Wicklow & Cork Counties

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.

Bon Voyage!

Ring of Kerry

Ring of Kerry and the McGillicuddy Reeks

(Against the stunning verdant landscape of the McGillyacuddy Reeks at the Ring Of Kerry)

We nosed up north then towards Bantry Bay where we paused to tour Bantry House, another resplendent mansion set in landscaped gardens. However, the house was closed for renovations, but we did catch a glimpse of the gardens and the charm of the stable yards. Our drive took us then into the town of Glengariff where we saw the Eccless Hotel, a favorite haunt of the dramatist George Bernard Shaw. Next, we took the lovely Tunnel Road to Kenmare, so called because the road winds through a series of tunnels past nerve wracking hairpin bends. We passed through spectacular scenery along the way, in the Caha Mountains that encompass the Beara Peninsula, seeing those forty shades of green for which the Emerald Isle is famed.

By late afternoon, we stopped for lunch and to browse in an antiques store in Kenmare, a beautiful village that makes a great starting point for a drive around the Ring of Kerry, perhaps Ireland’s most visited peninsula. The 109-mile Ring of Kerry encircles the McGillacuddy Reeks, Ireland’s highest mountain range, and offers magnificent vistas of the Iveagh Peninsula at every turn. Farm and field, coastal villages and rustic hamlets, hills and downs, sandy beaches and rocky bays, wrapped themselves around a very narrow network of roads and combined to create a patchwork of visuals so pleasing to the eye. Every so often, we passed through towns with lyrical, tongue-twisting names such as Cahirciveen, Ballybunion, Derrynane, Glenbeigh, Skibereen, Clonakilty and Killorgin and some that were familiar from old Irish songs such as Tipperary (“It’s a Long Way to…”) and Tralee (“The Rose of Tralee”).

Finally, we arrived at Killarney, a town crawling with tourists and filled with enticing shops selling pure Irish linen, paper-thin Beleek porcelain and glittering Waterford crystal—not to mention the ubiquitous Aran Island fisherman sweaters and cardigans in shades of buttermilk and cream. Here, we made Mulberry House our accommodation for the night and were very comfortably settled in by our hostess Eileen Tarrant who gave us many tips for exploring her beloved town. Before settling in for the evening, we strolled through the streets of Killarney and had dinner in a pub called Mulligan’s where I finally ordered a Guinness and loved its creamy texture, lovingly hand-drawn by a skilled bartender who gave the stout several minutes to settle before filling the glass to the top to achieve its foamy crown. On our way back, we had the chance to listen to traditional Irish music featuring flute, fiddle and banjo at an open-air concert in the park.

The next morning, we began our driving tour of Killarney National Park, an exquisite expanse of land dotted with lakes, mountains and valleys.

Eileen insisted that we visit fifteenth-century Ross Castle (left) on the shores of Lough (pronounced “Lock” meaning “lake” in Gaellic) Lenane before we headed off for a tour of Muckross House (below left).

This imposing Victorian mansion was built in 1843 in the Elizabethan style. Our tour of the home took us through elegant rooms in the company of a guide who pointed out the period furnishings. Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert stayed at Muckross House with an entourage of a hundred people which caused the home-owners to become bankrupt, though Victoria was delighted by her visit. Touring the Queen’s set of rooms, we could see why she so loved the place. Her bedroom looked out on to the beauty of the lakes, where “jaunting cabs” or horse-drawn carriages today take visitors on escorted rides through the estate’s wooded acres. As usual, Llew and I spent a lot of time in the carefully structured gardens, where the perennial plantings thrived, much to my envy.

Leaving Muckross House behind us, we drove around the National Park taking in Ladies View, so-called because Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting gasped with delight at the scenery during their1851 visit to the Park, and Moll’s Gap, where we saw a distinct division or gap between the mountains. Heading south towards Cork, we stopped at Blarney Castle in order to do the most “touristy” thing in Ireland—kissing the Blarney Stone (above) in order to be blessed by Eloquence, in keeping with an old belief. We climbed the hundred odd steps up a very narrow turreted tower to the very ramparts of the castle where the Stone is lodged on a wall that is linked with the main structure by an iron grid. To kiss the stone, one has to lie down and literally bend over backwards. An attendant holds on to one’s feet to make sure one does not literally slip through the cracks and fall several hundred feet below. We went through the motions of kissing the stone though Llew expressed the opinion that I did not need to kiss any stones to acquire the Gift of the Gab as I already have more than my fair share!

