September 2011 Passport Newsletter
Michael Patrick Shiels
Dingle Town, in County Kerry, is the westernmost village in the Irish Republic. To visit this sea-soaked fishing port is to immerse yourself in an Irish-brogued, picture-perfect spot that National Geographic once pronounced the most beautiful place on earth.
If you fly to Ireland, landing at Shannon airport, Dingle will be about 70 miles southwest. Just beyond Tralee, over the narrow Conor Pass Road, you will have a truly awe-inspiring view of Dingle Bay and the Atlantic far below.
Until that point, our most recent trip — in a tiny, right-hand drive car, driving on the left side of narrow roads — consisted of repeated alarms, dodging sheep, and navigating narrow — some say lethal — passages cut through cloud-shrouded, rocky mountain outcroppings. The experience may leave you in serious need of a pint. If so, you’ve reached the right place. Dingle’s many pubs are the delight of those who are “fond of the jar.”
Our preferred lodging in Dingle is in Robbie and Mary Griffin’s Tower View Inn, not for charm or picturesqueness, as there’s no tower or “character” furnishings; the inn actually resembles an expanded holiday cottage.
But its location on Dingle Bay is nothing short of magnificent. There are five good-sized rooms, not over furnished, but entirely comfortable. A backyard “farm,” complete with lambs, goats, chickens, ducks and a pony, is delightful, and the house’s position is predominantly open coastland with moderate greenery that includes a few startling pseudo palm trees.
Breakfasts are cooked to order and quite delicious. Dingle Town is only a pleasant walk away, and guided half- and full-day walks are available, as is fishing, cycling, riding and tennis. The Griffins are excellent hosts – welcoming and helpful, but not intrusive. Doubles, only about $115, including breakfast. Tel: 353-66- 915-2990. www.towerviewdingle.com.
A fine dinner in Dingle is not difficult to find. One of the best is at the Half Door Restaurant, where we tucked into seafood chowder, filet of cod with leek and white wine sauce, and pear-and-apple crumble with vanilla custard. Dinner for two, before beverage, about $120. On a second night, we concentrated on terrific oysters and lobster, and dinner for two came to about $140. John Street. Tel: 353-66-915-1600. www.halfdoor.ie.
Be sure to stop in at Dick Mack’s Pub, across from St. Mary’s Church on Green Street. The old pub occupies a space that first sold dairy products, tea and shoes during the day, but was a public house after dark.
Through the years it has retained its character through zero maintenance. No embellishments or food, just whiskey and porter. When you walk into the hushed room, don’t be alarmed; everyone turns to see who has come in.
At “half-nine,” the music starts in the Strand Street pubs such as John Benney’s and the Marina Inn. The local musicians and singers perform traditional sessions, and are rewarded with free pints. Everyone is welcome, and everyone joins in. Don’t miss it, even if you’re leaving Dingle the next morning and are determined to keep a clear head for the drive.