I have learned a few things about Ireland in our first month here. Most people are friendly and everyone seems glad to be here. People often refer to our surroundings as “god’s own country.” There are many signs of prosperity, even a construction crane in Dingle. Restored houses dot the peninsula, usually with well kept gardens. There are abandoned stone houses, but few abandoned storefronts in town, and no charity shops.
I’ve learned that life in Ireland can be very different even for people of the same age. I spoke to a young woman cutting hair. She was just back from some months working in Melbourne and plans to return to travel. We talked about what Australia was like and what she saw while she was there. New Zealand was one of her favorite stops along the way. She returned to Dingle when she heard there was a job opening–she has an excellent family grapevine in the area.
I spoke to another woman of about the same age who said she was not from the area. I asked where and she said, “North Kerry.” That means the other side of Tralee, maybe an hour’s drive away. She and her husband moved to Dingle for his job. They have two small children. Her friends and family look at Dingle as terribly remote because of the narrow roads. Tourists singing the praises of Dingle don’t impress her at all. “Why do you live there?” ask her family. She said they don’t see her family much, often three weeks between visits. I couldn’t tell her how close to her family that seems to me, since I see my family twice a year, maybe three times. She would think me heartless.
We’ve walked all the beaches on the Dingle Peninsula that are more than a few meters long.
Our beachcombing has been a pleasure and we’ve enjoyed the wind and tides. Though Dingle is very popular as a vacation spot and the town is full of visitors, we often had the beaches to ourselves.
On the right is Coumeenoole beach, where the movie Ryan’s Daughter was filmed. That was in 1970, but apparently people still visit to see the location. Much of the coast is rocky and steep, another reason that in a month we managed to visit all the beaches.
There are spectacular clifftop walks. We spent a morning at Brandon Point, looking out over the Atlantic. “Next stop, Boston,” joked a hiker we chatted with in the parking area.
Overlooking the sea at Brandon point are abandoned houses that may date back as far as the famines that began in 1841.
Archaeological sites are thick on the ground. Since everything is built of stone, my colleagues must tear their hair out trying to figure out which comes first. Everything from the Neolithic (8000 yrs ago or so) to the early 20th century is built of the same stone. There weren’t a lot of household goods, so there aren’t a lot of castoffs and broken pieces lying around. The pottery pieces that archaeologists rely upon to tell the age of a settlement are long gone or buried. We visited only a fraction of the 1200 or so archaeological sites on the peninsula, but we have enjoyed the fact that there is often an informational sign on sites even when they are not marked on maps. Many sites are melting into the fields, but how many stone enclosures can a person visit? How many can be restored when they all look alike?On Brandon Point, peat is still cut for fuel. The hillside is scarred from digging and someone had just set aside their tools, a peculiar peat shovel and a fork used to spread the peat blocks to dry.
In addition to the abandoned farmsteads and peat-cutting on Brandon Point, we’ve seen Ogham Stones, early Christian crosses, monastic settlements, beehive huts and many historic houses that collapsed in place after the famines drove people away. When the population of Kerry was over 293,000 in 1841, there were tiny farms everywhere. In 2016 the population of Kerry was 147,500. I have trouble imagining double the present population with no automobiles.
We will miss the lovely view from our living room, yet we are on to another adventure. We head to Bundoran, a summer holiday town on the west coast of Ireland in the north, nearer to Belfast than to Dublin.