At 9am this morning, Diarmuid Begley picked us up in his people mover and drove us along Slea Head to the Blasket Centre. I’ve been waiting for this moment for three weeks – to share this beautiful place with students and gauge their reactions to such gorgeous land- and seascapes.
I have driven this road hundreds of times and every time I come back to this magical place, I learn new things about its history and the people who lived here, and the layers of home for me settle down further and further. Diarmuid was a great guide and hilarious – he has us all in stitches. The students really dug him! We drove to the Burnham House (a Georgian ‘big house’ and former estate of Lord Ventry, now a private Irish-speaking secondary school, Coláiste Ide, run by the Sisters of Mercy) and saw the five upright ogham stones (pillars) along the entrance road arranged in a row behind two mounted dark pulvinar ogham stones with a small cross slab and bullaun about the center behind the pillars. This was the day the girls at the school were to start their exams, so we didn’t stop in. We also saw Burnham Tower (or Esk Tower), which is situated at the entrance to the Dingle Harbour. It was built in 1847 by an English landlord to provide paid work to the men of Dingle.
We drove through the village of Ventry (as we did last night to get to Brenda Ní Shúilleabháin’s house) and past the Ventry Harbour and Strand, beautiful on a calm, sunny morning. We saw the Dunbeg Promontory Fort, an Iron-age fort overlooking Dingle Bay, and several beehive huts or clocháns– drystone, corbelled huts. It’s thought that these huts may well date to the 12th century when the invading Normans forced the Irish off the good land and out to the periphery of the peninsula.
I asked Diarmuid if we could stop by Coumineol Strand – my favorite beach on the planet (I might explain why in a subsequent post, but it has to do with the David Lean epic film, Ryan’s Daughter, when I was thirteen). I wanted students to walk down the steep stone path and onto the curved stone road that leads, not at all gently, to the beach and the wild Irish sea. There was a cool wind blowing but the sunshine was warm and we all got a good dose of fresh sea air and some beautiful scenery. Diarmuid tells us that this beach is also the site of four Spanish Armada ships that were wrecked in 1588.
We drive past the Dún Chaoin primary school, next to the Daly (Ó’Dálaigh) cottage where Brian and I stayed while I was on sabbatical in 2011 and working as a Visiting Scholar in the Blasket Centre) and finally, we arrive at the Centre – so happy to be here, at last! The students bound out of the people mover and immediately start photographing the beautiful vistas. They’ve never seen anything like this and they are stunned by how gorgeous it is. We all agree that there is no way to describe the greens of the hillsides and the blues of the water.