When we decided to start planning our summer holidays this year, I foolishly thought that booking something 4 months in advance was sufficient to book flights and accommodation for our party of six. Well, I realized that I was definitely wrong as I looked at the sky high flight prices for tickets to ANYWHERE to the continent. When I started looking for hotels, I was jolted by the shockingly high cost as well and the limited (READ: NONE) availability for anything anywhere to accommodate 6 people together unless I was ready to fork over a lot (read:Way more than my budget) for multiple hotel rooms or $$$$ for rental homes priced for the rich and famous. I quickly abandoned hope for a holiday abroad, and starting looking locally. I saw some great deals for the fall time for a fraction of the cost and I hatched this plan that I would book tickets and accommodation for Paris now for a trip in October during the kids Halloween break (since they get a week off) and we would take a cheap Irish holiday for the summer.
A neighbor highly recommended the Dingle peninsula, and I was shocked at the high prices and lack of availability in August as well. I blame my mommy brain, because obviously, Ireland is also a top tourist destination for Americans and other Europeans on the continent and everything was pretty much booked out. I had hoped for a place with a pool (because the children don’t seem to think it’s vacation without at least some time at a pool or beach) and was checking out the Dingle Skellig Hotel but it was almost €300/night for two rooms. Not only did I not want to pay that much for our hotel costs (approximately €2000 for 7 nights), but I also did not want us to be all split up as well. Then, there was NO chance or resting or holidaying if I was stuck with the youngest two kids on my own at the hotel.
I played around with the dates and managed to find super inexpensive accommodation at the Dingle Gate Hostel in Annascaul which is still on the peninsula and about a 15-20 minute drive into Dingle. We was able to book a 5 bed room at €90/night and upon ringing the hostel , I was reassured that the baby would be fine and was no extra charge. He would even provide a baby cot (pack-n-play) for her to sleep in. Well, at least, that’s what I think he said because I am still not great at understanding the Irish accent over the phone. I hoped for the best, and then, I rang the Dingle Skellig Hotel about temporary membership options to access their pool and was told that I could purchase a punch card for 5 visits (2 punchs per visit – 1 punch = 1 adult plus two kids) for €90. That all seemed like a steal at €630 + €90 = €720 for the entire week.
When August finally arrived, we were all ready for our second official Irish holiday and set off on our drive to Dingle. This time we were prepared with barfing containers and motion sickness medicine, but the kids were fine for most of the trip as they had had time to readjust to riding in the car again and we didn’t hit any small roads until we arrived to the Dingle peninsula. Since we were staying in Annascaul, Google maps had us approach from Tralee which is interestingly home of the Rose of Tralee Festival and the Rose of Tralee competition which seems like an Irish Beauty Pageant. This was supposed to take place the week after our visit at the same time as the Dingle Horse races which we were glad to miss! We definitely hate crowds!
When we arrived at the hostel, there seemed to be no one around and there wasn’t an obvious front desk. We noticed a little phone in the hall and a small handwritten note that said to ring the number listed. We rang and the manager said he was in the car and on the way back to the hostel after picking up supplies in town and would be there soon (or at least, that’s what I think he said). So, we looked around the main floor and the kids ran around outside like monkeys checking out the pool & piano room in the back of the hostel and following the chickens around.
When the manager arrived, he quickly unloaded his truck and helped us check into our room and gave us a short tour of the facilities. Breakfast supplies were provided (bread for toast, fruit preserves, oatmeal, random cereals, coffee, and tea) all stacked in the corner and there was a large fridge that we could store our food supplies. It was a very large kitchen with two sinks and large U-shaped work station with two sets of large gas cooking ranges in the center. There were several tables covered in various vinyl table cloths lined up snugly around the room and the room connected to a sitting room with a small older looking television, a couch, and couple of lounge chairs.
Our room was en suite and featured a separate toilet and a sink and shower in the small cement room with a single light bulb. Think very basic. The beds were two bunk beds, one set of single bunk beds and the other with a queen on the bottom and the single bed on top. The low window was screenless and looked out to the side of the hostel where the chickens were walking around to Lulu’s delight and my horror as she immediately leaned out the window to look at the chickens. The manager cheerfully brought in the baby cot for Lulu and I suddenly realized that I had forgotten to bring any baby blankets for her bedding!
The drive had taken us about four hours and it was mid-afternoon. We had had our lunch as a roadside picnic on the way to Annascaul. The hostel manager suggested Inch Strand which was nearby as a fun excursion to the kids. We decided to save Inch Strand for the following day and instead drove into Dingle to check it out. As we drove the N86 down to Dingle, it was a hilly road with sharp hairpin turns that left the kids a bit green. But we finally made it and pulled into the small town of Dingle.
