Dingle Trifecta, Part 5

Dingle Trifecta, Part 5

Slea Head Drive

March 7 – 15, 2003 (Page updated June 3, 2003)

                  

1: Trip begins despite war clouds

5: Slea Head Drive

2: Memphis to Detroit-Boston-Shannon

6: Golf at Cheann Sibéal

3: Dingle and Ballydavid

7: Dingle's ancient ruins

4: More Dingle and Ballydavid

8: Bunratty and home

Photo Album

 

By Lewis Nolan

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Tuesday, March 11, 2003 – Motoring around Slea Head Drive

 

Still weary from the long flight, we didn’t get up-and-at-‘em until 9 a.m., quite late for us. We ate sparingly at the Skellig’s luscious buffet. I went for a bit of Irish bacon and toast and a few bites of broiled tomato and a Diet Coke while Betty stuck with coffee and a croissant. We lingered in the glass-enclosed conservatory to enjoy the view of the harbor’s blue water sparking in the sun. The winds and surface of the sea had considerably calmed from yesterday’s raging fury. Nonetheless, relatively mild winds of perhaps 15 mph kicked up a few whitecaps.

 

As the day wore on, the skies alternated between sunny and
Betty by fishing gear at Ventry Harbor
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cloudy. There were a few brief periods of light showers. The high temp reached into the low 50s. All in all, a delightful spring day in Ireland. We relaxed and read for a while then headed out in our rented econobox to the fabled Slea Head Drive. We had been on parts of the narrow road around much of the Dingle Peninsula before. But this was our first full, overland circumnavigation and we took it clockwise.

 

Our first stop was at Ventry, which oddly doesn’t seem to rate even a mention in the major guidebooks. It’s a tiny town deep in the Ventry Harbor and quite picturesque, as are all the coastal towns of Southwest Ireland that we’ve visited. The only negative I can imagine is a trailer park of several dozen “caravans,” possibly a Travelers encampment that the tourism promoters would rather pass unnoticed. The Travelers are Ireland’s answer to gypsies, a clannish group with their own values and morays that are rarely violent but usually on the make for a fast buck.

 

A concrete wharf juts out into the harbor from Ventry and offers some great photo backdrops of abandoned fishnets and rocky shoreline. We purchased some stamps and snacks at a small store that offered a surprising selection of merchandise and foodstuffs. We befriended two young women on the outskirts of the village who were cycling around Slea Head Drive. They were about 20 years of age and were carrying what appeared to be heavy backpacks. One was from France and one was from Germany. We briefly swapped cameras to take
Lewis on rocky beach at Ventry Bay
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one another’s photos. Seeing these attractive, effervescent young women bravely pedaling around remote Ireland made me envy their innocence and youth. We gave them tips they seemed to appreciate about the fantastic sights that awaited them a few miles down the narrow road.

 

 Betty and I made frequent stops to admire the views and take photos on this gorgeous day. The sea beneath the cliffs was still wild from the gales of the previous day. One particularly good view was at a tiny beach on the backside of Slea Head that was one of the filming locations of the movie “Ryan’s Daughter.” The movie about a “fallen woman” was shot here a half century ago and is still considered to be one of Hollywood’s finest.

 

We also stopped at my favorite spot on the Dingle Peninsula, Clogher Beach. It offers a view of the Atlantic Ocean rollers stubbornly assaulting the hard, black rock of Clogher Head with explosions of white spray and sea spume. The heavy weather of the previous day made the breakers thunderous, stirring the blood of this landlubbing lover of the sea.

The biggest of the Clogher waves were perhaps 20 feet high. When they hit the rocks, the white spray rocketed up another 50 feet or more. It was hard to pull away from the spectacle.

 

Clogher Beach is a small cove that was carved from the
Lewis on storm-battered Clogher Beach
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landscape by some of the roughest sea conditions on the Atlantic Coast of Ireland. It is somewhat secluded and a perfect spot to watch the ocean and take in the beauty of a pristine, wild meeting of land and sea. It is definitely not for swimming because of the treacherous currents.

