Dingle is a Funny Name
Trip Start Aug 25, 2011
47Trip End Sep 26, 2012
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Where I stayed
Bunk Above Deranged Old English Man
On Friday morning I boarded a bus to Dingle. During the first leg, from UL to Limerick city center, I sat next to these very loud, annoying American girls yabbering on and on about a party they went to the night before and how they all got smashed. We all jumped off the bus in the city and I found that they were also headed to the central bus station, the launching point for all the long distance buses. I got a little nervous, worried that we were all headed in the same direction. I asked them about their plans and much to my relief, they said they were going to Galway. I sighed, thinking about how much I enjoy solo travel, so that I don't have to wait for slow, insecure, young, culturally oblivious travelmates. But enough about that.
The next bus from Limerick to Tralee, the stopover, wasn't in another hour, so I hung out in a lovely small park across the street called People's Park and watched school girls run laps and laughed at them inside my head. I read a little poem by a garden and a man called out, "That's the Gardner's Poem. Lovely, it is." Yes, people here really are blessed with the gift of gab. And speaking of the gift of gab, as I waited for the bus, many little old people tried talking to me, yabbering away with this special gift of theirs. The only problem, I had absolutely no idea what they were saying most of the time. None. These older people were impossible to understand! You think we all share a common language. I heard a saying that rings so true "We are two countries separated by a common language." One little guy I think told me that I am supposed to look for the Dolphin in Dingle. More about that beast later.
The layover in Tralee was pretty short, but I noticed how this station seemed to attract Ireland's nutters. I mean, seriously, are bus and train stations merely fronts for looney bins? So it seems.
The drive, with looney layover, lasted about three hours, and dear me it was lovely. I rode by so many numerous ruins that I ended up putting my camera away. They are everywhere! I couldn't read during the drive because every two minutes I passed some other structure that blew my mind away. On my return trip, I passed through an area speckled with castles. Castles! And they were all the real kind with dragons and square ridged towers that kids like to draw. Many were just piles of stones in partial shape, and many were very well preserved. The weird thing was that they weren't attracting tourists. There are so many castles here that most have little or no attraction. Normal people can buy them and get a tax break if they maintain them. Imagine that, owning a castle.
I emerged from the bus in Dingle, known as An Daingean in Irish. Dingle is one of several towns in Ireland that are Gaeltacht regions, which are essentially national parks for preserving the Irish language. Irish nearly died out after the English clobbered them in the twentieth century. Just 100 years ago, many people could only speak Irish - no English, especially along the west coast, then 50-30 years ago nearly no one could even speak some Irish. I find it an absolute shame when languages die out. Thankfully, Ireland decided that they would not lose their language and established areas where they worked on resurrecting Irish. In these Gaeltacht regions, most signs are only in Irish (for instance, I constantly saw the words "Go Mall" painted on the roads and learned that it meant "Slow") and the grade schools are taught only in Irish. Parents send their children to these schools so that they learn to be bilingual - they speak English at home and Irish with their teachers and friends. I asked an Irish speaker if the system worked and he said it is very successful. While only a small population of maybe 1-5% speaks Irish as a first language, now about 40% can carry on conversations and even more understand a few words and phrases. He said that his nieces and nephews go to Gaeltacht schools and when he goes to family gatherings he hears the kids play with each other while speaking Irish. This just tickles my heart!
I took a short while to understand the street signs. To my relief, some had the English translation underneath, so I was able to start making good educated guesses on what the others meant. The shops in the main town were all English speaking since it's fairly touristy. Signs here were both languages, Irish first, English second. Though once I left the town center and wandered around the country, everything was in Irish.
I found my hostel very quickly and met the little owner lady. She was also blessed with the gift of gab and learned all about my university goals and aspirations. I paid her my measly €25 for two nights (suwheet!), got a little key, and found my bed. I hoisted myself on top and looked through my guides to figure out my game plan. My other roommates were Israeli boys (at least, that's what I figured. I couldn't understand them and I think their books were in Hebrew) and a deranged old stinky English man with wiry madman hair that stuck out like Crusty the Clown. Not even two minutes after I jotted "weird old man" into my journal, he talked to me, looking through his clouded, slightly sideways facing eyes. He learned that I will be in Limerick for a year and promptly gave me the address and phone number of his dear friend who lives in Dublin, who is in his 30s and is still single, and who is one of the greatest guys he knows, who he just cannot say enough good things about. I wrote down the address, followed by this: ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. My only good private response, since I couldn't laugh out loud.
