Six Great Things To Do in Dingle, Ireland
By Ellen Federico
Tucked into the rugged Dingle Peninsula on the west coast of Ireland, local artisans are transforming nature’s bounty into handmade dreams. This once sleepy town is dancing a new jig with a fresh vibe. Consider these ‘must do’ things when next in Dingle.
Scenic gateways into Dingle are route 561 by Inch Strand, a gorgeous three-mile beach where surfers brave chilly waves below brawny mountains dotted with cottages, manor homes and grazing sheep. A rush of sea air whips off the Harbor with a thousand welcomes! Or, take the dramatic route 560 one of Ireland’s highest mountain roads through Conor Pass viewing lush valleys, ancient ruins and panoramic seascapes.
All roads lead to the revitalized colorful port town of Dingle buzzing with activity on six main streets veined in hidden lanes and streams all sweeping toward the busy Marina. Gulls squawk above charter boats returning from shoals running silver with mackerel, sea bass or ling. Bobbing sailboat masts poke at a cobalt sky as fishermen on the quays mend tangled nets with bone needles swift and sure. Marina parking is €1 per hour from 8am to 6pm, with free overnight parking. You can walk the entire town in a day.
Visit Holyground Farmers Market every Friday from 9am to 3pm on Strand Street. Purchase organic produce, baked goods, chocolates and jams. I met ‘Pickled in Dingle’ owner Marie Charland, a French Canadian who makes divine chutneys like Beetroot and Orange. Marie arrived 16 years ago and met her husband Fergal Murphy the owner of Ballydavid Honey. Marie poured Fergal a pint at his local pub and the rest is pickling history. See the annual 2018 Dingle food, wine, beer and market festival: Dingle food.
Behind the red door at An Gailearai Beag (The Little Gallery) on Main Street, home to the West Kerry Craft Guild is a treasure of sophisticated crafts made by local artists. Hermit weaver Sue Redican looms intricate designs on Great Blasket Island – dying fleece from wildflowers and plants. Peruse displays of pottery, woodwork, paintings, stitched fairies, jewelry, bees wax candles and magic soaps hidden in felted washcloths by Druid Priestess, Juli Ni Mhaoileoin. Most popular is Juli’s ‘Gratitude Spray’ with essences of lavender, rose, dandelion, nettle, and rosemary.
Another great thing are the artists who take turns running the shop and where I met Sue Redican who lives most of the year alone on Great Blasket Island. I asked her if she was ever afraid living on her own there? “Only when the tourists come in summer and camp overnight, I prefer the grey seals and birds, or my grandson.” You can visit Sue weaving on the island in summer by daily ferry from Dunquin Harbor, or view her wall hangings at the Blasket Heritage Centre. Hold the best of Dingle in the palm of your hands at An Gailearai Beag.
Even the ordinary becomes holy in Dingle. A great photo op is the gigantic ‘bullaun’ stone parked on Goat Street with holes worn in the top dating to the Bronze Age. Local driver Diarmuid Begley shares, “The stone was used to trick the English from knowing where the Irish were having mass. When folks put sand in a hole, mass was at the beach, when they put water in a hole, mass was by a certain stream. Clever buggers.”
Stroll across Green Street towards the bell tower of Saint Mary’s. Behind the church,
is a wonderful circular meditation garden inspired by the Tree of Life that leads to the Convent of the Presentation Sisters, now the Diseart Centre of Irish Culture. Visit the Chapel of the Sacred Heart with museum quality stained-glass windows designed by famed artist Harry Clarke in 1922 and commissioned by the savvy Superior Mother Ita for a mere 1000 pounds. My favorite is the image of Mary Magdalene witnessing the risen Christ.
A must see is the former Sisters Dining Room to view the massive wall Fresco painted by Colorado mural artist, Eleanor Yates in 2011. Her intention was to paint a large scale Last Supper embedded with local images. The Apostles themselves are all local men the artist found throughout Dingle with just the right face. Open Monday – Saturday from 10am – 4pm, admission is €3 per person.
Dine in the serene Global Village Restaurant on Main Street for modern cuisine with a touch of tradition. Seared local scallops on roasted cauliflower puree with carrot jam and cloud light mashed spuds is perfect harmony. Our waitress shares that the chef uses ingredients harvested from his own garden. The food and wine here are outstanding.
