Travel # 8 -- March 28, 2005
Out to The Old Pier

By Bob Corbett

One of the great attractions of the Dingle Peninsula is the drive out from Dingle Town to the western end of the road, at Slea Head. One is then in the western most point of the European lands, the next land fall will be small islands (The Blaskets) and then Newfoundland, about 4000 miles east.

Many thousands of tourists do the circle. The road runs along the southern coastal road out of Dingle Town about 25 miles to Slea Head. Then the road takes a sharp right turn, up on the cliffs overlooking the sea, and runs about 10 miles to the north, takes a turn to the right back east and finally turns back into Dingle Town. Nearly everyone does get a chance to exit their car or bus along the way and see some stunning scenery there.

However, in 2003 I was there with my brother John, wanting him to see this, one of my most favorite places in all Ireland. John was duly impressed, and as we drove north along the cliffs, the Atlantic on our left, we noticed a B&B stuck out there rather alone. It was just beautiful and just a few feet from the cliff overlooking the sea. John pulled over and we just stared. But, then common sense took over and I said: John, we can’t stay here, it would me driving 25 miles back into Dingle to get food. We were about to leave when John noticed a small sign on the door and we drove up the driveway to read it. It said: “Dinner served by reservation.” That did it. On the spur of the moment we rang the bell and took a room.

We were the only guests. They gave us room 5. This turns out to be a very special room, so when Sally and I were planning our trip, I e-mailed Jackie, our host, a full year in advance to reserve room 5. This is the center room on the second floor. It has a huge window overlooking the sea past the Three Sisters (the names of some hills on the island just off the coast). There are two huge overstuffed chairs facing the window and a very large room well appointed.

Back in 2003 when John and I went down for our dinner – the only guests there of course, we were stunned to be served a magnificent gourmet dinner, beautiful presented and served. That night he had a fresh ocean fish which made me drool, and I had a marvelous lamb dinner. The food was just so outstanding. We only stayed the one night, but what a meal and what a follow-up breakfast the next morning when Jackie offered us fresh fish, either fresh ocean salmon or halibut. That was served so beautifully too with lovely strawberries decorating the plate and other treats.

Two things John and I did not know:

  1. Jackie is a master cook and her father was one of Ireland’s most famous chefs of his generation.
  2. The restaurant, open from Easter until November (John and I had been there BEFORE Easter in 2003), is one of Ireland’s most famous gourmet restaurants and people come from all over Europe just to eat there. While Sally and I were there the restaurant was just jammed with three “seatings” a night, serving nearly 100 people every night.

So, on Monday mid-morning Sally and I hired a taxi for 12 Euros to take us from Dingle Town to The Old Pier. The people at our Dingle B&B knew Jackie and Paul well and were just amazed we were going out there to spend three nights. Just as Jackie and Paul were flabbergasted when we arrived by cab. They had never had guests stay there who didn’t have a car. There is a public bus which runs out there twice a week, but not on the day we went nor the day we came back. They were all worried about what we would DO. Ha! Those three days were among the great highlights of our trip.

We arrived around noon, and for a while did what nearly anyone who had room 5 would do: Sat, stunned, in those chairs overlooking the sea in our second story room. We were there on Eastern Monday, they had just opened the restaurant two days earlier on the day before Easter. But it was very quiet at mid-day. They had had tourists staying the night before, but they left before we got there, and no new folks had arrived that early in the day. There are 5 rooms in all, but only the one has a window looking out on the sea.

When we went down to take a walk in a bit, Paul asked us which “seating” we wanted, and that was when we learned there had more than 100 reservations for that evening.

At bit about eating in Ireland. There are three main ways to eat “out” in Ireland. There are some fast food places: fish and chips, Chinese, American places, McDonalds, Subway and such. Then there are pubs with modest priced meals with such things as fresh (delicious) soups, fish chowder, Irish stew, shepherds pie and all manner of fish, chicken and lamb dishes. Finally there are the restaurants, and they do not open until about 5 in the evening. Every single restaurant we saw (and all food places have menus with prices in the windows) had entrees beginning at $20 + Euros or more and going up quickly. (At $1.30 a Euro that’s $26.00 for the cheapest entrée.) Appetizers and such are extra, and so are drinks. In our entire 30 days in Ireland we ate only THREE meals in a restaurant, those three nights at The Old Pier.

For all three evenings we took the 6 PM seating, the first. More about the food in due course.

There have some picnic tables out in the front yard, so we next sat outside a while. It was sunny and warmish that first day, but it was always very windy, and often the winds were quite chilly. Jackie told us that people will often call up and ask for the outside picnic tables when the weather is really lovely in the summer, but they hate to give them to anyone but friends, since she said the weather, even in summer, gets quite cool in the evening when the sea breezes pick up at dark. But in that mid-after noon we sat there on the table, just mesmerized by the sea, and a rather strong wind picked up.

We went back in and got our jackets and rain gear since it was threatening and then moved across the tiny narrow road to the rock wall that overlooks the ACTUAL Old Pier down below the cliffs, with a tiny road going down there, there is an actual concrete pier. It must have been used in the past for small row boats and things, it wasn’t big enough for any motor craft to get in. The B&B took it’s name from that pier. We walked on down and out to the end of the pier, but some rather cold rain soon drove us back.

There is only one store of any sort on that north/south road, and it is south about a mile or so from the B&B. Not much there, just that small grocery store and church. I remembered that tiny store and that they did have some very nice wines. We walked up and got some wines, and some other treats, walked around a bit more in the other direction, past our B&B to the north, and by then it was getting on to evening so we returned home to prepare for the first meal.

I asked Paul if we could bring our own wine to dinner and he just roared with laughter and told me we couldn’t begin to afford his corkage fee, we’d have to buy our wine there. What the heck, this was to be a very rare treat, we decided to go for it.

We began that first evening meal with appetizers of fish balls. We both ordered that. Mistake!!! Three gigantic fish balls were served to each of us and a lovely sauce. The presentation of the meal was spectacular. We had ordered an Australian white wine and it was really delicious. The fish balls could well have been our dinner. They were huge and just filled with all manner of ocean fish. Jackie told us the next day that she NEVER USED any “junk fish” in the fish balls or chowder, only the best shell fish and white fish. For an entrée Sally ordered fresh ocean salmon and I had haddock. These were served with delicious salads and delectable vegetables prepared to perfection. At the end of that meal we could barely walk up the stairs to our room.

A simply wonderful restful day with stunning views and sights, topped off by a meal fit for kings and queens. We might have thought it couldn’t get any better. However, the next day turned out to be, along with the Gap of Dunloe, one of our three most favorite days. But that story comes tomorrow.

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Bob Corbett