Paddy Ferriter spent his life living at the small lighthouse at the eastern entrance to Dingle Harbour. A keen observer of the land, sky and seascape of his surrounds, in the late autumn of 1983 Paddy noticed a solitary dolphin following fishing boats entering and leaving the harbour from and to Dingle Bay.
The following spring, two local sub-aqua divers; John O Connor from Dingle town and friend Ronnie Fitzgibbon from Tralee became the first to dive and snorkel with this wild animal while maintaining their distance in a space of shared curiosity. That distance grew less over time with John and his daughter Niamh beginning regular swims with the dolphin now named Fungie by local fishermen, before in 1986 Shelia Stokes and photographer Brian Holmes began visits to Dingle from Cork that over a three year period, saw Shelia develop a powerful personal relationship with the dolphin culminating in precious moments where this 4 metre (13 foot) wild mammal began to delight in Shelia’s touch. Soon after a local kayaking couple Adrian Devlin and Mary McGillycuddy began regular paddling sessions with him with Mary becoming another firm female favourite for him. Soon after, swimmers Alfie Hughes from Tralee and Siobhan Daly from Caherciveen were drawn to Dingle to pursue their connection with him in a period when just mere handfuls of local enthusiasts and those drawn to Dingle purposefully to share time with Fungie had this wild dolphin to themselves.
Though the behaviour of “solitary-sociable dolphins” had been observed at a number of locations around the world, Fungie’s shenanigans was a first for Ireland and soon, news of this phenomena brought visitors to Dingle from all Ireland and beyond keen to catch a glimpse of this wild creature from a boat or the shore line or to get in the water with him, all before he would surely leave again soon as was expected.
By 1990, widespread national and international attentions had been brought to the Dingle Peninsula and its famous resident through newspaper and magazine articles, photographic exhibitions and coverage in television news and documentary films.
The ‘90’s rolled on and into a new millennium and there has been much change in Ireland since Paddy Ferriter first spotted the strange antics of a dolphin 37 years ago. In this time, Paddy has passed on as indeed have others who made early contact with Fungie who and in this time too was free to leave as he arrived, to explore the open waters of the great oceans. Throughout this time, there was always a sense he might just be gone one day but for 37 years, Fungie just stayed on.
Other schools of dolphins came and went through the environs of Dingle Bay over the years, some with whom it’s known he interreacted with before returning home to interact with sapiens around the mouth of Dingle Harbour. Much has been written on what the motivation might be for such rare behaviour where bottlenose dolphins that usually live within structured social groups of up to one hundred of their own end up living isolated lives with an apparent craving for human interaction. In the case of the “Dingle Dolphin”, this has manifest through near daily interaction with swimmers, divers and kayakers or the families and individuals who are taken to the harbour’s mouth in local boats to greet him over nearly four decades, substantially longer than the average lifespan expected for his species in the wild.
2020 is of course unlike any other year in our lives and as winter on the Dingle Peninsula rolls in towards the end of this Covid-year, an added melancholy hangs over the town as all those whose lives were touched by this beautiful creature who seemed to offer a personal connection to his world adjust to his likely passing. Fungie was last seen on the morning of October 13th last. In the days that followed an anxious wait followed with hopes that after a little galivanting somewhere he might leap from the water and announce to those who have kept a watchful eye on the surface of these Atlantic waters that he was just joking. No sightings led to outpouring of wishes and moments shared by children and adults who had met him over the years, long coastal searches and teams of divers searching his favourite caves. The searches have been in vain and now, there is a growing acceptance in Dingle that their beloved dolphin has probably finally passed on. It is a feeling of some sadness of course but also with a deep gratitude for the many gifts bestowed by the playful visitor who dropped by one day and stayed for most of his life.