We left Galway after five and a half glorious days and headed south to Dingle. It was the beginning of a long stretch where every night but two were spent in a different town – two in Dingle, one in Kenmare, two in Kinsale, one in Kilkenny, one in Wicklow and one in Dublin before the bird home. The problem is, I always have a certain amount of mild gloom and difficulty in a new place until I get oriented and get my wits about me. Changing towns every day makes it difficult to get through that, and more to the point, almost every one of these towns would reward a two-day stay. Dingle itself probably calls for about three: one night at the pubs, one day driving around the Dingle Peninsula, one day exploring the high street and the village generally, and then maybe an excursion to the Blaskets or similar. And this is a town of two thousand people. It’s smaller than the town I grew up in, and there’s three days worth of things to see there.
Halfway around the Dingle Peninsula, amidst the medieval beehive huts and stone forts and hairpin turns on single-lane roads, there was a village called Ballyferriter. There are two hundred stories in the naked city of Ballyferriter. And four pubs. We stopped into one that said it had a Star Wars Viewing Platform, intrigued – and found that its back patio looked across the water to where a huge set for Episode VIII had once stood last winter. Apparently the offseason last year saw the Lucasfilm crew spend four weeks building a replica of Skellig Michael, four weeks filming on it and four weeks tearing it down, and among the amusements it offered, Chewbacca turned up in person to visit a school full of kids playing the John Williams score on their tin whistles. Now the whole village is Star Wars fans, even people who cared nothing for movies or sci-fi. I told the friendly barmaid pulling me a glass of Beamish that “you folks better be ready for more crazy tourists than ever before.” As a pilgrimage site for the Comic-Con set, you could do much worse.
We also visited the famous Foxy John’s Pub in Dingle, which is a public house and a hardware store. It serves both as long as it’s open, so if you need a hammer or to get hammered, as long as the door is open you’re fine. Huge crowd in the front room with the saws and nails and such, and then a pleasant space with tables and chairs (big comfy chairs!) near a roaring fire, and then yet another covered patio outside for the smokers. And the thing in Ireland is…everyone goes down the pub. Men and women. Young and old. Every demographic. You smoke, you don’t, you drink, you don’t – the public house in Ireland dates from a time when you needed that common space not just for social interaction, but for things you didn’t have in your own home. Like television. Or electricity. Or heat and light, if you go back far enough. (Some parts of Ireland weren’t electrified until the 1970s.)
The other notable thing in Dingle was the distillery. It opened five years ago, started making whiskey, and laid it down to age – and then kicked off making gin and vodka in the meantime. If you want to be a craft distiller, but don’t have three years and a day to wait before making profit, gin and vodka is the way to go, and Dingle’s gin is a rare old spirit indeed with tons of local botanicals (fuchsia, bog heather and the like. I also had a taste of the raw whiskey before it’s cut and barreled – it was roughly 164 proof, the strongest thing I’ve ever tasted in my life, and amazingly even at 82% ABV it still had a certain richness of taste that let you know “there is a very smooth whiskey waiting under here for you in 2020.” And to see a genuine Irish distillery – not an exhibition center, not an “experience,” but actual stills and rickhousing and mash tuns – was a great experience even if I don’t drink that much whiskey any more.
Kenmare was a delight in its own way – an amazing snack dish at one pub with the softest pint of Murphy’s you’ve ever tasted, followed by a dinner at the Coachmen’s with Ireland’s best accordionist, so-called, followed by a diversion into yet another pub with a full pint of Smithwick’s to watch Ireland take on Wales with a bunch of other folks riveted to the screen. And Ireland won through, 1-0, with the kind of more-guts-than-goods victory that you used to expect from the United States. If we can pillage Martin O’Neill to rebuild US Soccer, I will pay whatever it takes. And then the walk home by the river with no streetlights…and it was quiet. Dead quiet. No light but the night sky, no sound but a gurgling brook, and you start to realize just how rural the West of Ireland really is to this day, and how much I apparently do have a predilection for running water nearby.
Kinsale was another picture-postcard-perfect town of what, maybe 2500 in town and 2500 in the outlying areas? With five churches, five bookstores and twenty-five pubs. I lined up Guinness and Murphy’s and Beamish and sampled all alike (sadly my palate isn’t sophisticated enough when they’re all fresh from the local brewer. THEY’RE GOOD BEERS BRENT.) and we wound up buying deep-cut crystal worthy of the bottle of Yellow Spot on my drinks cabinet. But this is where my wife’s genius kicked in: we’d booked a room at a spa hotel instead of yet another B&B, because by this point we needed a vacation from the vacation. A couple nights of room service and a huge bed were perfect. (Ireland likes a firm mattress, too firm in many cases, but the weird electric shower thingy definitely gives you hot enough water.) And I was able to watch a little TV. I saw the Angelus rung before the Six One News on RTE. I saw wall to wall coverage of the 2018 budget interrupted by news of the California wildfires. And I was persuaded more than ever that what passes for “news” in the United States has a lot to answer for in how we got to this point…of which, as they say.