So if someone buys you a pint, don’t neglect to return the favor.

9. Don’t miss out on local sporting events.
Hurling is the national sport of Ireland, and its cousin GAA football is played in every county and townland you’re likely to visit. You may not be able to find an event in Croke Park, but you’ll certainly see somebody playing one of those sports, or perhaps soccer, rugby or Australian rules football in any local community. I spent some of the most enjoyable hours in Kilronan (the only town in the Aran Islands) with some locals, watching a football (soccer) match between Dublin and Westmeath. It’s a great way to really get to know people.

10. Don’t try out your Irish accent.
There are many other possible mistakes you could make on your trip, but I saved this until last because so many Americans just don’t understand how stupid it sounds when you great them with “Top O’ The Morning” or some other cliché you learned from the Lucky Charms leprechaun. If an Irish man or woman came to America and talked like a cowboy from a 1930’s western movie, you would look on them the same way as the Irish look on an American who comes to Ireland and says, “Sure and begorrah, ‘tis a grand country you have here.”

Taking a trip around Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula

They are two of the greatest drives I’ve ever taken.

Along the way, I encountered more than 40 shades of green and at least a dozen shades of blue. The Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula drives in Ireland offer an array of majestic vistas, impressive historical sites and charming towns.

My wife Cindy and I knew it was going to be a great day after our luggage finally arrived in Kenmare - four days after our flight to Dublin. If you ever get separated from your bags in Ireland I recommend going to Dunnes Stores. They have outlets all over Ireland. Their prices are good and I personally like the quality of their underwear, socks and golf shirts.

The next day we did the Dingle Peninsula. My good friend Tim Luckadoo of Cary warned me. Visit Anascaul and you will come back with a song! Tim was right. Several songs are brewing in my brain after visiting this lovely community where rugged Antarctic explorer Tom Crean was born. There’s a statue of the so-called “Irish Giant” in Anascaul and a picture of the statue in the slide show.

I was blown away by the story of Gallarus Oratory down the road from Anascaul. We marveled at this beautiful little stone chapel which is 1300-years-old. The history of the church’s construction is fascinating. It is a simple sandstone archaeological site. There is only one of its type in Ireland.

I highly recommend The Goat Street Bistro for lunch in the town of Dingle. Here we heard locals speaking in Gaelic as we enjoyed a fabulous fresh seafood and pasta dish.

Speaking of food, next week I will tell you where I had the best meal of my life as our travels continue up the west coast of Ireland. Here we encounter meadows of stone and stunning cliffside views of the Atlantic. Plus, more pictures and music!

Ireland is a dog’s best friend: Mabel the pug gets VIP treatment in the Dingle Peninsula

Ireland is a dog’s best friend: Mabel the pug gets VIP treatment in the craggy south-west

For children and dogs, there is a magical haven on the craggy South-Western tip of Ireland.

It’s called Pax House, a B&B just a short walk from the pretty town of Dingle, where David Lean filmed Ryan’s Daughter with Robert Mitchum and Sarah Miles 44 years ago.

Our pug Mabel, on her first trip to Ireland, was treated like a VIP. She was even taken along with a group of children to inspect the chicken hutches before breakfast. Had the hens laid any eggs? Of course they had. And miraculously, the eggs bore the names of each of the children, too.

The Irish love children, however noisy, and dogs are also extremely popular. We opted to take Mabel to Co. Kerry via the Stena Europe ferry from Fishguard in Wales to Rosslare in Co. Wexford.

It's a pug's life: Travelmail's writer John McEntee with his happy pug Mabel

It’s a pug’s life: Travelmail’s writer John McEntee with his happy pug Mabel

On arrival at Rosslare, we checked into Danby Lodge Hotel, which welcomed pets to comfortable cabin-like rooms equipped with doggie treats.

After a walk on the nearby beach we had an early night in preparation for the long drive to Dingle. It  took five hours to reach Pax House. We wanted to arrive well before it got dark so we could keep an eye out for the antics of Fungie the dolphin in the nearby bay.

He’s a local legend, a 30-year-old bottlenose who swoops and dives for the entertainment of tourists in the bay (so confident are the boat owners in the dolphin’s reliability that a no-show merits a full refund).

On our first evening, Mabel watched TV and slept in the room while we walked down the hill to Dingle to dine at Patricia Fenton’s excellent bistro.

Charming: Dingle in rural Ireland is found wanting for friendly pubs and live music venues

Charming: Dingle in rural Ireland is found wanting for friendly pubs and live music venues

Next day - after Mabel was cooked a breakfast treat of diced sausage wrapped in an ornamental swan made from kitchen foil - we drove up and over the spectacular Conor Pass, which commands panoramic views of the Blasket Islands, the Ring of Kerry, Mt Brandon and the minuscule spread of Dingle in the valley below.

Dingle at night is unmissable. Most bars provide free sessions with musicians moving from pub to pub. Dogs are allowed in most, though O’Flaherty’s barman declined to give Mabel a drink of water and a farmer asked if she was any good at rounding up sheep. Imagine.

On the way back, we loitered in Killarney, where the now famous lakes were unknown until Queen Victoria arrived in the mid-19th century and insisted on a tour.

Mabel seemed to take a shine to Killarney. In fact, her mood throughout our trip was nothing short of joyful.

