Back To Ireland's Dingle Peninsula, Part 1

March 23 - 31, 2002
By Lewis Nolan

(Updated 5-22-02. Comments are welcome and should be sent to

Return To Home Page

Part 1: Memphis to Shannon and Dingle Peninsula via Inch
Part 2: Golf at Cheann Sibeal, Slea Head Drive overlooking wild coast
Part 3: Dingle Town, Crystal Factory, Harbor Sights
Part 4: Castlegregory, Abbyfeal, Adare, Bunratty and flight home
Photo Album

Quick Links to Points of Interest in This Segment:

Boston's Logan Airport
Driving in Ireland
Dingle Skellig Hotel

March 23, 2002, Saturday - To Shannon

It had been five years since Betty and I had promised ourselves that our next trip to Ireland would be a return to Dingle, a place of wild and rugged beauty that could have only been sculpted by the finger of a loving Creator. As we readied ourselves for the long trip this morning, we are as rested, healthy and intelligently packed as possible. In short, we are well prepared since we're returning to familiar grounds and know to dress casually for cool weather.

This is the first time in 16 years that we've spent Betty's Spring Break from school somewhere other than at our condo on the broad, white beach of Gulf Shores, Ala. But an off-season "deal" travel package offered by Ireland's Aer Lingus this year was just too good to pass up. We're flying Northwest non-stop to Boston, gladly spending $178 each for round-trip airfare from Memphis to take advantage of the Aer Lingus promotion with Brian Moore Tours. It provides round trip airfare Boston-Shannon (or New York-Shannon), six nights accommodations at choice of B&B's plus an Avis rental car for the week - all for $499 each.

They are practically giving it away. Five years ago, we paid about $900 each for the air alone. Evidently the Irish tourism industry wants very badly to attract some
Betty overlooks Atlantic at Dunquin
Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
nervous Americans to Ireland during this off-season period of late winter-early spring. All tourism, especially that requiring international flights, is down sharply following the terrorist attacks that murdered more than 3,000 Americans in New York's World Trade Center Towers and at the Pentagon Sept. 11, 2001. The deliberate crashing of hijacked airliners into the buildings has had enormous impact on the U.S. economy and has resulted in much focus on homeland defense and greatly tightened security.

We had immediately felt a tiny bit of the aftershocks from the terrorism, missing our planned trip to California September 14 for my 40th Reunion of Sacramento High School's Class of 1961. Northwest Airlines, which controls about 80 percent of the flights out of its Memphis hub, and other airlines were ordered by the government to cancel or severely restrict their flights for nearly a week following the attacks. The government, military, law enforcement and airlines put in place stringent security measures to guard against another attack by Arab murderers and to restore the traveling public's confidence in the airlines.

Part of the security now has travelers arriving at the airport two hours before flight time. Mundane items with even a tiny edge like nail clippers, penknives and tweezers cannot be on your person or in your carryon luggage. Armed National Guardsmen are on duty at the terminals. In Memphis, the closest parking spaces in the garage are now barricaded "off limits" to prevent car bombs. There are many horror stories of people missing flights because of the lengthy baggage checks and random searches of traveler's clothing and carryon luggage.

But our check-in procedure went fast since our flight to Boston leaves at mid-afternoon on a Saturday. Our neighbor, Troy Drewry and his son, Luke, 2, kindly took us to the airport in their van just before 11 a.m. We checked three bags (including my golf bag containing a half-set of clubs, a tiny Swiss Army knife and a few other items that can't be carried onto the plane) through to Shannon. So at least we won't have to worry with getting luggage at Boston's Logan Airport and then re-checking it on Aer Lingus. Since I wasn't sure about the size of the rental car or the weather/course opening at Dingle, I took only 8 golf clubs rather than the usual 14. I played a couple of rounds in Memphis with various combinations and decided that the clubs I would likely use the most would be No.'s three and seven Metals; No.'s five, six and eight Irons; Pitching and Sand Wedge; and Putter.

We know that no food will be served on our flight to Boston, part of the big cutbacks in service made by the money-losing airlines. Unfortunately for the public (and the huge industry of travel agents that have served both travelers and airlines so well), the airlines just eliminated most travel agent fees. That amounts to an effective fare increase of 10 percent or more since the agents are now adding handling/professional fees to the cost of tickets. I don't mind paying it since the service we have enjoyed from our agent, A&I Travel of Memphis, has been excellent for nearly 20 years. Chuck Curtis and his staff has helped us with travel planning and reservations for our six trips to Europe, three trips to Hawaii, two cruises in the Caribbean and several trips to Mexico and around the United States. I think what the airlines are doing to Chuck and his staff is shameful. I also think a traveler is a lot better off to have an experienced travel agent going to bat for you when things go wrong - as they inevitably will - than having to deal with an 800 number and the labyrinth of caller options and busy numbers.

