Travel # 9 -- March 29, 2005
Great walk from The Old Pier to Bally David

By Bob Corbett

Our second morning at The Old Pier began so very well. My elegantly prepared and served breakfast (free with the room) was scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, juice, toast, fresh fruit bowl, yogurt and tea. Wheeee.

You can see some photos of The Old Pier at their web page

This was to be one of our very best days of the trip, certainly one of the top three, perhaps one of the two best along with The Gap of Dunloe. Ah, but the visit to Cong is yet to come, another candidate.

This day's story has to be dedicated to my brother John since he is responsible for it all. Back in 2003 when he and I stayed there only one night, a Sunday, he had wanted to get out and see a rugby match that was on TV. The World Cup of Rugby was on during those days and we'd been following the games since Ireland was doing very well. After we settled in to our place in the early afternoon and I was sitting in the room looking out at the sea and reading, John wanted to go to a pub to see the day's game, it being more fun that watching it alone on TV.

I decided not to go, preferring to sit there looking out the window and read. John went down to talk with our host, Paul, and asked if he had to go all the way back into Dingle to find a pub. Paul said, yes and no. John asked what that meant. Well, there was a pub, not far from here, but it would be no fun for John since no one in the village spoke English, just Irish. John said no matter, he would really like that. Paul tried to persuade him against it since they weren't very keen on tourists coming to their village, but John was insistent. Paul told him to drive up the road, south, and in about 200 yards there was a gap in the bushes, turn right. "Turn right!" says John, "I'll be in the ocean." "No," said Paul, "there is a tiny road, and it hugs the cliff and goes down beneath the cliffs to a tiny fishing village there, a very traditional Irish village."

John took off. He came back many hours later and had obviously had a great deal to drink. I asked about the game and he was raving about how much fun and how great the tiny village was and on and on. When he finally quieted down a bit I asked how in the world he got on in a village where no one spoke English. He told me that the place was jammed and when he came in he brought two rounds for the house and immediately everyone spoke English! He had an awesome time with "his mates in Bally David."

(By the way, John had made reservations for himself and Terri on their honeymoon trip and were to go there just a couple days after the day their accident occurred. When we arrived, some four months later, Jacqui and Paul had me tell them all about John, they had been so worried.)

Well, I had to see this now legendary Bally David. I reminded Paul about John's visit there and asked how we could get to this road so that we could WALK there. Paul said, well, if you are walking it is much easier. He pointed up the road just a hundred feet or so and said there was a gap in the barbed wire fence. We would have to cut through a bit of a muddy bog, but in 100 yards or fewer we would be on the cliff. There was a tiny foot path and if we followed it for about an hour south we could come down into Bally David.

Off we went. We followed the narrow foot path right along the edge of the cliff which was about 150 to 200 feet above the ocean, water slamming into the rugged cliff side. Shortly after we started walking we noticed a school of about 10 dolphins going in the same direction we were and feeding in the receding tide. We walked just above them, they progressing at about the same speed we were for at least 15 minutes. It was so beautiful to see.

The sun was shinning just then, but it was chilly and we had on our rain gear and coats. It was very windy up on of that exposed cliff-top. It was so still and quiet except for the crashing of water against the rocks, the screaming of the white sea gulls and the noise of the wind. No other people were anywhere to be seen. The path itself was muddy in parts, only about 8 inches wide and about 6-7 inches deep, a sort of gully carved by centuries of people walking along this trail.

We got to a fairly muddy and boggy part of the trail and were surprised by an Irish woman coming along the trail from the other direction and we greeted her. She was the only human we say on that 70 minute walk. On our left were fields and fields filled with sheep and they were making no noise at all, at least not on our walk TO Bally David.

That walk was one of the most marvelous things I've experienced in a long time.

Finally we passed a small concrete hut (only about 8x8) which we later learned was a lookout point during World War II, but no one said what they were looking out for, and the trail began to slope down, but we could see no village anywhere. Finally we got all the way down to sea level and there was Bally David, just a handful of houses and two pubs. We arrived at the farther of the two; Cig Beaglaoic was the name. I couldn't begin to imagine how one pronounces that.

There were several picnic tables in front, right on the sea. It wasn't so very pretty there; a few rusty fishing boats were in the tiny harbor, if harbor is the right word for this small indentation in the coast line and break in the cliffs. But, it was a sheltered spot. There was a very old man sitting on one of the benchs, and despite Paul's warning to John two years earlier this old man greeted us in English, "Top oh the morning to ye." We greeted him and he was very curious about us, studying us some, then asked why we were there, no tourists every came there. I told him the story of John's visit there two years earlier to see the rugby match. The old man was simply fascinated and ask me to tell him the story again, which I did. He was really fascinated and said to me: "Here it was, right here and no where else?" I assured him this was exactly where John had come.

Just about then the pub opened and Paddy (as we later learned was his name) hurried into the pub. We continued to sit on the picnic bench, resting and watching the peaceful sea..

Soon Patty hurried out of the pub and excitedly ask us to come on in. I told him were would be in shortly, we were just watching the sea. Soon we went in. Paddy was sitting at the center of the bar sipping his pint of Guinness. There was a middle-aged woman behind the bar, turned out to be the owner. Taking a lesson from my brother though I am not normally quite the generous one he is in buying strangers a drink, I got Paddy another Guinness and Sally and I had an Irish whiskey, no water, no ice, just two jars of Bushmills, the way we liked it. We settled ourselves at a small table near the bar, sort of expecting to sit there a goodly while and eventually have lunch.