The ultimate guide to a vacation to Dingle, Ireland


 Few places on Earth are more beautiful than the the Dingle Peninsula, Ireland

Few will argue that perhaps the most scenic part of Ireland is to be found westward and particularly breathtaking is the Dingle peninsula. Dingle town itself is also a gem in its own right - the pubs, the grub, the people - An Daingean has it all. So fantastic is Dingle, it just won the title of Foodie Town of Ireland. If you’re pondering a trip down South, and you really should, here’s five unmissable to dos for your list.

1. A boat trip out to see Fungie, the dolphin .. On a good day, he’ll be lepping all over the place, spraying you with some fresh Atlantic water. On a bad day, a day when he fails to make an appearance, you get your money back. This is a rarity, mind, but if, for some reason, Fungie comes down with dolphin flu, it’s still a pretty gorgeous boat trip around Dingle bay. A win win, you’ll agree.

2. Slea Head Drive - Whatever the weather, no trip to Dingle is complete without a drive around the whole peninsula. Come rain or shine, it’s always impressive. Give yourself plenty of time and be sure to make lots of stops. Dingle prides itself on its blue flag beaches and each one is worthing stepping out of the car for. Clogher is at its best when the weather is particularly wild. Just don’t, whatever you do, go for swim here.  Take in a spot of surfing at Coumeenoole and look on in awe at the Sleeping Giant.

3. Restaurants . Our  favs are:
Ashes Restaurant
The Boat Yard Restaurant
The Global Village
The Goat Street Cafe

4. The pubs you can’t miss:
Murphy’s Pub - Great food and music
Curran’s - so famous it even featured in a documentary

The Dingle Pub -  Great food and music

John Benny’s   - Great food and music

The Marina Inn — Great food and music

5. Best take away - The Reel Thing. The fish and chips are out of this world, we  kid  you not.

Truth be told, we could go on and on and on about all the things there is to do in Dingle. Regardless of age, there really is something for everyone in this peninsula

Beautiful Gallarus Oratory Dingle Peninsula , Ireland

I realise that the Gallarus Oratory is already fairly busy dealing with tourists, being among the must-see attractions of the Dingle Peninsula. Even so, it struck me on a recent visit that it could also serve a useful role as a part-time house of correction.

My idea that is that rogue builders and property developers might henceforth be required to spend periods incarcerated in it, repenting – as countless pilgrims must have done there down the centuries – of their sins. While repenting, ideally, they would also absorb some of its lessons about beauty and functionality, and how these can be combined in a structure designed to last forever.

Maybe, while we’re at it, the oratory could be given a more formal role in the education of architects too. Instead of just passing through it occasionally, like tourists, they would be required to spend at least one night between its walls, reflecting on the building’s permanence in a world of change.

This might not help prevent things like Hawkins House, and other atrocities that must have seemed like good ideas in their time. But it couldn’t do any harm.

No doubt, masterpiece that it is, even the Gallarus Oratory has faults. I noticed, for example, that its sloped wall-cum-roof is now sagging a little on both sides. This was a weakness in the corbelling technique (the overlapping placement of stones to form an arch), which was more suited to the ancient beehive huts also found around Dingle, and explains why the roofs of other rectangular buildings in this style have collapsed.

Also, I suspect that the oratory, as it currently stands, would get at best a B3 energy rating. Its lack of a door would tell against it. The glassless east window must cause draughts too. On the other hand, the dry stone walls (not entirely free or mortar, I gather – there is some evidence of the use of medieval polyfilla) are still waterproof after a thousand years or so, which is more than can be said for many houses built earlier this century.

A thousand years is just a guess, because nobody knows how old the place is. Estimates of its origins range from the 7th to the 12th century. Guide books claim with certainty only that it was “discovered” in 1756 by a man called Charles Smith. But, a bit like America, its existence must have been well known locally long before the “discoverers” arrived.

There is an echo of this dichotomy in the way most people discover Gallarus now. The approach is these days commanded by an interpretive centre, with carpark, toilets, and the opportunities to spend money that most tourists need. There’s also a small entry fee – €3. And yet you can still bypass the centre and walk straight in without fee, or interpretation.

Like the oratory’s age, the name is a bit of a mystery. It puts the cart before the horse, grammatically, in meaning “the house of the foreigners”. But that aside, the “foreigners” may be misleading. It probably referred to nothing more than pilgrims from outside the peninsula, including those from such exotic outposts as east Kerry.

Apart even from its great age, the chapel is also a visual treat. It’s quite beautiful the way the individual stones fit so perfectly together to achieve a practical end. And the overall shape – like a rick of turf or an upturned boat – is also deeply pleasing to contemplate. An upturned boat made of stone should not be a calming image, yet somehow it is.

I think of AIB’s boat logo, expensively created back in the 1990s. That’s supposed to evoke Noah’s Ark, with the dove and the olive branch hinting at imminent landfall. Which I suppose is the sort of vaguely optimistic message that a 1990s bank needed to project.

Now that we’re trying to reach dry land again after another deluge, however, I suggest a Gallarus-based design might be a more useful image for a company in the mortgage sector. As a symbol of solidity, it would be faultless. But in evoking both a house and a capsized boat, it would also hint that the value of your investment may go up or down.

Anyway, back to the oratory’s potential use as a correctional facility. It’s a pointed coincidence, I believe, that the building most synonymous with modern constructional delinquency also has a religious name. You could write a thesis about the Irish building industry “from Gallarus Oratory to Priory Hall”. And come to think of, maybe that should be one of the tasks set for inmates, upon their arrival in Dingle.

@FrankmcnallyIT

fmcnally@irishtimes.com