Allabout the Dingle
A nostalgic return to Ireland’s most beautiful peninsula
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