Sampling the Spirits of Ireland
By Terri Marshall
People travel to Ireland for many reasons. Some go to unearth their heritage, to experience a glimpse of Irish history or to celebrate the spirit of the Irish people. Others just go to sample the spirits from the land that brought us Jameson and Guinness.
With 10,000 pubs in a country smaller than the state of Maine, Ireland is the perfect destination for anyone who loves a good pint or a bit of whiskey. Pub life is the center of Irish culture. It’s the place to go to hear traditional Irish music, listen to tall tales and get to know the character (and characters) of Ireland. Guinness and Jameson may have originated in Dublin, but the spirits flow all over this greenest of countries.
In County Kerry at the western edge of Ireland there exists a colorful spirited town called Dingle. Here you will find a bit of Irish magic and about 32 pubs – an incredible number given Dingle’s population of 1,200 year-round residents.
The town of Dingle is the starting point for driving tours of the famed Dingle Peninsula. This mountainous finger of land juts into the Atlantic Ocean and has supported various tribes and populations for almost 6,000 years. Familiar to movie buffs as the location of the movie Far and Away, this remote corner of Ireland is filled with numerous archaeological monuments dating back to the Stone Age.
Characterized by hilly streets and brightly painted houses, the town of Dingle still reflects its origins as a walled borough. In the Irish language of Gaelic, Dingle translates as “Daingean Ui Chuis” which means Fortress of Hussey. The Husseys were a Flemish family who settled in the area in the 13th century.
The pubs of this fishing port town are one of its best experiences. Two of the most unusual are Dick Mack’s and Foxy John’s.
Dick Mack’s was named after a late leather craftsman and cobbler, Richard MacDonnell. As Dingle’s most well known pub, it has attracted celebrities such as Julia Roberts, Sean Connery and Paul Simon. Their names are commemorated with stars on the sidewalk right outside. Think Hollywood Boulevard on a much smaller scale. This family owned pub carries on the cobbler tradition as part pub and part leather shop. Stop in for a pint of Guinness and you will likely hear an impromptu ballad, folk song or poetry reading. And, of course you can pick up some leather goods while you are there – doesn’t everyone pick up leather goods at the bar?
Then there’s the handyman’s dream, Foxy John’s. It’s a pub on one side…and a traditional hardware store on the other. Down a pint or two of Guinness while browsing their selection of hammers. Brilliant. This happens to be the favorite of Dingle resident, Thomas “Toss” O’Brien. “There are about 32 pubs in Dingle, and all of them are good,” says Toss. “But for good craic, the best of the lot is Foxy John’s. My boys are there in the morning and we slag each other off, there’s plenty of good banter.”
And in case you were wondering, “craic” is a term derived from Middle English meaning loud conversation and bragging talk. Sounds about right for a pub filled with Irishmen!