My Smalltown Love Affair: From a Tiny Dot to a Tinier One

They say the town of Dingle has a population of 1,500. I know, I’m using the universal “they” here as I can’t seem to verify a number online, talented fact checker that I am not, but this is the number I hear and read most often.

And there’s certainly irony in it. Even if the number is under by a whole 500, according to one or two.

I mean, one of my biggest gripes with living in Lakeport was that it was so small. You couldn’t go to the grocery store without seeing at least one person you knew. And Lakeport boasted a big 5,000.

This past October, I decided to come here because I already had a contact here. A playwright. Someone who, as a creative, believed in the magic of the place. I’ve been curious about Dingle since two years ago when, on a whim, I chose the hand behind my life’s back containing a month-long trip to Bali instead of Ireland.

And she was right. It was love at first sight. There’s just something to this tiny dot that called to me from the vastness of a wide world map.


While engaging in conversations with strangers, not a single soul has ever flinched when I admit I’m writing a book. The most common response has actually been: “Well, you’ve come to the right place.”

They’re all used to this sort of thing, no matter how small or sheltered Dingle might seem.

In fact, I frequently ran into or was introduced to other playwrights and authors. To poets and musicians, painters and filmmakers. To metal sculptors and woodworkers.

See, the actual problem is that I’m a pretty private person. It’s not that I don’t open up easily. When I feel comfortable with an individual, I’ll tell them much about myself and try to create safe space for them to do the same. It’s my way.

But I don’t like to feel easily read. I don’t want people to gather enough narrative from a distance to write my story for me in their own minds — or worse, collectively with friends.

I value my anonymity. If there are impressions to give, I want to give them directly, with my own voice. People are welcomed to distort from that point on, but at least I’ve had the opportunity to write me first.

None of us wants to get figured out. We’d like to believe that we’re walking riddles. That we’ve cracked everyone else’s codes while remaining utterly unsolvable ourselves.

But it’s nonsense. During my stay before, I got myself into something of a “like” triangle — more like a spider web in pattern and stickiness. And no matter how private I tried to keep my life, everyone I knew — along with everyone they knew — knew some version of everything. I couldn’t hide.

It’s impossible to get to know the opposite sex here, for instance, unless you’re willing to be completely in the open about things from the beginning. Unless you’re totally comfortable with the public nature of your I’m-not-sure-where-this-is-going-and-it’s-not-quite-yet-a-relationship-of-any-kind-but-everyone-seems-to-know-all-about-it-anyway connection.

To make matters worse, I live in the heart of downtown, right next to two of the most popular pubs. You can easily see into my apartment window from the street. I cannot hide.

So, why then — why would I choose to return to the epicenter of this brightly lit glass house that is Dingle?

dingle town 3

When I began my affair with Dingle, I told a close friend how confused I was about my connection to the place, especially considering how exposed I felt.

“It makes sense,” she said. “You value deep, intimate connections.”

I hadn’t thought of it that way. Real anonymity is only available in big cities where one could slip by unnoticed. Here, I was forced to let people in. And it’s true that I preferred this over surface-level connections. Even if it meant they might learn more about me than I’d intended.

These connections made my life feel fuller. There’s power in vulnerability. In the exchange of a single secret. In showing a card or two, if by accident.

Besides, by now, the spider web has been swiped away and I’ve maintained all of my original friendships.

And should my future decisions, actions, and evolving image come to change people’s minds about me, should interactions change or die because I’m living aloud, from just inside the glass walls, then I’ll have to accept the sometimes finite nature of human relationships.

That those who truly care will always be there. It’s a life lesson I’m just now beginning to grasp, or at least lightly graze with my fingertips.

Because the truth is the smalltown mentality was never the problem. It’s always the culture of a place that really draws you in or spits you out. As Dingle and the small village in Bali where I spent nearly all of my time while on the island have drawn me in.

Penestanan (Bali) is spiritually charged, it’s soft and peaceful, slow and relaxed; it’s graceful and artistic. And in Dingle, it’s about great craic (more on this soon, but for now, think good times), literature, art, warmth, charm, and ease. In both places, there’s also tremendous natural beauty and a sense of innocence that’s nothing short of moving.

Although I had wonderful connections in Lakeport, it could never be my kind of small town. Forgive me, dear residents.

dingle harbor photo

No matter how tiny this place is, my biggest dreams and deepest passions know no limitations. My own contracting and expanding are met only with open arms and elastic skies. I just fit here.

We were made for each other.


Top photo by Sean Tomkins (of Galway, Ireland)

3 responses to “My Smalltown Love Affair: From a Tiny Dot to a Tinier One

  • Hank Fieger

    Penny, you described my experience of living in San Francisco, Nayarit, (San Pancho) exactly. Here we only have 2,000 residents, at most. Thanks for your beautiful words and your vulnerability…I’ve been to Dingle but only for a few hours. It was beautiful!


  • Diana

    You are amazing!!!! So good to hear from you in your litttle tiny world…so far away!!!! I was missing your posts! Love reading your blog!!!! Thank you so much for sharing your adventures ! Love you, Diana

  • Denise Jungen

    Thank you my darling granddaughter for sharing with me. I can’t wait to hear more and would like to see more photos of this beautiful place. Love you..

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