EUROPE In Ireland, the journey is often the destination. And this has nothing to do with the whiskies you've sampled, writes Lakshmi Sharath
T here is music in the air, a song on the lips, and the feet gently tap to the rhythm of the beat. We are on the road, driving from Dublin towards Cork, cruising through the counties of Limerick and Tipperary listening to the strains of Molly Malone, the unofficial anthem of Dublin city, featuring a fishmonger. The statue of the lady however stands in the heart of the city and is affectionately called many names — “The Tart with the Cart” being one of them, or if you fancy, “The Flirt in the Skirt”.
The music changes and we are now lost in the melody from the pipes that takes us into a faraway land, as we journey into the world of fairies and giants, castles and towers. I am blinded by the many shades of green while the sun lights up the mountains in the distant horizon. My eyes shut for a moment and I can almost feel invisible voices whispering an old Irish blessing in my ears
Leprechauns, castles, good luck and laughter.
Lullabies, dreams and love ever after.
A thousand welcomes when anyone comes...
That's the Irish for You!
In Ireland, the journey becomes the destination. The stories, the songs, the statues — even stones have their own legends, all laced with the quintessential impish Irish wit. And the Irish say it with such a straight face that you will probably believe that you can actually catch a Leprechaun and get him to part with his pot of gold that he has stacked up behind the rainbow. Our coach driver and guide Andrew Beggs, for instance, who never falls short of a story says it in his impeccable style with a wee bit of “Blarney”.
Andrew tells us how the stone of the 15th century Blarney Castle can give you the gift of the gab, provided of course you kiss it. Tourists literally bend over backwards to kiss the Blarney stone, which has several legends and magical properties around it. But then, Andrew says, “blarney” (the word) actually means a lot of empty talk and narrates a tale on its origin. Queen Elizabeth I who had enough of the Lord Blarney 's flattery and empty promises apparently told him to stop giving her a lot of “blarney” and the word stuck in everyone's vocabulary.
Over ripples of laughter, we wonder if we are heading to kiss the Blarney stone, but Andrew takes us instead to the Rock of Cashel. The ancient fortress, an outcrop of limestone was earlier known as Patrick's Rock, who apparently converted the kings here in the 5th Century. Today it's one of the popular Romanesque chapels in Ireland. We move on from Cashel, listening to its little tales and myths, driving beyond Tipperary. The county is all excited as it faces Dublin in a soccer final and flags flutter around.
I had first heard about Tipperary ironically through a Kannada folk song and it is my turn to tell Andrew a story.Years ago, I had listened to a folk song composed by the legendary Kannada poet T.P. Kailasam: ‘Namma Tipparahalli Bala Doora'. The story goes that Kailasam translated the original World War I song ‘It's a Long Way to Tipperary' following a bet with a British friend.
The Irish love their music. Even better, they love those ditties that sing odes to alcohol. No wonder Shaw said that “Whiskey is liquid sunshine.” As Andrew plays ‘Whiskey in the Jar' and ‘Seven Drunken Nights', we know we are headed to a distillery. And Jameson it is. It is late in the afternoon and I am already on a high and all set to learn how to smell, sip and feel a whiskey warm your throat. After a few more tasting sessions and learning to tell the American, Irish and Scotch whiskeys apart, we hit the road again, our heads now a little light. I look at the Leprachaun figurine in my hand. It says, “The Irish invented whiskey so that they wouldn't rule the world.”
We reach Cork and head to the bustling English market and follow it up with a city tour. The River Lee paints a pretty picture as we drive around the port city, gazing at its Georgian architecture, its cathedrals and steeples and shopping for curios. My favourite, however, is the Church Tower of Shadon, known as the Church of St. Anne. Every aspect of this church tells a tale — be it the mix of sandstone and limestone that was used to build it or the eight bells immortalised in a song or the famous four clocks, often referred to as the Four Faced Liar as they never showed the actual time.
But Cork is not the eventual destination. As we continue our round trip to Dublin, we pass by ruins of towers, lush fields with cattle grazing and head to a shopping village, a Japanese garden depicting the life of man and an Irish stud farm, home to fine thoroughbreds. And finally we are back in Tipperary, at our last port of halt. An ancient heritage town with an imposing castle looks down the quaint streets. We are in Cahir, based on the Irish word ‘cathir' or stone fort which predated the current castle built in the 13th Century. I climb up the fortress built on the banks of the River Suir and take in the view. Elsewhere the statue of a musician with pipes creates soulful music. I sit there for a while, by the riverside until its time to leave. As the breeze blows, I may have imagined this, but I did feel that someone whisper an Irish blessing in my ears:
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
And rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.