Knocknarea.

The sound of stones being clacked together; the feeling of mist curling between grassy knolls, the sheer slick of mud beneath a traveler’s boots, and the bite of cool mountain air with just a splash of the sea. If one were to listen closely, one might hear the whispers of battle-song and chanting on the wind – echoes of a past as mythical and enigmatic as one can possibly imagine.

There are few places wilder in the Heart of the Wild West than this mountain – a towering tribute to ages past and the legends of a warrior queen who held her own against countless men. If one were to believe the stories; atop that mountain sits a cairn, or burial chamber, of said warrior queen: Medb.

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That bump at the top of the mountain? Medb’s cairn!

It’s befitting as one climbs the mountain to consider the origin of such a woman; such a name: Medb [Maeve when anglicized] supposedly comes from the early Celtic language “Medu”, or “intoxicating”. Thus she becomes “she who intoxicates” – and as a figure who had many lovers and whose mysticism survives beyond the grave, it’s fitting. But her name could also be derived from the ancient Celtic term for “ruler”; or “Medwa”. Either way feels fitting as she still seems to rule the area – and enchant travelers to venture up her mighty mountain to visit her final resting place at the top.

The wildness of the mountain and its mighty cairn of wishing-stones [we’ll get to those later] perpetuates Medb’s untamable spirit. Existing supposedly around the first millennium CE; her archaic imprint in Western Ireland is prominent. She was said to be fierce as she was fair and legends morph her into a sovereign goddess as much as she might’ve also been a queen. Whoever she was, her cairn remains, watchful and ominous in the West.

10479397_770931282926920_2741803950303110057_oWild Westies who’ve hiked Knocknarea on a Wild West Irish Tours adventure describe the experience as “magical”, “spectacular”, or even “transformative”. Adjacent to this is the fairy glen below, which some of you might remember from a couple of previous segments, here and here! It might be Medb’s impact or the ferocity of unbridled nature, but the hike up Knocknarea is unforgettable.

“There’s a great sense of ‘Presence’ on the mountain, in my opinion,” says Wild Westie Saoirse Charis-Graves. “I found even the trail up the mountain to be mystical in that it felt like there were energy signatures all along the way.” Such a thing can be felt in places such as Carrowmore and around fairy forts – even the most skeptical have been said to experience something out of the ordinary. It may be the telling of the tales regarding Medb and the fair folk, being surrounded by things and nature older than a visitor might be used to, or simply finding oneself more open in the Wild West of Ireland. Difficult to say – every person has a unique experience.

“And of course, there is also the occasional faery tree,” Saoirse adds. “Then, at the top, circumambulating the cairn and taking in the 360-degree panorama…one guide in particular helped me understand the people who had come before. One feels that, too: the history, the overlay of people from a long distant past.” Whether Medb is indeed atop Knocknarea; buried beneath 40 feet’s worth of stones, upright and facing her enemies as oft told or not, it seems unlikely that any visitor can dismiss the power felt atop the mountain.

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Wild Westie Tara atop Knocknarea!

Perhaps again, it’s the triumph of the hike or the age of the earth there, but the rawness and regality of Knocknarea is unparalleled. In fact, Wild Westie Tara Leigh Accavallo’s first mountain hike happened to be Knocknarea – an “exhilarating” experience, she says, adding, “there are no words that do justice to the views from along the way up and at the top.”

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Wild Westies cast their stones atop Medb’s cairn!

Wild Westie Steve Hogan has hiked the mountain twice already – “it is a tradition to carry a stone to the top and leave it on Maeve’s Cairn,” he notes – a tradition that comes with a notion that one can make a wish or prayer as they toss the stone atop the enormous cairn. In a way, there’s an energy in adding your own history to somebody else’s – be it the hundreds who laid stones there before, or the impact of a legend. “We did the climb right after visiting the Glen,” adds Steve, “and that along with being the only ones ascending Knocknarea that April afternoon made it quite a magical experience.” Wild Westie Debbie Walker-Spies had an interesting interpretation of her journey: “I climbed it in 2015 on a day so windy I imagined Maeve was trying to blow me off of her mountain. It was fabulous!”

Perhaps Medb does want to test travelers visiting her mountain – as she tested her enemies and men of olden days. The reward for completing the trial of the hike [which is actually quite accessible, like all things, weather permitting], however, is one of a breathtaking view and the purest form of history: up close, beautiful, and indeed, incredibly wild.329540_458629680823750_2056127544_o

Whether you just enjoy the challenge of a hike, exploring the history of the Wild West of Ireland, or are a true believer of the mystic & mysterious, Knocknarea has something for everyone. The Heart of the Wild West and Wild West Irish Tours are delighted to bring visitors to the cairn and the glen; as well as countless other places to be explored in the future, either on your own journey or here in our words…

Until next time, be well!

