Chitra Gopinathan succinctly captures beauty of Ireland, a land of mythology and legends through her blog ‘Chitra’s Musings’ – UKMALAYALEE

Chitra Gopinathan succinctly captures beauty of Ireland, a land of mythology and legends through her blog ‘Chitra’s Musings’

Monday 21 November 2022 8:49 PM UTC

Chitra Gopinathan is a Consultant Anaesthetist working at Queens Hospital in Romford. Her hobbies and passions are varied. She enjoys the creative side of herself. She attempts a bit of writing and drawing when she gets the chance and feels inspired. She has a blog site, ‘Chitra’s musings’ at gchitra.com. Although it was a regular feature, it has now become a bit adhoc as she puts it. She enjoys reading, travelling and eating out.

By Chitra Gopinathan

During the winter months I forget how the sunshine felt on my skin. The warm sensation when you do not need to cover yourself with a thick cardigan always felt like a distant memory. For the past few weeks I’ve had my wish and much more. The intense heat has waxed and waned and along with it it has managed to keep the rain away. The plants suffered, the birds quizzically gazed at the empty birdbaths and the trees started shedding their leaves. Newspapers ran articles on the spreading drought, the hosepipe bans, the wild fires sweeping the countrysides and gave us advice on how to conserve water. Then for a brief period yesterday the heavens opened. The pattering of raindrops on the roof was enough to excite us. “Can I play in the rain, I love the feeling of raindrops on my face”, Lakshmi exclaimed. The searing heat sated our needs but now the needs have changed. The dying trees, the withering plants, the sad looking landscape, we need some relief and it has come in the form of raindrops. The earth rejoiced and we breathed a sigh of relief looking forward to catching up on lost sleeps.

Did the rain come at the wrong time though? Possibly. We are on the coach making our way to Ireland, a trip that was postponed for almost three years due to covid restrictions, but here we are finally on the way. I used to call these trips the ‘Bhaji on the beach’ trips after the film by Gurinder Chada. The images of aunties in their sarees lounging on deck chairs on the beach trying to have a good time surrounded by skimpily clad locals, is what it reminded me of. The elderly aunties always enjoyed the trips. Their husbands long gone, they found it gave them a chance to travel safely without any worry. Our aunties didn’t turn up this time for the trip. The pandemic still seems to be worrying them, casting long shadows and dampening their enthusiasm. Looking around the group, I realise that we are the aunties now. Reality sinks in but that doesn’t deter us. Age is but a number and we are all still young at heart. Listening to the banter, the laughter and the jokes, I sit back in my corner seat, the seat I always occupy at the back of the coach. A seat where I can stretch my legs and be quietly forgotten. The last few rows of the coach are where the jokers gather, most of them capable of doing their own stand up comedy acts. The wisecracks they are a plenty filling the air followed by bursts of laughter. There was a slight scare when the driver took us to the wrong ferry port and then had to put his foot down to get us to the correct one. Missing the crossing means missing the whole trip. I wondered how strong the hearts were, both of the driver’s and the leader of the trip. I didn’t ask around if anyone was capable of providing CPR. Luckily we didn’t have to resort to any heroics and made it to the ferry by a whisker. Once on the ferry, no one needed an excuse to head straight to the bar. Nerves were in tatters and nothing less than a Guinness was going to calm them. The four hours passed quickly and here we are in Ireland. The weather is overcast and a good ten degrees lower than what we have been used to, but it doesn’t matter, we finally made it. A trip that has had its fair share of disruptions, but even if the weather doesn’t hold up everyone is ready for an enjoyable few days.

Second day: The morning traffic snakes past the river Suir which looks grey and muggy. The flags in front of the hotel are swaying a bit too vigorously for my liking. Views that greet me as I peek through the curtains in the morning. The weather does not look promising, the forecast says 19 degrees but is likely to feel 9 in the wind. Oh well I thought, what a contrast from the day before. It is Chingam onnu, the beginning of the Malayalam calendar year. A day that determines how the rest of the year might fare. It didn’t take long for the sun to make an appearance and soon the river Suir was glistening. In the coach there was no need for extra help. The group was at their jovial best. One by one the members from the front of the bus decide to join us in the back and the teasing started. Do I detect a bit of bromance brewing? It is all done in good humour, with no offence intended or taken and reciprocated with equal gusto. Some join in, the rest of us fall about laughing till we can laugh no more. Music and cheerful banter continue as the coach weaves past the picturesque landscapes. The heatwave hasn’t caused as much damage here as it has back home.

