Dangling in Dingle
with Steve McCarthy
As the New Year approaches (and what a year it's been), I need to get on with our tale of our Epic Road Trip. Lessee, I left off in Doolin, drinkin' pints and listening to the best Irish music of the trip, if not a lifetime at McGann's.
Part of the Plan was to take a day to see at least one of the Aran Isles. The first thing we did after settling into our digs was to visit the local Tourist Board (Bord Failte) and see about tickets. "Nope, no tickets for the next day, sea's too rough, try tomorrow." And we did. Sure enough, we could book tickets for Inish Oirr and a cruise past the Cliffs of Moher. Perfect. So, after another grand night in McGanns, including dinner this time, and the now familiar stagger home in the dark, we were up early to get to the ferry port.
It had rained that night, but the weather was looking decent. Or as decent it gets in the West of Ireland. The sea looked a bit choppy, and there was a good wind, but the brilliant rainbow that led probably to the pot of gold we'd already spent was a good omen.
We lined up along the quay (pronounced, key) and boarded the tiny ferry. Going out, it was a good "D Ticket Ride" but not horrible. A short 20 minutes later, we landed on Inish Oirr and were greeted by a good dozen horse carts with old guys offering tours. Ten Euros each. Sure, why not. Help the local economy. We climbed in along with four Swedish ladies and off we went. Seamus, our guide, pointed out the usual stuff as we bumped along between rock walls that divided the landscape into a crazy quilt of small plots of land. Each had been laboriously made cultivatable by decades of bringing crushed rock and seaweed to form a kind of mulch. Talk about a hard life! The stone cottages dotted the landscape and the ruins of a castle loomed over all.
We trotted up to The Sight on Inish Oirr, the shipwreck of the MS Plassy, washed onto the rocks in 1960 and left to rust. It's a testament to the unforgiving nature of the Sea. It's also used in the opening credits of "Father Ted", the outrageously irreverent TV comedy. It island has other attractions as well. Ancient monastic sites, stone walls, an early Christian church, stone walls, limestone formations, and yes, you guessed it, stone walls. See http://www.aranislands.ie/inis-oirr-inisheer/ for more details.
There is also a great pub with good food. We grabbed the last two pasties and a pint of local beer and enjoyed the view of the increasingly hostile Atlantic. Yeah.
Our ferry back was to leave at 2PM, so we hung around the quay, just enjoying the laid back life of the island. Finally, our boat pulled in, and as we got on board, we were told "No trip to the Cliffs of Moher, too rough." That should have been a warning!
The weather really started getting rough, our tiny ship was tossed...The trip back was beyond an E Ticket Ride. I'd put it somewhere around an M Ticket. As in MOTHER #*&$@%! I have NEVER been in seas so rough. Some rogue waves launched us into what felt like a 90 degree plunge. I had to hank onto the seat, brace my legs and keep both Mari and me from sliding onto the seat across the aisle! Nobody tossed lunch, but a few were a bit green around the gills. By the time we got back, the pouring rain was blowing sideways in a wind strong enough to push us along. We got a refund voucher for the lost Cliffs of Moher part, headed back to town to cash in, and back to our rooms to warm up. It was GREAT! That night, it was back to McGanns for one last meal, a few pints, and more great music.
By the way, I don't think I mentioned how really small Doolin is. We had to drive eight miles to Lahinch to find the nearest ATM, and cell phone service was mostly non-existent. Same with the WiFi! The struggles of the modern world.
The next morning, we were off, headed along the Wild Atlantic Way. What a drive. Tiny villages, soaring cliffs, pounding seas. Everything you'd expect to see in the West. Just past Kilrush, we jumped on a ferry across the Shannon River, avoiding the traffic and dirty poetry of Limerick, then back to the coast for more spectacular scenery.
Now, our original plan was to see the Ring of Kerry. One of Ireland's top tourist attractions. Several people warned us off, saying it was crowded with buses and not as great as the Dingle Peninsula. Besides, to get to Dingle, there's one of The Great Driving Roads Ever, the infamous Conner Pass.
