Dingle Trifecta, Part 1
Trip Begins Despite Gathering War Clouds
March 7 – 15, 2003 (Updated June 2, 2003)
By Lewis Nolan
During our goodbyes in Boston, our son joked that Betty and
|Lewis & Betty on Dingle Peninsula overlook|
|Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
We were in Dingle for a week during Betty’s spring break in 2002 and still had not seen everything that interests us on this wild and rugged peninsula. We had first been drawn to Dingle in 1997 and had only whetted our appetite for exploring the abundance of architectural treasures and awe-inspiring coastline. We do love Ireland. After visiting most of the island’s most popular places that attract throngs of American tourists (chief among them Dublin, Cork, Galway, Donegal, Killarney and Waterford), we’ve concluded that Dingle is our favorite.
Our decision to return to Dingle in the spring of 2003 for the second straight year was an easy one. For one thing, Aer Lingus offered terrific fares for flights from Boston to Shannon, thus the opportunity for a “twofer” that included a visit with our son. Working with our travel agent, Joye Allen of A&I Travel in Memphis, we booked a Northwest flight from Memphis to Boston and an overnighter there. We booked a separate, six-night package from Beantown to Ireland through Brian Moore Tours/Far and Wide.
Betty’s spring break from school (she teaches high school vocational classes in commercial foods in our hometown) fell in early March this year. That is a great time to travel to Dingle.
There are few tourists anywhere in Ireland during off-season March, especially in the remote Dingle area. Airfares and accommodations rates are remarkably low. Driving is much easier than in summertime since the big tour buses don’t block the peninsula’s narrow lanes that pass for highways. While some establishments are closed during the off-season, restaurant reservations are not necessary at the better places that stay open through the winter.
The Irish people are most obliging hosts and they genuinely love to talk to Americans. Most have relatives in the U.S. and are surprisingly well informed about American politics and sports. The Dingle Peninsula is what the bilingual locals call “An Ghaeltacht,” an Irish term meaning an area where the traditional, Celtic Irish is still spoken. Indeed, virtually all the highway signs are in both Irish and English, as are many tourism maps and brochures. Teenagers from across the country come to Dingle to attend Irish School in the summer; they must master enough of the language to pass proficiency tests required for the equivalent of high school diplomas.
The Gulf Stream keeps the temperatures on the Dingle Peninsula reasonably comfortable year-round. It’s always sweater-weather in Ireland, where even summer temps rarely get much above 70. The daily highs around Dingle in March usually reach the 50s. The lows drop into the low 40s and upper 30s. It hardly ever freezes.
Of course, the March weather is still subject to the fierce gales that blow in off the North Atlantic. Last year, we had sun every day but one. And then only a tiny bit of rain slowed us down. The weather was again generally favorable in 2003. But we witnessed a doozy of a storm that blew the sea into a symphony of howling wind, crashing breakers and drum rolls of rain and hail blown sideways.
We are healthy, rested and well packed for our fifth trip to Ireland and are looking forward to our third visit to Dingle on the southwest coast. Betty has a week off for Spring Break so we are making the most of it, thanks to some cheap fares and rates. As with our trip at about the same time in 2002, we booked a Brian Moore Tours package through A&I Travel.
At the time of the booking, in October, Northwest was running direct flights to Boston at 5:05 p.m., arriving at 7:40 p.m. That was early enough so we could have dinner with our son on the Friday evening. Plus, we would have all day Saturday to see some of the sights of Boston with Casey before catching the 7:40 p.m. Aer Lingus flight to Shannon the next evening.
However, the huge losses suffered by the airline industry since the terrorism attacks on the United States Sept. 11, 2001, have resulted in the scrubbing of many flights. The airlines are bleeding copious amounts of red ink because of cutbacks in discretionary travel, part due to the slumping economy, part due to the “hassle factor” and part due to tourist skittishness about safety overseas. Thousands of airline employees have been laid off and dozens of airplanes are parked in desert storage areas in the Southwest. (It got even worse for the airlines shortly after our return home, first with the U.S. war with Iraq and then with the outbreak of a mysterious, deadly disease called SARS that effectively quarantined many Asian markets.)
Among the flight casualties was our direct flight to Boston. We were rerouted through Detroit, putting our arrival in Boston at 11:40 p.m. That killed our dinner plans. It also introduced a degree of anxiety into our trip. Because Northwest and Aer Lingus are not partners, we are not “protected” in case of missed connections. That was another reason we booked the Northwest flight into Boston a day early, to give us a comfort margin in case of a delay.
Provided that the airline schedules are in reasonable harmony, we have a terrific deal. The basic package from Brian Moore Travel includes round-trip airfare from Boston to Shannon, six nights Bed & Breakfast accommodations and a small rental car – for $500 each. Due to our mixed success with B&Bs in the past, we upgraded to four-star hotels for an additional $360 each.