After we were settled the woman, in fine English with, of course, a strong Irish accent, asked me to tell her that story I had told Paddy out front. I repeated the story of John's visit in 2003. Well, she just roared with laughed, just couldn't control herself. She pointed to Paddy and told us he didn't really speak English, learned a little at school more than 60 years ago. He had come into to the pub all excited and told her: “There's a tourist outside whose mother was born in this very house." Even Paddy had a great laugh with us, and he got another beer for his trouble as well while Sally and I warmed ourselves with a second whiskey. We stayed a long time, visiting with Paddy and the woman.

She did tell us that very few FOREIGN tourists every came to Bally David, but many Irish visitors came, not as tourists. Every school teacher in Ireland had to learn Irish and as part of their certificate earning process had to go to some place that was a totally Irish speaking area and live for a while, doing seminars in Irish and such to get a certificate of competence in Irish. Bally David was the center of such training and the school teachers came all the time. Later we met a teacher who had done her Irish work in Bally David.

After a while another man came in, much younger and he got a Guinness as well. After a while it was getting on into the afternoon and we decided that since we were going to eat this gigantic meal again at 6 PM and had had that huge breakfast we wouldn't eat after all. I got up to pay our bill, got Paddy and the other guy yet another Guinness and we headed on our way home, back the way we came via the cliff path.

It was raining a bit, and we put our hoods up, but it was blowing in our faces. Chilly, but an exciting experience. It all felt so raw and harsh; gave me a very different sense of living here and eking out a living on sheep and fishing in those tiny tiny salmon boats. Jackie told us later that Paul used to be a salmon fisher out of Bally David before they opened The Old Pier and that she had a fine telescope and could watch out the window of their house to see when his boat was coming home.

She now has to buy nearly all her fish from one of the two large factories in Dingle Town. They have contracts with all the fishing boats, the only way those folks can making a living. And they demand the ENTIRE catch. If they sell to individual B&B's where they could get a bit more for their fish, then the factory won't buy from them. The factory owners tell them – yes IN SEASON the B&B's will buy from you, but what happens out of season, most of the year. Thus they have no choice but to sign an exclusivity contract and she has no choice but to buy her fish from the factory. She did allow that now and again, when a catch is large, well, then there will be fish sold quietly to her and others, or with the more amateur fisherman as well.

We started back up the cliff and path, now knowing much better how to manage the muddy places and the bogs. Just a few hundred yards before we got back to where we would turn east across the field and to the road, we came across another field of sheep. One was in bad shape and bleating loudly. She had gotten her head caught in TWO layers of fence. This fence was a fence of wire squares, each about 8 inches square. There were two such fences one directly against the other. She had gotten her head through BOTH layers (the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, you know), and the two fences had separated a bit and she was caught fast. It was quite a challenge. I had to grip the first fence and the squares below and above her and giggle the fence until her head cleared that one, then repeat the process for the second. She sprang free and raced over to where the herd was standing well away from me and the fence just watching. That was just exhilarating. I felt like some sort of hero, looking around for the newspaper photographers and the medal for heroism I would surely have gotten!

Despite the rain and wind on the way back it only took us 55 minutes to walk what took us 70 going. I think we must have been so caught up in the dolphins below and avoiding the mud and bogs that we were just much slowing going than coming.

When we got home we tried to get rid of as much mud as we could in the tall grasses of the last few yards to the road, and dried ourselves as much as possible. After all, they had the guest house absolutely spick and span and the 100 guests would be coming to dinner in a short while and the dining room was just next to the front door. The rain had stopped but it was dark and chilly, sort of a mist in the air.

Paul saw us come in and startled us by saying: "Well, I heard you brought Paddy and my cousin a drink at the pub!" There are no secrets in the small villages of Ireland! Word travels very fast. But, those few beers we brought the fellows in Bally David got us prime seating for the evening meal!!!

We did sit in our room and sipped a bit of our own wine before dinner. But my oh my, was the evening meal even more spectacular that night than the night before. Again, we went back to the fish balls for an appetizer, and again, they could well have done for the meal itself. They were just so special and the light sauce one dipped them in after cutting them was so delicate and wonderful. Sally had the crab meat entrée. Masses of tiny crab meat claws, broken and the meat ready to be sucked off like one might suck a mussel out of a shell. I tried one and it was just succulent. I had roulades of sole stuffed with prawns. These dishes were accompanied by lovely vegetables prepared with delicacy and the crispness still there, yet hot and fresh. If that doesn't make you nearly weep, well then you deserve a baloney sandwich for dinner! We accompanied the meal with an Australian chardonnay. Paul suggested dessert, but we could barely crawl away from the table, plus, we knew that a couple hours later we'd have a taste of chocolate with a bit of Bushmills before our weary bodies could collapse into a deep sleep.

Ah yes, one of the two or three best days of the trip, and with the exception of only tomorrow night, that was best meal I've ever eaten and the best meal I had in Ireland. But our last night at The Old Pier was to challenge even that meal we'd just finished.

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Bob Corbett