Dingle, Co Kerry

Dingle: In this marvellous summer of The Gathering in Ireland I had come to Dingle, my father’s ait duchas (home place)  to add my family to the mix.

The sun was shining as if by right last week in Dingle, in a summer that will live forever in the minds of the locals as among the best ever. If you haven’t seen the majesty of West Kerry with its soaring mountains, sparkling beaches and tidy towns in the sunshine then I suggest you find an opportunity. God’s country pure and simple.

The Kennedy from Baile Na Boc, the Dowds from Kilcooley, the O’Sheas from Ballydavid ,the Bricks from Gorta Dubh,  the O’Dowds from America, Drogheda, Dublin and other points all came to meet and greet. There are already plans to expand into a new Gathering sometime soon.

I learnt the tales of the fishermen and the farmers and the hard working women I am descended from, the tales of love, loss, emigration and return that pockmark every Irish family. I inhaled them because they become more important to me as I get older and wish to pass them on. A thoughtful local radio producer had dug up tapes of my father, also a writer, talking in Gaelic on radio about Kerry long ago. What a precious gift.

I met relatives I never knew, they shared tales of my grandmother Kennedy I had only the vaguest memory of. Suddenly, a large part of my family heritage came alive to me. I am a walking case study of how The Gathering improved my sense of heritage. Who are we but the sum of those who came before us, lighting the way?

I was also speaking at the Dingle Historical Society, a dynamic local organization headed by local doctor Conor Brosnan which hosts regular forums on the issues that matter in Ireland and locally.

Recently they heard from former Supreme Court Justice Hugh O’Flaherty on his incredible uncle the ‘Scarlet Pimpernel’ Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty from nearby Killarney who saved thousands from the Nazis when based in the Vatican during the Second World War. Gregory Peck played him in the movie.

The local interest and participation is extraordinary. I was their seventy fifth speaker and the local library was thronged to capacity as it always is. To my surprise there were many Americans now living in Dingle among them. I met expatriates from Maine and California, all living their Irish dream.

Though known as a tourist town, Dingle has a vibrant cultural and community ethos that marks it out among Irish towns. Perhaps it is the prevalence of Gaelic speakers in the town which sets it apart but you get the impression of a deeply curious, intellectual community that has history, tradition and intellectual rigor to draw on.

In Benner’s Hotel afterwards I heard conversations about the Hapsburgs, Henry VIII, the geologic age of the West Kerry landscape, the origins of the First World War and many other topics, not the usual Thursday night fare in an Irish pub.

But mostly I connected with relatives I have never known, learnt their stories as they learnt mine. In a global world, dominated by vast corporations and government institutions it was wonderful to reach back into a community and get a renewed sense of the truly important aspects of life, where you come from, who speaks for you and yours, what they say.

All else is less important. Abraham Lincoln talked about the “mystic chords of memory” that bind us all in one of his greatest speeches. Ronald Reagan borrowed those lines in his address to the Irish parliament  in 1984. They came alive to me last week in a special way.