There is an air of cheeky irreverence the moment I step into the streets of Dublin. There is Oscar Wilde looking at me with a mischievous swagger and in the town is a fishmonger, Molly Malone, who seems to be the unofficial symbol of the city. There is music in the air, a song on everybody’s lips, and feet gently tap to the beat. In true Irish spirit, the anthem of Dublin city features a hawker affectionately called by many names - “The Tart with the Cart” being one of them, or if you fancy, “The Flirt in the Skirt”.
Everything you see, touch and feel in Dublin is quintessential Irish. Humour is everywhere, ironic and hilarious. The stories, the songs, the statues – why, 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 the pot of gold he has stacked up behind the rainbow.
There are legends everywhere - from little men to giants. Lores and literature are written about mountains and rivers and valleys, all laced with wit. And you down all of them with a glass of Guinness beer, gazing at the portrait of Arthur Guinness who smirks at you in his massive Guinness storehouse, a seven-storey pint glass of heady history. At the end of it all, we land up at the Bar, aptly titled “Gravity”, to get a sense of high, at about 45 metres above the town.
The Irish love their music. Even better, they love ditties that sing praise to alcohol. No wonder Bernand Shaw said “Whiskey is liquid sunshine.” The mood is set as we hear Whiskey in The Jar and Seven Drunken Nights and are told that our next destination is a distillery.
We are now on the road, driving from Dublin towards Cork, cruising through the counties of Limerick and Tipperary. We pass the Rock of Cashel, an ancient fortress, an outcrop of limestone earlier known as Patrick’s Rock, which was apparently the seat of the kings here in the fifth century. Local legends say that the Rock was part of the Devil’s Bit, another mountain in Ireland, and was formed when the Devil was chased away by St Patrick. Today, it is a popular Romanesque chapel in Ireland.
We move on from Cashel, listening to a lot of “Blarney” as well. The story goes that Queen Elizabeth I, who had enough of the Lord Blarney’s flattery and empty promises, told him to stop giving her a lot of “blarney” and the word stuck in everyone’s vocabulary. The Irish, of course, went a step further. They claim that in the 15th century Blarney Castle, a stone can give you the gift of the gab, provided, of course, you kiss it. This, of course, leads to several tourists literally bending over backwards to kiss the Blarney stone. However, we are not headed there.
It is late in the afternoon as we enter Jameson Distillery and I am already on a high, 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 apart American, Irish and Scotch whiskeys, we hit the road again, our heads now a little light. I look at the Leprechaun figurine in my hand which says, “The Irish invented whiskey so that they wouldn’t rule the world” with the fairy crushed under a huge bottle.
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, 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 used to build it or the eight bells immortalized 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. We continue our round trip to Dublin, passing 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. Finally, we are back in Tipperary, our last port of halt.
Ironically, I had heard about the county from a Kannada folk song. composed by the legendary Kannada poet T P Kailasam, Namma Tipparahalli Bala Doora (A long way to Tipparahalli). The story goes that Kailasam translated the original World War I song ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary’ after a bet with a British friend. Apparently, even Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali plays a bit of this version.
An ancient heritage town with an imposing castle looks down on the quaint streets. We are in Cahir, based on the Irish word “cathir” or stone fort, which predated the present 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 awhile by the riverside until it is time to leave.
As Shaw says, “Ireland, sir, for good or evil, is like no other place under heaven, and no man can touch its sod or breathe its air without becoming better or worse.”
I believe I have become a wee bit better after my tryst with the Irish.