Prerecorded in Ireland – Day 4 (Again) – Dingle

26 Oct

Location: Dingle, County Kerry, Ireland
Population: 1,920
Accommodation: Pax Guest House, Dingle

So we’re having another day 4 in this trip because I can’t count.

Day 4 was about the time we decided to throw away our itinerary. It was causing issues. We’d hoped to do some water-based activities while we were in Dingle but Hurricane Irene wasn’t having it and no matter who we asked or attempted to bribe no one but no one would take us out on the water.

With the day forecasted to be rainy and windy we opted to switch things up and take a little road trip to the nearby Killarney area for some activities that really weren’t weather dependent.

We got up early and headed out to the grocery store before breakfast. This trip to the grocery store ended up being one my favorite little bits of the trip. It was early, barely 8 a.m., and Dingle was just getting to work. There wasn’t a soul around unless they were heading to school or work or just coming back from the fishing docks. I felt like we were peeking in on the real Dingle, while all the other tourists were still in bed.

There was a little red headed boy kicking rocks down the sidewalk on his way to school – private school uniform and all. There were a pair of fisherman walking up the street, still with their waders on. A farmer drove a tractor down the main shopping street. Everything else was perfectly quiet.

When we strolled into the grocery store looking for picnic items we were quickly reminded this was Gaeltacht territory – basically areas of Ireland where Irish is still spoken, used in all road signs, etc. We’d managed okay on the roads the day before quickly learning the Irish words for “caution” “slow” and “stop.” The words for “cheesy snacks” and “pre-packaged salami” were not familiar to us though.

After a bit of wandering about and a brief “please help me find salami” encounter with a stockboy we had ourselves a still-warm loaf of fresh bread, a block of aged Irish white cheddar and a package of salami, capacola and prosciutto. It rang up for just 9 euro. During our planning we’d come across a lot of “Ireland is so expensive…” complaining so I about did a jig for 9 euro. Fear not, future travelers, it isn’t that expensive! (Just this past weekend we grabbed the same 3 items at the local grocery store (minus the proscuitto, it was too pricey) and it rang up at $17. Can I go back to Dingle now? )

We headed back to Pax House and had another wonderful breakfast then grabbed our coats and picnic and hit the road for Killarney.

Killarney seems to be one of those love-it or hate-it Irish places. We’d read horror stories of wall to wall tour buses and masses of American tourists and other things we were avoiding like the plague. But we drove through and really, it wasn’t that bad. Probably because we were traveling in the off season. We did take notice that everything in Killarney was maybe just a bit too polished. It lacked the grit of a real town. Like Disneyworld. That’s just our assessment based on a drive by though.

We arrived at our first destination easily and without getting lost. Victory was ours.

We were in Killarney National Park, smack in the middle of the Kerry Mountains. Joy or joys, fall arrives earlier in Ireland and the trees were already starting to burst with color. I was having a real “are you kidding me?!” moment. I get to be in Ireland and see fall color?!

We’d come to see a few things here – Muckross House (a large tudor style mansion), Muckross Abbey which is a ruined abbey founded in the mid-1400s, a waterfall, and a trail promising mossy goodness.

We parked, grabbed our gear and headed up to what looked like a visitor center but turned out to be a cafe-like-thing stuffed to the brim with aging Americans. It was like a nursing home with a souvenir shop. As I waited in line to use the rest room I looked up the line. Then I looked down the line. I was the only woman in line under the age of 80, I promise you.

Anyway. We walked back out and found a sign pointing to the actual visitors center where we wanted to pick up a walking map. But I’d forgotten my hat in the car. So Zac ran allll the way back through the parking lot to get it for me. Good man.

Quick jaunt over to the visitor center, got the map, map points….allll the way back through the parking lot, right past our car. Sorry husband.

We set out along the paved path toward the abbey and in less than a beautiful fall mile, we were there.

I was amazed at how mystical the place looked in the fog and low hanging clouds. The abbey and surrounding grave yard were much larger than I had expected.

We opted to just walk around the exterior once to start and then have our picnic before exploring the inside.

