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New documentary Dingle locals speak of their devastation at the loss of Fungie the dolphin

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Fungie

Fungie

Fungie

The townspeople of Dingle have opened up about their bond with the magical dolphin who arrived in the picture postcard town as mysteriously as he disappeared.

A new documentary on Fungie, presented by Baz Ashmawy, is a love letter to the wild mammal who brought joy, prosperity, played matchmaker and even saved the life of one local sailor.

The celebrity dolphin was singularly responsible for an entire tourism industry driven by 16 boats which brought millions to the harbour to catch a glimpse of the creature who loved humans.

In the wake of his sudden departure last October, the Kerry residents have spoken of their deep sense of loss in the poignant film.

“It’s an emptiness. It’s like a family member, we always knew he would go someday but you never expected it to come”, said harbour resident Veronica Flannery.

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Chasing Fungie the Kerry Dolphin

Chasing Fungie the Kerry Dolphin

Chasing Fungie the Kerry Dolphin

Diver John O’Connor and his daughter were the first locals to encounter the 14-foot mammal who was written into the Guinness Book of Records as the longest living solitary dolphin on the planet.

“It was in 1983, she was only 14 at that stage. And we'd go all the way back to the point and on our way back on this occasion, Fungie joined us

“He just swam along nice and gently beside us and it was absolutely magic. My best experience with him was on a night dive.

“The moon was shining. And it was phosphorescence all over the place. And sure enough who arrived only Fungie.

“He would go up to the surface, back down and there would be another trail of phosphoresce. It was absolutely spectacular.

“It was like something you'd see in the Disney film.”

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Morgan Brophy from Garveys Store Dingle from Dingle keep an eye for Fungie -

Morgan Brophy from Garveys Store Dingle from Dingle keep an eye for Fungie -

Morgan Brophy from Garveys Store Dingle from Dingle keep an eye for Fungie -

In Fungie's Kingdom, his scuba diving partner, Ronnie Fitzgibbon, who often wrote poems about the dolphin, remembers the first day Fungie allowed the divers to touch him.

“For two years we were swimming along trying to touch him every time and no matter how near you went to him he just backed away and then it happened one day, he stayed and that was the start, it was unreal.

“If you tickled him under the chin, he’d turn the head and you’d do the other side and he liked to be touched on the nose.

“He didn’t like anyone hanging on to his dorsal fin.”

He also told how the dolphin occasionally came up to the boat with his own offering,

“The first time he came with a fish honest to God I nearly died with the fright and he threw a lot of fish into the boat, but he never threw a salmon, it was always an aul pollack.

“Honest to God you could see that cheeky smile on his face.”

One theory about his appearance was he might have come from the Soviet Union.

“One story is he was with the Russian navy and the Cold War finished and they let him go and he made his way over here", said the scuba diver.

The owner of the smallest record shop in Ireland, Mazz O’Flaherty, had her own joyful memories of an up-close encounter with the enormous mammal during a boat trip.

“I looked to the right and about two feet away from me there was my man, Fungie, looking at me smiling,

“The next thing, he jumps over the boat onto the other side. I nearly fell in after him, I nearly had a heart attack and that this is true as I'm standing here.

“Fungie was a legend, he was known worldwide. He was in the Guinness Book of records."

One Dingle-residing couple, Suzanne and Nick, credit Fungie with bringing them together as Suzanne moved from Dublin and Nick moved from England after becoming hooked on swimming with the dolphin.

“As our kids would say they wouldn’t be here only for Fungie because we met through the dolphin, I came here 25 years or so ago”, said Nick.

Around the same time, Dubliner Suzanne went out on one of the Fungie boats and remembers thinking “it was the most phenomenal thing I had ever seen”.

“I met Nick, they were a great gang of people swimming with Fungie at the time, I still can’t really put it into words, that was it, I wasn’t going anywhere.

“They were days you’d look out into the harbour and he’d come storming up", Nick tells Fungie's Kingdom.

“He would come hydroplaning in on the surface, full speed and next minute he’d do this handbrake turn in front of you”, remembered Nick, “it did bond us together”.

They both describe a particularly remarkable encounter with the dolphin in the harbour.

“Fungie leapt over me, down between us, leapt up the other side down over Suzanne and was doing this figure of eight between us, over and over, intertwining us”, said Nick.

When they got out of the water they were stopped by a lady on the beach.

“She said ‘do you not realise Fungie has just married you’”, said Suzanne.

The director of Dingle Oceanworld, Kevin Flannery, said Fungie was responsible for turning Dingle into a tourist town.

“You would see this fabulous creature, this very large creature in the wild coming up towards you, for life it lives with you.

“He was quite happy there as long as he had food and partnership

“Fishermen began to realise you could make an income from going to see these instead of killing them, one fisherman began to take people out and you finished up with 16 vessels from one single dolphin.

“It’s no joke to say millions of people have gone down to see him down through the years.

“He gave us 37 good years, you can’t do any more than that. We had the Fungie years like we had the Italia 90 years.”

Retired sailor John Francis Brosnan credits Fungie with helping to save his life.

He said: “The thing about Fungie is I am here today because of him. A good few years ago now, I was on a waiting list with my heart because I didn’t have proper insurance.

“But then a week later this French man came to Ireland, I just happened to meet him, and he asked me where the beach was and I said ‘Look get in my car and I’ll show you a few beaches’.

“We were driving along, and I guess he noticed my colour and he asked if I was alright and I said I was on a waiting list for my heart.

“He said ‘I’m a cardiologist’. He came for one day to Dingle to swim with Fungie and he just said to me, ‘I want you on the next plane to France and I’ll fix our heart’.

“So Fungie is always there”, he said, touching his heart.

“You will never see the likes of him again.”

Fungie’s Kingdom will be shown on RTE One on Sunday 27th December, 7.30pm


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