I first toured the town without a guide, feeling very naked. I wanted history! I wanted to know what exciting buildings to look at! But alas, I left my Rick Steves' Ireland book at home. As I wandered aimlessly, I saw a wedding party leave a great church sitting at the top of the highest street. Its castle-like tower looked over the town, which I could see from my hostel. I found a fish and chip take away shop around a corner and ordered, oh you guess it, fish and chips. My plan was to munch on this greasy, delightful mess while happily sitting on a bench next to the statue of Fungi the Dolphin overlooking the harbor. Oh yes, Fungi. Apparently a Dolphin graces Dingle with his presence. The story is that he rescued a boy from the water 30 or 40 years ago and is a living legend. He plays with people who ride out to sea. Here is my conclusion, aided by my housemate - sure, a Dolphin exists. The tourist shop sells boat rides so that tourists can look at him. Though this same tourist industry is also the one that puts a new dolphin in the harbor when the last one goes missing or dead. It's like the wild harbor version of Shamu, though with a funnier name. That is my conclusion. I walked over to Fungi and sat on a rather soggy bench. Misty rain trickled from the sky but didn't really bother me. Each bite I took got soggier and soggier, then I felt my pants and noticed I was soaked through completely. My backpack was soaked through, my brown paper food bag was soaked through, my hair was dripping. I hurumphed and skiddled back to the hostel to rescue my food and eat on a boring table.
Feeling lost without my guide, I searched for Dingle on Google Books and found it! Google books is tricky, though, and wouldn't let me copy paste the text, so I sat there, manually typed my walking tours, printed them out, and stuffed them in my pocket. I set out to town again and saw it with a new light. The highlight, which I would have completely passed over had I not had the guide, was a stone sitting in a normal wall up a driveway that marked in ancient lettering that the spot where I stood was a sacred place 2000 years ago. I pet the stone, trying to get closer to ancient history and probably looking like a nutcase to passerby.
Earlier in the day I passed a pub by the church that boasted with hand-drawn letters "Traditional Singing Tonight, 8pm." Almost all the pubs had some type of advertisement about trad sessions and the like, but this stuck out. Trad singing? I'm in! I had a feeling that since this is a little touristy town, that the sessions would be gimmicky. I was wrong. Tourism is dying way down this month and the only stragglers are other Irish people. Actually, that's a lie. I did see several tour buses around town carting mostly Americans, but it wasn't too much. The town is great, too, so I could see why. Tons and tons of fishing boats filled the harbor, just icing on the already cute-ness of the town.
But anyways, I opened the pub door a little afraid of the tourist mayhem I was sure to encounter. Yet, what is this? I found a tiny little room, barely the width of my kitchen, with a bench along one side of a long table and chairs up by the bar. A little leprechaun drunk man said, "Come in! Come in!" and told me to take a seat anywhere. I gathered immediately that he was the town hoot. Two guys sat in a corner and sang beautiful traditional Irish songs, no instruments, just nice harmonies. They sometimes switched off solos, then would improvise duets. Their voices were great, perfect for the style. One of the two was this hardened looking man in his 40s, black hair and a goatee, low voice. Each song he sang with his eyes closed, bringing the text from his heart to the surface. The other was much younger, more about my age to early 30s, high voice, crystal clear. Later he told me that he gathers weekly with a group of friends and practices Sean-nos singing, the traditional Irish language song style. I wish I lived closer so that I could join. That sounds marvelous. They would sing a few songs, then the little man would sing something and the rest of the guys in the pub would join in. Most people were middle aged men. Two young American girls sat quietly in a corner, shy to talk to anyone who came their way. I learned later that the guys in the pub, who are used to just talking to people, anybody, fellow guys, old ladies, young people, doesn't matter, tried talking to these girls and they just seemed too shy, afraid of these funny guys talking to them. These same guys talked to me and I talked and joked right back, ready for the game, joining in on the fun. How else would I enjoy myself as a lone traveler?
Pretty soon, a giant group of business looking guys poured into the pub. If it was cozy before, it was downright crowded now. I heard their order - "I would like 12 pints of guiness and 4 something-else-that-I-can't-remember." I nearly had to scrape my jaw off the floor. These business men got hilariously hammered, drinking up to, no joke, 10 pints each. One started leading the group into more songs, shooting out Irish songs right and left. A wild explosion of music happened, split between the two guys hired by the pub, this ring leader of the business troupe, and the leprechaun (who found a tin whistle in the corner and serenaded us). I had only planned on being in the pub for 1/2 to 1 hour, happily watching the entertainment as a wall flower, and was so delightfully entertained that I sat on longer.
