Thursday, 19 April 2018
Returning to Ballinskelligs
to rekindle memories from
over half a century ago
The Easter Vestry meetings are over, and I am taking a day or two off in Ballinskelligs (Baile ’n Sceilg) in south-west Kerry and in the small village of Dungeagan.
Over half a century ago, when I was in my teens in 1966, there was a real fear that I might fail Irish in the ‘Inter Cert’ the following year. Failing Irish at the time meant failing the full exam outright, and the consequences for families were dire: repeat the full year, which still provided no guarantee of success a second time; leave school and find an apprenticeship, which was never considered in a family such as mine; or being sent to England to a school such as Downside or Ampleforth.
Three of were packed off to Ballinskelligs for a month to learn Irish. It must have been a success: I still remember the England v Germany World Cup final that summer; I boarded with cousins from Co Cork and learned much from them too; and when I returned home and was asked whether I had learned much Irish I answered smartly, ‘No, but I learned a lot about French, eh French kissing.’
During that month in Colaiste Mihichil, I also remember learning Irish dancing, boring evenings listening to the old seanachaí, reading Anne Frank’s Diaries and Catcher in the Rye, having my first smoke, and being challenged to go ‘skinny dipping.’
I was the butt of some slight humour – but all in good taste – because of what must have been a tinge of an English accent at the time. On the other hand, I remember feeling negative about the commemorations that year of the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 1916. If Irish colleges were about shaping national identity then, despite my age, I realised already some people wanted to classify me as an outsider.
My parents never hinted that they heard any reports of my independent behaviour. And yes, I passed Irish in the ‘Inter Cert’ the following year – albeit a pass on a pass paper – and went on finish the ‘Leaving Cert’ in 1969 at Gormanston College, Co Meath.
Now I am back in Ballinskelligs (Baile ’n Sceilg), and back in the small village of Dungeagan, where I stayed over 50 years ago in 1966. I am staying overnight in Tig an Rince. a purpose-built Bed and Breakfast just 500 meters from the local pub and church, and within easy walking distance of the Blue Flag beach in Ballinskelligs.
Ballinskelligs is on the Wild Atlantic Way and on the Ring of Skellig, an extension of the famous Ring of Kerry. It claims it is the ‘Diamond on the Ring, and the Ring of Skellig is a smaller 30 km route with all the beauty but none of the hassle of the Ring of Kerry.
The Ring of Skellig detours west off the N70 just north of Waterville, and hooks back up to the Ring of Kerry just south of Caherciveen.
Ballinskelligs has a Blue Flag Beach at the western edge of a sheltered bay. The area is home to five music venues and a haven for artists, with a world renowned artists’ retreat at Cill Rialaig village, a gallery at Cill Rialaig Arts Centre and regular craft fairs.
The small village of Dungeagan was mainly centred on trade and shops in the late Victorian period. There were three shops here in 1886, and by the 1950s it had five shops.
The church was built here in the 19th century and for generations Dungeagan was the main centre of community life in Ballinskelligs, with two dance halls and that residential Irish College every summer.
I am looking forward to some long walks on the sandy beach, and the sites I hope to reacquaint myself with include the McCarthy Mór Tower, known as the ‘castle on the beach,’ and the 12th century abbey. What other memories are going to be stirred up in Ballinskelligs?