Ireland Revisited, Part 5

On the Famine Trail in Search of Ancestral Roots

June 11 - 26, 1997

 

By Lewis and Betty Nolan

 

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Part 1: Memphis to Dublin

Part 7:  Cork, Kinsale

Part 2: Carlow, Site of Nolan Homelands

Part 8:  Dingle Golf Links

Part 3: Kilkenny, Waterford, Crystal Plant

Part 9:  Dingle's Famine Cemetery

Part 4: Youghal, Dingle Town

Part 10: Ballinasloe, County Galway

Part 5: Dingle Peninsula

Part 11: Strokestown Famine Museum

Part 6: Great Blasket Island

Part 12: Donegal

Photo Album Index

Part 13: Drive in Northern Ireland

 

Sunday, June 15, 1997 - In Dingle, Lewis -

            We arose to a mostly sunny day that started with a proper breakfast built around delicious Irish bacon, a cut that starts with the eye of the ham and seems to combine the
Betty at Dingle's main drag
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best of American and Canadian-style bacon. The morning meal was included in the price of the room (about $65 a night at the Wine Rock Guest House, similar in price and comfort level to the "mid-range" accomodations we enjoyed throughout our trip). It was sweater weather, coolish, crisp and windy. We drove a short distance to a beautiful strip of the Wine Strand shore, ringed with a white sand beach and large black rocks that looked to be volcanic in origin. The water was gin clear. Blue rollers capped with white were marching into the mouth of the bay and we could see forever. We enjoyed the wonderful, fresh smell of the sea, took some pictures and then drove six or seven miles into town to attend the late morning mass at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Dingle.

            The 9 a.m. mass had been in the Irish tongue, which is preserved and widely spoken with pride in this section of Ireland. While the service we attended was in English, it might as well have been in Gaelic, so thick was the accent of the presiding priest. I caught just enough to know that he preached for peace between the Catholics and non-Catholics in Northern Ireland and prayed that the local fisherman would have a good catch and good prices. Even with the service of the Eucharist, the entire service lasted only 35 minutes. The church was nearly full, possibly a lesson for the diminishing mainline Protestant congregations back home regarding the importance of brevity.

            We spent most of the afternoon poking around the many tourist shops in Dingle Town. I bought an Irish wool cap (13 Irish pounds, about $20) that closely matches my brown, herringbone sports coat. We paid six pounds each for a boat ride out to the mouth of Dingle Harbor, a most picturesque sight with the high mountains coming down to the sea in great sloping cuts of green. Here and there along the coast are ruins and tumble-down, rock walls.

            The Dolphin "Fungie" (pronounced fun-gee) has been cavorting with the fishing boats and delighting tourists in the bay and at the mouth of the harbor for 13 years. A small industry is based on his attraction, providing the fishermen a secondary source of income during the short tourism season. We got lucky and purely by chance happened to board a smallish, wooden fishing boat with nine other tourists, including three co-eds from Tulsa, Okla. Unlike the shipshape tour boats we've ridden back home, this one was decidedly unkempt, a pure working boat sans restroom and snackbar. There may have been some ancient lifejackets stuffed into a corner, but I doubt there were enough to go around in case of emergency. I also doubt the U.S. Coastguard inspectors would have let this boat leave the dock.

            Our boat and its captain, a scruffy young man wearing a faded, "Guns and Roses" tee-shirt, were an inexplicable magnet for Fungie. The very large,
Lewis & Betty on Fungie Watch Boat
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male porpoise, perhaps 8 or 9 feet long, swam alongside our boat for 30 minutes or more, both on the way out of the harbor and on the way back in. He repeatedly came within 3 or 4 feet of the side of the boat, just out of touching range. Other fishing boats filled with tourists chased us.

            The uncharacteristically taciturn Irishman captaining our boat said Fungie unfailingly tags alongside his boat. Upon questioning he speculated that maybe the porpoise was more attracted to wooden hulls than to the fiberglass boats of his competitors. Or that maybe he liked the quiet thumping sound of the boat's little diesel engine. Or that just maybe he liked the looks of the captain himself. We were told that at times Fungie is also attracted to the occasional jet ski that zips around the cold water with a wet-suit clad driver.