For a special handmade dessert step into the blue-sky shop of Murphy’s Ice Cream on Strand Street open 12 Noon – 10pm. Smiling Scoopers offer samples to help you decide which flavors to choose. Murphy’s ice cream is made from the milk of Kerry cows, local eggs, and a jewel box of fresh ingredients. Dingle Sea Salt paired with Caramelized Brown Bread is heavenly, for more adventurous palettes try refreshing Dingle Gin.
Savoring homemade ice cream while watching a fiery sunset mirrored in the glass calm of Dingle Bay is a delicious memory to mark in your great book of life.
Castlewood House, a boutique hotel nestled on the bay is a ten-minute walk into town. Husband and wife innkeepers, Helen and Brian Heaton operate the best hotel in Dingle prized for beautiful rooms with spa bathrooms and praised for an award-winning breakfast prepared by Chef Brian.
Inviting interiors are an eclectic mix of antique and contemporary furnishings with fresh flowers in each room, and a gallery of landscape paintings, adorn the hallways. I enjoyed a three-night stay in a harbor view room, where I could hear the ebb and flow of tides, and the rise and shine caws of seabirds each morning. A savored memory of Castlewood’s is the over the top breakfast feast.
Poached spiced fruits, breads, jams, cheeses and salamis, a menu of full Irish or Vegetarian hot dishes, omelets, pancakes, and fluffy porridge paired with brown sugar and Irish Whiskey drizzle. Rates start at €125 per night including full breakfast. Tip: Free parking on site, request water view rooms, and the dining room only serves Breakfast or Afternoon Tea.
Brick’s Pub, B&B and Brewery, seven miles west on Slea Head Drive in Ballyferriter, is where owner Adrienne Heslin is Publican and Brew Mistress of the West Kerry Brewing Company. Back in the 17th century it was not uncommon for women to brew barley ales and honey mead, hence the name alewives. Adrienne turns well water, yeast and botanicals into high-quality beer while surrounded by majestic sweeping views of the Wine Strand and “Three Sisters” cliffs where Star Wars, The Last Jedi was filmed.
The rich green façade of Brick’s Pub circa 1890 is also a charming self-catering B&B with a communal kitchen. High season rates run €90 per night. See rooms on website. Sitting in the lovely garden behind Brick’s the scents of wild roses and fragrant yeast from the brewery are intoxicating. Camouflaged in the untamed brambles are striking metal sculptures with extraordinary features. Adrienne is a trained sculptor by trade, in addition to her other impressive titles. In the shadow of pub and brewery this pioneering woman shares a bittersweet journey with a humble timbre.
I asked Adrienne how she ended up living on the edge of Ireland? Her face lit, “Love brought me to Brick’s! I met and fell in love with Pádraig Brick in ’92 in Dingle Town where I had lived since completing my Fine Art studies in Dublin.” What inspired you to start a brewery? “With the sudden death of Pádraig in 2001 I had no time for my artwork with running the pub and guesthouse, so I needed to channel my creativity. Through my love of cooking I contemplated the idea of starting a brewery in my art studio. I had a well for water, some savings and the space, it made sense.” What do you love most about living here? “The location has become my oasis. Natural beauty and my coastal setting along with the mountainous terrain are quite inspiring. “
That evening I claim a stool at the well-worn full liquor bar and sip Blue Rose Pale Ale, crisp and dry with mild notes of rose hips and blackcurrant. An excellent ale that tingles my toes. Candles are lit on tables and window sills. A wood fire crackles in the brick hearth as Local’s trickle in, some carrying musical instruments taking familiar seats in a corner. More musicians and seasoned travelers arrive as Adrienne greets them all like family. Taps flow with fresh brews and spirits lift as music fills this enchanted pub. Brick’s bubbles with life as a testament to Adrienne’s hard work and bold dreams. Call ahead for a tour of the brewery and sample West Kerry Classic Beer in fruity dark, or pale ales. Tip: Live open music sessions on Friday nights at 9pm.
The people who live on the Dingle Peninsula share an exquisitely simple philosophy of living in balance with nature. My favorite memory is with Diarmuid Begley, an awesome driver and keeper of secrets who grew up on the Peninsula. On my last day he pulls off the road and makes me squeeze a fuchsia flower until one drop of nectar falls to the ground, “God’s Tears” he says. This is what I love most about Dingle… everyone has a story. Holding the flower, I gaze out toward the roiling Atlantic Ocean and inhale a deep breath of sea air like a shot of happiness… it must be the Gratitude Spray.