It's a cold, sunny day in Memphis, with a low this morning near 20 degrees. But there is no bad weather in the forecast for here or for Boston, so at least we're spared that potential source of flight delays. Because the Aer Lingus "deal" was only for departures from Boston or New York's JFK, we're flying "unprotected" on Northwest to Boston. That means if we miss the connection, it's our tough luck. We've got a cushion of several hours. So unless there is a terrible storm or severe mechanical problems, we should make the connection easily. We opted for Boston because Northwest has a direct flight there from Memphis. It's hard to get from Memphis to New York's JFK, origination point for Aer Lingus and most other international flights out of New York. On a previous trip to Europe, we had flown into La Guardia and had a hair-raising taxi ride through traffic to JFK, nearly missing our flight to Shannon.

March 23, 2002, Saturday, 6:30 p.m. - Boston

The flight to Boston's Logan Airport was uneventful and on time. We arrived at 4:48 p.m., with plenty of time to get through Security, have a late lunch/early dinner at a McDonald's inside the terminal and relax before boarding Aer Lingus for the 8:20 p.m. departure. Logan's ground floor was drafty and cold. While the terminal is dated, it seems to be intelligently designed and efficiently managed.

Three of the four airliners hijacked by Arab murderers Sept. 11, 2001 departed from Logan, so Security was understandably tight. But it seemed that airport management and the government had "fixed" the porous Security procedures with way too many people. There were about 30 contract security guards, cops and armed soldier standing around the entrance to the International terminal. Our passports were checked three times - at the Aer Lingus ticket counter, at the carryon-baggage checkpoint and at the flight gate. Betty got "random searched" at the baggage checkpoint. She had to remove her running shoes so a metal detector could examine the soles; her carryon bag's contents were carefully scrutinized. But all in all, since we arrived in Boston three hours ahead of the evening "lift" to Europe, lines through Security were short and we made it through with minimal delays.

March 23, 2002, Saturday night - Over the Atlantic Ocean

The flight on the Aer Lingus airbus is full. But thanks to early booking, we had an aisle and a window seat together on a 2-4-2 row. The young, female flight attendants on this and previous Aer Lingus flights were all polite, pretty and quite efficient. But oddly, not a one of them on this flight had flame red hair. I passed on dinner, which was served at 10 p.m. Boston time/3 a.m. Ireland time. Betty picked at a chicken dish, served with a tiny salad. We tried to sleep, but even with a new inflatable "horse collar" pillow I had purchased sleep was elusive. At best we both got in a fleeting catnap or two. High tail winds made the flight across the Atlantic a fast one. Flight time was only 4 hours and 55 minutes, putting us in Shannon at 6:15 a.m. - 45 minutes early. The poor folks flying on to Dublin had to wait in the plane or in the terminal for the 7:55 a.m. continuation flight.

Shannon, Ireland, March 24, 2002, Sunday morning -

The Shannon airport is a comfortable facility, big enough for all the services but not so big that it's a struggle to navigate. As is my preference, I took my time in the tiled, old-fashioned men's room to wash my face, leisurely shave and put on some fresh clothing while most of our fellow passengers stood around the baggage claim belts and waited in the Customs lines.

The baggage claim area had largely cleared out by the time we got there; save for a nice couple from Winston-Salem we had met in Boston. The couple (he a tax attorney with beleaguered Arthur Anderson and she an elementary school teacher) were on their first trip to Europe. They had left their young children with family back home and were greatly looking forward to an independent package similar to ours. We enjoyed sharing some recommendations with them. It turned out that her checked suitcase was missing. Betty's checked suitcase also couldn't be located immediately. But things turned out OK, with Betty's big bag showing up on another belt a few minutes later. Aer Lingus found the young teacher's bag later that day and delivered it to their nearby hotel.

Customs had shut down by the time we reached the counter so we breezed straight on, as the Irish would say, to the Avis car rental counter. The extreme politeness
Dairy cattle block road near Tralee
Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
of the clerks, combined with the indecisiveness of four American women traveling together as to what car to rent, made for an overly long wait for service. But we caught an upgrade and finally got a decent sized Nissan sedan, with a trunk big enough for my golf clubs plus a large bag and a carryon. Like most rentals in Ireland, it had a five-speed, stick shift transmission, with the gears changed by the left hand and the steering wheel on the right side of the car. As in England, cars and trucks drive on the left side of Irish roads. Numerous signs through tourist areas - in English, German and French - give reminders about driving on the left. The signs must be a new response to the surge in tourism that has accompanied Ireland's entry into the European Economic Union since I didn't notice them five years ago.

