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An an up-close and personal tour on our rented two-wheeled steedsDec. 2-5, 1998  Dingle Peninsula, Ireland

"Ah, come on, it'll be fun. Besides, we can use the exercise." Those are some of the last words that I remember saying as I did my best to convince Laura that spending the afternoon on a 'quick little bike ride' was the best way to see the countryside known as the Dingle Peninsula. Whatever I said, it worked, for in the blink of a leprechaun's eye, we were off on our rented two-wheeled steeds for an up-close and personal tour of the scenic coastline of this, the western most tip of the emerald isle.

Peddling along the winding road to Slea HeadIt seems that we have an odd treat this Friday - a December afternoon with more sunshine than clouds. And we are out to make the very most of the tad chilly, but thankfully dry conditions. The further we peddle along the two, then one lane winding country lane, the farther back in time we seem to pass. The Dingle Peninsula is one of Ireland's few but precious Gaeltachts, or national parks for culture. It is in these areas that the government does its best to protect and promote the old Irish ways of the land and its people.

Rounding the point at Slea HeadAside from their extreme friendliness, the natives of this rugged land can also be identified by their use of Gaelic (the ancient Irish language). Seen on everything from pub signs to street posts, this lost language is alive and well in Dingle and the small villages surrounding it. The residents here are very proud of their heritage. They demonstrate this pride by continuing to live in a simple, unspoiled fashion, in good part unchanged from the days of old.

Traffic jam Dingle Peninsula style - all sheep pass to the rightLiving off of the land is a key part of this tradition. And since the rocky soil can barely nurture even potatoes, the land is primarily used for raising sheep. A staggering number of sheep. Totaling over 500,000, they greatly outnumber the peninsula's 10,000 residents. These important providers of warm wool are kept confined by the earthen fences that divide the lush green landscape into small plots of pasture.

The earthen fences of the GaeltachtEach plot was cleared with care, as the many rocks littering the soil were piled upon one another around its border. These fences were in turn, covered with clay, sand, and seaweed. That mixture eventually turned into soil sown with grass and weeds. The result is reminiscent of dark green quilt haphazardly throw over a lumpy, unmade bed. The quilt itself is criss-crossed with seams, raised slightly across the cloth in random fashion.

The dark and majestic coastline of the Dingle PeninsulaWhile our path hugs these lush pastures on one side, the other side gives way to steep drops down to the ocean below. The jagged, dark black rock cliffs stand firm to the constant and never-ending barrages of foam and spray from the rolling waves of the icy Atlantic waters.

"Hey guys, nice view from up here huh? "  "Yeah, not baaaaaaaaaad"Sporadically, the cliffs are topped with patches of grassy tufts, also sloping drastically downward at horrific angles. The local sheep, surefooted as mountain goats, brave the drop to happily munch away at the tasty sprigs of greenery. As we peddle through the tiny coastal hamlets with names such as Ventry, we are always greeted with a friendly wave by the occasional passerby.

Thw western most point of Dingle PeninsulaThe sun begins its decent from the sky as we coast around the bend that is the western most point of inhabited land in all of Europe. We turn around and began our two hours of peddling back towards Dingle, for it is now 3:00 and the 5:00 hour means two things - almost total darkness on the road, and cocktail hour in town.

Everything is 'across from a pub' in DingleAs one might imagine, four and a half hours of almost solid peddling works up quite a thirst. After turning in our bikes, we head to the nearest pub for a bit of heat, a bite to eat, and a foam-headed treat. Few things are easier than finding a pub in Dingle. This small town of 1,500 residents boasts more than 50 'public houses' or 'pubs'. This ratio gives Dingle the honor of having more pubs per capita than anywhere else in the world.

The famous and infamous Dick Mack's Haberdashery and PubThe one that Laura picks has a nice hot fire to accompany its relaxed atmosphere.  As the bartender draws us a few pints, we choose a spot in the corner by the fire. We're soon joined at our table by an interesting looking fellow who is quick to pull up a stool, put down his guitar case, and strike up a light conversation. As with most of the places Laura finds, the first question posed to us is "So, how did you ever find this place? It's usually only locals in here." As he starts to unpack, we realize that we're sitting at the 'jam session table'. Having left my bodhram (goat skin drum) in my other jacket, we move over to the next table to give the real musicians some room.

Before long the entire room is filled with the light and cheerful sounds of traditional Irish tunes, or Ceol. The first two musicians are soon joined by one more, then another, then another, congregating in a lively melody of tin flute, guitar, bodhran, and accordion. The long and rambling tunes don't stop until each player is satisfied and tired. This sometimes means the lack of, say the flute while its player takes a few sips of refreshment, or brief lack of guitar as its player frantically replaces and tunes a broken string on-the-fly. All in all, great, warm-hearted fun.

Across the harbor of Dingle Bay (the pink one is our B&B)After our few days in this, the pleasant little town that embodies all we know to be most charming of the Irish, I understand why its visitors 'get hooked' and come back over and over again. After all, it’s the locals themselves that say "once you've got the Dingle tingle, you just can't shake it".

The sun is sinking o'er the westward,
The fleet is leaving Dingle shore,
I watch the men row in their curraghs,
As they mark the fishing grounds near Sk ellig Mor.
All thro' the night men toil until the daybreak,
While at home their wives and sweethearts kneel and pray,
That God might guard them and protect them,
And bring them safely back to Dingle Bay.
- - Irish Ballad

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Last modified: June 01, 1999    Photographs and text 1998 Scott and Laura Kruglewicz. All Rights Reserved.

 

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