Every day we get up, my fellow travellers and I, hailing from five far-flung parts of the world, add two more: both guides and fellow travellers. One German and one a mix of an ancestry that straddles Ireland and the British Isle.
It is the simple rituals of arrival to our nightly abode, which unwrap like a gift. Unloading luggage, checking in, finding our room and settling in that bring great comfort and an anticipated pleasant surprise to the travellers. Every morning traveling to a designated place chosen by our guides, alighting from the bus to confront the mind-blowing history of humankind and reverently stumbling upon the marks of our long gone ancestors is of course an added bonus of the day’s rituals.
It is the rituals that bond us together and brings simplicity and peace to our travels. Almost every night we are in a new abode, never the same in character or station.
This evening we have arrived to a Manor House in County Clare, which is the stomping grounds of John O Donohue whose wisdom rings true like the essence of this land.
The bus arrives almost to the front of the Manor House, as if arriving at a friend’s house in the country.
The gallant driver hands me down, the luggage appears in the lobby of the manor house, and Heinrich our German guide in Ireland precedes us and smooth’s our check in. He efficiently and seamlessly facilitates the handing of the keys by the manor hotel manager who then points me to the direction of my room upstairs. I look at the two sets of stairs up and two down with trepidation as I imagine lugging two pieces of luggage and one very heavy camera case filled with expensive lenses.
Before the thought is complete the manor manager says” Would you like your luggage sent to your room” Yes please” I say with a sigh of relief. There is something about luggage no matter how light you pack; it is always too heavy to carry up any stairs anywhere.
I open the door and the peace of the room assails me. I can see through the bay window where in a distance the large flower heads of Queens Ann lace wave at me like a dainty woman’s handkerchief. The bay window fills the room with the evening sun, lighting up the room in a soft warm glow. The room is soothing, furnished with the colors and textures of nature: Green, ecru, and cream, the furniture made of wood that has been polished lovingly with caring hands over a very long time. As I stand there and absorb the ambience of color texture and place, slowly each cell in my body unwinds and is opens into the receiving mode to welcome in the beauty and wisdom of Ireland.
I am in John Donohue’s County Clare. What more can one say of the earth, which is made of rocks and limestone that produces a poet, philosopher and thinker of the measure of John O Donohue. As Dr Muhammad Iqbal says:
“Zara Nam ho to yay mitti bari zarkhayz hay saqi”
Looking across the fields from my bay window, the evening sun lights up parts of the rolling hills, verdant and lush with the grasses that the cows love as they take their last munch before the sun dips gently and waits to usher in the night.
I unpack my basic toiletries, hang up my sleepwear, and wash my hands with the hand soap provided. The aromatic fragrance floats out filling the bathroom with the energizing essence of rosemary.
As I step out of the bathroom, right in front of me staring me in the face is a Mughal miniature painting on the wall with the text in beautifully Urdu Calligraphy… almost like welcoming me to a home which like this painting I left behind forty years ago. A pleasant memory from my youthful past and the integral culture of my birth country.
I get ready for dinner; I get ready to go down. Closing the door of the room, I note that I am in a small alcove with a light above. A thoughtful design to assist in handling the doorknob and lock at night also a place to leave your suitcase for pick up at check out.
I go up three steps and the sun streams in from the window in front of me lighting my path with a soft golden glow. I turn left at the doors leading to a large landing and more closed doors, which probably lead to other guest rooms. The stairs going down are covered with carpet to dampen the noise of the feet of the travellers. The manor is more like a personal friend’s home rather than an ostentatious hotel.
Tonight is the informal dinner of our choice. I stop at the small cozy front desk and hand my key into the safekeeping of the Irish woman behind the desk. As I stand there suddenly a feeling of peace and homecoming assails me. The peat fire with its characteristic fragrance, which holds the memory of the peat where it came from, mixes with the essence of the candle at the desk sending out a symphony of fragrance that says, “Welcome you are home” I am perplexed, happy but filled with wonder at the affinity of feeling at home in Ireland. Another piece of poetry from Dr. Muhammad Iqbal is retrieved from my memory banks:
Har Mulkay Khuda, Mulkay Ma ast.
The sunset is late in this part of Ireland, thus after dinner I go out for a walk and that is another story to feed the senses and the mind.
Meanwhile Heinrich our German guide who is an expert on Archaeology has mentioned my interest in John O Donohue and his writings to the Innkeeper who just happens to remark that his assistant Brigitte had gone to elementary school with John O Donohue. She would be at the Inn in the morning, if I wanted to speak with her. Of course I did very much wanted to speak with her. What kind of the land grew poets and philosophers? What was its secret? What happened to the others who went to school with her, was John O Donohue an outlier or were they all brilliant, sensitive and artistic in a wise and mystical way?
I walked out into the garden, and came up to the square walk around the roses. Soon “lady” a calico cat who very much resembles a younger version of our family cat “Munni” that I had growing up joined me.
We stopped among the roses letting the color and fragrance envelope us, she sniffed at the roses, and I did too noting that they were fragrant as roses are with an Irish/English reserve of not being too flowery or exotic in the wildness of their perfume.
We walked out of the rose square and down a little path that led to the horses.
Lady balanced herself on the fence as I took the path. There was some movement in the grounds of the stable. A young mare and a mule played the eternal game of flirtation, but in this case the desire was much more evident on part of the mule than the dainty white mare. She with the age-old wisdom in her bones had recognized the mule as a mixed breed and not a match for propagating her aristocratic lineage. She continuously discouraged him with a message loud and clear in body language that she did not want him to become familiar with her.
The quiet of a typical pastoral evening set upon Lady and me as we made our way on the path back to the House. The path was flanked by the tall plants with large heads of Queen Anne’s lace waved to us reverently in the evening breeze making us feel welcome and loved without questioning our motives for being here, very much like the Irish peasantry waving to the English aristocrats who had come to use them and grab their lands. Not that we were going to do that.
The stable gate was the end point of the path we had traversed, when I turned around, Lady pretended that she really was not accompanying me but was out on her own evening walk. Lady after a few more balancing acts on the fence also turned around nonchalantly as if her accompanying me was just an accident of chance.
I smiled at the age-old expression of independence of cats in general unlike dogs. The journey of the sun was almost complete over the meadows it was going to my birth country to bring morning to the teeming millions of Karachi and somewhere my friends and family from my past will arise to the sound of the morning call of prayer and begin their ablution and hopefully include me in their prayers.
On a berm above the path, a large golden cow looked up and directly at me after her last munch of grass and regarded me with the wisdom of the ages: The memory of this land and history was in her DNA. She had seen it all, people came and went but the land went on forever.
I walked into the manor to embrace the rituals of the night. I felt at home without the angst of the people who normally inhabit our lives. My fellow travellers were also settling in and showed good cheer. The peace of the Manor house was seeping into them too and the worries and angst of our lives seemed like a remote fuzzy memory.
The quietude and peace of this remote, elegant and simple manor house in County Clare seeped into me and time stood still. Though I knew I had to continue on in a day or two with my fellow travellers but for this moment there was no past and no future, jus the beauty, the fragrance and the eternal Irish mystery of the present.
In the days to come we would learn, hear and imprint our mind, body and soul with the mysticism, brutality and enduring love and optimism of Ireland, and its people….
Fortunately we had very few to no mishaps : Peter Sommers, Heinrich and Siobhan Thank you for making the travels through Ireland a joy and an adventure.