Hanging like a dark cloud over this trip is the impending attack on Iraq by the United States and its few true allies. President Bush and Britain’s Tony Blair tell the world that their countries are prepared to go to war to disarm Iraq’s dictator, the madman Saddam Hussein, and to free the Iraqi people. But many Americans could care less about Saddam and the Iraqis.
To my thinking, our nation’s saber rattling is really more about retribution for Iraq’s complicity with the terrorism of Sept. 11, 2001, when Muslim extremists hijacked four American jets and flew two of them into the World Trade Towers in New York and one into the Pentagon in Washington.
|Lewis by Slea Head shrine|
|Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
The last few weeks has seen a steady increase in U.S. and British troop deployment in the Middle East, diplomatic moves in the toothless United Nations and case making by President Bush. He hasn’t persuaded the French, the Germans, the Russians or many other governments of the need for force to make Iraq obey a UN mandate and disarm. The “coalition of the willing,” as the U.S., Britain and a few other countries are called, are prepared to invade Iraq within the next couple of weeks.
The newspapers and magazines are full of details about all the ins-and-outs of the looming war. The streets of some of the great cities of the world – including New York, London and Paris – are full of protest marchers. It’s clear that America has lost considerable prestige because of its willingness to go-it-alone if necessary. The UN has for all practical purposes been dismissed as nothing but an empty debating society. The French are coming in for special scorn from many Americans following their diplomatic undercutting of President Bush.
Of immediate interest on a personal level, there is a real possibility that the invasion could start while we are in Ireland. What that might mean to the air travel industry, nobody knows. We remember having to cancel our trip to Sacramento for the 40th anniversary reunion of my high school class following “nine-eleven.”
That horrible and cowardly attack on American by Muslim terrorists grounded our nation’s airlines for a week. We had friends who happened to be traveling in France at the time who were stranded for several days. We also remember being in London in the mid1980s when many Brits were angry with the U.S. for bombing Libya; I walked away from a confrontation in a pub near Piccadilly Circus.
A story in USA Today earlier this week told about fairly isolated cases of American tourists being confronted – even spat upon – in several Western European cities. Those giving their visitors a hard time are probably too stupid and ignorant to remember that it was American blood which freed them from the Nazi regime. Were it not for U.S. troops, all of Europe would be speaking German today. It was the American Marshall Plan paid for by U.S. taxpayers that rebuilt Europe. Many Americans are incensed at what they see as the short memories and ingratitude of so much of Europe. Many people stopped buying French wines and other products. Others cancelled vacation plans. The U.S. Congress renamed “French Fries” served in the House restaurant to “Freedom Fries.”
Betty and I talked about the situation and decided to go forward with our long-planned and eagerly anticipated trip. We didn’t want to effectively let the terrorists dictate our vacation plans. Besides, there is probably no spot on the planet any safer from attack by Muslim extremists or Middle Eastern governments than Southwest Ireland. Also, the Irish love Americans. That is not always so with the Arab-pandering French and leftists in England and Germany. So if the U.S. invasion of Iraq should get in the way of our flight home, there is no place I’d rather be stranded than in Ireland.
President Bush had a rare, 50-minute press conference on TV last night (March 6, 2003). To my Democratic mind (I was a strong supporter of Al Gore), Bush made a good case for removing Saddam and his murdering henchmen from power, even by force if necessary. He sounded like his mind was made up; it’s not a question of “if,” only “when.”
In the face of the President’s resolve and the opposition of so many members of the UN, there was a last-ditch diplomatic effort to give Iraq until March 17 to disarm. Again on a personal note, that is fine by me since the date (St. Patrick’s Day) is two days after our scheduled return home. So maybe the luck of the Irish will allow me and Betty to enjoy our time in Ireland without having to worry about the approaching invasion’s possible impact on our travel and our servicemen and women about to go into harm’s way.
We packed last night. Our luggage includes casual clothing, golf clubs and a blank travel journal for me, plus two cameras and a couple of dozen rolls of film for Betty. This morning (Friday, March 7, 2002), I took Dickens to the Greyhound boarding kennel. Betty got home from school about 1:30 p.m. and shared with me comments made to her by an ROTC teacher. He advised that it would take at least another week before the attack begins. The U.S. needs that much time to get two more divisions in place. He said the dead giveaway to an imminent invasion is when the U.S. warns the UN weapons inspectors, media representatives and the diplomatic corps to decamp.
Of course we both hope that somehow war can be averted. But it sure doesn’t look like that will happen. We have more than 200,000 troops in staging areas or on the way. I can’t imagine that President Bush will blink. Nothing in Saddam’s past behavior suggests that Iraq’s No. One lunatic will quietly capitulate and seek asylum in another Muslim country. So I’m all but certain that the U.S. will soon kick Iraq’s ass in a very major, very deadly way.
Whatever happens, we’re on our way to Ireland.