Having kissed the Blarney Stone, we were content to rumble on towards greener pastures (is there such a thing on the Emerald Isle?) and make acquaintance with  the Cliffs of Moher and the verdant expanses of Connemara.

Bon Voyage!

Moher, Kylemore & Connemara

Cliffs of Moher, Kylemore and Connemara

Llew and Rochelle at the stunning Cliffs of Moher

Leaving County Wicklow behind us, we drove north towards Limerick to Bunratty Castle which we made our next stop. At the suggestion of our friend, Blair Williams, we did make it a point to notice Durty Nelly’s Pub, established in 1620, one of the world’s most famous pubs, but we did not quaff down a shot of mead, which was another one of his recommendations! Bunratty Folk Park was closed by the time we reached there. We continued our drive skirting the city of Limerick which acquired notoriety a few years ago through Frank McCourt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiography Angela’s Ashes. We did not stop in Limerick though our ride did take us close to Shannon Airport.


I insisted, however, in stopping for a while in Adare, considered one of the prettiest villages in Ireland, where I took snapshots of the thatched roof houses that line the streets and the Dutch fronted homes that are unique to the area (left).

Passing through the town of Ennis, we headed west towards Lahinch in order to see the magnificent Cliffs of Moher, where we arrived just as the sun was setting on this natural wonder.


The best vantage point of the cliffs is afforded by a climb up into O’Brien’s Tower (left). Dusk had taken most of the crowds away from the site so that we pretty much had the place to ourselves, allowing us to drink in the eerie wonder of the towering cliffs without the distraction of hundreds of people. As the sun sank lower on the horizon, we drove away from the cliffs past the Burren, a limestone desert that made for very unusual scenery in a deathly quiet region. On our left, the sun was setting, salmon-pink and pearly, over Galway Bay, making me realize what a long time it had been since I last saw a spectacular sunset. Living on the east coast of the USA, we do not have the privilege of gazing in wonderment at the kind of sunsets I saw almost daily in Bombay, on the west coast of India where I grew up. It was nightfall by the time we arrived in Galway and settled into Bohola House, where our hostess Bridget “Bridie” Moran was warm and welcoming.

The next morning, we drove into the Connemara region of Ireland, the Gaellic-speaking part of the country where the landscape was essentially rural. We passed by countless sheep in pasture (right), some brave enough to wander within inches of our car’s tyres on narrow highways. We also passed handsome brown cows munching lazily in the pastures, horses grazing in the meadows, and goats. Cattle farming is very much the mainstay of the Irish rural economy and provides the bucolic scenes that so endeared us to the region. The 1950s film The Quiet Man starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara was shot in this area which is reminiscent of many locations from the film.


At Bridie’s suggestion, we stopped in Clifden, capital of Connemara, and took the Sky Drive, a route that literally took us up into the sky. From the towering heights of thick heather covered purple mountainsides, we looked down upon the glorious expanses of Clew Bay (above). Then, we continued our drive further north, stopping by briefly at Kylemore Abbey, a romantic Gothic revival fantasy that is today an exclusive girls’ boarding school run by the Benedictine nuns. After posing for pictures on the shores of Lough Kylemore (below right) where the abbey sits quite splendidly, we headed into the chic town of Westport which is every bit as snazzy as its Connecticut namesake, a town situated right besides us.

After lunch in Westport, we drove further north, this time following in the footsteps of our Irish-American friends, Tim and Catherine Shannon, who suggested that we make it a point to visit lovely Achill Island (below left), one of their favorite parts of the country.

Crossing the narrow straits of Achill Sound via a bridge, we took the Atlantic Drive that wrapped around the outermost periphery of the island. At times, we had the most awesome views of the shimmering expanse of the Atlantic Ocean laid out before us; at other times, we were climbing up narrow roads into the Minaun Heights where the wind blew relentlessly but we were rewarded with marvelous views of the sandy bay in the lowest depths. Achill also had some lovely cliffs, much less known than those of Moher and we could see why the isolation of the landscape, its almost scary sense of being in the midst of nowhere, would so appeal to the Shannons.

