You may have heard the famous Irish pop song by Katie O’Flannery “There are nine million tourist shops in Ireland”. As the song goes on to say, that’s a fact, but more about that later.
Everyone has something to look forward to today. A possible short run to the Dingle peninsula is the only activity to distract us from relaxing like long lost Irish gentry around our stately, albeit temporary, home at Ballyseede Castle. We descend to breakfast in the main dining room, nodding regally at the servants who scurry past on their various missions. There is an impressive display of healthy options like fruit, juices and what looks suspiciously like boxes of Kellogs cereals, but we wave these away and order a few hot courses more fitting our status.
The head butler approaches with his head bowed, and Murray decides to give the man a thrill to tell his family about later. “Is there anything worth seeing on the Dingle peninsula my good man?” Oops, this is our man’s favourite topic. “Well, for sure yer would be wantin to go over Conor pass ta see de fine views from de top now wouldn’t yer.” OK, sounds all right. “Yer not afeared of a bit a narra road are yer?” Well, er, not really. “And dere be some fine tourist shops in Dingle town for sure dere is.” Boom! Two sets of eyes light up and two groans escape from around the table. Our intended late morning departure time is brought forward an hour or so “to make sure we have plenty of time to relax when we get back.”
The road is, as predicted, narrow. We get held up by a variety of slow moving agricultural equipment, tourists puddling along in their rented Nissan Micras, and, in one instance, we follow a cyclist because there just wasn’t room to pass. We’re not too stressed on the country lanes where the greatest risk is brushing the sides of the Ford along what we have termed the blessed verges of County Kerry.
It’s a slightly different story as we ascend to Conor pass. The road was only a goat track along the side of a steep mountain before Fergus Murphy (who features in earlier stories) decided he needed a shorter route to town for his tractor. I assure my white-faced companions that we will be Ok as we are on the mountain rather than the cliff side of the road. The view from the top is indeed spectacular so we stop for the obligatory photo opportunity. There’s a little crowd of tourists at the parking spot, all with that same look of dazed relief on their faces, so we swap fanciful tales of bravado and near escapes. The road down to Dingle is much easier and Murray and I slip into a false sense of security.
As we drive into the town, my first thought is that this must be the national headquarters for Mick O’Flannery’s bus company. There are buses everywhere! Oh no! As Mick’s cousin Katie says in her famous song, “there are nine million tourist shops – and half of them are in Dingle.” The girls squeal with delight. “Oh look – that shop sells wool scarves! And there’s one that sells ….” We squeeze the Ford into the last car park between the buses. It’s pay parking so I drop some euros into the machine. The machine has a minimum of two hours but hey, we will have only wasted about a euro on the unused time when we leave. Ha! Some time later, I return to the machine and purchase some more time. Fortunately, the tourist shops are so tightly packed we have only progressed about fifty metres and my dash back to the parking machine isn’t too taxing.
We finally pile back in the car, with the girls swapping stories of all the things they looked at but didn’t buy. Murray and I agree we will never understand shopping as a pastime rather than a means to an end – you need something, you go to a shop, you buy it, you come home. How easy is that?
We drive out to explore a few more of the scenic drives recommended by our man at breakfast. Finally, everyone is so saturated with beautiful scenery that we need to shut our eyes to stop our brains exploding (not me of course – I’m driving). We turn for home and one hour and twenty five tractors later we’re winding up the drive to Ballyseede. It’s only 5:00pm. We have about six hours of daylight left. Hmm – what to do? The girls are thinking – relax in the drawing room, or maybe the sitting room. Murray and I are thinking – golf!
The local Tralee course costs 200 euro each, but we find there’s another course at Ballyheigue, only 30 minutes away. We get royal assent to the plan and head off. We suspect Ballyheigue is pitched more at the working man level, and this is confirmed when we find we are hiring the only golf buggy at the club. The nine hole course is built in and around the grounds of a ruined castle and has views out across the ocean. We have to wait until the fiercely contested Ballyheigue vs Waterville inter-village competition is completed before we can hit off, but it’s worth it as we get a chance to watch old rivalries play out.
Our game runs along the lines of take a shot, lose the ball in the thicket, take another photo, bump along in the buggy and then take another shot. Murray wins with a score slightly less bad than mine, and we head back to the clubhouse. The local competition is over, and all the contestants are in the bar swapping stories with cousin Sean and uncle Michael. A hush descends as we walk in, but the jovial Mary announces “tees be de two mad Australians I be tellin yer about.” We get more than a few approving nods and feel that, at long last, we fit in.