Touring Dingle Peninsula
It was a Saturday when we set out by car to explore the Dingle Peninsula, perhaps the most beautiful place in all of Ireland.
We stopped for the views at a number of pull-offs 0n the road that meanders along the south- and west-facing coast.
The views were breathtaking, and although the day began with dark gray skies and rain, by afternoon the weather cleared and we shed our rain jackets.
Race Day in Dingle Town
When we pulled into Dingle Town late that afternoon, the ladies at the tourist office were uncharacteristically glum about our prospects of finding lodging for the night. They seemed a little distressed about our lack of planning.
We were aware there was a big cross-country foot race on the Dingle Peninsula that day, starting and ending in Dingle Town. Runners had converged on Dingle from all over Ireland and beyond.
We had seen ourselves the swarms of runners on the road, and at one point took a detour to avoid having to drive past them. Driving on the Dingle roads is challenging enough, and sharing the road with runners was unnerving.
But foolishly — at least the ladies in the tourist office seemed to think we were foolish — we assumed the runners would have all packed their gear and headed home by late afternoon. We had failed to realize that most of them were staying in Dingle for the night.
We found all of the tourist offices we visited in Ireland to be surprisingly uncrowded. Most visitors these days use the internet to make their own travel plans, and so they often bypass the tourist offices.
Perhaps as a consequence, the tourist office attendants we encountered invariably seemed happy to greet us and provide assistance, as if they’d been waiting for us.
One of the services the tourist offices provide is to call around town for visitors to find last-minute availability at approved, local B&B’s.
There is a hitch, however, for the B&B owner. In order to be placed on the tourist office call list, the B&B owner must agree to abide by a maximum daily fee schedule put out by the Irish Tourist Board. Those who charge higher fees are not included on the call list.
In Dingle Town, the tourist office was easy to find. It is located right on the harbor, in the town center. But the staff there seemed stressed in comparison to their counterparts in other towns. Availability of lodging, they explained, was scarce because of all the runners in town for the big race.
One of the ladies placed a couple of telephone calls. The best she could do, she told us, was a B&B we had passed earlier, about four miles up the road, well out of town.
Our Good Fortune in Finding Murphy’s B&B
Just across the street from the Dingle tourist office we spotted a place called Murphy’s B&B, right next door to a pub on the corner also named Murphy’s.
We also noticed a “vacancy” sign posted on the door of the B&B.
So, we left our car parked where it was, walked across the street, and rang the bell. A delightful and very pretty young woman in her late 20s answered the door. Cheerfully she said she had one room left, for the sum of $90 Euro per night — a bit higher than the Tourist Board maximum. She showed us upstairs to a very pleasant, spacious room in the back. We instantly agreed to take it. The vacancy sign came down.
One of us has a grandmother whose maiden name was Murphy, so that opened up the Murphy topic with our young hostess. From her we learned two things. First, the Murphy family who owns Murphy’s B&B is not the same Murphy family who owns Murphy’s Pub next door. Second, our hostess acquired the name Murphy by marrying into the family.
True Irish Spoken Here
We noted above the remoteness of the Dingle Peninsula. It juts out from the west of Ireland into the North Atlantic, surrounded by water on three sides.
Geologically as well as culturally, Dingle is really almost an island. It is connected to the rest of Ireland across a thin neck of wild, mountainous, sparsely-populated land.
Even Tralee, the county seat of County Kerry, seems a long distance away when you are out on the Dingle Peninsula.
Dunmore Head, on the western edge of Dingle Peninsula, not far from Dingle Town, is reputed to be the westernmost point in Ireland and, according to some sources, in all of Europe.
We would venture to say there are few places on this earth as beautiful and remote as the Dingle Peninsula.
For us, probably the most striking attribute about Dingle was that Irish Gaelic — not English — is still the native language there.
Somehow, over the centuries, the Irish language has held on in Dingle. Of course, virtually everyone speaks English, with a familiar Irish brogue. But when they speak among themselves, the people in Dingle speak Irish.
Everywhere in Ireland, road signs are printed in both Irish and English. It is a sign of pride in the Irish Republic. Among the older population in Ireland, most people were exposed to Irish language in school, even though English was their first language. Today, alas, even that tradition has broken down — few students now study Irish in school.
But on the Dingle Peninsula, it was our distinct impression, at least after an overnight visit, that Irish is actually the first and primary language spoken by the local people.
For example, the Catholic Mass on Sunday morning at Saint Mary’s Church in Dingle Town was celebrated in Irish.
Not only did the priest recite his prayers in Irish, the congregation’s responses also were spoken quite naturally in Irish.
Only the sermon, one of the bible readings, and some announcements at the end of the service, were in English.
To an English-speaking American, even one with Irish roots, the experience of hearing Irish spoken among ordinary people as their native language is strange, to be candid.
Irish sounds to the ear completely unlike English or for that matter any of the Latin-based languages such as Spanish, Italian or French.
We all know the Irish language is very much a part of Ireland’s heritage, that it was spoken by saints and scholars as well as ordinary people, over many centuries prior to British rule. But out there in Dingle, the Irish language is quite a living thing.
Mrs. Murphy Speaks Earnestly To Her Sons
On Sunday morning, after Mass and breakfast, it was time to check out of Murphy’s B&B and bid our farewell to Dingle Town.
We were greeted on this occasion by a strikingly handsome young man, who we quickly came to learn was the husband of the young woman who had let us in the day before. Like her, he was warm and natural as he accepted our payment for one night’s stay.
As he took the money from us just outside the kitchen, Mrs. Murphy herself, his mother, emerged from the kitchen. She also greeted us warmly.
Then an even better looking younger son came up the stairs, carrying a ladder and some tools. He was so handsome our hearts jumped in our chests.
Mrs. Murphy turned from us and without any strain at all began addressing her younger son in Irish. Her voice was the voice of a mother speaking to a younger adult son, soft and full of love and firm direction.
The handsome youth responded in Irish. The exchange between mother and son was completed in only a few sentences, all Irish. But it made a striking impression.
Both of those Murphy boys are as beautiful as any movie star. And they speak perfect Irish. Who could help but fall in love with them? We were smitten.