There wasn’t a soul around so we spread our blanket out under an ancient-looking yew tree and enjoyed our picnic with the abbey towering over us.

It started to mist heavily – heavy enough to call it raining but the rain was really fine so more of a mist…Irish rain is hard to explain – but the yew tree was thick enough that we weren’t feeling it at all. So we sat eating our food, sharing a few cans of hard cider and being wowed by how awesome the whole thing was.

Once we packed up our gear we headed for the inside of the abbey. If I’d been surprised by how big it was outside, I was shocked by the inside. There were numerous rooms, ‘hallways’, stairs. Plaques and stones marked tombs (tombs? graves? crypts?) from the 15, 16 and 1700s. All of this in a towering stone building with no roof left, windows 3 stories high, a light mist falling. It was magical.

You know those scenes in Disney movies where the two pre-teen explorers discover something magical and they stand in the middle of it with their hands at their side and turn a circle real slow, looking up around them, their mouths hanging open and they say something intelligent like “Whooaaa. What is this place?” Well that was us.

Soon we found a narrow spiral staircase with steps so warn they sloped downward in the middle. There was no handrail. It was the scariest looking thing I’d ever seen.

Zac said, “Come on!!” and scrambled up the stairs before I had time to protest. I slowly made my way up and was thankful I did because it was beautiful and open and the trees were poking in through the old windows. Looking through the narrow old window openings framed old Celtic crosses and bright orange trees. It was awesome.

Then Zac found more stairs.

They were narrow and worn and built up against the wall. The other side was wide open. Just waiting for someone to fall off. Up he goes…like it’s a totally normal. Like they aren’t worn cement steps wet with Irish mist.

He instantly declares it’s awesome and that I must join him. I refuse.

We proceed to argue in a 600 year old abbey. (Nice arguing of course, not like ‘feck you’ arguing.)

I am not climbing those stairs.

You’re going to miss the view. What are you worried about?

This would be the first of many times while exploring that Zac asked what I was worried about. What was I worried about?? What. Was. I. Worried. About?!?! Falling to my death, dear husband!! I was worried about falling to my death!

He eventually got me to climb the damn stairs. Slowly.

Guess what was at the top of the stairs, through the little doorway.

More fecking stairs.

I parked my ass and declared I was going absolutely no further. So I sat on the top step and he was right, the view was awesome. Over the tops of the abbey walls you could see across the yard of crumbling, leaning crosses, over the tops of the bright orange trees and it was beautiful.

Zac climbed around some more and explored his way half way up the old bell tour before I started yelling about insurance premiums and my inability to carry him if he broke a leg.

We explored for a good hour or better, poking around the little rooms and through the dark passageways. Now and then a pair of people would walk in, glance around and move on. They had no idea what they were missing.

Sadly the inner area of the abbey which surrounds an even older yew tree and has many beautiful arches was blocked off for ongoing preservation work. Disappointing, of course, but you can’t hate on the preservation efforts…I’d like to think of children will see our pictures and plan their own trip someday and who knows how long these structures have left to live if no one reinforces a few walls now and then.

When we made our way back outside we spent even more time walking around the grave yard, looking at the ornate designs on the crosses, reading the fading dates carved in the stones.

At one point I nearly fell in a crypt. There were a handful of them throughout the yard where a small set of stairs is dug in, level with the ground, and goes about 6 feet down to a crypt door. With the grass and ivy and flowers covering everything, they weren’t exactly easy to spot and I nearly tumbled down the little set of steps. Have mercy. That would have been a real Disney-movie moment. A talking black cat probably would have been waiting for me at the bottom.

In another spot I was telling Zac I couldn’t believe how close together some of the old plots were and I was wondering out loud how they got all these people in here. I took a few more steps and the ground beneath me felt funny. I stood still, tapped my foot, cocked my head, tapped my foot again. Then I whispered, “Holy shit Zac get over here!!”

Why do I feel the need to whisper at cemeteries?? Is that just me??

Zac came to where I was and I told him to tap his foot. So Zac stomps his foot. It echos.

“Holy shit!!” He shrieks. “Why are you still standing here?!” he hisses as he pushes me father down the way.

