One of the frequently remarked-upon features of Dingle is its collection of hybrid pubs that also sell hardware, rubber boots, or other useful items. One suspects that nowadays these places maintain their inventory more to add “authentic atmosphere” than in expectation of local people actually buying anything, but still, who can resist a bar with a window display of a pink child’s bicycle?
At Foxy John’s we barged in on a group of flannel-clad guys intensely discussing the game on the TV set: the Masters golf tournament. I had a moment of worry that we might face hostility from this gang of golf hooligans, but as it turned out they were quite civil. Among them was a young emigrant who had recently returned with a foxy American girlfriend. Girlfriend: “I’m a media buyer.” Guy at bar: “I don’t think we have those here.”
On the bar was a copy of the Independent carrying headlines about the funeral of the Catholic policeman in County Tyrone who’d been blown up by dissident Republicans. I started to look at the cover story, but the guy next to me flipped the paper over. “I think people are making too much of that,” he said. Everybody continued talking about Rory McIlroy. I stared at the sign behind the bar advertising Cheese Flavoured Moments, and the handwritten one on the wall advertising 18 MONTHS OLD SHEEPDOG BICH / ANXIOUS FOR WORK / EXCELLENT TEMPERMENT / EXELLENT BREEDING / NEGOTIABLE.
The next evening we went to Dick Mack’s pub-slash-haberdashers, where I doubt any hankies have been sold in many a year. They have stars on the sidewalk celebrating famous customers including Robert Mitchum and “Julie Roberts,” who must have come here while researching her role as what was really at stake in the Irish Civil War.
Business was slow so we started chatting with the bartender. R. eventually worked up the courage to ask her was was up with the signs we’d been seeing around town that said “DINGLE / DAINGEAN UI CHUIS: A TOWN DENIED DEMOCRACY.” She explained that this was a response to the national government’s insistence on naming the town An Daingean despite a referendum in which residents voted for the town to keep the name Dingle in parallel with the locally accepted Irish name, which is not An Daingean but Daingean Uí Chúis. Because Dingle is in a Gaeltacht (officially Irish-speaking) region, all road signs are required to identify it by the official Irish name, which in this case seems to be about as relevant as the Haberdashery sign on the front of Dick Mack’s.
This topic segued into a thoroughly depressing anecdote about the bartender’s sister dropping out of high school when it was announced that the leaving certificate exams in the Gaeltacht areas would henceforth be held exclusively in Irish, in which many locals are far from fluent.
We could have spent more time discussing the mysteries of cultural policy, but eventually the conversation turned toward a more urgent nomenclature issue: whether the tuniclike garment the bartender had on should be considered a “dress” or a “top.” Either way, she said, “I won’t be goin’ up that ladder.”