There is such a surfeit of culture in the Dingle region that if someone could process it, and distil its essence into some kind of chemical compound, it could service the yoghurt industry forever. If that seems like some fanciful notion from a recently bewitched visitor, then so be it.
Frankly, Dingle is a wonder, a small town in County Kerry that is effectively cut off from the outside world. One way in, one way out. Word hs it that not many robberies take place here. Where on earth would the criminals go? How would they hide themselves and their booty? And, sure, doesn’t everyone know each other down this neck of the woods, anyway, so what’s the point?
Over the years, people have arrived in Dingle and not returned from whence they came. The reasons for this could be as simple as the call of the wild, or it might be that, while during the summer the town is a magnet for swarming tourists, from October to May it lives at its own pace. Business people have the time to mull over the previous season with their friends and colleagues. The rush, push and pull of the town is replaced with an extended period of time to breathe and live, to take stock. The only time any amount of visitors come to the town during these vacant-lot months is in December (when the Other Voices music event is staged and recorded) and in March (when the Dingle Film Festival shakes the town out of its winter hibernation).
Such pace of life engenders thought and creativity, so it’s little surprise that the area is dotted throughout with art galleries and workshops. Indeed, crafts of all kinds are to be found in the region, and not always in the most obvious of locations. Some artists operate out of their own galleries, while others might somewhat more astutely use their homes as exhibition spaces. Some of these may be remote, but purchasing art direct from the artist is not only reassuringly old fashioned but also financially savvy.
Others still use the interior walls of cafés and restaurants by which to display their work. The latter in particular gives Dingle a distinct sense of a living cultural environment that can be – depending on your skillset and aptitude – woven into a working business framework. Well known business craft names such as Louis Mulcahy and Brian de Staic are based here, as are more traditional musicians than you can shake a fiddlestick at. Bona fide (so to speak) art galleries include the impressive Greenlane Gallery, the Irish Art Man Gallery, and Mazzland Art Gallery.
Yet it isn’t just the art that’s at the heart of Dingle, it’s the people. You go there, look around you and return home with a different perspective. Simple as that.
Three Places To Stay
Emlagh House Hotel: Situated on the outskirts of the town, this luxury country house manages the not small feat of combining indulgence (cashmere throws, Egyptian cotton sheets) with a persuasive and elegant personal touch. Opens from March 16.
Benners Hotel: Located bang in the centre of Dingle, this is the go-to place for an old world welcome, surprisingly spacious rooms that might be perceived as being a tad old fashioned but which actually are quite the charmers.
Dingle Lodge: This splendid accommodation comprises five bedrooms (maximum occupancy is ten people), three of which are ensuite/shower. With an enclosed garden – complete with hot tub – and a large living room area that is decorated to an extremely high standard, this is a top quality option for families and groups.
Three Places To Eat/Drink
Charthouse: Owner Jim McCarthy knows how to welcome his customers; similarly, this custom built restaurant seems tailor made to have a wide appeal. Local produce, fresh as Dingle Bay air, forms the basis of the superb menu.
The Half Door: Terrific seafood (the platter is outstanding) in possibly the prettiest restaurant in the south of the country. Owners Denis and Teresa O’Connor put their singular stamp on proceedings with panache, charm, humility and a strategic sprinkling of fuchsia blooms.
The Goat Street Café: Casual dining, relaxed atmosphere, informal food cooked perfectly – this place’s seafood chowder is a must on a chilly day. If you’re on your own, let your eyes drift to the walls, where the work of local artists is regularly displayed.
Five Things/Places To Go/See/Do
Gallarus Oratory: Standing on farmland on the Dingle Peninsula, and dating from (depending on the scholar) the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th or 12th century, this is a fine example of a Christian place of worship. Its dry-stone construction is totally waterproof, which means the structure is in almost perfect condition.
Other Voices: Recorded for broadcast each year during the first week of December, this has developed into the most interesting and intimate of music events of the past ten years. Oh, look – there’s Richard Hawley!
Blasket Islands: This group of Islands to the west of Slea Head was inhabited until 1953, when only 22 inhabitants remained. Still uninhabited, visitors can take a ferry over from the mainland to view what is an inspiring example of raw, unfettered beauty.
Dingle Film Festival: Takes place every year in March (see website for further dates/details). The line–up includes documentaries, features, and a strand of Ireland-related films.
Conor Pass: This rugged, twisting road links Dingle on the south to Kilcummin on the north coast at Brandon Bay. It crests at 1,300 feet above sea level, and the views from this vantage point are marvelous.
Coffee spot: Murphy’s Ice Cream. ‘Made with love in Dingle’ is the tagline for this excellent little ice cream parlour/coffee bar. Founded by Sean and Kieran Murphy, this is a gem of a place to kick back, indulge, and read the first chapter of a book you’ve wanted to start for ages.
Hotspot: Dick Mack’s Bar. Quite the most singular pub experience you’ll arguably ever have, this is a time-warped place par excellence. The décor? Think old cobbler shop chic mixed with Harry Potter’s local, The Hog’s Head.
Shop Spot: If you’re looking for a few records to bring back home with you, it’d be no harm browsing in the Dingle Record Shop and/or Off The Record. Each compact store has hidden treasures, while the latter’s online store is even better.
For further details on Dingle-related attractions click here…
(This first appeared in The Irish Times, February 2010.)