Last week we managed to take a few days away and headed for the ancient lands in the Dingle peninsula. The Kingdom of Kerry is steeped in traditions and culture, history and folklore with a landscape to match.
We booked four nights at the Rainbow Hostel, a lovely rural setting surrounded by fields of yellow flag irises and bounding lambs.
Our first trip was to the long sandy beach in Ventry with its interesting marine life… I had never seen angel wings before (or piddocks as I later discovered) which were buried in turf pieces, we discovered masses of sea urchins bleached by the sun and otter shells, dog whelks and skate eggs to name a few. We managed half the length of the beach before hunger took the better of us.
We hopped back on the local link bus and continued on to Baile an Fheirtéaraigh (Ballyferriter) with its amazing views and traditions which, like many parts of the Dingle peninsula, are deep rooted in the Irish language. Here we visited a museum showing a poignant exhibition of some 40 artists work celebrating that very topic.
The following day we took a short boat trip to view the land from a different perspective and were treated to an ariel show by the local gannets. Apparently they hit the water at 70 miles per hour and concord was designed from their likeness. Quite incredible to see them plummet, folding their wings as they descend, to form a long thin torpedo just before they hit the water, dive down, collect their meal and back up. Guillemots bobbed about in their solitary lives. No dolphins today though. We were told the story of Fungi the dolphin: very famous in these parts and how he ensnared his daily catch. He hasn’t been seen the last 18 months so either the fish are not around anymore or he has passed on, everyone assumes the latter as he was always visible around tourist boats. Dingle was a hugely important harbour and played significant roles in smuggling and trade.
A visit to the Dingle Peninsula for me had to include taking the bus out to Dun Chaoin (Dunquin) with the farthest westerly pier in Europe and views to An Blascard Mor along with the other Blasket islands: Inishnabro and Inishvickillane to the south-west, the dramatic triangular mass of Inishtearaght, the most westerly island in Europe, to the west, and away to the north, Inishtooskert, also known as the Fear Marbh. Until 1953, the great Blasket island was home to a precious undiluted traditional culture that could be found in this isolated, far-flung community, living simply and frugally off the land and sea. Their stories were transcribed and the islanders themselves were encouraged to record their own lives. These became the first written works to be published from an oral Gaelic culture, revealing a lyrical, poetic style. After many years of hardship and emigration, the last inhabitants left the islands in 1953, when there were no longer enough strong arms left to row their traditional naomhoga (canoes) across the dangerous Blasket Sound. Commercial fishing too had a hand in their demise. Peig Sayers and Tomás O’Crohan, Micheál O’Guiheen, Maurice O’Sullivan and Seán O’Crohan are the storytellers and poets who tell about their lives through their words. I remember reading many of these books in the early 1990’s when I first came to live in Ireland. That first year along with my two children, we hiked the two long distances walking paths in both the Dingle and Iveragh peninsulas. Camping wild and soaking up the culture, history and vistas had a lasting impact on us all. It was wonderful to go back.
On the mainland a ruined village is now home to local sheep, the roofs are covered in the same tarred felting used for the naomhoga boats which made the crossing by islanders and their animals in the previous centuries. A tiny graveyard also tell its own sad story of strife and hardship. The landscapes though are truly magical. Yellow flag iris grow in abundance, purple orchids if you search, sea pinks, foxgloves, buttercups and fuchsia all made for a colourful show. Waiting for the little bus to arrive I was treated to the lyrical sounds of the language spoken in these parts, a gentle sound rather like the wind moving through the meadows.
There is something deep and mystical about these lands that call you back. Answer that call.