After I was there about an hour, some of the business men said, "Let's give the ladies a chance to sing." They look at me. I shake my head. A few minutes later, after another song, it happens again. They open their arms to me and the two shy girls, then back to me, trying to get me to sing. They were adamant about it. They ended up ignoring the other girls all together and now attention was solely on me. I figured it was because I talked back. I didn't just say no and hide away, I said no and joked about it *finger in air* "uhhhhhhhhhhh NO." or, "I'll tell you what - you sing something and I will think about it." They laughed, saying my bartering would not fly with them. Soon I started getting anxious. I thought to myself, man, I can't give up this opportunity, I would just regret it. I have to sing. The next time they pestered me, I said honestly, "I don't know any Irish songs," to which they replied, "We are sick of Irish songs! Sing something you know!" So finally I mustered up the courage and sang "Someone to Watch Over Me." Suddenly the room got dead quiet and they listened. A bunch of rowdy drunk Irish men, listening. When I finished, they erupted in applause. Wow, you can really sing! You had us there for a minute! We had no idea! Where did you learn that? As I slowly eased up and pushed past my nerves, I ended up being a part of the regular singing crowd. Men would sing Irish music "Now something from Wexford!" "Now a song from Tralee!" "Does anybody know one from Cork?" then they would pass it on to me, "Ok, an American folk song!" and I would sing. Once somebody said, "Sing Summertime!" I started it off, choked a bit, then they all finished the first verse for me, all of them. They finished the verse and looked back at me for the second, so I sang it all. They erupted in applause again. Now I was a celebrity. People were talking to me left and right, coming up to me, making conversation, Where are you from? Do you sing professionally? What is a girl from LA doing alone in Ireland? Where is your boyfriend? (forward, much? I replied, "Nonexistent, and since I'm not tied down, I was able to move to Ireland!" They seemed to like that answer). Would you like another beer? (I was alone and new, so I passed on the multiple beer offers and just sipped my single pint of cider throughout the night). As the night wore on, I got into stranger and stranger encounters. People held and kissed my hand, took pictures with me, leaned on my shoulder. A couple of times, they even kissed my cheek, or better yet, grabbed my face and kissed my cheek. Yikes! I guess the phrase "kiss me, I'm Irish" comes from a real custom. One of the best - I'm standing there, listening to the entertainment, when someone walks up to me and says, "I have to keep looking at you from the other side of the room because I know I will never see you again. I wanted to come here and wish you a good life. May I embrace you?" Me ". . ." *awkward hug* "Ok then, good life," and turns around and leaves the pub. The guy next to me says, "I am trying not to be judgmental, but was that odd to you?" Me "YES." During one swinging type drinking song, the leprechaun held my hand and tried dancing to the music, swinging my arm up and down. The night sped on, as I was now bombarded with conversations. I felt myself growing exhausted and tried to leave once. I put on my jacket and one of the singing ring leaders looks at me and says, "You are not going anywhere!" Ok, I guess I'm staying! Finally at 12:45 (as they say, a quarter to one), I put my foot down, knowing I needed to get up early the next morning to begin a rather long bike ride I looked forward to, and bid the pub faretheewell. As I squeezed out, they all shook my hands, with the occasional hand kiss, and wished me a good night. One very drunk but very concerned business man followed me out, asking if I will be okay walking back to my hostel by myself and to watch out for guys along the way. He said I was truly wonderful and kissed my cheek. I managed to turn around and pull away from the pub. On my walk back, down eerily empty dark streets, my eyes started to tear up as I sighed and thanked God for such a wonderful, memorable night. I commented out loud, "THAT's why I moved to Ireland."
I returned to the hostel at 1am and quietly climbed to my bunk. One Jewish boy was snoring comically loud and the crusty the clown English man below me snorted and farted a couple of times. I was so tired that even though I was slightly disturbed, I drifted quickly to sleep.
