Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Down to Dingle

 (Day four recap of my recent Ireland trip.)

It was time to bid friendly Ennis goodbye.  Kim and I rose early to get in a shower and breakfast before our 8:45 am departure time.  We found that our suitcases - carefully arranged at the start of our journey - had become difficult to repack.  I swear the Irish climate must've caused our clothes to swell!  After a bit of shoving and squishing, we finally cried uncle and unzipped the suitcase expanders.  

All packed up and ready to go!

Our tour group gathered in the outside courtyard of the hotel, waiting for guide Pascal's instruction to load up the bus.  It was another lovely dry and sunny day - so different from the weather I'd expected to see in Ireland.  No complaints, though!

Ferry arriving

Today's destination was the seaside town of Dingle, located on the Dingle Peninsula in the southwest corner of Ireland.  Our route to get there required a crossing of the River Shannon.  Bus driver George piloted his huge vehicle down narrow country lanes toward the tiny berg of Killimer.  It was here we'd catch a ferry across this mighty river.

Even our bus fit on the ferry (first lane on the left)

At Killimer we had a half hour wait until the ferry's arrival.  Luckily there was a "truck stop" of sorts near the dock.  The place had a large restroom and convenience/souvenir store.  Some of my tour-mates bought tea and coffee, while others (me) grabbed a couple of souvenir items.

Kim waves from the observation deck

The area was quite scenic, with the River Shannon's banks lined by green pastures.  I walked around snapping photos of everything.  When the ferry came into sight, I stood nearby taking shots of its arrival.  I was so absorbed watching the ferry I didn't realize everyone had already boarded the bus.  Pascal had to come over and get me - ooops!

Sailing across the River Shannon

Once the ferry docked and emptied its vehicles, it was our turn to drive onto the boat.  I was impressed - our full size bus fit onto the ferry just fine, along with several other large vans and an RV.

Wind in my hair

When all the vehicles were securely parked and the ferry underway we were allowed to exit the bus and climb onto an observation deck.  There were two observation areas, one on each side of the ferry.  The one nearest our bus got filled up with my tour-mates, so I walked across the deck and climbed onto the opposite platform.  Although it was cold and windy, I had a great time watching our ferry cut through the water to the other side of the river.  And of course the photo opportunities were great!  I enjoyed sweeping river views from a unique perspective.  There were wind turbines on one shore, and a large power plant on the other.  A cute, white lighthouse sat near the power plant.  

Power plant and lighthouse on the other side

The crossing took about 20 minutes.  When the opposite ferry landing grew close, I put my camera away and hustled back to the bus.  I didn't want Pascal to come and get me a second time!

Break in Listowel

Once off the ferry, our bus continued its journey across more ultra-green countryside.  After another half hour, we pulled into the town of Listowel for our next stop.  We had an appointment for tea and scones at the John B. Keane pub.  The bus let us all out next to a large church and we walked several blocks down narrow lanes until reaching the famous pub.  Along the way, we passed a life-size statue honoring Listowel's famous author.

John B. Keane statue

John's son, Billy was at the pub to greet us.  Although John was now gone, Billy ran the pub and carried on his father's legacy.  After everyone was seated with a scone and hot drink, Billy began telling stories about his famous father.

John B. Keane pub

I learned lots about a famous writer that before today I knew nothing about.  John B. Keane would write stories about controversial topics, such as the hardships women in Ireland faced at the hands of various authority figures.  One example was when he spotted a young teenage girl in his bar whose parents were arranging her hand in marriage to a much older man.  John felt very strongly such arranged marriages were wrong.  He wrote the play Sive based on this incident.  In his lifetime, John wrote 42 books.  Many of his stories have been made into movies, such as The Field and Durango.

Billy Keane - he was a fantastic speaker!

