I will arise and go now, for always night and day

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;

While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,

I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

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Going to the Wild West of Ireland, one probably doesn’t expect to take a cruise of any kind. Ireland, however, runs rampant with rivers and lakes [or “loughs”, if you will] as well as being surrounded by the wild Atlantic, lends itself to quite a few opportunities to peruse via cruise.

One of the most memorable opportunities to take a cruise on a Wild West Irish Tour is around Yeats’ famed Lough Gill.

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When reflecting on the lore of Lough Gill [like most old places in Ireland, there’s quite a bit]; there’s no better place to do so than atop Gill itself. Skimming silvery water over which the ghostly mists of time and mountains flow, face braced against damp air and eyes fixed on the tree line – all while experiencing the narration of a devoted captain.

Lough Gill in and of itself is a magical entity. Watched over by a castle that is storied [thus indeed, stories for another day] and regarded as one of the best fishing spots by locals [such as anthropologist Dr. Michael Roberts], the Lough is tranquil as it can be choppy. The weather surrounding the lake turns it much more sea-like than one could initially imagine – waves and clouds collide in a spectacular waltz that dazzles the eye – particularly when sunlight strikes the surface of the crests, creating arcs of light that make the waters seem endless.

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Bear in mind this is not the usual cruise! First and foremost, it IS on a lake – a vast one, but a freshwater one nonetheless, ensconced in trees thick and lush with a nearby academic center overlooking the view a little ways out on the lough. What’s fascinating about Lough Gill, to me, is not only its myths and legends [be they the historic end to a royal heir, sleeping giants, an enormous stone table, or a varied telling of a man, his sword, and true love defying the odds of drowning] but its geographical aspects as well. It is a place that is timeless and seemingly effortless, carved by some loving hand into the heart of the Wild West and filled with heavenly water.

Dotted with tiny islands throughout; some even inhabited by locals [which are definitely worth hearing from the captain of our vessel; the Rose of Innisfree], it shifts from an occasionally-flat surface of water to a maze of magnificent plant life and channels. Yeats himself penned “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”, a stanza of which is featured at the top of this piece – inspired by one of the magnificent mini-islands floating in the middle of the lake.IMG_6105

All of which is lovingly described by Captain George; as much a part of Lough Gill and the Wild West of Ireland as he is his own individual person. With a weatherworn face and a classic Captain’s hat, he looks the part – the sort of man who seems born in a lighthouse and lived on a ship all his days. The feeling of safety in his navigational skills and charismatic presence is immediate – Captain George is as capable as he is kind.941395_588607861159264_543974610_n.jpg

[And a born performer, too!]

Boarding a cozy, warm boat with the thought of seeing things seldom seen [and therefore wonderful, as you might’ve guessed], the last thing I expected was to be served tea and snacks by a rosy-cheeked lady who was all smiles – first mate & wife Tina was prepared for that special brand of hospitality only the Irish can truly extend. Captain George, meanwhile, invoked the spirit of Yeats [and if you’ve ever heard Yeats recite his own poetry, you might know what I mean] from the ship’s loudspeaker – not overwhelmingly blaring, but rather, an intonation of emphasis. Every yard we covered across glimmering water alternated between narration in poetry, prose/quotes, and facts alike. Captain George; a well of information in the best possible way, got everyone involved in the recitation of poetry and the ‘pop quizzes’ of questions surrounding Lough Gill.

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[Wild Westies LD and Sam aboard the Rose of Innisfree]

It felt rather like we floated the lake in somebody’s home, listening to their stories and sharing fun facts, rather than on-board a ship. That was arguably due to both the conversational tone of the good captain and how smooth the ride was! Coincidentally, outside of educational Boston Harbor explorations and an unsuccessful whale watch, this was my first ‘real’ cruise – and it was one I wouldn’t trade for the world.

If I’ve enticed you to come on said cruise with us around the Land of Heart’s Desire, feel free to see where the journey takes you from here:

Meet Captain George and his fine ship, and catch a shining glimpse of Lough Gill aboard the Rose of Innisfree in the Heart of the Wild West!

Let us know where you go from here – we want to go with you!

Until next time, be well!

Sam Fishkind

Wild West Irish Tours

Social Media Manager & Scribe.

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening! Wherever you are, whatever you’re up to, we invite you to sit back, relax, and join us on another adventure in the Wild West of Ireland.