The ground was hallow. Super hallow. Like tap tap tap your foot and listen for the echo to come back to you. Cloudy sky, light mist, orange trees, hallow grave…yup, that was the creepiest, coolest day ever!

When we’d had our fill of abbey exploration we headed back the way we’d come. Not far along there was a sign pointing out two options – the paved walking path we’d come on – or another direction which pointed into the woods and listed the same final destination, just about twice the distance. Feeling like real adventurers now, we picked the long path through the woods.

It wound through the forest, as green as it could be, and everything that held still was covered in deep green moss. The farther in we went, the mossier it got. Eventually we reached the edge of a lake with gorgeous mountain views and we veered away from the path to get a better look.

From there, an old stone staircase and wall caught our attention. What was it doing out in the woods? Just a set of rough, worn stone steps and a long, narrow stone wall. We decided the friars who has inhabited the abbey must have used it for defense, to spy on invading forces that might come in via the lake. Duh.

We poked about and then came upon a trail. Was it the same trail we’d veered off of? Or a new trail? Crap. Then the rain started to come in harder. Zac jogged off down the trail – back the direction we’d come from – to find a marker and see if it was the same one. I stood at the edge of a cliff, enjoying the rainy view out onto the lake. He’d been gone about 45 seconds when the wind and rain got so intense I had to crouch down and cover my face.

So there I am, in my waterproof jacket, hood up, gloves on my hands, crouching along the moss covered ground, arms over my head yelling “What the feck is this?! What is with this fecking country?!” Zac comes running back. He’s winded. “Oh good,” he breaths a sigh of relief, “I was going to be pissed if those gust blew you over that cliff.”

The wind and rain stopped as soon as they’d started. And here I thought the weather changed suddenly and drastically in St. Louis. I mean, I’m from a place where you use the air conditioning and the heat in the same afternoon and even I was dumbfounded by the whims of Irish weather. Zero to hurricane in 15 seconds, I swear.

Thankfully, the trail was the same one we’d been on and we headed on our way stopping often to admire the lake views or wow over the moss covered everything. It truly looked like a hobbit could pop up at any minute. So many things we’d seen looked like something out of a Harry Potter movie. This was one of many afternoons when I fell into a pattern of just saying “Wow. Wow. WOW! Oh wow!” I sounded like an idiot but it was just my natural reaction. “Wow! WOW! WOW!!

Eventually we found ourselves back at Muckross House. We’re not much for old houses that have been restored and stuffed full of Victorian furniture. Blech. But we do love colorful foliage and the whole side of the house was covered in brilliant red ivy. I had to have pictures. But the rain was back and it was too heavy of a rain to subject my cameras to.

So I told Zac to bust out one of our disposable ponchos and hold it over my head and the camera like a little camera tent. He agreed, seemed easy. Of course he gets it over my head and we’re just about set and wham – here comes that Irish wind again. Suddenly I am under attack. 12 square feet of thin blue plastic have surrounded my head and I cannot get out. I am an advertisement for why you do not put grocery bags in cribs. My arms are flailing, I’m shrieking and stomping my feet (you never know – it could have helped) and Zac is pissing his pants. I free myself from the thin blue prison of the poncho just in time for the rain and wind to die down.

We moved over to the other side of the house for more photos and a similar scene was repeated when the wind kicked up yet again. There’s a strange blue cast to some of the photos : )

And just like that, the sky was blue again…(just like the poncho in my nightmares.)

From here we went back to the gift shop and did some shopping for ourselves and family for Christmas. Now, in Ireland (and other EU countries) prices include Value Added Tax. If you are not an EU citizen and are exporting the goods, you are due a refund. You collect this by having sales people swipe a card at check out. It collects your refunds and you get them back later. We were spending a good hunk of change here, so of course I want my VAT refund. But I can’t find my card.

“It’s in the car,” I apologetically say to my husband. You know, the husband who has already run allll the way to the car for me once. Needlessly.

