Dingle is hip.
I don’t know if it is trying to be, but compared to other towns we have been to it is.
Maybe it’s the fact that there are spots like Inch Beach where you can surf or book stores with cafes tucked in the back of them like Au Cafe Liteartha or specialty food shops like Crinkle ––that sell local artisan made products like chocolate and sea salts with a coffee bar and gourmet deli counter full of interesting, healthy salads––or Bacus Bhreanainn––a high end bakery full of sourdoughs, pastries and specialty breads that sell out by the early afternoon.
Dingle’s claim to fame is not its food, however.
It is a dolphin named Fungie
Apparently, Fungie has been living near the Dingle harbor since the 80’s and loves to play with swimmers, kayakers and surfers.
Tourists line up to charter a boat out, just to possibly catch a glimpse of the lovable Bottlenose.
I am thrilled when I see this ice cream shop. There was one in Killarney and although the free samples of Gin ice cream––flavored with Dingle Gin––and Caramel ice cream––made with local honeycomb––were enticing, Celtic Donuts won on that stop.
Conde Naste Traveler has deemd Murphy’s one of the best ice cream shops in the world.
It’s easy to see why.
Their service is friendly and informative. Every employee knows the business’s story and recipes front to back and make it their mission to make sure you sample every flavor.
The quality and creativity of the product rivals the likes of Humphry Slocombe in San Francisco.
Irish Coffee is made with Jameson; Dingle Sea Salt is flavored with local sea water that has been boiled down until only white flakes remain; Irish Brown Bread is made by steeping custard with toasted brown breadcrumbs and brown sugar; and Elderflower is made using St. Germain Elderflower liquor.
You can mix as many flavors as you like in each serving. All ice creams are hand made in Dingle.
The ice creams are made with milk from Kerry cows, raised in Lispole, just outside of Dingle. One of the oldest breeds in Ireland, known to produce milk very high in butterfat. It creates a rich, creamy ice cream that almost feels like you are eating frozen butter.
I know we are going to have a different experience here when the owner drops a basket of house made Guinness- Chocolate Brown Bread and French baguette with Kerrygold butter, local seaweed butter and a shmear he calls Cajun Hummus on the table.
“Yesterday was our busiest night of the year so far,” the owner boasts, referring to the madness from the Dingle Marathon that incurred the day before. Apparently, an onslaught of visitors pass through every year for this event.
We are laughing because while he is taking our order he almost sets himself on fire getting too close to a tall candle set on the table next to us.
“Five of our candle holders got broken last night,” he says explaining that the new much taller candles were just a temporary fix and he hadn’t quite gotten used to them yet.
He follows that up by bringing us a delicious plate of grilled chicken wings tossed in a not-too-spicy Sriracha sauce with blue cheese dressing smeared on the plate for swiping. We devour them.
Entrees are equally as satisfying.
Local Hake is served with fresh peas and asparagus in lemony beurre blanc and Rack of Lamb from the Blasket Islands, sourced from Jerry Kennedy’s Craft Butcher Shop, arrives a perfect medium-rare accompanied by sweet, roasted baby carrots and rich lamb demi-glace.
A nice surprise are the side dishes that show up unexpectedly with the entrees: creamy potato gratin, crispy chips (French fries) and a dish of buttery broccolini and root vegetables.
I glance up and notice the name of the restaurant written on the wall. It’s an acronym for four names: Millie, Archie, Sonya and Kaya.
“Are you Archie?” I ask the owner.
“No, that’s my son. My business partner and I named the restaurant after our kids.”
My brother and I smile at the sentiment and agree that this is one of the best meals we have had on the trip so far.
Our first night in Dingle we walk into this pub and see a man named Tom beating away at his guitar, belting out Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side” with an endearing, raspy Irish brogue.
Everyone in the bar is joining in on the doo doo doo doo doo doo doos.
Dick Mack’s, a former leather shop, has two confessionals situated at either end of the bar. There are small windows on each one that face into the bar where patrons can slide cash for a cocktail and consult with the bartenders about their weekly sins.
They also have a brewery out back. I’m drinking the Amber Ale and my brother is enjoying the IPA––one he likens to a “San Diego style” IPA.
This bar has great energy, both from its bartenders (who are surprisingly nice for a hip bar like this) and patrons. Everyone is in the mood to have a good conversation, laugh and sing.
The next night we return again and see Tom sans his guitar.
“You singing tonight?” we ask.
Tom, looking as if he has just gracefully survived being run over by a truck, laughs and says, “not tonight, I’m nursing a hangover.”
On our way out a couple hours later, we notice Tom is already looking around for a guitar to pick up.
These guys roast their own beans. Their house blend combines coffee from Brazil, Guatemala and Ethiopia. They are also now proudly sourcing beans from an all-woman farm in Columbia.
They have an extensive coffee drink menu plus chai and matcha lattes––something I have not seen a lot of in Ireland.
In an effort to protect their ocean from the perils of plastic they use all plant based packaging.
