On The Edge
WITH Fungie the dolphin’s success as an international attraction in the oceanic waters around Dingle, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me that the pulling power of little lambs would be harnessed along this famous peninsula in the Kingdom.
When we tripped across the homemade sign saying ‘Hold a Baby Lamb’, I ordered my driver, the oldest of my Pirate Princesses, to pull in. Frankly, I was aghast. Three euro to have your picture taken petting a lamb! (Well, you know what they say about ‘cute Kerry men’.)
Meanwhile, the middle PP, who happens to work as a tour guide, explained that there were also beehive huts – just like those in which the monks of Skellig Michael lived circa one thousands years ago – and a coffee shop at this ‘tourism farm’.
“Oh! So that makes it more culturally correct to exploit the poor little lambs for photographs,” I quip.
We were a few miles beyond Ventry village (home to the late Páidí Ó Sé’s famous pub) and at the ‘Ceann Sléibhe’ (Slea Head) Discovery Point along the Wild Atlantic Way. The farm and its 19th-century house, beehive huts and unsuspecting lambs were just across the road.
This is one of the most dramatic and historically evocative views along our wild west coastline. Rising out of a torrent of currents and white water are The Blaskets: An Bhlascaod Mór, Beiginis, Inis na Bró, Inis Mhic Uileáin (Inishvickillane), Inis Tuaisceart and An Tiaracht.
Peasantry to playboys
FOR those of us of a certain age, the resilience and humour related in the memoir of seanchaí Peig Sayers is easily evoked by this view. So too is the defining cultural narrative of Muiris Ó Súilleabháin and Tomás Ó Criomtháin’s books about island life at the turn of the 20th century and during those decades before The Blaskets were finally abandoned in 1953.
One naturally smiles wryly at the fact that the late Taoiseach Charles Haughey owned one of the smaller islands, Inishvickillane. Indeed, the juxtaposing of the yarns about wild parties held by the erstwhile chieftain of our country and the lives eked out by the inhabitants of the Great Blaskets is like a microcosmic chronicle of our fast-changing history during the last century. From peasantry to playboys, one could easily posit.
A vignette from 1947 says it all. The Blasket islanders had been cut off from the mainland for weeks because of bad weather and in desperation wrote to the then Taoiseach Éamon de Valera urgently requesting supplies, which arrived by boat two days later. Ironically, on a recent kayaking trip to Inishvickillane, a group of curious friends (who shall remain nameless) discovered, while peering through windows, that the Haughey house on the island still appeared to be ready for a good old shindig, with some rooms filled with bottles of booze.
BUT back to the present and last week’s odyssey. We continued on our loop of the peninsula and back to Dingle for coffee and cake in one of the many dinky eateries catering for the convoys of American tourists that thronged this relatively remote town on a balmy April day.
As a resident of another successful tourism honeypot, Westport, it is interesting to don the wide-eyed perspective of the visitor. Like Kinsale and Clonakilty, there was a more higgledy-piggledy ambience to the streets of the Co Kerry town. The buildings seemed older, the nooks and crannies less cosmetically created than in the planned west Mayo heritage haven.
Dingle exudes a sense of ‘independent republic’ and reminds this writer of that almost anarchic feeling one gets on those dramatic drives along the north Mayo coastline: standing at the Children of Lir sculpture overlooking Benwee Head.
Coincidentally, that is the location of another Wild Atlantic Way Discovery Point. From a tourism-industry point of view, the spectacular coastline of northwest Mayo is still one of the country’s best-kept secrets. It richly deserves Government funding for the infrastructure needed to ensure its isolated communities have a fighting chance of stopping the haemorrhage of depopulation and aging demography.
It too deserves to punch on an equal platform as a tourism destination in itself, and not just an outpost for the much-hyped town of Westport. That is, so long as its farmers never resort to selling the county’s northwest by offering up its lambs as cute and cuddly ‘four-legged leprechauns’. Then the price will have been too high.