Off he goes to find my VAT card. Twenty minutes later he returns. Couldn’t find it anywhere. So the cashier gives me a new one. On the way to the car I reach into my coat pocket…there’s that VAT card! Good thing our B&B room as a sofa for me to sleep on…

Our next stop was Torc Waterfall, also inside Killarney National Park. We left the car at the car park and started hiking up to the falls. Just past the car park was a rocky stream – practically a waterfall itself – that was really pretty. I kindly ask a woman to take our photo and she agrees. I return the favor. We all do the smile and thank you bit and as they walk away Zac reviews the photo on the back of the camera. No water in sight. This woman has miraculously managed to not get a single drop of this entire water fall in the photo. I’m framing that one…

When we finally reach the waterfall it is amazing. Gushing, roaring and much bigger than I expected. That it is surrounded by trees and rocks covered in moss makes it even more magical.

Headed back to the car we declare it the coolest day in the history of days. I don’t know that a blog post or photos or silly stories can convey exactly how cool it was. It just was. But I can tell you one thing –  to do Ireland on our own time, at our own pace and with our own car was the best decision we made. Stressful? Expensive? Months of intense planning? You bet.

But getting to explore ruined abbeys and mossy trails and waterfalls alone, with no one else in sight and no where else to be was worth every penny and every moment we thought we were going to die on those narrow ass roads.

It can be as intimidating as all hell to suddenly be sitting in an airport parking lot with a foreign car and foreign currency, reading signs in a language you don’t speak with a cell phone that doesn’t work. But if you’re thinking about having yourself an adventure, just get over it and go. I wouldn’t do it any other way and this day was the perfect example of why.

On the way back to Dingle a miracle happened. The skies parted and the sun shone down! We had a lot of days like this, mostly cloudy but with breaks of perfectly clear sunny skies. I decided that this must be why it rains so often in Ireland: Because it’s always beautiful. In the clouds and rain and wind, it is the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen. When the sun shines, it’s almost too beautiful to handle.

We stopped here and there to take in the view and mostly just gawked in amazement as we drove back along the coast…WOW! Wow. OhmagodlookoverthereWOW!

When we got back to Pax House we made a bee line for our patio. This is why we’d splurged for the extra big room with the sea view!! We cracked open a few more cans of hard cider and kicked back on the patio and watched the sun shine on the bay and the green hills. Perfect. Absolutely perfect.

And what makes a great situation even better? A dog!!

Rio the resident dog came to hang out with us, so we played a good game of fetch. Then a resident chicken came over to see what was happening and I ran for the door. I don’t do birds. Unless its roasted and on a plate, I really, really don’t do birds. I think its because I watched “Birds” the movie on TBS once when I was like, 10. Never forgot it.

When the sun was sinking we got cleaned up for our dinner date : ) We had reservations at Out of the Blue – a raved about sea food restaurant right across from the fishing docks in Dingle. Whatever is caught that morning is what’s on the menu that evening. If it’s stormy and boats can’t go out, the restaurant doesn’t open. Simple as that. We stolled around the area and may have stopped for pre-dinner drinks : )

Our menu arrived via giant chalkboard, which was pretty neat. Thankfully the seafood lived up to its reputation! I had Pollock encrusted in potato, super yummy. Don’t know why I haven’t thought to batter up my fish in hashbrowns before! Zac had something that looked at me throughout dinner.

The meals came with a big selection of salads – all different kinds and just small servings of each. I don’t know what half of them where, but they were all yummy!

After dinner we walked around town a bit, stopped at Murphys for ice cream (again) and then decided to have a drink at Foxy John’s another of those half this/half that pubs. This one is half hardware store, half pub. When we walked in the door, all 5 heads at the bar turned to stare. All 5 very local, very Irish heads. Not a tourist in sight…could be good, could be not good.

We took 2 stools at the bar and ordered a pair of pints – Guinness for both of us. There was a football game on TV (also known as soccer) and everyone was watching, so we did too. Not long after we’d arrived the fellow next to Zac turned to say hello and offer his hand. It started out typical – Where ya from? How long ya been here? Where else ya goin ta be?

