Published: July 2nd 2012July 1st 2012
Day 6 - John and Jeannie V. With Doris and Art
Tour Tralee, Dingle Peninsula and Slea Head with a wonderful guide.
“Sure an’ it’s a fine, bright sunny day,” said our coach driver, D.B. He tells us his initials stand for “Darlin’ Boy.” A chatty, well-informed fellow, we discover. He pipes Irish music through the coach softly, and it adds to the cheerful spirit of the day. We’re on a local coach with an experienced local driver/guide to explore the farthest southwestern part of Ireland, the Dingle peninsula.
Right away, we’re treated to the story of St. Patrick and descriptions of the area - all the way up to the massive housing and commercial projects of the Celtic Tiger-era of the 1990s, which have now become empty shells or “ghost estates.”
D.B. says there were seven ancient invaders of Ireland. The early ones were a blend of legends and oral history from prehistoric times. Some of the mounds we see were ancient forts, some believed to be portals to a parallel spirit world – a world of enchantment and fairies. Throughout the journey, D.B. charmed us
with old Irish folk tales. Up to recent times, people believed in the fairies, changelings and fairy winds (little gusts or whirlwinds caused by the little people).
Ireland is a great place for storytelling, and on Dingle peninsula moviemakers have found perfect locations for their tales: Ryan’s Daughter
(1969-1970) and Far and Away
Dingle will convince anyone of the truth of “40 shades of green” – an ancient way of describing the beauty of the place. It is also an area where people speak Gaelic extensively – 11% fluently and 5% in daily use.
Dingle town is a small place with a sheltered harbor. Almost exclusively dedicated to the tourist business, it claims to have more pubs per person than any town in Ireland. Since 1984, it also has a mascot - a dolphin named Fungie who joyously greets all boats coming and going.
The first inhabitants of the Dingle area showed up around 8,000 B.C. The Celts settled in 2,500 B.C. Much of the history, law and lore were passed down by the shanachie, the storytellers. These were the poets, bards and musicians whose stories of
the past were threaded with loves, battles, hardships and deaths. About 2,000 B.C., the Killarney area was exporting copper to all parts of Europe. From 100 B.C. to 500 A.D., beehive huts were constructed. No one knows the actual origins, maybe early shepherds. The huts were of dry stone construction, in a style called “corbelled vaulting” and many still stand today, dry as a bone. We stopped by a collection of these beehive huts on a steep hillside. On down the narrow, cliffside road, we stopped again for a short walk to the Gallarus Oratory, a fine example of this kind of this construction; the Oratory is believed to be the oldest stone church in Europe.
Dingle was the area for the work of St. Brendan, a 6th Century monk who established many monasteries, and who is thought to have sailed with his monks to the shores of Northern Canada, down the eastern cost of America as far as Florida, and back to Dingle.
D.B. showed us a number of Irish football pitches (playing fields). He told us about the fierce rivalry between the teams throughout Ireland and spoke proudly of the Kerry County
teams who were dominating forces in the sport.
We passed by Kilmalkedar Romanesque Church, a remarkable old Norman church and cemetery dating from the 1100s.
We had a brief luncheon stop back in Dingle town – time to eat, shop and explore a very charming place.
D.B. continued to tell the story of Dingle, recounting how this once densely forested land was practically stripped bare by 1900. The tall oaks and pines have disappeared, but there are now patches of spruce and log-pole pine that have been planted. Peat is also a threatened resource. This 10,000-year-old compacted vegetation has been a source of fuel and energy for centuries. But recent machine cutting and drying operations have forced a new awareness for the need to protect and conserve these ancient bogs.
Our route around Dingle takes us northward to Tralee, the largest town in Kerry County with a population of 25,000. D.B. entrances us with his telling of the story of “Rose of Tralee” – the story of Mary O’Connor, daughter of a shoemaker, who falls in love with the heir of a wealthy family. Their love is frustrated.
He is wrongly accused of a crime and escapes to India. Years later, he returns to Tralee, only to find that a passing funeral is that of beautiful Mary O’Connor, the Rose of Tralee. He mourns his loss and dies at an early age. “All good Irish stories and songs end with death and sadness,” says D.B.
On the way back to Killarney, D.B. takes a detour to show us a lookout over the Lakes of Killarney. It’s a wonderful long-range perspective of our visit to Ross Castle and our boat ride through the lakes the day before.
We returned to our charming hotel at 5:00 p.m., much wiser and much more enriched by Darlin’ Boy’s stories and the sights of an absolutely enchanting countryside.
There are more photos below