A Celtic winter

Chilly thrills and cold nights of merry-making beckon the sun-baked Indian traveller in Dublin, Ireland. Krishna Raj manages to catch the Irish winter spirit at cosy pubs, colourful streets and beautiful gardens...

Dogging time zones often appears like dogging eras. From the grime of an Indian metropolis to a rustic Bedouin perfumery with a bouquet of Ouds in olfactory seduction to the lush temperate meadows of a European country-haven, a 21st century bard is a fatigued yet enriched being! With the company of an ornate single-stringed fiddle taking up most of my hand luggage space, I head for Ireland, my favourite Yuletide getaway, the gruel of 27 hours of travelling as if washed-away by the gently lapping Liffey, Dublin, known in Gaelic as An Baile Atha Cliath welcoming her long-awaited guest.

Musical musings

Gleefully rubbing my freezing fingers, I let the chill of a choppy breeze from the Irish sea get under my skin, preparing for an exciting sojourn in this wanderer’s paradise. As a musician, strolling down the colourful balustrades of the Irish capital is a never-ending celebration, a land intoxicated with song and dance, I let the merry-making soak my spirit, the words of legendary mystic Rumi as if cajoling my spirit — “Emruz cho har ruz, kharaabeem kharaab. Magoshaa dar andishe o bargeer rebaab” (Today as every day, we are intoxicated, we are intoxicated! Leave aside the maze of worry, grab the lute and play!).

The Irish proudly describe their mantra of life through 3 Gaelic C’s, cint (drinking), ceol (music) agus criac (and chatter) and there is no better time than around Christmas and New Year to catch them in full-glory. At Dublin’s famous pub complex Temple Bar, home to some of the world’s most iconic Irish pubs, the party never ends. An Irish ‘pub’, quite contrary to the popular definition in other regions, is a place of gathering for friends and family, music being an integral part of a typical evening at a pub.

There is nothing like being huddled up in the warmth of an old Irish pub with its quaint wooden interiors, a sonorous mix of international languages, sumptuous Irish cuisine paired with uisce beatha (‘water of life’ or whiskey in Gaelic) or the country’s national drink, da good ol’ Guinness! Traditional Irish ‘pub crawls’ by local musicians at Temple Bar is an enthralling treat, as guests from around the globe are led from one brightly coloured pub to the other for exhilarating melodies, hilarious humour and spontaneous participation.

After a mouth-melting Christmas supper at the renowned Gogarty’s Pub, it’s glamour galore at Grafton Street, Dublin’s shopping paradise. Lined with designer boutiques, traditional gift shops and eateries, high-heeled brunettes and millionaire splugers in BMWs, there is a romance about walking down one of Dublin’s most colourful areas, as some of the country’s most talented street artistes dazzle every evening. While mood guitarists and gypsy orchestras set in the eclectic winter mood, Indian sadhu look-alikes and African fire-eaters bathe in camera flashes, leaving spectators spellbound.

Ahead of Grafton Street lies St Stephen’s Green, Ireland’s very own Garden of Eden. A stunning canvas of grey and green during winters, the verdant park offers solace to lovers, poets and writers with its winding ponds, picnickers feeding ducks, university students preparing for exams under the canopy of an old tree and affable elderly couples singing Gaelic folk tunes sitting on a lone bench…a Hemingway classic come alive!

Tryst with history

A rendezvous with Ireland’s ancient history awaits travellers at New Grange in County Meath, a two-hour drive from Dublin. The Brú na Bóinne World Heritage site, dating back to the Neolithic period, is the largest and one of the most important complexes of megalithic sites in all Europe. Surrounded by pristine beauty around a wide bend of the Rive Boyne, the site predates the Egyptian Pyramids covering 78 hectares, with 40 passage graves and megalithic art. The design of the complex is known for its intriguing astronomical significance.

While the magnetic charm of Dublin grows on you, a short train journey brings you to the effervescent seaside village of Malahide, its sprawling beaches, the historic Malahide Castle and cute pubs noted for their true blue Irish hospitality. Not far from the city centre lies yet another, quieter seaside winter getaway, Dun Laoghaire (pronounced ‘Dun Leery’). Best explored on a cloudy day, a breathtaking play of grey and brown against a line of colourful cottages, the port-town offers a universe of inspiration for photography enthusiasts. Placing myself on a rock with my fiddle, I let the waves caress my feet as I let myself go, immersing in an old ballad I had learnt from Irish maestro Francis McPeake 3, the towering Guru of John Lennon of The Beatles.

Ushering in the new year with the 3 C dharma, a night of revelry surely calls for some rejuvenation, and I head south from Dublin to County Wicklow where stand one of the world’s most surreally pretty Japanese Gardens. At the Powerscourt Townhouse, I am enveloped by Zenesque stillness, the tranquil gardens with winding paths, tiny wooden bridges, the fragrance of foliage elevating me to instant meditation, Persian poet Khayyam’s words seemed etched in every leaf: Sag beh ze man ast, agar baram naam e behesht (even a dog would be better than me if I now, thought of paradise!).

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