Billy Keane gave a very entertaining talk, telling stories about growing up in this pub, having a father who became famous.  With his father busy with his writing work, Billy's mother was left to run the business.  But Billy said his mother was tough.  Wanting to demonstrate how his mother threw drunks out of the bar, I got chosen to out of the audience to be the drunk.  I'm afraid acting is not one of my strong suits.  I was supposed to pretend to be drunk and let's just say it was a big flop!  Oh well, I provided some comic relief to my tour-mates.  And Kim, being the good friend that she is, recorded most of my poor performance on her phone for posterity.

(And in case you're wondering, Billy's mom would take a broom and use it to chase drunks out the door.)

Memorabilia lines the walls of John B. Keane pub

The pub walls were lined with posters memorializing John B. Keane's works.  When he had finished his enthralling talk, Billy mentioned that he'd also written a couple of books and had them for sale if anyone was interested.  Kim ended up buying one book, which Billy graciously autographed for her.  We sat and chatted with Billy for quite awhile.  He was such a nice guy and fun to talk with.  But then Kim and I noticed we were the only ones left in the bar.  Uh-oh!  We thanked Billy for his time and politely made our exit.  Luckily Pascal was still waiting outside, ready to direct us stragglers back to the bus.

Posters of the screenplays written by John B. Keane

As our bus pulled away from Listowel, Pascal told us that Billy Keane was also a famous man in Ireland.  Penning a well-read column in the Irish Independent newspaper for many years, he often represented his country when dignitaries came to town.  Apparently Billy has met many famous actors, presidents, and other dignitaries - even the British royal family.  He presented himself as such a humble man, I had no idea!

Debbie, one of my tour-mates who had been on "over 20" Rick Steves tours, said that's the great thing about his trips - because Rick has such a good reputation and connections, you get to experience unique things that not a lot of other tour companies can offer.

Uber-green Irish countryside on the way to Dingle

On the road once again!  Our bus traveled through the town of Tralee, the gateway to the Dingle Peninsula.  This narrow Peninsula juts out into the North Atlantic Ocean and is bordered by Tralee Bay to the north and Dingle Bay to the south.  In between the two bays, a mountain range called the Slieve Mish Mountains runs through the middle.  Coming from the north, in order to reach Dingle our bus had to climb over these mountains.  Although not tall by North American standards, these mountains rise from sea level to 2,700 feet at their highest.  However, I believe the route we took only required a gain of about 1,500 feet.

Yellow gorse lines the roads

As our bus climbed through the mountains, I gaped out the window at all the lovely scenery.  These mountains were barren - not a tree anywhere.  However the slopes were covered in green pastures, full of sheep and dairy cows.  Bright yellow gorse flowered everywhere - an invasive plant that we also have on the Oregon coast (invasive but pretty.)  Stone walls crisscrossed the pastures and thick bushes hugged the gullies.  Let's just say there were many photo attempts out the moving bus window.

Approaching Dingle Bay

Pascal explained that the town of Dingle is in a Gaeltacht region, an area where the Irish culture is subsidized by the government.  People living in these regions speak Irish (or Gaelic) as their first language.  The signs, menus, and songs often are in Irish first and English second.  He told us some Irish phrases to use with the locals, such as "good morning" and "thank you" (which of course I immediately forgot!)

Dingle town was adorable!

After crossing the mountains, George expertly guided our bus into the adorable town of Dingle.  A seaside village that catered to tourists, I instantly fell in love with all the brightly colored buildings that lined the main street.

I just loved all the brightly colored buildings

Pascal said we now had some free time to get lunch and explore the town.  He wanted us back at the boat dock area by 2 pm for our guided tour of town.  

More Dingle street scenes

Following Pascal's recommendations for good fish and chips, Kim and I headed to the suggested restaurant.  It was there we found tour-mates Randy and Jessica who had the same idea.  They were nice enough to save us seats at their table - thanks buddies!

Interesting stone building

To avoid the hassle of exchanging money in Ireland, Kim and I had acquired some euros from the local bank before our trip.  But some of this cash was in 100 and 50 denominations.  Kim suggested we use this free time to find a bank that was willing to break our large bills.  She used Google maps to look up a local bank, and following the app's directions we took off through the town.

