We had a second full day on the Dingle peninsula. I won’t lie, having done the Slea Head Drive the day before I sort of felt like we had taken a good sample of the place. I mean, you could spend a month ANYWHERE and not see the same thing twice if you were willing to dig deep enough, but on a time budget you have to draw lines. Still, I was curious. I had found a website online pretty much by chance for Danny Sheehy – he does no marketing and, in fact, asked me at one point how I had even heard of him to call. When I told him I found him via his site he honestly looked surprised. “Oh, that thing? Forgot I had it.” But I’m getting ahead of myself. I found the site for Danny and got in touch with him – he offers customized walks featuring “[a] poet, a farmer, an author, a fisherman… a man at home on sea or land;” him, in other words. I showed him to Lisa, and she said “sure, what the heck.”
We had a lot of great experiences on our honeymoon, but whenever we’ve been asked what topped our list, we both say “our day with Danny Sheehy.”
Danny met us mid-morning, after breakfast. The people who owned our inn knew him; it seemed that everybody on Dingle knew him. He’s not “famous”, exactly, because I’m not sure that any two people ever have put their heads together to realize that anybody else knows him. They just all do. We hopped into his car and explained that we’d already hit some high points of the peninsula, and he should just follow the wind (or probably something much less poetic) where ever it blew him. It turned out to blow him mostly towards the Blasket Islands.
I wrote a bit about the Blaskets before – a divergent population that lived mostly on its own until the islands were evacuated in 1953 due to the government’s inability to offer adequate services combined with a diminishing population. Danny is an ardent proponent of Irish cultural traditions (such as speaking Irish in the schools and such) and I think he sees the … well, destruction of the Blasket community as a microcosm for what could happen to Ireland in his nightmares. In any case he spent a good deal of time telling us about the tradition of great writers that came out of the islands, and even took us to a graveyard where two of their best, Peig Sayers and Tomás Ó Criomhthain (don’t ask me to pronounce it). They both wrote, among other works, memoirs of life amongst the people of the Blaskets; works that are considered classics within Irish literature.
We drove for a couple of hours that day, just hearing stories. I barely remember the details, and honestly me telling them would be a pitiful attempt at recounting the day; the man was a bard, pure and simple. Storyteller, rogue, cager, farmer… heluva mix. After awhile, needing to check on his mother, I think it was, he took us to his home. A low-ceilinged, 100-year-old or more farm house, it was absurdly authentic. Five will get you ten that he knew exactly what he was doing, but we were both incredibly touched that he let us wander through his home while he attended to this and that, looking over the artifacts of his life. See, Danny is a doer of things. Those boats in the photo up top? In 2007, he traveled in one of those authentic boats (their crafting dating to the Bronze Age, apparently) with another man, a sculptor. They went 200 miles in a keel-less, light weight boat through the treacherous waters of the North Atlantic to follow in the
foot paddlesteps of St. Columcille. You can read about it here. When we talked to him he was working on a documentary about an Irish immigrant in the U.S. who walked 1,000 miles from Peoria to New York so that she could return her 2 daughters to Ireland after her husband died. You can read about his progress here and here. He created a book along with a Swiss print maker and designed about the stone walls of Dingle. He was also planning another boat trip to recreate the travels of a Bible; I forget the story, sadly, but it’s another of those “you don’t realize it but the Irish actually created <thing that’s vitally important to civilization>” storied that you hear in Ireland, some of which may even be true. Meanwhile he raises herds of cattle and sheep, grows a bit, and writes poetry on the side.
He tells us great stories about all of these things, and then I accidentally tried to kill him. See, we learned throughout the day that he hates, haaaaaaaates, seat belts. He would drive an obscenely long time with the bell going off before reluctantly snapping the thing in. He told us how it was a relatively recent law in Ireland (actually in 1979, but they’ve never mandated retroactive fitting and I suspect he just drove older vehicles for the longest time). He also shared how, when coming home drunk from the pub, he’d wear his annoyance with the alarm bell all the way home. (Yes, you can eyeroll. We eyerolled. You think we were going to change his mind?) Anyway, I had recently seen a television show that had a key plot point revolve around the “fact” that police officers on stake out will buckle their seat belt and then sit over it; thus shutting the alarm off for good w/out actually having to be buckled in. I have no idea what came over me, but I shared this bit of trivia with Danny.
Well. I’ll be damned if his face didn’t light up like a very bright thing. “Oh, John! What a great idea!” Well shit. Still, the man had been drunk driving for who knows how long, with no seat belt and a bell yelling at him. Now there’s no bell, big deal. This is what I tell myself.
He dropped us off at the inn. Lisa got out and I pulled out my wallet. “You know, Danny, we never actually settled on the price.”
“Oh, whatever you think is fair.”
“How about 100 euro, then?”
“Can you make it 120?”
“Sure, Danny.” I’d have paid him whatever he wanted, really. There’s “authentic” experiences where the tour takes you to a “real pub” so you can have a Guinness while music is played in the corner, and then there’s a poet farmer who drives you around and tells you about dead cultures and his own fight to save his, who takes you for coffee at a pottery gallery (and has the good grace to act surprised when you offer to buy his) in the middle of absolutely nowhere, and who parks you in his house and recites his poetry.