Sunday 26 October 2014

Kerry's gold glistens in divine Dingle Peninsula

'Ryan's Daughter' laid the foundation but Dingle now rests on its own laurels, writes Lucinda O'Sullivan

We all love the joys of Dingle, that magical little Kerry town right out on the Dingle Peninsula. It is a town that draws people from all over the world to its colourful streets, which are a joy to walk around. There is always something different to behold among a myriad little shops, cafes, restaurants, delis, pubs and guesthouses.

David Lean's famous movie Ryan's Daughter first drew attention to the awesome beauty of the Dingle Peninsula, showcasing to the world its dramatic backdrop of Dunquin and Slea Head.

Some visit to enjoy the experience of its stunning scenery, some to see Fungi the Dolphin, some for seafood, and I don't think anyone ever leaves Dingle disappointed. Behind the overall tourism experience are those who live year round in Dingle, earning a living and making it such a fabulous place to visit.

Brian and Helen Heaton are a young couple who have made their lives in Dingle with their guesthouse business, Castlewood House. Forget any comedy sketches of Basil and Sybil, watery orange juice and lumpy beds, Castlewood House is the Rolls-Royce of the guesthouse industry, and Brian and Helen the ultimate hosts with their five-star hotel experience. Since opening nearly five years ago they have received awards left right and centre, including being named on the top 50 Trip Advisor Best Bargain World list, Top 10 Best Hidden Gems in Europe, and this year the Travellers' Choice award. You don't do that without really hard work. Helen says their guests are very loyal to them, Irish, English and American, either returning or sending their friends.

Brian, from Limerick, and Helen, from the Cooley Peninsula, met and fell in love while working in the ultimate romantic destination -- Ashford Castle.

Brian left school and went off to do engineering. However, after a stint doing part-time work in Dromoland Castle, he decided that the hospitality industry was where he really wanted to be. He went to Ashford Castle, where the well-known hotelier Rory Murphy took him under his wing.

On leaving school, Helen knew immediately that she wanted to work in the hospitality industry and qualified in Cathal Brugha Street in Dublin. She then went to Ashford Castle, and the two met.

Following marriage in 2000, they began looking for somewhere to open their own business. A site came on the market at The Wood in Dingle, next door to where Brian's mum and dad, Cameron and Nuala, had opened Heaton's Guesthouse, 15 years ago.

Castlewood House was built to Brian and Helen's specifications, with bedrooms furnished with classy themes from the Japanese Room to the French Room. There is a sense of being in a welcoming smart, spacious home with a lovely drawingroom where you can mingle with other guests and chat about the day's discoveries.

Brian and Helen are both totally hands-on, greeting their guests and settling them in like old friends, acting as their personal travel advisers. Mornings require an early start, with bread baking at 6.30am. The Castlewood breakfast is a lavish affair -- in my experience probably one of the best in the country -- including freshly made bread-and-butter pudding each day, which particularly fascinates the American guests. There are freshly baked scones, soda breads, cereals, fruits, porridge, smoked salmon, and eggs of every variety -- Brian's eggs Benedict is the best in the country.

Business has been very good for them this year. Helen says that lots of people are now holidaying at home and "suddenly realising that they had forgotten how beautiful Ireland is, and also saying that the food is now so much better around Ireland".

Brian and Helen, now with son Craig, aged almost five, are a shining light in Dingle and Irish tourism. Helen is involved with the Dingle Food & Wine Festival, which was a tremendous success last weekend, as were the Blas na hEireann food awards.

Brian and Helen can be contacted on (066) 915-2788

* * * * *

Having spent time with Martin, David went off to broaden his experience and did a stint at the Fota Island Hotel in East Cork. He then moved on to spend time working under chef Ed Cooney at the Merrion hotel in Dublin.

David has now returned home and set up Seashore restaurant at Heaton's Guesthouse. There are plans for renovating Heaton's with a purpose-built restaurant. David is enthusiastic about using the best of local and seasonal produce. He firmly believes that if you buy the best "you are halfway there".

He says: "Beautiful local diver scallops are currently €2.20 each -- I could buy scallops in from other fish suppliers, bringing them into Dingle at 90c each, but there is no way they can compete in size or quality with the locally caught scallops."

Sunday Independent

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