Dolphinless Dingle days
ROLESTOWN NS TEACHER AND WRITER CARL O’FLAHERTY TALKS TO JOHN MANNING ABOUT A NEW MEMOIR OF HIS YOUTH IN DINGLE BEFORE A CERTAIN DOLPHIN APPEARED
MORE than 30 years ago a young man from Dingle moved to Rolestown and became one of the local National School’s most beloved teachers and after charting the social history of his adopted home some years ago, Carl O’Flaherty has turned his creative hand to recording the stories of his youth and upbringing in his native Kerry.
In most houses around Rolestown you will find a copy of Carl’s last book which detailed some of the rich social history of the area and his latest book is enjoying a similar reaction in his native Dingle where local families are grabbing their copy of the book, if only to see if they are mentioned in it.
Dingle’s most famous Dolphin adorns the cover of the book but dear old Fungie does not feature in the book beyond that because these are tales of Dingle before the bottle-nosed tourist draw arrived in town.
Carl began putting the book together as he stepped back from his work with Fingal Ravens football club to allow his two boys take to the field of play for the local club without their father shouting at them as a coach.
The Rolestown NS teacher said he is not a historian but the book is a social history of where he grew up and the stories he collected ‘ talking and listening to people’ at the family pub in Dingle where he was told to ‘shut up and be quiet and listen to the customers’.
The Kerryman took that advice seriously and thanks to his open ears, ‘Dingle Before Fungie Came to Town’ is a collection of the stories, characters, traditions and places that made up a Dingle youth.
Carl told the Fingal Independent: ‘Being born and raised in a bar where you are told as a young fellow to shut up and be quiet and listen to the customers, there was an incredible amount of customers and characters there going back 50 years ago that were bigger than life and these were the people I listened to and picked up all of their stories.’
Remembering the Dingle of his childhood, Carl said: ‘It was a Dingle of very little transport and no communications, very little television. It was the Ireland of 50 years ago and as young people we passed our time walking around the town and we walked the beaches and went up the hills beside us - it was Paradise Lost really.
‘I said it in one of the stories, ‘ The Ramble to the Lighthouse’ that we were the last generation that as Bob Marley would say, our feet were our only carriage. We all walked and rambled and ambled and played football. We had to make our own entertainment and our own games and it was an incredible rich environment in which to grow up.’
It was a bi-lingual place too where Irish was spoken on a daily basis as Carl remembered: ‘We were what’s called ‘ townie Irish’ - there wasn’t a day when there wasn’t Irish spoken in our house and in the bar. As business people in Dingle, you had to have Irish. It wasn’t about the language, it was just commerce and you had to speak Gaelic if they spoke it to you.
‘You would think Dingle people have no Irish until something comes on Radio na Gaeltachta that they are interested in and suddenly they are all listening and then they turn off and talk English again so there are these bi-lingual conversations going on all the time and there is a great story in the book about that actually.’
Carl has always had great time for the people we all know as ‘characters’ and he tells the story of a run in he had with just such a character, as a youth working in the family pub .
The local teacher said: ‘ There is a great character in the book, and every town has one. He was called Deniseen Houlihan and he could do anything. He was the first line of call for the women of the town if you wanted your sewer unblocked or you needed whitewashing, or your kittens to be drowned, you needed a pup, you needed a salmon to be tickled and brought back to the table - Deniseen could do all those jobs and it was second nature to him.
‘It was alright being a character but when you worked inside the bar you dealt with these characters for four hours every evening, for seven days a week and for eight years, as I did with Deniseen, and all of a sudden the character becomes the bane of your life. ‘ The great contest is between me and the local character - the man with the native cunning versus the college boy and there was only going to be one winner and that was Deniseen - he took me to the cleaners.
‘I barred him and Deniseen believed he was the first line of Bord Fáilte and doing his bit for tourism and he would take out his mouth organ and play away but he was very slow to leave the bar at closing time which of course, brought the gardaí into us and they put pressure on me.
‘ This went on night in and night out until eventually, I barred Deniseen and he told me: ‘Jesus Christ kiddie, you’re worse than blight.’ Well, in a town like Dingle where the Famine was so prevalent and there’s the Famine graveyard that’s there on the back of the book where 8,000 of our townspeople are buried, to say you are worse than blight showed where I was in Deniseen’s book.
‘But characters have great stories and have a great view of life and they root us in what we are really. They root us and tell us who we are and we should have respect for them and listen to their stories. I could winkle a story out of anyone by listening to them.’
Growing up in Dingle gave Carl a life-long love of nature and he’s well known around Rolestown for bringing hoards of schoolchildren on
nature walks where a butterfly or two might be captured.
His love of nature, of Irish culture and the language all enrich his teaching and mean that his north county Dublin pupils get a solid appreciation of all of those important cornerstones of who we are as a people.
He sees parallels between the Dingle of his childhood and the rural community that Rolestown still is today. Carl said: ‘Both areas are absolutely stepped in culture. You have the mummers here, for example and we have the wren boys in Dingle. Our football club here in Fingal Ravens was started by Farmer Kavanagh and Kiddo going out with the mummers and collecting for geansaís for the Ravens and we did the same things in Dingle.
‘If we keep close to our heritage and keep close to our GAA club... Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine - we all live in each other’s shadow and that’s what makes us a remarkable little community, is our appreciation of our heritage and our people and who we are and if we keep that, we will keep strong. ‘ There’s an incredible link between the two places. I’m bringing football teams to Dingle from here for 32 years. Butsy Daly and our chairman, Peter Kettle will be able to recount to you days around Dingle playing football and now they are bringing their children down there and those links are still going on.
‘It’s a link I think they all want to maintain. I remember, God be good to him, Andrew Kettle coming down and he had an intense curiosity about what was happening down in Kerry. He could go into any pub down there and talk Gaelic football and he spoke the language and loved it and loved to be appreciated as a fellow Irish person.’
Andy Kettle was an iconic figure in Fingal Ravens and was the chair of the Dublin GAA’s county board when he sadly passed away in December of 2014.
Andrew knew Carl was writing this book and was to be the one to launch it for him in Rolestown. Sadly, that could not happen but Andy’s son and the current chairperson of Fingal Ravens GAA Club, Peter Kettle stepped in to do the job and Carl thanked him for the kind words he spoke on a special night in Kettle’s Country House Hotel where the book had its second launch after a similar event down the family pub in Dingle. Carl also thanked local man and a great supporter of this community, Pat McDonagh for his help in getting the book out. If you want to pick up a copy of Carl’s new book, it’s available from Daybreak in Roletown or from Rolestown National School or if you are down Dingle way as this reporter was recently, you can pick it up at O’Flaherty’s beautiful bar.
AR SCÁTH A CHÉILE A MHAIREANN NA DAOINE - WE ALL LIVE IN EACH OTHER’S SHADOW AND THAT’S WHAT MAKES US A REMARKABLE LITTLE COMMUNITY, IS OUR APPRECIATION OF OUR HERITAGE AND OUR PEOPLE AND WHO WE ARE AND IF WE KEEP THAT, WE WILL KEEP STRONG.
Ciaran McCullagh (left), Aaron Lee, Faye Canny, Ashling Parkinson, Hannah Kate Donnelly and Tom Ryan with Carl O’Flaherty at his book launch in Kettle’s Country House Hotel.
Carl O’Flaherty at his book launch in Kettle’s Country House Hotel.