            Afterwards, we drove back around the headland, past the Wine Rock and down an obscure country lane to Ballydavid. The tiny fishing village with two pubs and offers a fabulous view of the bay, almost directly across from our vantage point of this morning. There were a half-dozen, wooden fishing boats bobbing in the waves at their moorings off the concrete quay. A course sand beach had attracted some local families, whose children played in the shallow, chilly water.

            A combination pub-restaurant-B&B, painted bright-yellow and called "Tigh T.P.'s", was the focal point of visitors and of Ballydavid's social scene.
Lewis at Ballydavid's Tigh T.P.'s Pub
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We had an excellent meal there for half the price charged by the Wine Rock the night before, consisting of wonderfully fresh salmon caught by local fishermen right outside the harbor, and served, of course, with choice of potatoes. An extraordinary meal indeed, prepared by a chef from France who was spending his summer cooking at the establishment.

            That evening we drove up the road from the Wine Rock a few miles to the Irish-speaking village of Ballyferriter. We visited two of the village's pubs, including one with live Irish music, and talked with a couple who had recently returned to their home in Ballyferriter from London. They had the firm belief that their children, age 7 and 10, would be better served by being raised with the Irish values that had been passed down for generations in the village of Ballyferriter.

 

Sunday, June 15, 1997 - At Dingle, Betty -

            We awoke late since it stays daylight until after 10 p.m. After breakfast we drove down to Wine Strand Beach. It is absolutely beautiful and I'm sure our photographs will not do it justice. The cliffs, mountains and rocks - looking like lava rock - and bay were breathtaking. There were a few campers and a solitary fisherman. Otherwise, we had the beach to ourselves and found it to be quite peaceful and serene. The weather today was very good - clouds, but no rain. It can be misty on one spot of the Dingle Peninsula and sunny just a few miles away.

            We drove into Dingle Town to check out the shops and go to the 12:15 p.m. Mass at St. Mary's. The priest was old and between his brogue and chatter, I found it hard to understand him. Some masses are said in Irish, but they were earlier in the day. It was interesting, but I'm glad I'm a Presbyterian since we have more order to worship. Small children wandered up and down the aisles; one even went up to the priest, sucking a pacifier. Since they are Catholic and God's children, I'm sure that the priest didn't mind. There were very few non-Catholics in the service, evident because almost everyone went up to receive the Holy Eucharist, or communion. The service was short, about 35 minutes.

            We poked around Dingle and then took a boat out to see the famous dolphin, Fungie. Fungie has been in the harbor for 13 years. They even have a business that rents wetsuits and takes you out to swim with him. We lucked out since the smaller boat we went on is Fungie's favorite boat to swim alongside. He swam along with the boat for most of the hour we were out.

            We drove out Slea Head Drive to check out the area. It is fairly close to our B&B. We found a pub where we sat outside and had a great view of the bay. Children were in the water and on the beach even though it was cool, at least for me. A wool sweater felt great. We talked to an Englishman who told us about the good food at the adjacent pub. We went back for dinner and found the fresh sauteed salmon to be very good. I also had a black currant pastry which looked a like a fried peach or apple pie. The berries were tart and tasty and the crust flaky, with some coarse raw sugar sprinked on top. The Irish Coffee was delicious, too.

            The fishing wharf, restaurant and pubs are at Ballydavid. This (bally) means "home of David." I had often wondered what "bally" meant since so many things in Ireland are named "bally-something." This was a good day all around - sights and weather. We went to Ballyferriter to Tigh Peig's Pub for Irish music that night.

            Photographs taken today included shots at Dingle Town, Dingle Harbor (and Fungi the Dolphin), Slea Head Drive and Ballydavid.

