Powerscourt Gardens, Enniskerry, Waterford, Castletownshend & Ahakista
Our driving tour along the south western coast of Ireland towards Countiues Wicklow and Cork began at Powerscourt Estate and Gardens (left) in their dramatic setting at the foot of the Great Sugar Loaf Mountain. The house and gardens were commissioned in the 1730s by Richard Wingfield, the first Viscount Powerscourt, and they are truly a gardener’s delight, full of fountains, urns and statuary. Divided into ornamental gardens, each evoking a different spirit, the visitor can wander through the Italian Garden, The Japanese Garden, the walled Perennial Garden (my favorite and which allowed me to make notes) and into the incredible Rose Garden where, I swear, the damasked roses were the size of quarter plates! There was also a unique Pets Cemetery on this estate with poignant tombstones that record the great affection that the owners had for their favorite pets over the decades.
Driving further south, we passed the village of Enniskerry and arrived in the city of Waterford, famed for its crystal works. Paucity of time did not allow us to take a tour of the factory, as we continued on our route towards the city of Cork and then further southwest when we finally arrived at Castletownshend, a tiny one-street village, right at the water’s edge where our accommodation was a sixteenth-century castle (above right).
That was where Llew and I had planned to spend a romantic wedding anniversary and the setting could not have been more picturesque. The castle was in remarkably good condition for a building so ancient; but it was its interior that was most fascinating. Our room was heavily paneled in wood but the most remarkable element was the dining room where we breakfasted the following morning on Wedgwood china in the company of several dour-faced ancestors who gazed at us forbiddingly from heavily gilded frames. The sideboard was crammed with heirloom sterling silver and as we sat on carved, throne-like chairs, we felt the weight of Celtic history settle about our shoulders. We took many pictures on the charming pier (above left) and during our walks through the gravel pathways of the village where multi-hued hydrangeas and rambling roses made our wanderings quite wondrous. That evening, we dined at Mary-Ann’s, a venerable hundred year old pub, named after a legendary local schooner.
(Below left: Engraved Names on Stone Walls of Air-India Memorial)
Leaving this one-horse village behind us, we headed north towards the tiny village of Ahakista which catapulted into international fame in 1985 when the Air-India aircraft Kanishka carrying South Asian Canadians to India exploded in the air as a result of a terrorist conspiracy. All 380 passengers and crew perished in that air disaster. For several days, the remains of their bodies were washed on to the placid rocky shores of beautiful Dunmannus Bay where last rites for the victims were also performed. My cousin in England, Cheryl Crane, gave me the exact site of this tragedy and I made it a must on our itinerary simply because the calamity was the inspiration for a short story by Bharati Mukherjee entitled “The Management of Grief” which in turn, inspired my own interdisciplinary research entitled “The Politics of Mourning: Grief-Management in Cross-Cultural Literature”.
(The sun-dial that marks the exact moment at which the Air-India plane exploded off the coast of Ireland)
As a scholar, I had known that a visit to the site would be significant; but nothing prepared me for the emotional upheaval I experienced while reading the names of the crew and passengers aboard that aircraft, several of whom I happened to know personally. Sangeeta Ghatge, a stewardess aboard that aircraft, was my classmate at Bombay’s Elphinstone College and seeing her name carved on the metal plaques that are set in the stone wall brought back to me her stunning beauty and her ebullient personality. Sunil Shukla who perished with his wife Irene was the brother of another good friend at Elphinstone. Sharon Lasrado, another stewardess, was a neighbor in the suburb of Bandra where I lived and our fathers were colleagues at the Reserve Bank of India. Indeed, another one of my father’s colleagues, Alex Travasso with his entire family consisting of wife Anne, daughter Lorraine and son Lyon were wiped out together. All their names featured on the memorial stone and brought a hard lump to my throat. The governments of Canada, India and Ireland came together to create a quietly stunning memorial for the families of those who were lost—one that includes a lush park filled with flowering shrubs, a stone wall and a sun-dial which perpetually records the exact moment when the plane went down. Around the sun-dial are inscribed these words: “Time Passes, Suns Rise and Shadows Fall/ Let It Pass By/ Love Reigns Forever Over All”. Amazingly, what I thought would be a scholarly excursion, turned out to be a deeply cathartic one for me and it took me a while to shift emotional gears and continue with the rest of our trip.
On that rather sober note, we continued our travels in Ireland, working our way up north into Bantry Bay where the sheer beauty of the natural landscape helped us recover from the grim morning we had just spent. Don’t let the mournful nature of this excursion stop you from visiting the Air-India Disaster Memorial at Akahista. In these days of mass-loss and increased terrorist activity, I believe that it is all the more important that we remember those innocent beings who daily give their lives and whose sacrifices are so quickly forgotten.