#2: Fungie

You’ve heard of the Blasket Islands haven’t you? They sound like the type of island you only hear about on an Attenborough documentary; the type that are home to the largest colony of so and so sea-bird, stuck out on a remote atoll miles away from anywhere worth mentioning. You’d be partially right; in the context of the teeny-tiny British Isles, they are untouched, rugged and hostile. In the centre of these outposts, is The Great Blasket Island, christened in a rush you feel, the largest of the collective Blaskets, which number just 6 in total. A slightly more inventive name for these spits of land is Next Parish America, fitting because their real claim to fame is that they are the most westerly point in all of our great continent, tiptoeing in the first few fathoms of the Atlantic chasm, before the ocean goes full steam ahead to North America.

Why am I telling you this? I haven’t been there. But I am currently reading about them in an interesting memoir called The Islander by Tomas O’Crohan. Oh, and I have been within spitting distance of them, in fact I’ve seen them from afar.

The Blasket Islands are located just a few miles offshore from Dingle Town, in County Kerry. It’s all Tolkien landscape around here; Conor Pass, a road which connects the large expanse of Kerry heartland to the bottle-necked Dingle Peninsula, is Top Gear special territory. From there it’s a one way Scalextric track to Dingle, with views to rival the best of the Highlands. I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing all of this because my wife is from Kerry, well born and raised in neighbouring Galway and occasionally abandoned in Kerry, but she only differentiates when it suits. Only by going out to the Republic and speaking to the locals on the (boggy) ground will you find out about Fungie.

Fungie is the Dingle Dolphin, of the bottlenose (tursiops truncatus) variety; he’s middle-aged, male and a near all year round resident of Dingle Harbour. He first ventured into the safety of the harbour in the mid-eighties and quickly established himself as the new kid on the block - besides a handful of short instances, he’s never left. The intelligence of his species does give rise to mood swings that are comparable to the coastal Atlantic weather he oversees; he is prone to bouts of cantankerous, blokey aloofness, when he’ll remain virtually anonymous for weeks and months at a time. But rest assured, the local tour guides still head out there everyday - by boat or canoe - trying to coax him out of his stupor.

We were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of him on a stunning spring afternoon when we first holidayed together in Kerry; that day he could be seen shepherding the sea safaris to and from the pier, all the while chasing the chop of the wake, butting the surface and helixing the air. He spent an entire afternoon repeating these tricks to his adoring public; the tour guides are in cahoots and they go back and forth over radio to give updates on Fungie’s rough location. It’s all done at a safe distance - they have traffic calming measures - and most days he retreats to a reclusive corner of the cove to recover. Sometimes he’ll be snapped having snagged a garfish, other days he’ll head out past his self-imposed boundary into the wider Irish Sea to fish. Perhaps to do circuits of the Blasket Islands…

Dingle is a provincial panhandle, picturesque, and driving down there feels like you’re heading to the edge of the world. The local businesses and townsfolk seem to be as reliant on their aquatic celebrity for tourists as their counterparts who surround Loch Ness, relatively speaking. Having spent time on the banks of that great body of water too, I strongly recommend you head to both if you can. During your Dingle day be sure to sample one of the superb local chippys once you’ve ventured out into the spray looking for Fungie. When you’re up around Ness, share the driving, or a rubber-necking related accident is a certainty - the pine tree lined roads are that pretty. You can see it all from the warmth of your car; don’t bother straying down to the Loch itself, there are plenty of tours and a plethora of photo opportunities, but no Fungies, and certainly no Plesiosaurs.

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