Sunday, July 17, 2016

Day 6: Slea Head

Wednesday, June 8

We enjoyed an excellent breakfast and then headed out to rent bicycles for the day’s travels.  The weather was good for cycling- cool and a bit overcast so we didn’t bake in the sun.   We took the coast road around the Dingle peninsula, and around every corner was yet another fabulous view- scenic farms, dramatic cliffs and ocean, islands off the coast and promontories.  
We made several stops.  The first was the ancient promotory fort of Dunbeg.  Like many such constructions, they aren’t really sure what it was used for.   We were welcomed however by a very friendly young cat named Chester, who accepted chin scratches gracefully and eagerly, and didn’t trouble himself to rise from his laid back position when we moved along.
Next stop was the Blasket Center, a center devoted to the Blasket islands, which were a last bastion of Irish culture and language in the late 19th and early 20th century.  A number of scholars went there to study the Irish language and learn about the culture- and in a slightly unusual turn of events wound up inspiring a number of the islanders to wrote their own stories, both in Irish and English.    In the meantime, the population of the islands continued to decline, as young people left the island for the mainland, or for America.   Somewhat to our surprise, we found that many of the Blasket Islanders went to Springfield, Holyoke and Chicopee Mass, which are very close to where my husband grew up.

In the 1950s, the population had declined to less than 30 people, and the Irish authorities decided to evacuate the island, as  it was no longer economic to provide services to the people living there.   We had learned about this from a beautiful and haunting song called the Islander’s Lament, by Irish singer/songerwriter Robbie O’Connell (about whom more will be said later).  
View of Great Blasket Island
The Blasket center also featured (surprise, surprise) a gift shop and cafe.  The cafe provided an excellent sandwich and really superior bowl of seafood chowder for our lunch.  Thus refreshed, we pedaled on.  The views continued to be spectacular.
One of the things we had known is that part of the latest Star Wars movie were filmed in the area. There was a certain amount of Star Wars related local promotion:
Our last stop was at the Gallus Oratory, which is a 1200 year old stone church- very small and entirely constructed of dry stone (not mortared)...yet it is in excellent condition and very little changed from when it was built.  We were quite impressed by the engineering of the structure- it’s quite clear that this type of masonry was a highly developed skill at the time.
We also passed on greetings from a co-worker of my husband's to the owners of the site- we had known that her family had emigrated to the US from this area, but it wasn't until our visit to the Blasket Centre that we realized that it was just one strand in the tapestry of connections between Massachusetts and the Dingle Peninsula.

By this time the sky was clearing and our accustomed sunshine putting in an appearance,  We boldly took the slightly longer trip back to Dingle - which wasn’t all that bold, as it was a difference of only 5-6 km- not terribly bad on a bike.  Despite my rental bike missing a few gears, we pedalled back over the low ridge and completed our loop, returning the bikes.   Only a little tired in the legs and numb in the nether regions.  
We strolled back to our hotel to clean up, then acquired dinner and headed back out to the pub, where we cannily snagged a table close to the front and waited for musicians to arrive.  Jonathan played with his new calligraphy pens while I wrote postcards and updated this diary,  until the music started. (This was also when I realized that I had once again managed to acquire a sunburn on vacation. Fortunately not too bad, though I proceeded from redness through peeling during the rest of the trip.)The musicians this evening were led by the pub owner, Tommy O'Sullivan, and friends- fabulous! We were sorry when it ended.
rfholly's June08 album on Photobucket


  1. AnonymousJuly 17, 2016

    Sounds like a wonderful way to spend the day. When you have so much beauty, I imagine the miles don't seem so difficult.

  2. That's so funny - yesterday Dave and I were watching The Force Awakens and arguing over where some of the scenes were filmed! I told him it was Ireland!

    I love the cliffs! And Chester looks like a sweetie.