Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Dingle Peninsula

Our friends Nancy and Mort have joined us in Kilkenny for Nancy’s school vacation. We all want to see the west coast of Ireland, so we book rooms in Dingle and take off for the weekend.

The Dingle Peninsula lies north of the larger Everagh Peninsula and the famous Ring of Kerry. One of its features is Connor Pass, the highest in Ireland and home to some of the thousands of sheep that inhabit the area. At the end of the peninsula, a circular route traces the coast, passing curving bays and dramatic cliffs above the sea. The landscape is barren except for scattered houses and stone beehive-shaped huts, built by monks who kept literacy alive during Europe’s Dark Ages.

Twenty years ago, the town of Dingle was a refuge from tourists. Now the crowds come in summer, but April is quiet – except for the music.

With only 1300 residents, Dingle has 50 pubs, offering some of the best traditional music in Ireland. I never knew there were so many kinds of Irish music, played with a variety instruments, including the fiddle, guitar, mandolin, Celtic mandola, flute, tin horn and accordion. Someone often plays the bodhran, a flat, circular drum held under the arm, or a small bagpipe, pressed but not blown and played like a flute. Most important is the human voice in all its ranges, rhythms and volumes.

The four of us stop at a number of pubs, including An Droichead Beag (The Small Bridge). We stand in the back and chat with a pair of Swedish golfers. Then the music starts in, and we think we hear four or five musicians. But upon moving closer, we see only two: a guitar player and a wild man with a large accordion. Near the band are four pairs of dancers doing a “set,” that is a number of dances with fixed steps; they look like whirling dervishes as they spin around a small area, hemmed in by the crowd. I’ve never seen anything like it.

After a lovely time in Dingle, we drive back through the lakes of Killarney. Irish music is waiting for us in the pubs of Kilkenny.


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