Groggy from lack of sleep, I found it difficult to get through a maze of airport construction bypass roads to the N18 South highway to Limerick. But it was only 8 a.m. on Sunday morning, early in a country notorious for late risers. So there was very little traffic. We were quite pleased to see a startling improvement in the condition and width of the roads since our previous visit. We passed through numerous highway construction projects, all part of the Irish miracle that has come from remarkable economic growth the last few years. Unlike England, Ireland has welcomed membership in the EEU and is benefiting from grants for infrastructure improvements and also from foreign investment in technology/pharmaceutical research and manufacturing.

At least on what the Irish call "dual carriageways" (the equivalent of four-lane, divided highways like U.S. Interstates), the pavement was smooth and the lanes wide enough for the mostly compact cars to pass with ease. The only really bad roads we encountered were on the Dingle Peninsula, where local roads are typically torturous, twisting and terrible. The two-lane road (really a frighteningly narrow lane-and-a-half) over the Conor Pass to the town of Dingle is a horror. Cars often have to pull over in wide spots so others can get by.

Then to Limerick and then southwest on N21 through Adare to Castleisland, Castlemaine, and then on a local R561 through Inch and Annascaul to Dingle could have been quite pleasant, despite the crummy potted, patched and way-too-narrow R561. But we were tired and cranky and ran into light, patchy rain that required my full concentration on driving. We stopped at a combination gas station/grocery/deli, where a friendly young woman made me a turkey sandwich. We bought some bottled water, Diet Cokes and a few other items and pushed on.

The only place we stopped at for photographs was Inch, which
Betty Nolan on wide beach at Inch
Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
has a wonderfully wide and broad beach, called a Strand but not much else. There were several groups of young people with surfboards, but the rolling waves just didn't seem to have the speed to entice the surfers into the cold Atlantic this morning. There was drizzle, a lot of wind and a little fog, making our picture taking quick.

We arrived at Dingle about 11:30 a.m. after driving for 2 1/2 hard hours.

The tour package company had reserved us a room for the first night in a B&B on the outskirts of Dingle. We arrived shortly before noon, hoping to get into our room for a much-needed nap. However, the pleasant Irish woman proprietor of the four-guestroom home told us that last night's occupants of the room were still sleeping. She suggested we have a nice lunch while we waited for our room to be made ready and recommended several seafood restaurants in town. Since her place was a couple of miles from the center of town, we looked at several other B&B's in the heart of Dingle as possibilities for the remaining five nights.

The B&B guidebook from Irish Tourism described each with inviting terms, saying that one had been recommended by TV travel show host Rick Steves. We weren't thrilled by what we saw. The rooms were small and on the dumpy side, some didn't have TV or parking and others were adjacent to pubs. I admit that we've gotten awfully picky compared to our easy acceptance 30 years ago of sleeping on the ground in a two-person tent. Now that I'm nearing 60 and Betty isn't far behind, I think we've become too spoiled for the B&B vacation route. Besides, we didn't much like the B&B's we tried 15 years ago either, although I'm sure that there are some exquisite ones out there.

So we looked into the accommodations at the Dingle Skellig, a four-star hotel right on the harbor front that is considered to be the finest in
Betty on Dingle Skellig's shoreline lawn>
Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
town. We liked the spaciousness and quality of the second-floor room we accepted, with a great view of Dingle Harbor and its surrounding headlands. We were also attracted by the convenience of a full-service hotel and its restaurants, bar, concierge and what the Irish call a "leisure center" - indoor pool and spa and a staffed room full of exercise equipment. A magnificent breakfast buffet was included in the off-season price of 140 Euros per night ($130 U.S. at current exchange rate of 93 cents per Euro). Moreover, the 116-room hotel agreed to accept our B&B vouchers and charge us the difference.

We napped in relative luxury for most of the afternoon. I'm glad we tried the Dingle Skellig because it is a very nice place, with a warm and helpful staff. Young Irish women full of charm and hospitality staffed the front desk. We had a light supper at the hotel that evening. I had a cold seafood plate, with excellent salmon and smoked haddock, served with delicious soda bread and fresh Irish butter. Since Ireland is so far north, it was light until 9 p.m. and we enjoyed poking around the hotel grounds and the thick stand of Irish turf grass behind a short sea wall. I also enjoyed drinking some perfectly poured, fresh Guinness stout, served at the proper temperature in the hotel's bar. The bar and its adjacent dining and sitting rooms were very comfortably furnished and decorated with gleaming brass and dark woods shined to a high sheen. We learned that the bar and restaurants rooms are staffed by cheerful young adults from Ireland and several other countries, including Germany, Indonesia, Spain and New Zealand.
Continue with Part II / Return to Home Page