The craic with Catherine: Castles and coasts in Ireland


Ireland coast.

I gladly suffered a wind-blown hairdo, the biting chill in the air, and the taste of saltwater on my lips so I could meet a dolphin.

One of the last excursions I took with my study abroad group was a weekend out on the Dingle Peninsula, and area outlined with cliffs and beaches that sits in the southwest corner of Ireland.

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Dingle is a coastal town, with a large harbor that houses a residential dolphin.

Whereas most dolphins are migratory, there is one who has stuck around since 1983. His name is Fungie, and people can take boat tours out into the harbor to get a close encounter with him as he swims around and plays with the boats.

The area of Dingle is one of the stronger pockets of solely Irish-speaking people. It’s also famous for its ritual sites dating back to the Neolithic, Bronze, and Medieval Ages. One of the most famous is the Ogham Stones, which have carvings of early Irish language on them.

On the way to Dingle, there was a stop at a 13th century castle and recreated village known as Bunratty. The village featured old-style Irish houses with thatch roofs, each one preserved in the same interior of farmers, weavers, and other townsfolk of the time.

The Bunratty Castle started as a series of castles made of wood, the first one built in 1250. In 1425, the stone castle that still stands today was finished after 25 years of construction. Then the castle was bought by the O’Brien family, descendants of Brian Boru the High King of Ireland.

The castle interior features everything a lord needs to rule his county. There’s a great hall for banquets with a table made from 500-year-old wood, a meeting room with decorative antlers that came from animals found in the peat bogs, and a dungeon that’s 12 steps down to a four meter deep pit.

Security for the castle was top notch. The hallways and stairwells were built so raising a sword was next to impossible. At the front door, if you weren’t well-received, a trapdoor above you would open so somebody could dump boiling water or oil on you.

One of the most famous historical sites for the Dingle Peninsula rests with the Blasket Islands, just off the coast. All six islands had residents at one point in history, but the Great Blasket has the most history. There is even evidence that the island was inhabited in the Iron Age and early Christian era.

However, the population on the island never passed 200 people through the decades. In the 1821 census, there was a population of about 130 people. During World War I, the island had one school with two teachers and about sixty students.

Though the inhabitants could survive on the island through fishing and cattle rearing, problems arose like the Great Famine and the difficulty in reaching the mainland for emergencies. In 1953, the island was evacuated. Previously, the island was home to famous Irish writers like Tomás Ó Criomhthain and Peig Sayers.