 

Monday, June 16, 1997 - In Dingle, Lewis -

            We started another fine day with Irish bacon and toast. I dropped Betty off in Dingle Town (the English translation of An Daingean) after we cashed $1,500 in
Lewis in Dingle residential area
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American Express Travelers checks at a local bank. We exchanged dollars into Irish punts (pounds) at $1.53. Then I drove just past Ballyferriter to the Dingle Golf Club, a splendid and gorgeous links layout overlooking the Blasket Islands and some craggy, Irish mountains that fall down to the sea. It cost only 14 pounds to play, with an additional pound for a "caddy cart," which we call a "pull cart" back home.

There were no driving carts at this course, typical of Irish golf, which is played as a walking game. The grass was lush and green; the perfect turf-growing conditions make divots disappear almost overnight. The rating was a difficult 71 off the whites, at 6,520 yards. (In comparison, my home course of Old Waverly at West Point, Miss., judged by Golf Digest to be one of America's Top 100 and certainly no humpty layout, has a rating of 68.6 off the whites, at 5,985 yards).

            The Dingle course has a spectacular view of the rugged Irish coastline, with white breakers crashing against the rocks. Sort of like Pebble beach, without the people. Numerous blind hazards such as small creeks (the Irish call them "drains," or "burns") criss-cross the fairways and the location of some cruelly placed, deep pot bunkers, gives a premium to local knowledge and good course management. I hit the ball pretty good through 8 holes, but then the toll of pulling a cart up and down the bumpy links and through the thick grass steadily worsened my scoring. Since I was one of the few players on the course, I probably should have taken my time and periodically stopped to rest. I was lucky to finish under 100, with a 99.

             But despite the score it was a great round and a great day at Ceaan Sibeal (Irish for Sybill's Point), which I marked with the purchase of a souvenir sweater for me and a cap for a banker pal back home whose people were from the area. I came off the course to a pint of Guinness and a delicious snack of fresh, cold crab served on a piece of soda bread. After I had eaten, the barman told me Betty had called, with a message to pick her up at a market in Dingle - her efforts to get a taxi for the ride back to our inn were vexingly unsuccessful.

            After "collecting my wife," as the Irish would say, we visited several stores in Dingle and I purchased a rain parka. My conversations with Aer Lingus over the missing Gore-tex jacket had produced a promise to reimburse me for the expense of replacement. I could not find Gore-tex in my double-x size at the stores or golf shops. It's a puzzle why so few Irishmen are as big as some American men, with their diets rich in fat grams and Guiness. In the absence of Gore-tex, I went ahead and bought a water-proof parka to get me through the trip, thinking I'd replace the Gore-tex upon return home.

            We then repaired back to Ballydavid (meaning village of David) and its landmark "Tigh T.P's" (meaning house of T.P, as in Terry Patrick O'Connor). T. P's son, Sean O'Connor, and his wife, Fiona, are buying the establishment, which includes the pub, a small restaurant and a few guest rooms. The young couple work 18-hour days in season and are clearly popular with the locals and also with visiting tourists. They depend on the local patronage and reciprocate by buying the catch of local fishermen. Most of the cooking is done by an expatriate French chef, with excellent culinary skills. The quality of the food and the cheery hospitality of the O'Connors keeps the place hopping with regular customers and vacationing anglers. I had salmon and Betty had a gigantic crab, both freshly caught.

            The pubs here are open seven days a week, as are the spirit shops that sell heavily taxed liquor and wine. Oddly, the Irish entrepreneurs don't seem to recognize, much less take advantage of, the profit-enhancing opportunities seized upon by their American counterparts. For example, none of the three guesthouse/inns we've stayed at to date have soft drink or snack machines on their premises. Moreover, the pubs don't sell tee-shirts or much snack food. About the only thing a hungry drinker can get at the bar is a sandwich or heaping plate of "chips," French fried potatoes. One gets the impression that the business owners decide what they want to sell and proceed on that premise, unlike in the U.S. where savvy owners try to determine what the customer wants, or can be persuaded to want, and then offer it accordingly.