Lots of signs in Irish here 

It ended up being quite the journey.  We walked several blocks along the main highway before turning and continuing up another main road.   As we hurried along, I occasionally stopped to photograph an interesting building.  So many colorful, unique shops!  Such a cute town!

Dingle had their own "walk of fame"

After several blocks on this second street, we again turned onto a third street and walked up a very steep hill.  This looked to be one of the main business districts in town.  The road was lined with pubs and retail shops - I even spotted a school (the parents parking everywhere to pick up their children tipped me off.)  But no bank yet.

Boats in Dingle Bay

Finally after a lot of walking, we spotted the bank.  A sign on the door stated they would only do business if you had an account with them.  Despite the directive, we walked in and asked anyway.  Sure enough, the teller said we had to have an account even to break a 100 euro bill.  But she did mention that the credit union "on top of the hill" would probably be able to help us.

Fungie the famous dolphin

So outside we went trekking further uphill, scanning buildings for the credit union.  After walking for another few blocks, we discovered our time was starting to run out.  Kim and I knew we couldn't dally too much longer or we'd miss our tour.  Defeated, we turned around and started heading back.  Then two blocks later, we both spotted the credit union office - on the opposite side of the street!  We'd walked right past it.

Our walking tour begins

Happily, Kim and I went inside and asked the ladies behind the counter if they could break our bills.  These tellers were so nice, not only did they have no problem making change, as we were leaving one of them quipped "Have a good time spending it!"  I just love the Irish people's sense of humor.

Cute exterior decor

By then it was getting late, so Kim and I spied an adjacent street that appeared would lead us back to our meet up spot by the boat dock.  We flew downhill, me stopping to photograph a lovely church and Kim stopping to read a bunch of stars imbedded into the sidewalk (kind of like Hollywood's walk of fame, but on a much smaller scale.)  Despite a few touristy stops, we made it back to our group with a few minutes to spare.

Statue of crucified Christ

Pascal introduced a local man who was to lead our tour of Dingle town.  The first thing this guy talked about was the large dolphin statue set in a plaza overlooking the boat dock.  This sculpture honored "Fungie" a local dolphin beloved by the residents of Dingle.  This dolphin lived in the harbor and would playfully interact with the swimmers, surfers, kayakers, and boats traveling through Dingle Bay.  Fungie stuck around Dingle for nearly 30 years and was a local tourist attraction.  But in October of 2020 the dolphin suddenly disappeared.  No one knows if Fungie simply moved to another place or died.  The city of Santa Barbara, California is a sister city of Dingle, and they donated the statue of Fungi that now sits in view of the bay.

Somehow Kim and I missed this the first time!

Then our guide led us down the main drag of Dingle.  He pointed out notable shops and also the local Garda station.  (The police are called "Garda" in Ireland)  We followed this street to the same intersection that Kim and I had taken to find the bank.  And then, surprise, he turned on the secondary street we'd just walked.

The Dingle pub was cute

Our guide ended up following the exact same route that Kim and I had just covered.  We both laughed - our bank trip had been an inadvertent preview of the walking tour!

St. James Church

However, in our haste to find the bank, we discovered a couple of things we'd missed.  One was a huge sculpture of Christ on the cross with three women mourning below.  It was right at the back of the sidewalk.  How had we not seen this large, white statue the first time?  

Cemetery, St. James Church

Our guide took us past one of the pubs to an old stone church hidden behind.  

Such a lovely sky!

St. James Church was in a beautiful setting, with nice views of the adjacent hills, lots of trees around its yard, and a cemetery full of green grass and wildflowers.

Foxy Johns - pub and hardware store

We passed by Foxy Johns, famous for being a pub and hardware store combined.

St. Mary's Church

The last leg of our tour took us past the beautiful church Kim and I had admired while on our hasty return trip.  St. Mary's Church was a large, lovely stone building with an immaculately landscaped yard.