The next morning I hopped out of bed bright and early, searched desperately but unsuccessfully for that included breakfast I was supposed to have grabbed my REI jacket and a scarf, and hit the town. I stepped outside and WHEW the wind! Monstrous, disastrous wind! I learned later that these winds are left over from Hurricane Katia. I could not walk in a straight line and was pushed this way and that. I thought the Santa Anas at home were bad, but they feel like a little skip through the woods after the power here! Once as I walked along searching for coffee, a blast blew into my face and my eyes burned like the Dickens. I must have gotten a whiff of pollen or something, it was awful. I stood there, in the middle of the sidewalk, while only one or two cars drove by an otherwise empty town, with my palms covering my eyes. I couldn't see. Every time I removed my hands from my eyes in a futile attempt to open my eyes, they would burn again and I had to shut them immediately. I probably looked like one of those looneys at the bus station, standing there in hurricane winds with my hands over my eyes, just standing there for minutes, wondering if the burn would ever go away. I managed to stumble into the grocery shop Super Valu to try to clear my eyes out of the wind. They eventually opened and the burning went away. After buying a simple and cheap breakfast, coffee, and some fruit, I sat back on my bench by Fungi. I sipped my coffee and watched the town wake up. A fisherman waved at me as he drove onto the pier.
At 9am I found the just-opened bike rental shop and picked up a set of wheels for the day. I had this grand idea that I would ride a 30-mile loop around the Dingle Peninsula on Slea Head Drive and look at all the ancient structures scattered along the way. I didn't want to rent a car, and I definitely didn't want to sit on a tour bus. A bike was a much grander option so that I could be up close to the coast and be able to stop and talk to people and oh so much more. When I hired said bicycle, I went head first into the wind and woosh! My hair was all over the place. Ties did not work. Tightening my hair under my scarf did not work. Hiding it under my jacket hood did not work. I cursed the day I was born with hair and throughout my entire ride I imagined the freedom I would feel if I shaved it all off. Oh the wind! My handy little typed out guide was missing two pages because Google Books skipped them in the preview, but I compared it to my map and noticed happily that it wasn't missing the major sites I needed to see. I first passed a B&B with a large standing stone in front which stood there since the stone age. And so the tour begins! I rode for about 8 miles along beautiful coastline dotted with cliffs and and crashing waves. Once I pulled over onto a little beach and just stood in the wind, arms out, feeling the mist in my face. Once I had to hop off my bike because my efforts to pedal in the blasts were useless. I was walking along the road through an area with 10-15 foot hedges on either side, creating a tunnel. The wind was so strong that I couldn't even walk. Imagine this: stand up, facing a wall. Now squish right up to it. Now step forward. There you have it.
I started to get a little anxious about how far I rode without seeing the first main ancient site. I found a Celtic museum on the side of the road and was lured into it because the owners tethered a goat to a stonehenge type pile of rocks. Goats back in the day were holy, or something, so I understood this little diversion, but I still found it hilarious. I pet the goat then went inside. I paid €4 to see a cool little collection of bronze age and iron age artifacts, a giant deer head with giant antlers, and the largest wooly mammoth head ever unearthed. All of this from Ireland! I asked the owners if I was close to the ancient forts and they assured me I was on the right track. Off I went.
The first site I came to was called Dunbeg Fort, a fort built around 500BC built right onto the ocean cliffs. I had to pay €3 to walk down and look around. Grumble. To make my time worthwhile, I hoisted myself onto one of the fort walls and ate an energy bar while over looking the great wide ocean and almost getting blown away to sea. It was already after 12 - the wind made it so difficult to ride that I was taking twice as long as I thought. At least it wasn't raining! Anxious to see the other sites before I lost more time, I hopped back onto my bike and rode to an old farm built several hundred years ago that was abandoned during the potato famine 150 years ago. As I rode up to the next highway robbery booth, I recognized the guy inside! He came out to talk to me, "You're the singer from last night!" Yes. We made small conversation, then I asked him how much to go inside, hoping he would just let me by since I provided him with entertainment. "You're a student? €2.50." Grumble. He gave me a container of animal food so I could feed the donkeys and goats and the deer in the back. As I wandered around the old houses, and as I thought the wind couldn't get any worse, it didn't. But, rain started pelting down sideways! Whoosh, I was soaked to the bone. I stood inside the houses for a while waiting for it to pass and finally braved the wetness and climbed back down the hill, handed my pub friend his animal feed, and pushed along in the slicing rain. By slicing, I mean that the rain felt like little knives cutting across my face. I pushed forward to beehive huts, piles of stone where people lived from 3000 to 4000 years ago. I went inside one to hide from the rain, then went back out and trudged onward.