 

Monday, June 16, 1997 - In Dingle, Betty -

            The day started out with breakfast at our B&B. We drove into Dingle to change travelers checks to Irish Pounds. Buzz left me in town with the understanding that I'd be able to get a cab when I got tired of shopping and sightseeing. The lady at the Wine Rock had given me cab phone numbers to call for service. Good
Betty at Slea Head Drive overlook
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luck to anyone from America expecting cabs to be readily available and accessible! After spending several Pounds calling from 4 p.m. on, I couldn't get one. It seems the taxi drivers operate from their homes. When they are out on a pick-up, an Irish wife irritably tells you he has gone to Tralee and won't be back until late, or that he can pick you up in two hours! What a way to run a business! It seems to be an unorganized, unprofitable way to do things. Americans are quite organized in comparison to this method over here. The Irish are very friendly, pleasant people. But they are quite inefficient in many respects.

            Having visited the craft center (what a poor excuse for craftsmen!), I moved to the shops in the town center. The craft center had only 3 people working out of a dozen shops. Only one of the three was not too busy talking on the phone to stop and answer questions. There was no "hard sell" to move goods. How unlike Mexico or America.

            Fran, the lady at the Irish linen shop, was very cordial and answered my questions about linen and the flax plant. There was a camisole I expressed interest in. She did not try to sell me anything, but did give me directions to her store on Green Street, near St. Mary's where we attended Mass on Sunday. Since I was going to have plenty of time to shop, I did go to the shop in town and found a handmade Irish linen camisole I plan to wear under a shirt or use as a summer vest since it has buttons down the front and is very light and summery.

            I enjoyed chatting with shop owners and found some Celtic earrings and pin, as well as handmade sterling and onyx earrings made in Dingle by a local artist. Visiting small shops with weavers, seeing handmade pottery and observing a knitter using a machine to knit a woolen sweater filled my afternoon. I bought woolen sweaters at 2 for 40 Pounds, which was a good buy at roughly $30 each for hand knit, pure oiled, wool sweaters. Even if they were knitted by machine it would be a bargain. The colors and tweedy patterns are rarely found in even L.L. Bean or Land's End catalogs.

            All in all, my excursion to Dingle was fun even if I did have to wait over two hours to be picked up by Buzz after he got off the golf course out near the Wine Strand. By the way, the Irish would say to "collect" someone rather than "pick up."

            We went to Tigh T.P.'s Pub at Ballydavid for dinner. I had the steamed crab claws - a large bowl of enormous, short claws from locally caught crabs. Buzz had the poached salmon in a delicate sauce, which he said was excellent. There is a French chef there for the summer tourist season. The fishing boats are gone from the harbor at Ballydavid during the hard winters. I suppose the gales and
Betty by flowers near Beehive Huts
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storms don't make for good fishing nor safe harbors out on the Dingle Peninsula in the winter.

            The young couple who own the pub move out of their adjacent cottage in season and rent it to vacationing anglers. They also own a fishing boat to take out visiting anglers. The couple moves to quarters upstairs over the pub during the summer and often work 18-hour days. They have to make the most of their income during the busy season. It sounds as if owning and operating a pub (or any business here) is a full-time, dedicated job.

            It stays light until 10:30 p.m. in June and until 11-11:30 p.m. later in the summer. It is not uncommon to see someone cutting grass or weedwhacking at 8:30-9 p.m. - too late for us and too dark in Memphis. However, I have been known to rake leaves at dark or by turning on the motion detector lights on our home in Memphis. I also plant flowers at dark or by spotlight. But you don't need to do that here. In fact, few plant flowers at all here since there are so many beautiful wild flowers - huge fields of wild, yellow Dutch iris, wild fuschia bushes, thistle, daisies and a multitude of blooming wild flowers that I don't know the names for. The perennials they plant seem to grow most of the year - nasturtiums are huge and trailing. The petunias in hanging baskets are lush. Cutting your grass would be needed twice a week over here. No need to fertilize grass for greening up - the rain and sheep manure does a great job of that.

            Photographs taken today included shots at Dingle.

 

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