Bon Voyage!


Our Last Stop on the Emerald Isle

Salmon Wier Bridge leading to St. Nicholas Church

At the end of a very long day of exploration, we crossed tha Burren and at sundown, we arrived in Galway intending to explore the city the next morning. Our B&B, run by Bridget “Bridie” Moran left nothing to be desired. Her breakfasts of Wild Irish Oak Smoked Salmon and horseradish sauce served with home-baked brown Irish soda bread were a joy to awake to on both mornings that we stayed at her home. We had been incredibly lucky with the weather, seeing nothing but clear blue skies and pleasant breezes throughout our week-long stay; but on our very last day, it did start to rain. However, it cleared up within an hour or two and we were able to explore Galway on foot, starting with a visit to St. Nicholas’ Church, filled with Connemara marble and limestone, spanning the River Corrib, where at the Salmon Weir Bridge, salmon actually stop on their way towards spawning.

Passing through a Farmer’s Market that sold fresh local produce and farm-churned cheeses, we made our way towards Eyre Square, the most ‘happening’ part of Galway. Here, the square is lined with shops and commercial buildings, but the prettier streets lead up to the Latin Quarter where the Spanish Arch dominates the Old Quay. It was in Galway that we were unexpectedly treated to the fun of a street side puppet show and the excitement of the Gay Pride Parade as it wound its way through the Main Street. After a late lunch on a drizzly afternoon, we began the drive back to Dublin, spending our last evening amidst the fun and vibrancy of the capital city where our explorations had begun a week previously.

On Eyre Street in Galway

Bon Voyage!



Dublin:Beloved City of James Joyce

(The River Liffey flows placidly through Dublin under O’Connell Bridge)

“Dublin is just delightful”, pronounced Chriselle, who had explored the city two summers before Llew and I arrived there. “It pulsates with life. It has a charming rhythm that is energetic ,yet old-world”. We couldn’t wait to make similar discoveries.

Upon arrival at our charming bed and breakfast in Dublin, named “Cul Aoibhain”, (pronounced “Cully Veen”) which, in Gaellic, means “Quiet Corner”, we stashed our stuff away to explore the city on foot. Like most great cities of the world, Dublin stands astride a river—in this case, the Liffey, which flows gently by. Punctuated with bridges, many of which we walked over (such as the O’Connell Bridge which is just as wide as it is long;

Ha’Penny Bridge (left) with its intricate metalwork and the newest Millennium Bridge named in honor of James Joyce, Dublin’s beloved novelist), the city is very walker-friendly. We strode the length of O’Connell Street, taking in the statues of patriots and freedom-fighters Charles Stewart Parnell and Daniel O’Connell, the Anna Livia Fountain (referred to jocularly as “The Floozie in the Jacuzzi”) and the Millennium Spike (“the Stilletto in the Ghetto”).

That afternoon and evening, we covered buzzing Jervis Street with its enticing British chain stores such as Marks and Spencer, and the throbbing ambience of the Temple Bar area, location of The Bad Ass Café (left), where singer Sinead O’Connor once waitressed. On Grafton Street, we posed for a picture by the Statue of Molly Malone (“The Tart with the Cart” or “The Dolly with the Trolley”)–below right.

That evening, we paused for pub grub at O’Neill’s, one of Dublin’s best-loved pubs where the food was traditionally Irish (think big steaming bowls of Irish stew, thick slices of Corned Beef and cider-soaked, baked Limerick Ham). Dublin pulses with vitality, statues of patriots and writers adorn every street corner and it felt good to be a part of that vacation energy. No wonder Chriselle told us that Dublin was one of her favorite European cities.

The next day, we took the Hop On, Hop Off city sightseeing bus that allowed us to explore its more far-flung reaches while treating ourselves to the wicked humor of the bus driver who also doubled as tour guide. Our first stop was Trinity College (right), Ireland’s oldest university, set right in the heart of the city but occupying many valuable acres of campus real estate.

