Al­labout the Din­gle

A nos­tal­gic re­turn to Ire­land’s most beau­ti­ful penin­sula

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Ireland - STAN­LEY STE­WART

THE wildest beauty of Ire­land lies in its west, and Din­gle, the west­ern­most of its western penin­su­las, is as beau­ti­ful as Ire­land gets. ‘‘One won­ders in this place,’’ JM Synge wrote, ‘‘why any­one is left in Dublin or in Lon­don, or in Paris, when it would be bet­ter . . . to live in a tent, or a hut, with this mag­nif­i­cent sea and sky, and to breathe this won­der­ful air, which is like wine in one’s teeth.’’

As a 20-year-old in Lon­don, I too won­dered why I was not in the west of Ire­land, with its mag­nif­i­cent sea and sky. So I rented a tum­ble­down cottage on the is­land of Valen­tia, off the western coast of Kerry.

I went for long walks, I wrote short sto­ries, I fished for mack­erel, I was a star turn at vil­lage dances, I drank with the fish­er­men in the is­land pub and sang Ir­ish laments, more or less in key. They were some of the hap­pi­est days of my life.

Din­gle was the view from my win­dow. The penin­sula lay on the far side of Din­gle Bay, the great mauve heads of its moun­tains pat­terned with cloud shad­ows. Scat­tered off Slea Head at the tip of the penin­sula were the Blas­ket Is­lands, dark and haunt­ing on a sil­ver ocean.

I may have savoured the view, but I never went to Din­gle. Vis­i­tors who came to Valen­tia raved about it. They said it was a last out­post of tra­di­tional Ire­land, that it was a place apart. One trav­eller had taken a boat out to the Blas­kets, and talked of their iso­la­tion and their mov­ing at­mos­phere. Now, 30 years on, I’ve de­cided it’s time to see Din­gle, and the Blas­kets, for my­self.

I come up from Cork on the road that skirts the south­ern shores of the penin­sula through Boolteens and Inch. The land­scapes that I had loved three decades ago are open­ing all around me — the long, el­e­gant lines of bare-headed moun­tains across the wa­ter on Iveagh, the farm­houses scat­tered ran­domly at their feet, the green fields par­celled by stone walls, the rapid suc­ces­sion of sun and cloud shadow, the taste of the sea com­ing in at the win­dow.

In Din­gle town, a pub crawl is not to be un­der­taken lightly. There are 20 or more pubs among the brightly painted houses, and mu­sic car­ries you from one to the next. I be­gin in Tigh Na Cuirte, where pun­ters are danc­ing en­er­getic reels, and end, I think, at Johnny Benny’s on the water­front, where two women are singing exquisitely mourn­ful bal­lads. Along the way I sing my old Ir­ish laments, more or less in key.

And some­where I first hear the haunt­ing tune from the Blas­ket Is­lands Port na bPu­cai ( La­ment of the Fair-

left Scenic Slea Head Drive on the Din­gle pen above The old school that fea­tured i David Lean’s f

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