There are over 65 cheesemakers in Ireland (many award winning!) making cheese with milk from their own cow, sheep and goat farms.
German born Maja Beaujouan is now and Irish cheesemaker and owner of this wonderful shop. She carries an impressive selection of local farmhouse cheeses, olives, salamis, wine and other cheese related condiments. Foods that inspire picnics and leisurely lunches.
Free sample your heart out and don’t forget to try some cheeses made from raw milk. Something you sadly can’t get in the U.S.
“Honey! I’m going to the hardware store be back in a bit.”
Foxy John’s is a good alibi and one of the most clever bar concept to ever be invented.
Stop in for a hammer, some nails, maybe a wrench? And turn around and get yourself a whiskey on the other side of the room.
Hop on the car ferry in Tarbert to shorten your drive over to Cliffs of Moher from Dingle.
Over 350 million years ago, heavy rains pushed mud, sand and silt down a river to this place where they accumulated and compacted.
As the earth shifted, layers of rock—which can usually only be seen under sea level—emerged into what is now one of the most spectacular 5 miles of coastline in the world.
Overtime, the 702 foot cliffs have started to erode, being swallowed back up by the sea. Warm weather and melting ice caps will continue to affect ocean currants potentially sending The Cliffs of Moher back into the ice age.
It’s my last day in Ireland and I’m back in Dublin.
The minute we cross that line from suburbs to city the traffic increases, high rises shoot up out of the ground and sidewalks are full of people.
I get a jolt of energy instantly and feel completely alive again.
I’m ready to ditch the car and hit the streets.
First, we check into Temple Bar Inn. A hip boutique hotel tucked in a corner of its namesake neighborhood––Temple Bar.
This place is rad. Stylish and modern and full of considerate details like mints at the front desk, a serve yourself espresso bar and a killer complimentary breakfast.
We head out for a stroll around town. Busy bars, a bustling shopping district, cobblestone streets and charming pedestrian bridges to get you over the river and back.
“They have a Gino’s Gelato here!” I shout.
I would remember those brightly colored waves of frozen custard anywhere.
I’d seen it in downtown Cork and now I needed a taste. Plus, they had my childhood favorite––Mint Chocolate Chip.
Mom indulged with me and ordered her childhood fave––Malted Milk Ball.
The gelato is thick and buttery. Even more so than Murphy’s. It coats my tongue lingering for a minute before maing its way down my throat. Chunks of mint flavored dark chocolate crunch between my teeth. Man am I going to miss the ice cream here.
We stumble on Boxty and decide it looks like a good place for a gin on the rocks and an appetizer.
The service is like an iteration of “who’s on first,” but the menu looks interesting and I’ve just spotted a gin I’ve been searching for since we were in Kinsale.
Bertha’s Revenge is a small batch gin made in County Kerry. It is named after Bertha––the world’s oldest cow––who died at the ripe old age of 48 in 1993. This gin commemorates Bertha with its main ingredient––whey.
I’m into it.
The whey is sourced from local dairies and the botanicals are foraged locally as well. And wow what an aroma. It’s like cracking open a bottle of flowery perfume. That whey gives it a flavor you just can’t put your finger on. Not exactly my favorite, but interesting all the same.
For my app I order the Boxty house pate––smooth, whipped chicken liver served with brandied cherry compote, mixed lettuces and their signature Boxty chips. The chips are like thin, crunchy hash browns. They steal the show. I could eat a plate of just these.
“It’s a thin potato pancake that we crisp up in a pan,” our server explains.
“We sell the mix if you would like to make it at home.”
That sounds like a fantastic idea to me, so I grab a box.
Written on the back it says: “Boxty is Traditional Irish Potato Bread peculiar to the north west of Ireland. Made with grated raw potato, cooked mash potato and flour, a recipe dating back to the 17thcentury.”
The last pub of my trip.
Well, if we are in the Temple Bar neighborhood we must go to The Temple Bar––established 1840, named after Sir William Temple.
Sir William was a scholar and descendant of the Knight Templars. He was also a corrupt politician who was accused of trying to overthrow the Queen. Curiously the neighborhood and this bar were both named after him.
Final days of vacations are always sentimental for me. I’m excitement to go home, but also nostalgic of what I’ve just experienced.
The guitarist on stage plays Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” and I get misty eyed. The bar erupts in a sing along, swaying back and forth as if they were holding lighters in the air.
“Pink Floyd is like Ireland’s Journey,” I say to my brother.
John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” have the whole bar singing again and me feeling homesick.
Next, the musician plays an Irish song. A story about a man and a woman both doing time in the Dublin prison, who get married 15 minutes before his execution. The wife continues to live another 70 years, never getting remarried. I’m practically sobbing now.
That’s my cue to go….
I grab a pic with James Joyce on my way out and give one last Slainte! to Ireland.
It’s been a great trip. And I will never forget the landscape, food and characters we met along the way…
Sarah Burchard is the author of The Healthy Locavore, a natural foods chef and experience host whose writing focuses on cooking, holistic health, supporting community and eating locally grown and made foods.