After taking in the grandeur of the beautiful old buildings, we headed off to see The Book of Kells, an 808 AD manuscript written by anonymous Irish monks which makes it one of the world’s oldest existing books. The intricacy of the illuminations on every page was breathtaking, but what also impressed us enormously was the climb up to the Old Library where we entered The Long Room and gasped at the sight of countless antiquarian books stacked from floor to ceiling. The Library’s sense of knowledge-acquisition was emphasized by the collection of marble busts that line the sides of the room featuring personalities as old as the Greek Trinity of Philosophers (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle) to more contemporary writers and humanists. The space was a Bibliophile’s Paradise which explains why Llew felt as if he had died and gone to heaven!

Our next stop on the bus was St. Stephen’s Green (left), a lovely park in the heart of the city where the flowers were in full bloom amidst the life-size statuary that abounded everywhere. Around the statue of W.B.Yeats, Nobel Literature laureate, we paused to watch an open-air performance of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Next we headed off for the one thousand year old Christ Church Cathedral built in Anglo-Norman days and whose crypt contains a magnificent gilt plate altar set that was presented by England’s King William III to the cathedral in celebration of his victory at the Battle of the Boyne. It is little wonder that Dubliners chose to celebrate the arrival of the new Millennium at this venue, linking hands and encircling the vast church at midnight. At St. Patrick’s Cathedral, at a well in whose grounds Ireland’s patron saint is said to have baptized the faithful, we saw memorabilia pertaining to Gulliver’s Travels’ author Jonathan Swift who was Dean there for several years and who is buried in this church. Interestingly, both these bastions of religion are Anglican in a country that is fiercely Roman Catholic.  As our bus tour continued, we saw the Guinness Storehouse that manufactures Ireland’s creamy Black Gold in a Glass; but we did not stop to take the tour. At Phoenix Park, three times the size of New York’s Central Park, we passed by the Dublin Zoo.

That evening, after strolling through the pulsating Temple Bar area with its street entertainers, mobile musicians and buzzing pubs, clubs and bars, we made our way to the Abbey Theater, perhaps the most famous theater in the world, founded by Yeats and his beloved patroness Lady Augusta Gregory to showcase the work of Irish dramatists. The show featured Irish playwright Oliver Goldsmith’s Restoration Drama She Stoops to Conquer and the performance was one of the highlights of our trip. A rambunctious Comedy of Manners that had us rolling in the aisles, we loved every minute of the production from the incredible acting to the elaborate sets and costumes. Best of all, we were thrilled that despite having made trans-Atlantic phone reservations, our seats were marvelous.

Before  we got back to our hotel to rest from our day of exciting, if wearisome sightseeing, we walked the length of O’Connell Street passing by the sculpture of James Joyce, Ireland’s beloved novelist, who set all of his major work in the city of his birth (left).

Our first taste of Irish charm had not disappointed and we looked forward very eagerly to the rest of our discoveries on the Emerald Isle.

Bon Voyage!




Exploring the Emerald Isle

(Kissing the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle, County Cork, Ireland)

It’s true that everywhere we roamed on thre Emerald Isle, in accordance with the song, Irish eyes were smiling. The people were uncommonly friendly and helpful. There are no wild signs of affluence anywhere in Ireland. I saw no designer boutiques or couture labels anywhere–neither Gap nor Tommy–though Chriselle assures me that they have their own indigenous designer fashions. She can vouch for this as she bought a pair of jeans in Dublin that despite being designer brand were inexpensive by American standards. The people have a great sense of Irish pride and advertise their businesses as being “100% Irish”. They have not been overtaken by the seductions of popular American lifestyle or culture in the way that, sadly, Asian countries have allowed their native character to become Westernized. We saw three, maybe four, McDonald’s fast food outlets in the entire country. And while there are no signs of affluence, there is no indication of poverty either. The Irish seem to have achieved that middle class dream of living comfortably without the degradation of want or the vulgarity of excess. Neat, well-trimmed gardens adorning modest houses were the norm. Most people drive tiny cars that are eco-friendly and a dream to park and drive on the extremely narrow roads. Nor did we see any sign of the slums about which Pulitzer Prize-winner author Frank McCourt wrote so eloquently in Angela’s Ashes when describing his growing years in the 1930s. There was a large amount of construction activity everywhere, a sure sign that the country is on the economic upswing.

