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Dingle dawdling

Neil Sowerby is welcomed with a plethora of treats, a boat trip and squid stories, on the eve of the Dingle Food and Wine Festival

Written by . Published on November 12th 2010.


Dingle dawdling

AS we rounded the headland, leaving Dingle’s legendary dolphin and his tourist courtiers in our wake, I couldn’t erase from my mind the spectacle of an eight metre long squid. Eight metres, would you believe!

This far-flung corner of Kerry is an unlikely spot for the Irish National Food Awards, yet they have grown out of the entrepreneurial self-help spirit of the festival. The professional food industry judges go beyond the jolly in a scrupulous, comprehensive sifting out of the nation’s finest products.

Not that I was expecting to encounter such an awesome behemoth. As claims to fame go, though, Michael Flannery’s cephalod takes some beating. He, I was told, had caught the largest ever specimen in Irish waters. Now he was powering me across Dingle Bay in his souped-up fishing boat. At the back of my befuddled brain there lingered the possibility of a leg (or should that be tentacle?) pull.

We’d been introduced by Artie Clifford, chairman of the National Irish Food Awards, who in his early days in Dingle had worked for Michael as a fisherman. He hadn’t lost the urge. His rod bent madly feeling the strain of a “big one” below the surface. In the end all that was hauled up was a pair of juvenile pollocks.

On our way back Fungi was bonding with a few girl kayakers, while awaiting the next set of photo opportunities from the boat tours. Close up he’s bigger than expected at 663lb (no, I don’t know who weighed him either) and it’s easy to understand the spiritual resonance folk claim from his company.

He took up residence in the sheltered bay back in 1984 and has never left, a playful, one-mammal tourism industry.

In truth, he’s still the biggest draw in a town that has few other sights, though I’d also recommend Dingle Oceanworld, again celebrating the sea that is so important to the community.

The real scenic action is out to the west on the spectacular coast road round Slea Head, with its beehive huts and Celtic remains and views of the Blasket Islands. This is a Gaeltacht or Gaelic speaking area, whose road signs can sometimes get you lost, but such is the beauty of it all you don’t care.

Dingle’s charms are slower to reveal themselves. Every third building (inevitably washed in bright red or blue) reveals itself as a pub. Some such as The Dingle Bay Hotel, behind a traditional facade have large, modern interiors serving up wholesome grub for the tourists and locals alike.

Others, hardly altered in decades inside or out, fit the classic Irish mould. It was hard to resist a further pint of the dark stuff in Dick Mack’s, Foxy John’s or O’Flaherty’s (great music pub). Best Guinness in town? After much selfless research – Hannie Agnes’s (known as Po

p’s now, poor Hannie passed away earlier in the year) in Green Street.

Every Friday until 3pm in the Holy Ground car park, off Green Street, you’ll find Dingle Farmer’s Market. I drove in from Kerry Airport just too late to catch it, but an early evening date with some of the region’s food producers in the swanky Greenlane Gallery was some consolation.

Gallery owner Susan Callery has strong connections with the Blasket Islands.The island sheep have a unique diet of grasses and herbs and are particularly delicious. None of this cult lamb/mutton formed part of our buffet, but the area’s range and quality of seafood and meat was much in evidence in this event to promote the forthcoming Dingle Food and Wine Festival.

Accustomed to the spread-out Manchester equivalent, what strikes you is the sheer concentration of the Dingle event, now in its fourth year. Every pub, restaurant and shop in town seems to be taking part in a mad weekend’s food crawl. Craic’s an over-used term for what Irish fun’s about, but surely such heroic hedonism counts.

If you are not there in festival time there are a couple of top notch yet informal restaurants big on seafood – The Global Village on Main Street and Out of the Blue on Strand Street. Both highly recommended.

This far-flung corner of Kerry is an unlikely spot for the Irish National Food Awards, yet they have grown out of the entrepreneurial self-help spirit of the festival. The professional food industry judges go beyond the jolly in a scrupulous, comprehensive sifting out of the nation’s finest products.

It was great to see a local butcher hero, Jerry Kennedy walk off with a top gong this year for his lamb with thyme and sage sausages, which I’d found irresistible even after a surfeit of lamb, oysters,and Ted Browne’s inspirational crab and smoked salmon.

I met Jerry and Ted at the Gallery, and admired their commitment to regional produce. Ted, whose plant outside Dingle processes nearly all the crab caught in the south west, has developed processes to turn the waste into rich compost. I can still smell the richness after a visit to the site the following day.

FIVE TRIPS OUT FROM DINGLE

1. The Gallarus Oratory: Perfectly preserved boat-shaped stone shrine that may date back to the ninth century. Near Ballyferriter.

2. Mount Brandon: Great hiking country, summit featuring St Brendan’s Shrine reached by the arduous Saint’s Walk.

3. Castlegregory: Across the spectacular Conor Pass, eccentric beach village, quieter than Dingle and a boon to the wind-surfing fraternity.

4. Blasket Islands: Officially uninhabited since 1953, these islands off the west coast have a remarkable literary history, chronicled in the impressive Great Blasket Heritage Centre at Dunquin on the mainland. Weather permitting, there are boat trips out to the main island from Dunquin and Dingle.

5. Oh and Fungi The Dolphin: If you fancy an early morning dip with him (wet suit essential) check out Flannery’s beside Dingle Tourist Office. Otherwise plenty of sightseeing boats – or you might glimpse him by walking out to the headland beyond the Skellig Hotel.

FACTBOX

Neil Sowerby flew from Manchester to Kerry (an hour’s drive from Dingle) with Aer Arran, who run four flights each way a week on the route. Prices start at £33.44 one way. For full airline timetable, visit www.aerarann.com

Neil stayed at Heatons, a beautifully situated guest house with bay views, five minutes’ walk from the town centre on the road out to Ventry and Slea Head. Standard doubles cost from 39€ to 65€ per person according to season, deluxe 46€-75€, junior suite 55€-85€. Special offers are regularly available, including a meal at their Shore View restaurant (due to expand in 2011).

For toirist information on the Kerry region visit www.discoverireland.ie.

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HelenNovember 17th 2010.

Neil

I can't help but feel that you have missed something about Dingle - you don't seem seduced as you should have been. I know this part of the world extremely well and feel woefully disappointed by your article. None of the charm of the place has come across sadly. Not sure if this is a go and visit article or a foodie artilce? But on a positive note glad to know that Fungi is still alive - I'd been told by a BBC journalist he had passed (or swum) away to a distant land. On your top 5 you did miss something though - a hidden gem for anyone who adores up-market-leather goods (burberry and the like) sold around the world and made across Dingle Bay.

next time send me!

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