He asked, we answered. Every single guy in the bar watched intently and weighed our every word. They were clearly deciding if they liked us. We were deciding if we might be going to die. They were clearly not guys that worked at the Tourist Information Center by day, ya know?

Asked what we’d been doing in Dingle the last few days I replied, “Well, we came here hoping to fish but the weather hasn’t let us do that yet.”

Eyebrows are raised. Zac gives me a “good call” look.

“River fishing or sea fishing?” The question comes from the guy at the end of the bar. The guy who of the 5 is the most likely to kill us dead.

“Sea.” I say. “Didn’t know you had good river fishing around here.”

Much talk of brown trout follows. We’re gaining ground but not much. At this point, I’ll be damned if I’m going to chug that Guinness and run. I’m going to make me some fecking friends, damn it.

The guy who originally struck up the conversation starts to tell a story. Picture it now – he’s a big dude, rough around the edges, faded tattoo on his left forearm, hasn’t shaved in a day or two and has had more than a pint.

He tells us just earlier today he was driving down the main road in town…

And this American tourist – fecking tourist walkin right in de feckin road – gets pissed cus he tinks I drived too close to em. He feckin turns around and starts punchin my feckin Jeep!

Now stop right there. We’re Jeep people. We love our Jeeps. If someone punched my Jeep, I’d lose my feckin’ head. Here’s something we can connect on. We’re building bridges with Jeep love.

So I slams on me brakes and I puts it in park and I get out ma Jeep. I feckin told him, you feckin apologize right now. And I’m up in his face and he ain’t got nothin to say. And he’s a big guy, big is me, prob-lee strong is me.

-Guy half way down the bars laughs out a bar – Ain’t no body in this town strong is yew

Well any way, he wes strong. But he woo-ent apologize for net-in. So I starts to cussin em. He took of right den. Face all red…Good ting meh buddy was dhere too, tell meh it wahn woth da fight, chya know?

Now here comes the good part. The guy at the end of the bar, the one I mentioned before, chimes in. Takes a big swig of his Guinness, slams it down and says…

Oooh I fecking woo-ent let him walk away. I tell ya woot I feckin woulda done. I’d a hit em. I’d a hit em in es face and I’d a knocked him down. Dhen I’d a kicked em.  Dhen I’d taken a feckin torch and I’d a feckin burned his ass. Dhen I’da drug his feckin ass up to dah feckin’ cliffs and I’d a feckin’ thrown em to the sea…

Silence has fallen over the pub. Everyone stares at him. No one blinks. He stares back. Then the big guy says…

Well dats a bit a feckin overkill donchya tink?

Everyone laughs. He laughs. We laugh. What the feck else can we do, right? From this point on, we are all friends. We are asked at length about both the Cardinals and the Cubs. We discuss the shity-ness of American football and the manly-ness of Gaelic football and hurling and rugby. They tell us how Kerry (the county we are in) is going to crush those cos-mo-pol-ee-tan city boys up in Dublin next weekend.

Then the big guy asks Zac how we met. He asks how long we’ve been together. Then he says…

You got a reeeal chemistry dhere. I tan see et. Its really sometin. Sometin special. You shet write a book about et.

What?

You shet write a book about et.

I thought that’s what he said…

Ya got a real good wife dher. Real good wife.

Zac agrees, nods, says thank you. (He feckin’ better…)

No really. I mean dats a real good wife. Feckin great wife. She feckin drinks Guiness that’s a feckin great wife.

Another guy two stools down agrees. Ya, drinkin Guiness, that’s feckin great.

Whatever. After the Spanish guy, I was just glad a drunk man was loving me.

We stay a bit and chat some more and finish our pint. By the time we leave, they’re glad to have met us, they wish us well, tell us which pubs we ought to check out, where to buy our bait if we do ever get to go fishing in Dingle. We stroll out of the pub and walk down the road in the rain.

“Thank God you ordered Guinness.” Zac says.

“No feckin shit.” I say.

I wasn’t stupid enough to take out my camera and snap photo in Foxy John’s but I did snap this one of the outside the next morning…

We wandered our way back through Dingle Town – finally feeling after a couple days that we’d learned our way around – and popped in and out of several pubs with a variety of trad music. We sang real loud and we drank much.

