India!” shouted the guide to me, “What are you doing in Ireland?” This was in the middle of the burren — or the limestone studded country — of Ireland’s County Clare. It’s grey everywhere. The landscape is marked with ancient ruins and stone circles. Galway Bay (whose waters join the Atlantic Ocean) is visible in the distance. Keep driving down and you encounter the spectacular cliffs of Moher, which represent some of the most dramatic scenery in the country and were showcased in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Think about it. When was the last time someone said ‘I’m going to holiday in Ireland’? Between the visa people and the airlines, I barely made it there myself. You can get to Ireland by ferry or flight, and I happened to take a five-pound RyanAir flight from London’s Luton Airport to Dublin (Note to self: never sleep at Luton again).
Dublin, arguably Europe’s best-kept secret, teems with literary delights, museums dedicated to its legion of writers and story-laden statues at every corner. While it’s one of the most expensive cities in the world, why more Indians don’t visit is a mystery.
On the weekend of my visit U2 were to kick off their ‘360-degree’ tour with three shows on their home turf, Dublin’s Croke Park. A free newspaper thrust in my face at the city centre carried a front page picture of the graffiti emblazoned walls outside U2’s recording studios on Windmill Lane. The colourful chaos completely caught my fancy, and two days later I was there myself, autographing the U2 wall.
Leave behind U2. The musical culture in Ireland is rich in “trad,” or traditional Irish folk music, played regularly at most pubs in most parts of the country. You may not be able to sing along but there is nothing to prevent you from enjoying the convivial atmosphere, friendly conversation while downing a few pints. With the Galway Arts Festival and the Galway races on successive weekends, both “trad” and the legendary Irish drinking culture were on display everywhere. Participating in these grand national festivities emphasise that doing rather than seeing counts for more in Ireland.
Jamesons is a standard in this whiskey country and Guinness is an acquired taste, one that I didn’t acquire during my stay. But cider isn’t. And nothing hits the spot like a pint of Bulmer’s in Bulmer’s own land.
As my Dublin host succinctly said of his country, “Just like England, only better.”