The coastal town of Cobh in County Cork is our destination today. Boasting one of the largest natural harbours in the world this is where the Titanic made its third and final stop before making its fatal voyage to New York in April 1912. Our guide talks us through the stories of those who embarked from the dock on 11 April that year looking forward to better and brighter horizons only to meet their destiny a few days later and the lucky few who disembarked and lived to tell the tale. This included a photographer who took the only surviving pictures from inside the Ocean liner. We are listening to the tales from the building the journey started. There is one photo of all the passengers taken from the very balcony we are standing on. Images that later helped James Cameron recreate scenes in his epic movie. Once upon a time tragedies like this would have been a bit difficult to comprehend but in this day and age with wars raging far and near, seeing the destruction at Hiroshima, Twin towers, Phnom Penh etc etc I wonder if my feelings have become eroded and numbed over time. One thing I did find sad was that more passengers and crew who could have been saved were not as over 400 life boat spaces were wasted and not utilised.

It was almost lunchtime when we finished the ‘Titanic experience tour’. There is plenty to do in this colourful town. The rows of houses and shops painted in different contrasting colours is the first vision that greeted us as we reached here this morning with St Colman’s Cathedral looming in the background. Spike island is a short boat ride away and with the harbour bathing in pleasant sunshine, there is much to enjoy. Our group which comprises of likeminded individuals however did what we do best, we found an idyllic pub and chatted over a pint of cold brew till it was time for the coach to depart and take us to our next hotel in Tralee where we will be staying for the next three days.

Along the way we drive past river beds exposed by low tides leaving a narrow stream of water running through them. A very different sight to the full flowing rivers from this morning. Cows and sheep graze green pastures. Fields resembling a patchwork quilt cover the undulating landscape. With evening approaching the sunshine fades and grey clouds gather. The singing competition in the coach continues till we reach the hotel. Breathtaking views, jolly company and so far lovely food, can things get better. Let’s see what we have in store tomorrow.

Third day: “Where are you off to today?”, asks the young porter who is holding the lift door ajar for us as we make our way down to the restaurant for breakfast. “The Dingle Peninsula”, we reply. “I hope the mist clears by then”, he says and adds, “it was quite thick this morning on my drive down to work”. How will it pan out today, I wonder. It has been raining and once again the view from the room is not very encouraging. After breakfast we wait for our tour guide to arrive before taking our usual seats on the coach.

Sheila, our guide, gives us enough time to settle down before introducing herself. “Have you been to Ireland before?”, she starts her routine, to which the immediate response was “yes, yesterday”. Poor Sheila, she doesn’t know what she has in store for her today. She tells us that she never prepares a script for these guided tours and so never knows where her stories will take her. Ireland, a land of mythology and legends, is a rich source of such tales. In between a few history notes and information about our surroundings she entertains us with stories of the land. She starts with a tragic love story between William Pembroke Mulchinock, a wealthy Protestant and Mary O’Connor, a poor Catholic maid which led to the creation of the ‘Rose of Tralee’ international festival, which is held yearly. The stories continue and at some point as Prasanna points out later the bedtime stories were a a bit too soothing and those of us in the back rows fall asleep only to be woken up by a short stop at Dingle. The rains had stopped by this point but the clouds are refusing to budge.

This is from where the coach starts the mountain climb and Kevin has to negotiate the narrow road and corners for us to reach the western most point in Ireland and one of the most beautiful places on earth as declared by National Geographic. The clouds gradually lift and Blasket islands which lie off the west coast comes into view. The views change from the Atlantic Ocean on one side and mountain ranges on the other to craggy cliffs covered in multicoloured heather to hedgerows of red fuschia, fiery orange monbretia, pink foxgloves and yellow gorse in swathes with the backdrop of the lush green terrain. It is not surprising that a few Hollywood films including a couple of the Star Wars enterprise productions have been filmed here.

On the way back we stop at Inch Beach for a photo stop before returning to our hotel. Tomorrow we will be doing more of the same visiting the ‘Ring of Kerry”. Sheila puts on Johnny Cash’s ‘Forty shades of green’, a song he wrote after his visit to Ireland. A land of lush green with splashes of colour, a land where leprechauns hide their pots of gold amidst the breathtaking views. We didn’t find the pots of gold but is left mesmerised by the beauty of the land.

