Lost in translation in Dingle, the town with two names

DISPLACED IN MULLINGAR: THERE WAS A BIG man standing outside the Centra shop in the middle of Dingle, with the Sunday newspapers…

DISPLACED IN MULLINGAR:THERE WAS A BIG man standing outside the Centra shop in the middle of Dingle, with the Sunday newspapers under his arm, and looking about, as if he was waiting for someone.

I was driving around in circles because I was lost. Around and around I went, passing shop façades painted in garish colours; they must look delightful on a sunny day or a warm evening, but on a wet Sunday morning they looked as sad as a middle-aged bride in drizzle.

The second time I passed the big man I decided to stop. I got a parking spot right beside him, hopped out and asked him did he know where I might find the road to Tralee.

He said he didn't know, because he was from Tullamore.


"I'm just here for the weekend," he said apologetically.

I, too, was in Kerry for the weekend. I stayed in the Tralee Townhouse, a large BB run by a kindly woman called Eleanor, who was always smiling, and ever ready to make my stay in Kerry comfortable. On Saturday morning, as she served me a splendid breakfast of bacon and eggs, I mentioned that I had found the night a bit chilly, and by afternoon there was an extra duvet on my bed, and a heater in the corner.

Tralee is a wild party town on weekends. I was on the third floor, in a room that overlooked the car park of the garda station, which was a consolation, because the unruly mobs pouring out of pubs in the middle of the night made a ferocious hullabaloo; revving cars, playing loud music and fighting.

I explained to the man outside the Centra that Dingle was now called "An Daingean". I wondered did he have an opinion on the matter. He said that he hadn't realised anything had changed.

"I've been coming here 30 years," he said.

"It was always Dingle. I presume it is still Dingle."

"Well it's not," I declared. "Not anymore." He looked like a stranded whale.

"But we're in Dingle," he said. "Aren't we?" His eyes were watering. Either he was suffering from a severe hangover, or he was deeply afflicted by melancholy; I couldn't tell.

I said, "Yes, of course we are in Dingle. You haven't been beamed into a parallel universe; but it's officially not Dingle anymore, even though it is Dingle."

He looked like he desperately wanted his wife to come out of the Centra with the dinner, and take him away and give him a bottle of milk or something.

"So what is it, if it's not Dingle?"

"Daingean," I said. "In fact, to be specific, it's An Daingean."

"On-deng-in," he repeated, with as much phonetic loyalty to my pronunciation as he could muster. He may not have seen an Irish grammar book for a very long time. He may have flung his Irish schoolbooks into a lake on the day he finished his Leaving Certificate. He may have been coming to Dingle for 30 years without knowing where the Tralee road might be, or without even realising that Dingle was merely a foreign word rhyming with shingle, mingle and tingle; a colonial ornament.

"And so," I concluded, "Dingle is no longer Dingle."

He announced that his wife was in the Centra getting the dinner and that she'd be out in a minute. He may have wished to indicate that he was not alone, and that if I didn't go away she might come out and beat me up. But I persisted. I couldn't abandon him in that fog of unknowing, in which he staggered.

"Did you ever notice all the coloured shop fronts in Dingle?" I asked.

"Yes," he said, "of course."

"Well," I said, "They're not the real walls. If you took off all that plaster and pebbledash, you'd find the old grey stones or bricks underneath, with which each shop was originally constructed. And if you peeled off all that yellow and purple and mauve paint, then you would discover the real street. The street as it was originally. Do you get me?"

"Oh yes," he said. "I get you now. I get you now all right."


I bought a coffee in the Centra, and a pack of AAA batteries. I asked the girl at the check-out how to get to the Tralee road.

"Go straight through the roundabout," she said.


Michael Harding

Michael Harding

Michael Harding is a playwright, novelist and contributor to The Irish Times