‘There she blows.’
Those were the words the children’s granny always used at the first sight of the strand at Inch. Windows were opened and the smell of sea and sand floated in to greet us as we drove on along the winding road high above sea level.
Our family has been taking holidays in the west of Ireland since long before the words Wild, Atlantic and Way became a thing, and the drive from Castlemaine to Dingle has always been one of our favourites. Over twenty years of travelling this route, that view of the strand never failed to excite. It stretched out far below us like a golden runway. On sunny days, cars lined out on the sand. We preferred to use the car park, though, having one day seen a guy nearly lose his jeep to the hungry waters. He was steeped (forgive pun), that there were a few hardy men around to help him out.
The children were always enthralled by the surfers riding the waves, and as they got older they would join in their ranks. But on day one of the holiday, as the road followed the coastline, we bypassed the entrance with promises to come back this way another day.
So we’d continue on up the next hill, our loaded car grumbling as winding roads became steeper, demanding a driver’s full attention. You always had to be prepared for absent-minded foreign tourists – or Irish ones, for that matter – or the bus that swung into view on an ‘acute’ Kerry bend.
Finally, we’d turn onto a narrow country lane, our tyres bumping along the uneven surface as briars scratched the paintwork of the car. Sometimes we’d meet another driver and have to keep even tighter to the ditch. If the oncoming vehicle was a tractor, we’d find a gateway to reverse into. When a herd of cattle appeared, well then you simply stopped and held your breath as the moving throng skimmed alongside your car.
When we finally pulled up outside our holiday cottage, the children would tumble out as our hosts’ little brown terrier came running to greet us. Nóirín would appear from the bungalow next door with a warm ‘Dia daoibh go léir’. She hardly changed a bit in the 20 or so years we were going down there – more laughter lines around the eyes, perhaps. And she always had a special smile for Gran. ‘Alice, aren’t you looking well? You’ve changed your hair; it looks good on you. And you’ve caught a tan.’ Her husband, Brendan, would shake our hands. ‘You brought the good weather with you again,’ he’d say, that sing-song lilt convincing you that he was right. And you know, I think maybe he was. Memories of Dingle always include sunshine – at least that’s how my mind has filed it away.
So began each sojourn in our favourite part of Ireland. We’d fill the days with drives out to Dun Beg to see if the prehistoric fort had survived the Atlantic storms. At Coumenole, depending on her humour, the sea would be either drawing shapes against the sand or throwing herself at the rocks. Sometimes the Blaskets were visible among the mists, rising from the sea like sentinels. Long before Star Wars discovered the place, the peninsula stood guard against the forces of the Atlantic.
First though, there was unpacking to be done and arguments to be settled about who got the big room this time. Then we’d put the kettle on and help ourselves to the freshly baked scones that Nóirín had left us. There’d be a discussion around the table about when we’d go to see Fungie, or visit Oceanworld. Swimming at Ventry was also a must.
We’d done the Fungie trip on more than one occasion. The dolphin never disappointed. Sometimes he chased the trail of water left behind the speed boats. Other times he played hide-and-seek with you. There were days he came so close to our boat that I felt I could reach out and touch him. It’s sad to think we won’t ever see Fungie again.
Later on that first evening, we’d wander into one of our ‘locals’ and somebody would smile and say, ‘Hello folks – back again, I see.’ But before that, we’d treat ourselves to fish and chips down by the marina, and relish the promise of fun to be had. It was in the sparkle of the water and the call of the hungry sea birds. Beyond the bay, the ocean might be slumbering. But she could have changed her mind by morning. That’s the wonder and the magic of this place they call Dingle, on the Wild Atlantic Way.
(c) Dee Scallan