Then we wandered a bit father and into O’—- pub. I instantly liked it. Where the other pubs had been warm and cozy, this one was very open, just like a big open square with a bar along one side. There were stools scattered all over, pulled up to tables or clustered together. When we ordered our pints and looked around for a spot the bar tended pointed out two stools.

“Open seats fer yah dhere” she motioned.

“Those ones? Right there?” Zac verified. She nodded.

So we wandered on up and took the only two empty stools, right next to the musicians. Right next to them. Like right, right next to them. We spent the next hour or so with a front row seat to an authentic Irish jam session. There was an accordion, spoons and other traditional instruments I can’t name.

(Notice the open seat in the photo below.)

Between songs, this fella chatted with Zac about where we were from and such.

(Side note – Zac actually purchased on of these whistles while we were in Ireland. Sometimes, we get drunk and play it. The neighbors love it.)

And the guy in the blue winked at me a few times. He was pretty cute : )

A newspaper clipping on the wall of the pub…and part of the reason I loved Dingle : )

It was just the kind of up-close, real deal, trad session we’d been hoping to experience but not counting on. I actually felt like that a lot in Ireland – I was hoping for some things but not really expecting them. Like painted buildings.

I wanted every Irish town, big and small, that we drove through to have those flat fronted brightly painted shop fronts. But I didn’t expect it because I thought there was a chance it was cooked up for tourists and only found in tourist hot spots. Again to my delight every single place we drove through (on purpose and because we were lost) had those painted shop fronts – and some of them were most certainly not touristy.

I was hoping there would be chatty locals mixing with tourists in small pubs but figured it was tourist legend. It was real.

I really wanted those green, quilted and rolling hills to surround me but figured the photos were just cleverly cropped and leaving out the ugly. But it was real.

I wanted the ruins to be isolated and free of other people. I imagined Zac and I exploring old castles and abbeys all by ourselves, with no one but the sheep. But I figured there would be a ticket counter, or a que to get in, or dozens of camera and fleece clad tourists milling around. But it was real, it was often just us and the sheep!

So anyway…that trad session was just another amazing moment and probably one of our favorites. At the end of it, one guy stood up and introduced the rest of the musicians to each other. They’d never even met! They were playing like they’d been together for years and they’d never even been introduced. Even better : )

And so ended our final night in Dingle. There was no silly adventure getting back to the B&B. We just drove back in silence and then I sat in bed and cried my eyes out because we had to leave Dingle.

But not before we spent one last morning attempting to purchase everything Dingle was selling…

Stay tuned!

4 Responses to “Prerecorded in Ireland – Day 4 (Again) – Dingle”

  1. betsy October 26, 2011 at 7:12 pm #

    absolutely beautiful pictures!!! so so glad I didnt know about some of these adventures while they were happening!!! you need to cover your walls in pictures of that gorgeous gorgeous country!!!

  2. Paul October 27, 2011 at 4:21 am #

    I’m not getting any work done with you 🙂 My heart is sore reading your stories and seeing your photos and it makes me more and more proud of my little rock on the edge of the Atlantic. Kerry is my favourtie place in the world. It is where I went on holiday as a child every year for two weeks. It’s where myself and my wife (and now our little man, whoooo!) make a trip back to when we get back home for a few days each year. It is also where I go in my mind when I get a longing for home. Thanks! Paul

  3. Maureen October 29, 2011 at 2:18 pm #

    I absolutely love your pictures. I was home at the same time as you. Watched Kerry get beat by the Dub’s in the football finals. That was an exciting match! I’m back in California now and your pictures and narrative take me home again. Can’t wait til next year to go again!

    You describe exactly why it is magical to be in Ireland and I can’t stop going back every year! :=)

  4. Dave Holbein November 12, 2011 at 10:01 pm #

    We were there about a couple weeks after you were in Dingle. I couldn’t agree with you more. The Irish were the friendlist people I have ever met. I will probably never go back because there are too many other places to see but Ireland will forever hold a special place in my heart.

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