Beautiful interior of St. Mary's Church

The church's interior was absolutely beautiful.

St. Mary's Church steeple

Of course there were many more colorful doors for my camera to admire.  Here's one of my favorites.

More colorful doors

On the conclusion of the town tour, we boarded the bus for a short drive to our accommodations for the next two days.  Our guesthouse was located on the opposite side of Dingle Bay.

Milltown House - our guesthouse for the next 2 nights

Our group was split between two adjacent guesthouses.  Kim and I were assigned a room at the Milltown House, the main guesthouse.  

View of Dingle Bay from Milltown House

Having a bit of free time before dinner, I grabbed my camera and headed out towards the bay.  The light was fantastic.  I met my buddy Randy outside, also roaming around with his camera trying to capture it all.

Dingle Bay

What amazing views across the bay!  And such nice weather to admire the stunning scenery.

One of the two Irish wolfhound mascots

The guesthouse owner had two Irish wolfhounds, Seamus and Ogie, who acted as the mascots.  These dogs were huge!  But also very gentle.  

Such gentle giants!

Most of the time both dogs just lazed around outside.  I never saw them move much.

The dogs didn't do much but sleep

The Milltown house had lots of character.  Most of the guest rooms were upstairs, and three of the downstairs rooms had comfy chairs and lots of books for guests to relax and read.  One of the downstairs rooms was also outfitted with a full bar.  Before dinner our tour group relaxed here with a complimentary glass of champagne.

Happy hour in the guesthouse bar

Dinner was served in the sunroom - a large space with floor to ceiling windows.  It showcased great views of the bay!  

We had a most excellent dinner!

The food was fantastic.  We were told all the ingredients were locally sourced and each dish freshly prepared on the premises.  Dinner featured a buffet of salads, brown bread, seafood chowder and lamb stew.  And of course, an assortment of tasty desserts.  No one walked away hungry!

After dinner walk around the area

After dinner Kim and I took another walk along the bay.  

Dingle Bay towards town

The scenery was stunning.  The blue waters of they bay, tall green hills rising up from behind Dingle town, and blue skies with dramatic clouds.  Such a beautiful location and such great weather!  I couldn't stop taking photographs.

Dingle town view across the bay

I switched to my zoom lens and tried some close-up captures of the surrounding hills and opposite shore.

Zoomed in view directly across the bay

A wonderful setting for a guesthouse.  I felt lucky to be able to stay here.

Zoomed in view of the adjacent hills 

Lovely green, rock-wall-lined pastures

Our evening wasn't over quite yet.  An hour after dinnertime, we assembled back into the sunroom for a performance of Irish music by two local musicians.

Two musicians performed at our guesthouse

The woman, Niamh, had a beautiful voice and played a mean fiddle.  The man (forgot his name) played an assortment of different guitars.  He was okay.  When the performance was finished, I enjoyed the woman's music so much I bought one of her CDs.

Here's a video I got of Niamh's fiddle playing.

Afterwards, we had the opportunity to go back into town to watch some Irish dancing at a local pub.  But after such a full day Kim and I were tired, and opted for a mellow night at the guesthouse instead.  We each ordered a gin drink (we were encouraged to try the local gin) and sat down in matching leather chairs.  One of our tour-mates, a woman named Toni, passed by and remarked we looked like the hosts for Masterpiece Theater.  We got such a kick out of her comment that Kim asked another tour-mate, Debbie, if she'd take our picture.  (Debbie even managed to get herself in the image - look in the mirror!)

Our "Masterpiece Theater" photo

Kim and I sat up for awhile talking to Debbie.  She had been on a large number of Rick Steves tours and was a wealth of information.  It was interesting to hear about all the countries she'd visited and some of the things she had experienced.  Such an inspiration!  Got us both fired up to do more traveling ourselves.

Our first travel day drawing to a close, it was time for some shut-eye.  Tomorrow was another busy day, with a tour of the famous Slea Head Drive on the schedule.  Stay tuned for the next post to get all the details!