 

We again stopped at Louis Mulcahy Pottery a mile or two away from Clogher Head (a “head” is the Irish term for a seaward point capped by a high hill that drops suddenly down to the water, rather like an ice cream cone sliced in half, from top to bottom). Betty refined her search from our earlier visit and I ended up buying her a handcrafted lamp; we ordered a hand-painted shade in colors that would match our living room décor back home. Encouraged by our experience with Dingle Crystal a year ago, we arranged to have the lamp and shade shipped to us in Memphis. But just in case, we charged the purchase on my American Express card so we had a least a chance of not having to pay in case of non-delivery. We were told the shipment would take four-to-five weeks. It did and both arrived in perfect condition.

 

Getting credit for the sale was a nice and very pretty young woman, whose name is Mary. Her fiancé is a greens keeper at the nearby Cheann Sybeal Golf Course.

 

We killed some time while waiting for the lampshade to be painted to Betty’s specifications by an artisan working at a separate business in nearby Ballyferriter. Just outside the village is Cheann Sibéal Golf Course, a wonderful and challenging layout that I had played on our previous visits. We again visited the pro shop, where I bought two lamb’s wool sweaters for myself plus a golf shirt for Casey. Business was so slow on this off-season day that the club restaurant was closed. So we repaired to Murphy’s Pub back in
Betty with Louis Mulcahy lamp
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Ballyferriter for a surprisingly good lunch. We had delicious sandwiches (ham on white bread for Betty and chicken on brown bread for me), served with salad.

 

Murphy’s is scruffy but popular pub that offers meals and a B&B upstairs. Gaelic-speaking locals gather around a pool table in the back and a coal fire in the front. The publican was rather cool to us and several other tourists. But the food was good and modestly priced.

 

After completing the lamp transaction at Mulcahy, we returned to the Dingle Skellig late in the day. But the light was still good this far north, with darkness not falling until 9 p.m. or later. After a shower we took a short walk along the harbor shoreline. Dinner that night was again at Lord Baker’s, where I went for the Grilled Plaice (like American flounder, except a larger fish) and Betty for the deep fried scampi (Irish version of large shrimp). The scampi were quite good and tasted a lot like the scallops we sometimes get back home.

 

We met the proprietor, John Moriarty, who quickly summoned up another serving of fish for me at no charge when I gently mentioned that I was still hungry (the Atkins regime exchanges more protein for less or no vegetables and breads). He is the Dingle businessman who led the efforts that resulted in the “twinning” between Dingle and California’s Santa Barbara.

 

Back at the hotel, I enjoyed watching the first-rate soccer that is a staple of European television. At home, our satellite TV service charges $30 a game for pay-per-view games like those I saw for free on Irish television. This night’s matches included play between one of the Italian teams and London’s Arsenal. I’ve really grown fond of the game played at the highest international level and wish more of it were available on regular network or cable TV. Outside of the leagues for kids, the sport just hasn’t caught on in America like the national pastimes of baseball, basketball and football. I suspect the audience for the satellite pay-per-view programming is quite small, mostly consisting of European émigrés. 

 

The Irish newspapers have loads of coverage of “football,” as soccer is called in Ireland and Great Britain, plus lots of stories about golf and Gaelic sports like rugby. The newspapers seem to give a larger proportion of their space to sports than do their counterparts in the U.S.

 

 The Prime Minister of Ireland, or “taosearch” as the title is called in Irish, made a big splash in the press this week when he helped open an elaborate swimming training facility in Dublin. It aims to provide a venue for Irish swimmers to prepare and compete on the highest international levels. Only two managed to qualify for the last two Olympics, which is not surprising given the lack of indoor pools and the usually chilly temperatures that shorten or eliminate the summer swimming season for all but the hardiest of athletes.

 

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