Fourth day: “Has Casey ever felt like…I’ve had enough, then sat down midway during these trips and gone on strike?” I ask Casey’s owner, Mike. Casey is taking us around the Killarney National Park, in his wagon on a jaunting ride. Renuka and I join Mike in the front not knowing that a mini downpour is brewing. We take up his offer of a blanket to cover us from the cold breeze. The jaunt starts from the point we took a boat ride around the lake earlier this afternoon and is ending in the town centre where the coach is waiting to take us back to the hotel. We have had enough dramas for the afternoon or so we thought when one of the lady’s who got on the boat, promptly slipped and twisted her ankle. A young woman who was in such agony that she kept passing out each time she tried to get up. When we rounded the lake and got back she was still waiting for the ambulance but smiling this time. For us the delay it caused added another 20 minutes to our trip. For her it will be a few days laid up in bed depending on whether it is a fracture or a sprain and probably a lifetime of chronic pain issues.

“No, Casey has always turned up for work. He started at age three and now he’s twelve. He has another three more years during which he’ll enter a phased retirement program”, Mike says. Two days of work and two days of rest in Ireland’s tourist capital, where the tourist flow only slows down slightly during the winter months. Mike is trying to explain kind heartedly that his horses are well looked after, a trade that has been passed through the generations. The drizzle turns into a downpour and the wagon is only partly covered. I take the second blanket and use it to keep us dry. We continue our journey and I need wind screen wipers for my specs. I can hardly see anything but the rain is a much needed relief and I have no option but to enjoy the droplets and get wet as my hair starts sticking to my forehead and the water drips down my face. We also seem to have got separated from the rest of the group. Mike didn’t get the message that the rain has changed plans. He drops us off at the originally planned spot. There is no one else there. The rest of the group are waiting in the coach. We send an SOS message and wait to be rescued.

Our trip today started this morning after a stop for a sip of Irish coffee. It was not even ten in the morning but when in Rome and all that. It was followed by a drive around the ‘Ring of Kerry’ accompanied by Sheila’s descriptions of the Emerald Isle, taking in more of the same breathtaking views from the day before which culminated in the boat trip and horse ride. Another day in Ireland has come to an end and we are off to the capital city in the morning.

Fifth day: I should have known that for every few hundred Caseys there is a multimillion pound stallion lurking somewhere. Today we stop at the ‘Irish national stud and Garden’ on our way to Dublin, our final tour destination. The Japanese garden in the grounds is more of a sideshow, the real stars are the horses. This is where Colonel Walker set up his venture in 1900. His spell in India probably the reason he believed that foals with unfavourable horoscopes were doomed to fail. Our guide gives us an insight into the world of thoroughbred racing. Some of the world’s finest stallions reside here. The raging hormones mean they have to be cordoned off for protection by double fences from each other and the public. Here they are free to roam around in their vast enclosures. We saw ‘Invincible spirit’, the top stallion who used to bring in half a million euros each day by doing what he enjoys four times a day and due to his age has slowed down a bit but still can bring in quarter of a million each day during the breeding season. His offsprings are now winning races around the world and can sell for millions.

The breeding season ends in May, and with pregnancies lasting eleven months the maternity suite is now empty. The foals that stay till they are weaned off can be seen in an adjoining enclosure. Next is the geldings. Yes, it has been a day of enlightenment. As the foals mature and show their potential decisions have to be made whether they are to become race horses, show jumpers etc etc or studs. Only the geldings can be kept in the same enclosure as they have been castrated. A practice done to tame them otherwise they can end up killing each other. ‘Faugheen’, one such living legend darted towards us as we approached the fence. I had no apple, carrot or even sugar cube to offer and did not fancy giving him a pat either, although these are impressive horses, nothing like our poor Casey who is doing back breaking work. These horses are enjoying the fruits of their yester year labour and basking in the glory, the horse celebrities.

Once in Dublin a guide joins the tour and we go around the city seeing churches where St Valentines relics are kept, where the famous are buried and where St Patrick baptised those who joined the church. We pass Bono’s (U2) apartment in the centre of the city. There are a few people on the terrace, and probably he’s there amongst them.

Sunday: the final day of our Irish trip. We have an early start to catch the ferry home.

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