Tuesday 16 July 2019

Fish and dips in Dingle: Sublime seafood and views like a painting

Barry Egan and family drive across Ireland for a holiday to remember on the Dingle Peninsula

The beach at Slea Head, just up the coast from Dingle
The beach at Slea Head, just up the coast from Dingle
Fungi, Dingle's resident dolphin
View from the Conor Pass, Co Kerry. Photo: Fáilte Ireland
A pint in Dick Mack's. Photo: WildAtlanticWay.com
The delicious seafood platter at the Dingle Skellig Hotel
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

The drive from Dublin to Dingle would wreck your head.

It was worth it, however, when after five hours in the car with the kids we finally reached the Conor Pass on Friday evening.

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Our heads literally in the clouds at 1,496ft - and birds swooping below us, and sheep and goats appearing out of nowhere on the mountainside - from this vantage point we couldn't quite see America (the next parish, as they joke locally) but the views of the sea, the waterfall, Lough Doon and the Dingle Peninsula were breathtaking.

The drive down the pass, one of the highest mountain passes "served by an asphalt road" in Ireland, was at times terrifying.

I know the Conor Pass is not the only road into Dingle - there is a far more conventionally flat road - but I love the almost Gothic fantasy that the Conor Pass is the only way to access this town on the edge of the Atlantic.

Someone once quipped that going down the Conor Pass is more akin to "landing a light aircraft than driving". This is particularly true at the steepest, and narrowest, and most bendy, parts of the road, when your heart is in your mouth, and the kids cannot believe what they are seeing as the car edges closer and closer to the side of the cliff face.

View from the Conor Pass, Co Kerry. Photo: Fáilte Ireland
View from the Conor Pass, Co Kerry. Photo: Fáilte Ireland

Up here, the scenery is so eerie, and magical, that you expect to see wizard master Gandalf the White emerge from the mist being pursued by savage orcs. Or Peter Cushing alone on the road looking out into the bay for a monster to swim up from 10,000 leagues below.

My over-active imagination aside, driving into Dingle town gives you a feeling of wonder that very few other places can provide, not least because Dingle is such a beautiful part of the world, not just Ireland. There is nowhere quite like it.

You can say pretty much the same about the landmark Dingle Skellig Hotel, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. We celebrated our arrival in Dingle by having the most exquisite fresh seafood dinner imaginable in the Blaskets Bar.

It was called the Seafood Tasting Platter - seafood chowder, codling tartare, tian of crabmeat, locally smoked salmon, prawn cocktail - but there was enough of it to feed an army. My wife and I washed it all down with some wine and took in the view across Dingle Bay, which looked like a painting.

The delicious seafood platter at the Dingle Skellig Hotel

This is the same wondrous view that we woke up to the following morning in our suite (the hotel recently completed a multi-million euro development with 32 additional guest rooms and five beautiful roof-top guest rooms, all with their own balconies).

I've never seen two young children eat their breakfast so fast as they knew they were going on a boat to see Dingle's most famous resident. It was a warm morning with calm seas as the boat set off to look for Fungi.

Fifteen minutes into the journey, my four-year-old daughter, God bless her, nearly leapt out of her seat with excitement when she saw the male bottle-nose legend of these waters emerge out of the waves and swim alongside us. (That night, before bed, she looked across the Dingle Bay from her hotel bed and asked me: "Where is Fungi going to asleep?")

When you see him swim about so happily in the sea, you get a sadness in you when you realise what, as a race, we have done to destroy our seas.

The story goes that this little fella was first spotted in 1984 by the Dingle Harbour lighthouse keeper Paddy Ferriter, as he was safely piloting fishing boats to and from port.

That eco-ennui was a little less pronounced when we enjoyed a fantastic lunch later at Doyle's Seafood Restaurant. We then drove to Coumeenoole Beach (top), a beautiful spot hemmed in by mountains, where we played chasing in the surf. The waves that crashed in on the beach were enormous. You could imagine landing in America from here after a week in a boat straight across the Atlantic. Swimming was not safe. An hour or so later, however, we had a long dip in the calmer waters of the Dingle Skellig's swimming pool instead. The kids loved it. Their mama had a massage in the hotel's state-of-the-art Peninsula Spa.

Fair's fair, afterwards I had a pint and a read of the paper in the Blaskets Bar when my wife took the kids for a walk outside.

That night, we went into Dingle town where we had a delightful dinner in Benners Hotel on Main Street, followed by a stroll around this lovely old town on the Atlantic Coast. There was music spilling out of the bars onto the streets when we walked past in the late evening summer sunshine.

On our final full day in Dingle, we bowed to the demands of our children and repeated ourselves: we went out to see Fungie again. For our daughter, it was like visiting Mickey and Minnie Mouse in their fairytale castle.

Once the kids had said goodbye to the king of the dolphins, we had fish and chips in the car and drove along the Slea Head Drive, which was wonderful, but would have been more wonderful if our journey on the tiny roads overlooking the sea hadn't been blocked every so often by hulking great tour buses.

Still, we got back to the Skellig Hotel just in time for a delicious dinner in the Coastguard Restaurant: pan-fried fresh hake with baby spinach and chorizo with roast red pepper compote (for me) and seared turbot with spicy bay prawns and Cafe de Paris butter (for herself). We had eaten so much fish while we were in Dingle that we had fish coming out our ears.

The next day we passed a wedding at a local church with everybody lined up outside with raised hurley sticks for the bride and groom to walk under. The church bells rang out happily across Dingle and up to and beyond the Conor Pass, which we drove over again, just as scarily, on our way home.

We hope to pass Conor, and Fungie, again soon.

Get there

Dick Macks Dingle1.jpg
A pint in Dick Mack's. Photo: WildAtlanticWay.com

The Dingle Skellig Hotel & Peninsula Spa has an array of one-seven-night family breaks which include its legendary breakfast each morning and dinner on a selection of nights.

* The children's rate includes evening meals and entry to the action-packed kids club which runs daily each morning and evening for the remainder of the summer and at weekends and school holidays throughout the year.

* With a selection of interconnecting rooms, and a swimming pool, the hotel's family facilities are second to none.

* This month the hotel has a limited special offer one-night break available on selected dates from only €85pppn.

* Go online to dingleskellig.com/ or call (066) 915 0200.

This feature originally appeared in The Sunday Independent.

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