Dingle Brewery, via a Saint, the South Pole and a Beach

I have not made mention of eating so far, but there was hardly a time when eating was not possible, and breakfast at the Gresham Hotel in Cork was no exception.  Normally I make do with porage or meusli, or something cooked, or toast, and I rarely think of cheese at breakfast, but if they are all there, just waiting for you . . . .why not?  And fruit’s healthy too, isn’t it?  So a little of that can’t hurt.

Waddling out to the minibus, I heard Mia announce a midmorning walk UPHILL.  Fortunately my stomach missed that information and continued with its heroic digesting work, in blissful ignorance of the exercise to come.

In the village of Baile Bhuirne, or Ballyvourney, or Town of the Beloved – depending on how far you wish to anglicise the gaellic – Mia told us of the yong woman who woke up one morning at home in the Aran Islands, somewhat north and west of here, having had a vision, certainly a very convincing dream.  She had to leave and head south until she encountered nine white deer, and there she should stop and establish a religious house.  Now that’s an extreme way to leave home, but I guess it wasn’t so easy then.  “Mum, Dad I’ve got to tell you I really don’t want to stay here providing cheap labour for the family farm, scratching a living out of this bleak, wet hillside until you decide I should marry some guy who’s father has a good field or two, and then drive myself to an early grave raising a dozen or so children, to die never having seen anything but these islands, never having time or energy to think of bigger, brighter or better things.”  No, our lass could not have said these things – BUT “I’ve had a vision” seems to have worked.  Perhaps Pa said to Ma, “Christ, the girls gone crazy, she’ll be no use around here, what with praying and wittling crosses and all that flagellation.  Give her a crust and send her on her way mother”.

Anyway it was here she saw the nine white deer and settled down to become revered down through the centuries.  And at the top of the hill, near her grave, are the stations of the cross and a set of clear notices guiding the devoted  on just how many times to walk around the features of the graveyard, in what order and the themes of the praying to be done whilst you walk.  And to help you become part of history there are features to add to, scratching a deeper groove into the crosses cut on top of a slate pillar for example.

One of several devotional features at the grave of St Gobnait (pronounced Gob-Net), Ballyvourney, Co Cork.

On into Kerry and the Dingle peninsula, and Inch Beach in the rain.  A grand sandspit pushing south, out into the estuary, to nearly be met by a smaller spit growing north from the opposite shore.  Only the flows or the rivers Maine, Laune and Caragh preventing that union.

The well-vegetated dunes and just a sliver of Inch beach, looking south

Then we stopped at a pub, The South Pole Inn, famous for being owned by Tom Crean, who was famous for visiting Antarctica with Shackleton on two expeditions early in the 20th century, and was able to raise a family and run a pub because he decided not to go with Scott on a third expedition.  But there is more to his fame than that, becuase it was Tom Crean who sailed away from Elephant Island with Shackleton seeking rescue for the rest of the crew left behind.  And it was he who climbed, slogged and scrambled over the top of South Georgia island to reach the whaling station from where the rescue was launched.  Tom Crean is the Kerry Giant, and his family have allowed the Dingle Brewery to use his name for their only product – Tom Crean Lager.  There was one other Tom Crean drink – but it was not available on our visit.  Tom Crean Coffee is coffee, brandy, cream and chocolate, served with a Penguin biscuit on the side.  Now that is a Great and witty memorial to the Kerry Giant – but I had to drink the lager.

Brewer, Xavier Baker talking in the converted creamery that is Dingle Brewery. Lagering tanks to the right, mash tun just visible at back centre.

Xavier is English, and used to brew for the Ventnor Brewery on the Isle of Wight, a brewery I visited some years ago before it went broke.  Xavier was trying to make Ventnor Brewery both a commercial brewery and a visitor attraction, and the plan is the same here at the Dingle Brewery.  And they do a good job, with a bar, ticketing system, good explanatory signage, room to see what’s going on, T-shirts and much more for sale, and good talk.  Its just a shame they only brew a lager.

It was here that I first heard the seed of an idea – to work with local farmers to establish a farmer and brewer-owned maltings to supply local small breweries.

Tom Crean lager is not pastuerised.  Although it is filtered several times and ways it has traces of yeast, so it is at its best for a relatively short time.  Therefore the brewery insists each keg is used within 10 days of delivery, and it takes responsibility for keeping the pub lines clean – in exacly the same way that Diageo/Guinness does.

The first anniversary of the brewery happened in the week of our tour, and yes, they also have a new and larger fermenter on order.  Part of their marketing strategy is to target pubs with a good lunchtime food trade, so that their premium lager will be savoured and enjoyed with a meal rather than just used to get drunk on a night out.  This makes sense, the Kerry Giant is known as a still, quiet man, favouring hearth and home, generally with puppies, and not for public brawling and pissing in shop doorways.

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