I eventually arrived to a fantastic look out point with a trail that led down to the beach. The skies cleared for a while, even though the wind still howled relentlessly. On my way down the little trail, I see somebody below wave at me and my eyes adjust to find two more guys from the pub! They were about my age (some of the few from the pub who were) and we talked for a little while. They said they would offer me a lift, observing that my cycling must be impossible in the wind, but unfortunately their car was too small for the bike. I bid them adieu and rode on along the coast. This was my midway point, so the next leg of the trip turned me around heading east on the upper side of the peninsula. You know what this means? I was riding with the wind! It pushed me and I coasted, having a grand old time. I looked over and saw the Sleeping Giant, an island that looks like, well, a sleeping giant, through quaint small towns, in and out of rain, and always with wind. I ate the most delicious apple of my life while riding through countryside and threw the core over a hedge. My map and guide were soaked through and disintegrating in my hands and pockets. I gingerly unfolded and folded them as they ripped more and more, trying to preserve them so I could find my way around.
I turned off a side road through pretty farm land and found the Reasc Monastery. These monastic ruins are dated to the 6th century. They were originally covered and only discovered in the 1990s. A stone stands in the center that was from sometime BC with Celtic engravings. The Christian monks found it and put it in their monastery.
At last I came to Gallaras, after thinking about the decadent stew and Guinness and tea I would enjoy after the trip. By the time I got here, I cycled for 20 miles, working much harder than I should have. As I pulled up to the site and tied my bike up to a post, someone came running out and asked if I needed help or a lift, saying it's dangerous riding in this wind. I said hi, recognizing him from the pub, and he took a double take and said that he didn't recognize me with my hair smeared across my face like that. He invited me inside the visitor center and bought me tea. I went out to look at Gallaras, an oratory built between the 6th and 9th centuries. My pub friend didn't want me out riding so we crammed the bike in his boot (trunk) with some very creative maneuvering and help by a bus driver and the workers inside. I asked if I could please see the last ruin on my map, the Kilmalkedar Church, a 12th century well-intact church (only missing its roof). An ancient burial grounds surrounded the church with little stone markers on the graves, and an Ogham stone stood in the middle. Ogham stones are tall stones with engravings of the ancient Irish language in its original script, which was just a series of lines and dots. We ran in the cold and rain, back to the car, and back into town. It was 5:30, just in time to return my bike. What should have taken me 6 hours with frequent stops took 8, and I still had 8-10 miles to get back into town from the last site. My pub friend said he asked two other cyclists if he could help and they turned down his request, but he was adamant about helping me when he noticed I was a solo girl and even more adamant when he noticed I was the singer from last night.
By the way, in Ireland, you never ask for a ride. Only a lift. Getting or giving a ride means something WAY different.
On the way back, my pub friend told me the back story of last night. That huge group of drunk businessmen gather every now and then at different parts of Ireland just for a fun weekend out, away from their normal daily grind. When they came into the pub, they saw me sitting in the corner and thought to each other, "She looks like Hilary Swank. She's cute, but her little uncle is weird [the leprechaun man]." They soon figured I was there by myself. As with any Irish in any pub, they just talk to everybody in the pub, old people, young people, old ladies, whatever. They were talking to everybody. They talked to the two girls in the corner but those girls were very shy and didn't really respond. He said that I talked back, which made it more enjoyable. When they were sitting with each other, trying to figure me out, they started pestering each other to see who could make me sing. They didn't know I actually could, of course, but they thought it would be fun to get the solo American girl involved in the mayhem. When I refused, they could tell that my "no" was not definite, which is why they continued to pester me. Then when I finally sang, they thought it was hilarious that the song I chose was one from a movie that Hilary Swank was in, I guess? I don't know. And then they were amazed. They made me sing, and then were blown away that I actually could sing. That made their night.
On my way to dinner that evening, I encountered that icing on the cake to top off this strange weekend: My hair was a mess, a criticism of myself that was confirmed by the various people from the pub who I saw on the peninsula. I'm walking down a lane when this older, white-haired man runs up to me and gasps, "I love your hairstyle." I respond by touching my hair and responding, "Yeah, knotted and ragged." He says, "Oh, it's lovely hair. You are like Shakespeare's sister. I am going to Dick Mack's pub [the one I went to the night before], down the street and to the right. Come and let me get you a pint." I stand there with a giant question mark over my head and politely refuse his offer, saying I'm meeting people for dinner (I was). He told me that I could come by after, held my hand with both of his, and says, "Goodbye, Shakespeare's Sister."
The Irish sure are a funny breed.
The rest of my time in Dingle went swimmingly as I basked in a high of having just experienced a fantastic weekend. I have an assignment that I must do today. This weekend was absolutely amazing, such a wonderful experience, riding my bike through a storm along the westernmost tip of Ireland, climbing on 3000 year old monuments, singing and making friends in an intimate pub. On my way back to Limerick, I smiled, fully happy that this country is my new home.