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Let me begin by saying: on a Wild West Irish Tour, like most things, it’s important to forget whatever you think you know, and go with the flow.  In line with that, forget everything you think you know about sheepdogs – not the big, gray and white behemoths bounding through the grass, or the heelers from Down Under. No, this is more along the lines of James Herriot with an Irish twist, a black and white beauty racing herds of fluffy sheep across agate terrain. It’s happy open mouths and sudden stillness; with whistles and calm commands met with fond affection when dogs deliver well.

Under the watchful eye of Martin Feeney of Atlantic Sheepdogs, it’s an art.

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To farmers such as Martin, however, it’s not just an art form – it’s a livelihood for the wool, meat, and motherhood market, one passed down through generations [Martin is a 4th generation sheep farmer] that runs in the blood as it runs in the landscape like Ireland’s many rivers. In fact, it is in part the art of sheep-herding that has helped shape that landscape: between the 1,000 sheep he himself owns, Ireland’s 32,000 sheep farms, and 8 million sheep at peak times in Ireland, they’re bound to have an impact on the terrain. They are, in fact, what helped shape mountains such as Benbulben with their grazing – keeping the land intact while sculpting its greenery.

The top of Benbulben, coincidentally, is one of the places where Martin [and generations before him] put his sheep to graze. There are no fences, says Martin – “somebody owns everything,” he adds, gesturing to the fields. “A strip here, a strip there.” His fields, for example, are interwoven from a farm that split – two strips for Martin, some for a neighbor, and a strip on the mountain, and so on. Each sheep has an identifying marker on their wool significant to the farmer who owns it.

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This collaboration of land and unspoken law between farmers; of color-coding one’s sheep and organizing them on the mountains they graze upon, is a phenomenally complex thing that Martin explains in the simplest terms – this is his everyday. Martin is a man of numbers, able to rattle off statistics and kilos and facts with precise focus and boundless enthusiasm when it comes to the sheep biz.  The enthusiasm and focus is matched, seemingly, only by his dogs.

And the use of the sheepdog, while an old world endeavor, has a new twist: border collies, named as such for the border between Scotland and England, with the “collie” coming from the Irish Gaelic for “useful”, theoretically.

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And how useful they are – these are whip-smart dogs who are trained not only to follow spoken commands but particular whistles as well; each individual to the respective dogs for optimal herding purposes. The dog of Martin’s my group of Wild Westies had the pleasure of meeting was a nine-year-old dog named Jack, who just so happens to be #7 herding dog in Ireland, and #23 in the world. Not too shabby – and boy, could he put on a show.

IMG_6899What’s perhaps most incredible about Jack, though, is his unfaltering loyalty to Martin – Martin had the Wild Westies test this by saying  the commands he used for Jack, and the dog wouldn’t respond to anyone but his master. It might be common knowledge, but for those who aren’t dog folks – to gain the trust of an incredibly bright dog like a border collie and influence that dog from the perspective of a master [to an animal that can oftentimes come off as “masterless”] is a huge deal. Jack, like most border collies in herding families, is a splendid combination of agility, fealty, early training, and natural instinct to guard the sheep. Under Martin’s careful direction, Jack performs incredible maneuvers on hairpin turns and unexpected guiding changes.

IMG_6907There is so much to experience with Martin Feeney and Jack; the sheep and the farm – nestled in the Heart of the Wild West, the whole effort is poetry in motion, written into lush countryside lovingly cared for by families who keep up the traditions of herding and farming; improving them, even. While Martin carries a staff of hazel and ram’s horn [good for grabbing sheep by the horns or gently catching a little lamb’s neck], he also employs the use of a whistle whose sound can travel a remarkable distance. Old traditions are renewed, rather than stagnant – and Martin brings new life to them with his educational insight, his ability to both inform and entertain, and in maintaining a wonderful relationship with the land, his livelihood, and of course, his beloved dogs.

It’s really something you’ve got to experience in person – the fleeting blurs of black and white; the effortless ballet of woolly and wild, and to listen to Martin’s fascinating discussion on what he does for a living.

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Until next time, this is Sam Fishkind, signing off!

Sam Fishkind

Wild West Irish Tours

Social Media Manager & Scribe

Can’t wait to see the sheepdogs in action? See if catch a glimpse of  Martin Feeney and his friends in our latest interactive video!