Day 7: The Dingle Peninsula
My mother, our tour director, arranged for a coach bus and driver to take us to the Dingle Peninsula, the western most point in Ireland. It’s surrounded by water on three sides, and there are breathtaking views from every angle. Many Irish families have summerhouses in the town of Dingle, so it’s great jumping off point for exploring the rest of the peninsula. We piled into the tour bus at 8:30 a.m. when the coach arrived so we could begin our three-hour drive at an early hour.
We stopped in the towns of Adare and Tralee on our way to Dingle. Adare had several buildings with rustic thatched roofs.
We also stopped at one particularly lovely overlook for a group picture.
We decided to divide and conquer the town of Dingle upon our arrival. All of the younger folks (me, my triplet siblings, their significant others, and my cousin Meredith) shopped for a short while before stopping for lunch at a local pizza place called The Diner. We ordered far too much pizza and got free milkshakes to go with it.
To walk off our lunch we trekked down to the Dingle Bay, which offered gorgeous views of the water, the mountains and the marina. Like in Kinsale, there were boaters waiting for the tides to come up so they could take their boats out on the water.
We met back at the bus at 3 p.m. to make the scenic drive around the actual peninsula. Thank god we had a bus driver, because the roads in the Kerry region were the worst we’d seen and the land dropped sharply off into the water just next to the road. The roads are so tight that visitors are encouraged to only drive clockwise around the peninsula because it’s almost impossible to pass.
There are, however, strategically placed scenic overlooks along the way. On one overlook, the wind was blowing so hard my mom thought we were going to all be knocked over the cliff.
The next overlook was one of the most gorgeous scenes I’ve ever seen in my entire life—and believe me I’ve traveled all over the place.
Our next stop was equally as beautiful, and we got to climb around on the hill. The local sheep had the same idea.
On our way back from Dingle, we picked up some beer and Jameson at a gas station and decided to play a drinking game. Everyone had to drink whenever a cow (or trampoline) was sighted, which is pretty much every minute. If someone shouted “Cow!” and it was really a horse or a sheep, the rest of the car shouted, “False cow identification!” and that person had to drink. “Yonder cows” or cows in the distance, didn’t count. Only cows by the roadside counted for a drink. We enjoyed goading my Aunt Margie—who’s wound tighter than a wristwatch—to drink the giant Jameson and coke we made her just a little bit faster, because she kept spilling it all over Bart whenever we went over a bump.
Four hours and a bottle of Jameson later (with only two beers left in the cooler), we finally made it back to the castle—the bus driver was never happier to be rid of 13 Americans.
What do you do after 10 hours in a bus? Go on a pub crawl, of course. The village of Bansha is just steps away from the castle, and with only 200 residents, it’s a miracle there is more than one bar in the quarter-mile-long village. We started at Nellie’s, which was deader than a doornail on Friday night, so we stumbled over to O’Henney’s.
Ten or so locals littered the bar, and when Louis and Brian left the bar to watch the Reds game, any male within 15 years of our age range raced to take over their empty seats. They were twenty-somethings with a variety of backgrounds: a jockey who’d traveled to our home state of Kentucky to race and train against the world’s best and a soot-covered metal welder who had played as a full forward on the Tipperary county hurling team, which had recently won the national championship.
The win was huge for Tipperary because they had defeated four-time winner Kilkenny and stopped their winning streak. The Tipperary flags strewn about the countryside are testament to the pride the county has in its sports teams.
Meredith, Annie and I chatted with the boys for awhile before returning home to get some shut eye.
Day 8: Mingling with the Locals
My sister Annie’s old roommate Maeve O’Neill was born in Ireland in a small village called Kilcash, so on Saturday morning my mom, sisters Annie and Paige and I all decided to try and find the house Maeve grew up in. We traveled the one-lane roads to Kilcash and tried to guess which house was theirs. When we couldn’t find it, we pulled into a dairy farm and saw a woman coming back from a run. Annie hopped out of the car to ask her where the O’Neills lived. It turned out that the woman, Martha, was an O’Neill by marriage. She immediately invited us in for tea and biscuits.
We sat around her wooden table while she poured fresh milk from a bucket into a small pitcher and fixed us a cup of “proper tea,” as she kept calling it. It was warm, creamy and delicious. We told her stories of our travels across Ireland and Martha and her daughter Avery, who had just gotten back from an early morning pony ride, suggested places to stop on our way back to Dublin.
Afterwards, Avery took us to see the dairy farm, Maeve’s house and their 90 dairy cows. Mom, Annie and Paige jigged in front of Maeve’s house, and we met another one of Maeve’s aunts and a cousin who came over and introduced themselves. (Unfortunately, someone had unplugged my camera battery the night before while it was charging, and it died right before I could snap a photo of everyone.)
We headed into Maeve’s mom’s hometown, Clonmel. We walked around the M&S, the first department store we’d seen, rode the travelator (a combo escalator/elevator) and then had lunch at Eddie Rocket’s, a Johnny Rocket’s knockoff. One thing we’ve noticed is that the Irish REALLY like salad dressing. I had a blue cheese, apple and walnut salad, Annie had a delicious footlong hotdog and Paige and mom both got giant burgers. It was a tasty American-style meal.
On our way home we stopped at the local butcher to get steaks for dinner, and then Paige, Bart, Louis and I went to visit Ying-Yang , the horse Paige and Bart had befriended. He trotted right over to eat some of our carrots.
We returned home to get some R&R before attending the 7 p.m. Catholic mass. Most of my family is Lutheran, but my dad and sister Paige are devout Catholics so we usually follow their lead when it comes to services. We were all pleasantly surprised when the entire mass lasted approximately 30 minutes. As soon as it was over my mom announced that she’d be like to be an Irish Catholic, and that everyone must just be in a hurry to get to the pub.
My mom and aunt took over my kitchen duties for the night and prepared dinner for us all, although I did help Brian grill all our steaks. Everyone had been bitching about how long it took me to make dinner, but after my ma had spent some time in the kitchen she remarked to me: “I don’t know how you’ve been cooking in this kitchen!” “Amen!” I thought. Cooking for 13 is not an easy task, especially when you’re in an unfamiliar kitchen with strange appliances and dull knives.
It being our last night at the castle, we knew we had to polish off the half dozen or so bottles of wine we had left. The last drop was gone before we had finished dinner, so Meredith, Dad and I all headed to O’Henney’s for a pint as soon as we finished our meals.
When we arrived at O’Henney’s the crowd was celebrating nothing less than Mr. O’Henney’s 50th birthday and the pub was the most packed we had seen it. It turns out that the local undertaker is also the owner of the local pub. My parents are both funeral directors (and my brother is in line to take over the business), so we thought opening a pub next to one of their funeral homes in Kentucky sounded like a great idea!
We struck up a conversation with some of the birthday party attendees—a woman named Marie, her friend Maria, and Marie’s daughter, Niemh (pronounced Neve), who was acting as DD for her mama. Niemh was a student at Tipperary College and Meredith and I loved chatting with a girl close to our own age.
My dad, ready for a good night’s rest, was afraid for us to walk home by ourselves. To help us defend ourselves against what my dad called “the Bansha rapist” (a fictionary character, indeed), my dad offered up his flashlight. We could beat just about anyone down with that 10 lb. Maglite. Luckily when we walked home a few hours later, we didn’t need to use our weapon. Instead, we said a little prayer to Mary in the grotto right next to Bansha Castle, crawled into bed, and slept the Yankees to playoff victory for my boyfriend, Doug, who couldn’t make it on our trip.