It was a great way to study the psychological effects of the well-known mid-life crisis, which seems to afflict so many of us. Yes, there we were in Ireland, at the Dingle Skellig Hotel, with a beautiful view of the bay and the mountains. Sheltered from the Irish mist, but with a picture window on the bay, we learned from expert Jungian analysts, five of them, all renowned in their own way.But the psychological story is for another time and another place. It’s the Irish travel that you’ll be wanting to hear about here, and so you will.It will be hard to forget the expansive Irish breakfast that awaited us when we arrived at the Dingle Skellig Hotel, a rag tag bunch of sleepless Americans. There was fruit of all kinds, and three juices, coffee and tea, cereals, croissants and brown bread. The hot foods were Irish bacon, black pudding, “bangers,” scrambled eggs, poached eggs, fried potatoes, baked tomatoes, and porridge. Not for the faint hearted! (The same breakfast was available every morning.)
The town of Dingle is way out almost at the end of the Dingle peninsula, and a thriving town it is. Because it is the largest town in a beautiful area of farmland and archaeological sites, and the beginning of the stunning Slea Head drive, it has become a tourist destination. can report that it has many super looking Bed and Breakfast establishments, and from first hand knowledge, I can tell you that it has many good restaurants, several of which we tried. I also have first hand knowledge of the lovely craft shops. On the drive down from Shannon, where our Aer Lingus flight landed, we noticed with surprise that Ireland is indeed thriving, if the number of new homes (very stylish ones at that,) is any indication. In addition, there were many new factories and businesses visible from the road in Limerick and in Tralee. The new business boom is called the “Celtic Tiger” and has resulted from the highly literate young population combined with the investment of EEC funds. They say Dublin has the youngest population of any city in Europe. Most of these young seem to be in some sort of computer/internet business, or in the music business.
As we got further and further out of Tralee and started over the mountains that run along the spine of the Dingle peninsula, I began to relax into the calm beauty of the green fields and rock walls that pattern the west country. This is truly a meditative space, and one can see why the monks of old wandered way out on the peninsula to find hermits huts in which to leave the world behind. Among the interesting archaeological sites are the stone “beehive” huts of the hermit monks.
The other ancient inhabitants of this area built themselves ring forts, many of which are still very evident in the farmlands.
Sadly, most of the farmlands and national parks are closed at the moment, due to the fear of the spread of hoof and mouth disease. Please don’t let that keep you from going to Ireland, however. There is so much to see and so much to experience by interfacing with the charming, outgoing, articulate inhabitants of the Emerald Isle that you’ll be hard pressed to decide what you love most about it.
Our hotel made up in comfort and location for what it lacked in charming décor. All the charm was with the employees, a coterie of chatty, smiling, helpful young folks, who seemed ready to fulfill every need. The Dingle Skellig is on the Internet for any one who is interested. We had plenty of heat and hot water (a must at the early March time of year.) There were excellent seminar facilities, a good dining room, and an inviting pub where Irish folk music was to be heard several evenings.
This is the part of Ireland where the Gaeltacht, or Irish culture, is very much in evidence. All signs are in Gaelic and most people speak the language, which was dying out only one or two generations ago. The purest Gaelic was apparently spoken on the Blasket Islands, which are visible off the end of Slea Head. Many wonderful biographies have been written down by the last of the old Irish speakers to live on those islands. I have read Peig, and am now reading Twenty Years a Growing. They are stark evocations of the life of their time.
Through our leader, we were lucky enough to meet Monsignor Fenton, now a local priest, who was a former professor of Celtic Studies at Maynooth, a famous Irish seminary. He spoke to the group about Irish culture, taught us some Gaelic words, and told wonderful jokes on himself.
Our first dinner out in Dingle was unforgettable, and the full telling about it would take a whole article. It was at a charming restaurant named The Chart House,( firstname.lastname@example.org ) Suffice it to say that when we asked about a glass of white wine, for me, and a glass of red wine, for my friend, the delightful waitress brought us a bottle of red and a bottle of white, and told us to drink what we wanted of it, but no more than half of each. She was the owner’s sister, subbing for him, since he was a tthe hospital with his wife who was giving birth. Here we were in a cottage with blond furniture, raspberry walls and a lively crowd, and we ate a goat’s cheese soufflé, with tomato chutney, followed by a pannini of gravlax, roasted red pepper and julienned cucumber. Esther (that was her name) decided we might not be getting enough to eat, so she brought us a selection of vegetables, including broccoli and potatoes, and a fabulous shredded carrot and turnip braised in cream. (We had ordered only appetizers so as to have room for dessert, so, despite the yummy creamed vegetables, I managed a chocolate coconut cake, with homemade coconut ice cream.)
Now, you see, I’ve gone on too long. So, if you go to Dingle, look for The Chart House, and also Beginish Inn, another excellent restaurant, is well as Doyle’s, where I had fresh caught Atlantic salmon, and where I’d had fresh caught trout 25 years ago.
And I would recommend The Captain’s House for a Bed and Breakfast, as it seems to have gotten the best awards for the past four years. For me, this remote part of Kerry is a gem in a land of crown jewels.
Betsy Shequine is proud of her Irish heritage, and even admits to the old North Kerry surname of Kissane, sometimes translated from the Gaelic as Cashman.