When I decided to do my study abroad in Ireland, I have to admit that I knew next to nothing about what I was getting myself into. I had heard the stereotypical statements about Ireland and its people (“Everything is so green!” “Everyone there LOVES to drink.”), but really I had no idea what it would be like. I thought I would see Dublin, maybe a castle or two, and have a pint in a pub; what I really looked forward to was being able to travel to the more well-known cities of Europe much more cheaply than from the US. Little did I know how much beauty, culture, and experience could be packed into a country I knew so little about.
One of the absolute best places that I had the chance to visit was the Dingle Peninsula. The most eastern point of Europe, this tiny coastal town was the picture of Irish tradition. Our Dingle adventure began, however, well before we reached the coast.
My friend’s mom had arrived to spend a little over a week seeing the country and visiting her family, and since she had rented a car for her trip, we decided against taking the public transportation that we typically used when we traveled (Bus Eireann was our best friend all semester! ) We had very little experience with traveling on our own since we had taken the buses everywhere and had no need to worry with street names and the like, so we got slightly turned around, and instead of taking the highway to the coast, we ventured towards Connor Pass, thinking it would be a more enjoyable ride to see the country anyway. We had no clue that Connor Pass would be only big enough for one car to pass through at a time with a rock face to our left and the edge of a cliff to our right. I really can’t describe the fear associated with the delicate “dancing” of cars around each other and so close to the edge of the cliff that falling over the side was a very real possibility. Thank goodness the view was so stunning that I wasn’t focused on the road, but rather the majestic mountains and glory of the sunset behind them.
The view was magical! It felt like it was something that I had dreamed of; it didn’t seem possible that I what I was seeing was real. The mountains rose up around us, though we were already incredibly high, and as the sun was setting behind them, it made the river that wound through the valley sparkle brilliantly. It was breath-taking and unlike anything I had ever seen.
As soon as we passed over the mountain, we could see for miles; the landscape stretched down to the coast and the town of Dingle and out into the ocean. The distance we were on above the coast or the size of the tiny town (or most likely a combination of both) allowed us to see all of Dingle, from the main street to the crowded marina to the quaint neighborhoods that stretched along the coast. We had finally made it.
The town of Dingle basically consisted of a few main roads lined with shops that displayed everything that any tourist could possibly be looking for and pubs that were quickly beginning to get crowded. After checking into The Hideout Hostel (Definitely recommended-very clean, great breakfast, and the people are so nice!) we headed into town for dinner.
We stopped in the Dingle Pub for something to eat and quickly realized this was the place that we would be spending a lot of our night. While we ate, a band of accordion, keyboard, drum, and bagpipe played traditional Irish music while a number of local, elderly men sang in the ancient language of Gaelic. Very soon, the pub was packed with spectators and not long after everyone had started drinking, every person was singing along. The atmosphere was incredible; we felt like we had landed in a town totally untouched by any western influences that inevitably seep into any place like Dingle that is designed for tourists. Dancing soon accompanied the singing and laughing, and we were quickly swept up in the experience of more of the culture of Ireland than we had ever been a part of.
The next day had more adventures in store. We woke up early and spent the morning wandering around the town. We went in the shops that contained beautiful Irish handicrafts and collections of souvenirs to draw in people just like us. We ended up walking out towards the coast to the marina. The day was absolutely beautiful; the sun was bright and it was warmer than any day we had experienced in Ireland! The view of the bay was stunning with the sun glistening off of the water, the clear and brilliantly blue sky, and mountains that seemed to rise straight out of the sea and provided a beautifully contrasting green against the blue backdrop. We knew that we had to take advantage of such a day to soak up the beauty that surrounded us so we decided to spend the afternoon kayaking. After suiting up to protect us from the bitter cold water, we set off out of the marina in our bright yellow kayaks. We didn’t have to go far to catch a glimpse of the stunning scene we were searching for. The warmth of the sun seemed to leak through our suits and warm us straight to the bone-a feeling that we hadn’t known since we had arrived 3 months prior! As we paddled out further into the bay, we were overwhelmed by the sight of the town that seemed to creep out from the base of the cliffs and reach right down to the water’s edge, providing the perfect transition between the two extremes. It was stunning.
After 3 hours of paddling out into the bay and back to the marina, we were exhausted and ready to be on a bus back home. As short as the trip was, we experienced so much culture and saw so much beauty that it felt like we had been there so much longer. My experience in Dingle made me truly realize what a great choice I had made in picking Ireland to travel to.
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