Dingle is a good sized picturesque, charming Irish fishing village nestled in between the blue waters of the Dingle Harbour and the mountains and Conor’s Pass behind it. Right before we drove into the actual village, we stopped at the Dingle Skellig hotel to buy swim passes at their leisure center. We took a short swim to satisfy the children and their crazed need to swim before continuing on into Dingle.
Driving into Dingle turned out to be exciting since the streets are windy, narrow, and very steep with mostly just street parking. After looping around the village twice on the one way streets, we made it back to where we started and ended up parking on a side road that would be our go-to-parking spot for the next week. It put us at the edge of the village and we were able to comfortably walk down through the village to the harbour easily. The streets were lined with art shops, the original Murphy’s Ice cream shop, charming sea-themed tourist shops, a Supervalue, many seafood restaurants, and local B&Bs.
We browsed in some of the shops, bought a hot dog each and ate them perched on the edge of a wooden picnic table in an alley in between a pub and small hotel. Hot dogs devoured, we decided to get the kids an ice cream (which they have now associated as an essential to holidays) down by the waterfront which we enjoyed on a little perch overlooking the water. After the ice cream was devoured, we took a walk around the harbour, noting the Fungie the Dingle Dolphin statue, and enjoyed a warm, sunny evening before heading back to the hostel.
We took our time getting up the following morning, but we had plans to go up to Inch Strand in the late morning after everyone had had brekkie and a good nights sleep. We arrived at Inch Strand about 20 minutes later because the road was narrow, steep, and involved some white knuckles at the end as I navigated the car down a narrow, steep road into the car park next to the beach. There was still available parking at 10:30am, but the lot would soon fill up to overflowing by lunch time and we were glad we had gotten here early. We went straight over to Sammy’s, the restaurant on the beach, to get coffees and J opted for a full Irish because he could and we were on holiday. While we were waiting for our coffees and J’s breakfast, the kids couldn’t resist playing in the sand at our feet as we had chosen a picnic table on the edge of the wooden deck.
After coffee, the kids rushed to the water only to find it frigidly cold and jumped back and forth putting their toes in and playing with the sand and searching for pebbles in the surf. The hills rose up from the water on either side of us and it was really very beautiful. People drove their vehicles right up onto the sand and there were a couple different surfing schools set up on the beach. The surfing looked pretty fun as we watched kids run back and forth in their wetsuits with their surf boards. The boys seemed up for the challenge and I booked them two spots in the class the following morning for a single group lesson with Kingdom Waves Surf School.
After a few hours, we headed back into Annascaul to check out Tom Crean‘s pub (his home from his retirement to his death), the South Pole Inn. I’m a bit obsessed with doomed expeditions and the Monkey and I had just read An Unsung Hero which detailed Tom Crean’s life and adventures which included running off to sea at age 15, and playing an important role in both Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s Antarctic Discovery Expedition in 1901-1904 and Ernest Shackleton’s Doomed Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition from 1914–1917. I admit I may have been more of a groupie than my son, but I found his story so fascinating and it was exciting to get to go to his pub! We enjoyed a typical pub dinner there before picking up a few grocery items at the small shop in the village and heading back to the hostel to rest and relax.
The next morning was not as bright as the previous day and I worried a bit about the possibility for rain. But we headed back down to Inch Strand for the boys surf lesson. We arrived early and got a couple of tables in the back of the restaurant and enjoyed some full Irish breakfasts for the grown-ups and miscellaneous kids fair for the kids before the lesson. When it was time for their class to begin, the boys suited up in their wet suits, carried their giant surf boards down to the water, and received some critical instruction from the surf instructor before flinging their bodies into the surf. I think they had a good time. The smiles and laughs started to dwindle at the end. They were the youngest surfers and the smallest by quite a bit. The toll of lugging their giant surf boards back into the surf each time worn down the Puppy first and he was exhausted and ready to just play in the surf with his sisters. The Monkey held on for a bit longer, but the cold water and drizzly weather soon got the best of him as well and the boys were ready to turn in their surf boards and wet suits and warm up.
After everyone had warmed up and dried off, we decided to go back into Dingle and ended up at the Dingle Aquarium which is the largest Aquarium in Ireland and is situated at the very end of the village and . It was fun and Lulu enjoyed looking at all the fish and penguins. We don’t have any great pics from the aquarium as the lighting was quite dim and we refrained from using flash photography. We decided to pop into a lovely hotel for our dinner. It was still early and we decided to pop back into the leisure center at the Dingle Skellig hotel for a quick swim before heading home.