Just before the village of Camp, just past Derryquay and Derrymore, you bear right off the N86 and take the R560 towards Aughacastla. There are signs saying the trucks and buses are NOT allowed. The road has "GO MALL" painted on the surface. GO SLOW! It's a narrow two lane drive with some of the best views in all of Ireland. It's rugged, rock strewn, and about halfway up, there's a great turnout near a waterfall that has an incredible view. We stopped and ate the last of our Cheddar Cheese, some salami, and bread and enjoyed the view. What there was of it. It was, of course, raining.
From this point on up, the sign on this really narrow road said "Road Narrows Ahead." Yep, single track. Like in Scotland. By now, I was a hardened veteran of one lane twisty roads, and generally people headed downhill would yield to the uphill traffic. At the top, you can see both sides of the Dingle Peninsula. If it's not raining. Down we headed into town, and after a bit, found the Dingle Harbour Lodge, the place we'd booked for the night. Less of a B&B, more of a hotel, it was comfortable and the breakfast was good. Once we'd dried out and warmed up, it was off to find dinner. In Dingle, there are a lot of options, but we'd been told by Larry Wade, a fellow Road Tripper and E-Type driver that "Out of the Blue" was a must.
Out of the Blue is a seafood restaurant that serves whatever is fresh off the fishing boats that day. If the catch isn't too their liking, they don't open! And they have a huge sign, "NO CHIPS!" The didn't open until five, so we shopped a bit, finding some great stuff for us and family, then about quarter of, we dropped off our goods and headed to the restaurant.
It wasn't yet five, but we saw a couple go in, so we followed. "Have you a reservation?" "No." "Oh, sorry, we're booked." ARRRGH! The other couple were in the same boat. Disappointment loomed. I looked at the other man, and said "Share a table?" He liked the idea and we asked. Seems a table for four was easier to seat, and it was early so...
The other couple were from Idaho, very pleasant, and we ate the second best meal of our trip. This fish was amazing. The "menu" was a chalk board. We got a starter, main, and dessert. It was fish that we'd never had and it was wonderful. So, St. Serendipity was still with us. We didn't know just HOW with us he was until later.
Dingle is also known as a music town. Almost every pub has live traditional music and pub crawling is highly recommended. The first place we hit was John Benny's. No, not Jack, John. There we were, sitting near the bar, enjoying a pint. The place is one of the (sadly to us) renovated pubs, made cleaner and "nicer" for the tourists. On the wall were an assortment of shoulder patches from a variety of American police departments. You see a lot of this around Ireland. Most are east coast, attesting to the reality of the stereotype of the Irish Cop from 1930s movies. One however, caught my eye. "Pasadena Fire/Paramedic." Wow. Pasadena?
From here, it gets weird. REALLY WEIRD. See, my brother Scott was a Pasadena Paramedic. He died about fifteen years ago. OK, you say, so? Well, he got married about 1985 or so, and they honeymooned in Ireland. That's when I got to thinking. I showed Marianne the patch and she was just as stunned. Naw, couldn't be. I found a waitress who was a bit older and asked if she knew how long the patches had been there. She'd only been there ten years, so, sorry. I told her why I was interested. She was intrigued. The owner, however, had taken over the place only 15 years previously, but wasn't in. sigh.
The more I thought about it, the more convinced I was. After all, how many Pasadena Fire/Paramedics would ever visit Dingle? Only one way to find out. It was about 10AM back home, so we sent a text to my mom and to my sister, adding a photo we took with the phone (ain't technology wunnerful?). And waited. After another pint, we got a text back. THEY WERE BOTH FREAKED OUT! My sister was in fact, driving my mom somewhere. They had to pull over to the side of the road. YES, Scott and his bride had indeed spent a few days in Dingle. It HAD to be his patch! After all our trials and tribulations, we took it as a sign that, yes indeed, the trip was worth it. We'd paid a steep emotional price, what with the Triumph hors de combat, the missed connections, the having to adapt, keep calm, and carry on. Besides all the great things we'd seen, the wonderful people we'd met, this seemed to be the real reason for our trip.