Every Irish town is built in a distinctively uniform design with a central square or circle out of which radiates four or five main streets. The streets themselves are charmingly narrow with two-storey structures on both sides, the fronts of which are painted in vivid, primary colors. Striking pub signs, window boxes and baskets spilling over with a profusion of flowers and ornamental wrought-iron work give the towns their unique ambience and style. Almost all stores are named after their owners, so that driving through a town, you get a very accurate idea of the last names of its inhabitants, e.g. Sullivan and Sons Home Repair, Dan Dooley Auto Parts, Flynn Pharmacy, O’Shea Opticals, McEvoy Mechanical Works, Donnelly and Co. Greengrocers, etc.etc.

Every village has its pub, a community hangout that stays open late into the night. Even their traditional fruitcake, Porter Cake, contains raisins that have soaked in Guinness for days so that they plump up with the potent brew and give the cake a characteristic flavor. Not surprisingly, Ireland has a huge drunk diving problem. In every county, we were warned to drive safely as the number of deaths recorded on huge signs on the Irish roads was astonishing. Accidents are also a result of tourists from the United States and Europe who are not used to driving on the wrong side of the road and tend to cause head-on collisions with on-coming vehicles.

We loved the sound of the Irish Brogue especially on the tongues of the older generation. A bi-lingual nation, all signs in Ireland were posted in English and Gaellic simultaneously. We did not see diversity in terms of race anywhere in Ireland. Indeed, the country is starkly mono-cultural, meaning Caucasian Catholic. The newer faces of immigrants were few and far between. We saw some Indian men, obviously fresh off the boat, working as clean-up crew in fast food restaurants. After spending ten days in Ireland, it was with something of a relief that we saw Orthodox Jews, African-Americans, South Asians and Orientals share the same flight back to the USA and we realized how startlingly pluralistic we are in North America.

Ironically, our favorite meal was eaten in a restaurant named Farrigtons of Temple Bar in Dublin where we ordered the traditional Irish Casserole and a traditional Beef Chasseur, both of which were deliciously reminiscent of the Goan meat curries of my growing years in Bombay. When I told Llew that I was certain the chef was of Indian heritage (as the dishes featured coconut milk and whole coriander seeds in them!), he asked the waitress what the chef’s name was! Imagine our sense of vindication where she informed us that he was from the Indian sub-continent and asked if we would like to meet him. Much to chef Patrick Shah’s chagrin, we complimented him on his cuisine which he described as “fusion” since he was born in England to Indian Gujarati parents, is a Hindu convert to Catholicism and has emigrated to Ireland! His culinary concoctions clearly keep abreast with his own personal multi-cultural background.

The most impressive part of the trip for me was Llew’s exhibition of his formidable driving skills. Within seconds, he acclimatized himself to driving a very small car, a postbox red Fiat Punto with a steering wheel on the right hand side. He dealt with the strain of staying on the ‘wrong’ side of the road and negotiating his way around the endless roundabouts that are so distinctive a feature of roads on the British Isles. Not only were the highways extremely narrow but much of the terrain we traversed was mountainous resulting in sharply curving bends that caused me countless nail-biting moments. We traveled a total of 1,130 miles in about six days and thanks to the joint task of skillful navigation on my part and expert driving on his, we were able to thoroughly enjoy our motor tour. My love of geography in general and map-reading in particular made it a joy to chose routes, some passing by urban areas, others taking us into rustic wilderness–realms inhabited mainly by sheep.

Overall, our travels in Ireland were “grand”—to use a favorite Irish expression. We moved at a pace that allowed us to soak in the rich and unique culture and history of the country and to get to know some of the people. However, it was good to get back home again to the familiarity of our own beds and bathtubs and to deal with dollars and cents after mentally converting them to Euros for over a week. We hope you too will have had a happy time in Ireland.

Click below to visit the many regions of Ireland through which we toured.

Bon Voyage!