Driving along Conor’s Pass, the most treacherous road in the entire country, I began to imagine the headlines.
“Five Killed in Tragic Yet Scenic Car Storm” or “Five Hurled from Vehicle to Become Seaside Sheep Fodder.” We all politely swooned, oohed and aahed as the car creaked around the tight corners and bent against the wind last weekend during the most horrific storm.
Storm Desmond had us in the grip of his extremely grey claws and as far as I was concerned, death was nigh.
Why take Conor’s Pass in the height of a storm? Why drive to Dingle in Co. Kerry where exposure to the sea is picturesque yet perilous? Why risk our fragile little lives for a view predominantly obscured by sleet and mist?
Because we are young, foolhardy adventurers en route to a little-known music festival called Other Voices and are therefore invincible and obviously quite cool.
As we turned a particularly hazardous corner onto what is quite literally the edge of an enormous mountain and the wind howled against us, we howled back with exclamations like “THIS IS ACTUALLY LORD OF THE RINGS” and “ARE WE THE HOBBITS GOING TO ISINGARD?”
I hadn’t been to Dingle since I was five so my memories are non-existent, having been washed away by two harrowing decades of a normal human life. However, as my father texted me upwards of 400 times throughout the six-hour drive from Dublin with warnings such as “BE PREPARED” and “RUN AND HIDE,” my guess is that this was not his chosen route in and out of one of Ireland’s most remote towns.
With the odds of survival stacked against us, all 14 of us miraculously made it alive to our matching whitewash cottages on the seafront. What ensued can only be described as a typically, almost comically, Irish weekend.
Dingle feels like a film set. It is impressively clean, tidy and color-coordinated. The houses appear as friendly as their jovial inhabitants, the scattered winding streets seem intentionally mischievous and the pubs boast characters worthy of scripts.
We couldn’t help but marvel at the sheer beauty of otherwise conventional establishments such as the SuperValu which was far superior to any SuperValu I’ve ever encountered before, and even the Spar had a special name delicately painted on its cobalt blue façade: Ollmhargadh. Only when we said that out loud did we realize that Ollmhargadh is actually just the Irish word for supermarket, but the sentiment still stands.
Our first evening was spent warming up our insides with traditional libations such as Baileys, Guinness and hot whiskey. With our brains sufficiently melted and creamed, we decided that food should be eaten before attempting to lend our ears to the festival line-up.
Given the fact that the apocalypse was taking place outside, we decided that the best means to get to the Reel Dingle Fish Company on the other side of the town was to sprint. In raincoats. Through a torrential red-warning storm.
With Guinness sloshing in our empty bellies, we flew through airborne ocean-spray and salty rain that slapped our faces raw, all in the name of battered monkfish. Lord have mercy on the men who created this delicacy and may they assent directly to heaven upon their timely, graceful deaths. It was completely worth the 16 gallons of rain that had absorbed into every article of clothing on my body and the pneumonia that is undoubtedly yet to come.
Finally we took to the festival itself. Other Voices is a live music series which broadcasts on RTE 2 and has hosted an annual music event in Dingle since 2002.
Over the years, the festival has hosted such artists as Amy Winehouse, Sinead O’Connor, Ryan Adams and St. Vincent. These high profile folk are housed in the mystical and magical St. James’ Church which operates as the invite-only epicenter for the top acts, all of which are live-streamed into the surrounding pubs for the regular plebs like us to watch.
The church itself only seats 80 and the tickets are hard to come by, but the craic, ceol and chaos that takes place on the music trail of pubs throughout the town is where you get the real sense of the festival.
Of course, that’s easy for me to say because I couldn’t get a ticket to the church. Beggars, etc.
Over the weekend, we watched the lovely Lapsley’s live-stream in Foxy John’s which doubles as a hardware store because back in the day you could sell nails and also have a license. Dingle is all about upholding tradition. Dick Mack’s was also a prime pub which boasts an impressive whiskey selection and features on the Irish Whiskey trail.
We spent a huge amount of time at An Chonair – which we also really embarrassingly struggled to pronounce – where a marquee that was constantly under threat of a violent collapse hosted an array of acts. Friday night saw the floor quite literally bouncing as the crowd aggressively bopped to Hare Squead from West Dublin and Rusangano Family from Limerick.
In the morning, the tent was more under threat by the second coming of Storm Desmond than it was by the people inside it, but Talos from Cork prevailed and managed to be just about louder and considerably more tuneful than the storm itself.
We then took shelter by the Foxy John’s fireside for a majestic performance by the female duo Saint Sister hailing from Derry and Belfast. Another life-threatening run in the rain took us to the Dingle Brewing Company where David Kitt played to a packed -- well, brewery.
Surrounded by the history of Tom Crean who was born in Dingle and whose madcap adventures inspired an entire range of beer, the atmosphere was mighty. Sufficiently serenaded, we hoovered up hot bowls of chowder, further relishing in the treats offered by the stormy sea.
The huge mistake of the weekend was – in an hour of desperation – settling for a Chinese. I’ll use my polite voice and say that the results were rather vile. Stick to the local chowder and the reliable monkfish ’n’ chips.
What makes Other Voices so special is that it hosts a range of artists from all over the country. After a Friday night of rap where the song “Makin’ Love in the Bathroom” by Hare Squead firmly squirreled its way into everyone’s brains, and a Saturday afternoon of Saint Sister’s soothing electric harp warmed our hearts by the fire, Saturday night saw the combustion of my ear drums as Hot Cops blew the roof off Paul Geaney’s, another of the many millions of pubs on the music trail.
The drummer reportedly broke 12 sticks during the hour long gig which equates to one stick every five minutes. It was quite intense. This young, talented and frankly terrifying three-piece from Belfast are among the many artists who are in their debut stage at Other Voices, operating on a watch-this-space basis for fans, enthusiasts and the many influential attendees from the Irish music scene.
The darkest hours in Dingle are those where you have begun knocking on the front-doors of pubs begging to be let inside for just one more pint of the black stuff. The owners will answer the doors, stare at you in the way that only an Irish pub-owner can, probably laugh at you and then tell you to be getting on your way.
The Droichead Beag is one of the last venues to remain open, and the bouncers were quite literally using their own bodies as elastic bands to keep the crowds at bay for the extremely popular Simon Bird gig on Saturday night. Fans wailed and exclaimed in dismay as they were refused entry and forced to linger outside in the hope of catching a glimpse of their idol.
Meanwhile, upstairs, an actual riot had taken place and the bathroom door was kicked open to reveal 60 human beings thronging the tiny bathroom screaming like wild animals. Hell hath no fury like a woman in need of a pee.
By Sunday, the rain had cleared, the storm had subsided and we were given a free pass to wander the streets of Dingle without being beaten and clubbed by Stormy Des.
Our return journey over Conor’s Pass was significantly less traumatic and with the view further unveiled, we could fully revel in the glorious Irish landscape around us.