Sam Fishkind

Wild West Irish Tours

Social Media Manager & Scribe

 

When it comes to the Wild West of Ireland, there is plenty to be surprised about.

But according to our alumni “Wild Westies”; or people who travel with us on a Wild West Irish Tour, nothing is more surprising than these top three [technically four] things:

  1. The Fairy Glen

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Nestled against the bosom of Knocknarea, accessible to locals and those who know the area well, this niche of fantasy sparks the imagination with possibilities. It is one part enchanting hiking trail, another part unexpected mystery. Enormous trees older than time itself part to allow visitors safe passage through winding paths and sunlight-drenched thickets. Golden hues find their way amidst the greens, and the grand finale is an open cleave through the mountain itself that looks as though some great machine shaped a tunnel through the wilds.

A few swings and signs of life likewise exist there, a soft wind blowing the prior in gentle sways. All are welcome to partake of the swings, as well as take a moment in reflective silence to listen to the songs of nature. Perhaps you’ll encounter one of the “good neighbors” here – or simply achieve the tranquility that comes from a trip outdoors to the rare and wonderful landscape of Western Ireland. Take a peek here in the “Outdoors” segment of our virtual Heart of the Wild West!

  1. The Horsehoe Walk *

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Perhaps one of our most iconic stops along the Heart of the Wild West Tour is that of the Gleniff Horseshoe. This particular area is a perfect balance of history and Celtic legend – expressing the duality of the Irish people in that it holds a great amount of tragedy and a great deal of hope for the future, all at the same time. The cavernous mountains incite stories of two lovers on the run; who hid in the grandest of caves overlooking this sweeping valley until the end – and the valley itself, filled with the skeletal remnants of buildings from days past; famine houses, and roaming sheep, evokes a sense of the forlornly breathtaking.

Words almost fall short of describing the epic quest that is a stroll through this area – walk in contemplation to a heart-shaped waterfall, stop to examine what history left behind, and learn from local guides the different aspects of the Horseshoe as you go along. You can catch a glimpse of it here in our “Outdoors” segment as well if you have a sharp eye!

  1. A Secret Island *

461551_455585314461520_731874806_o.jpgUnparalleled in many ways, tying in second with the Horseshoe [according to our Wild Westie alumni poll] is our incredible hidden gem of Inishmurray…or not so much a gem; singular, but a veritable treasure chest of various gems, from the amethyst flowers in the springtime; to golden blossoms later in the year, to the silvery-gray stone and the greenness perpetual.

Beautifully-preserved archaeological sites such as a monastery and family homes from the 6th century dot the landscape like stony Easter eggs. Exploring the island at your own pace is a wonderful way to absorb the history all around you – Wild Westies skim cerulean waters by boat to roam the paths after chatting with local and informative guides [such as our friend Auriel Robinson of Seatrails] about what they’ll be seeing. Wild Westies are given free range to roam the island until it’s time to return to their B & B – though many would probably want to stay in such a peaceful, open place…for now, though, you can visit Inishmurray virtually right here.

  1. And finally: the food!

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It may surprise you to learn that Irish food is nothing like the “dreaded” things some might have come to expect of the U.K. [which may also not be the case]! That being said, you probably arrive in Ireland expecting corned beef and cabbage. Potatoes. All sorts of stereotypical things.

In reality, I can happily report I myself have personally had dishes such as butternut squash and bleu cheese soup [pictured above]; a Southwestern chicken panini [no joke!], full; hearty Irish breakfasts [thanks especially; B & B keeper and friend Geraldine!], honeycomb ice cream on the side of a magnificent mountain, the best “chips” [re: French fries in America]; arguably, and so much more. Ireland is not limited to the flavorless concepts of old. On the contrary, the food I’ve had in Ireland has been some of the best and most luscious I’ve had in my life – many I’m sure would agree, and DO agree, judging by the results of our poll!  Here’s a look at the local cuisine aspect of the Heart of the Wild West…

Have you been to the Wild West of Ireland? What surprised YOU the most? Feel free to share this with a friend as you embark on your own Wild West Irish Tours adventure –

We can’t wait to show you even more surprising things.

All you can really expect is great things in simple places.

Until next time, be well!

Sam Fishkind

Wild West Irish Tours

Social Media Manager & Scribe

IMG_5911.JPGDonegal. One of the realest and wildest places in the Heart of the Wild West of Ireland whose slogan is “Up here, it’s different”. A bit of an understatement; that, in the best possible way!

Between the enormity of sloping mountains that peak sharper and broader than expected, a wild coast teeming with sound & life, and the feeling of being small; wide-eyed travelers moving through the welcoming arms of raw stone & salty sea, it speaks to one as a place of great adventure.

21433011_10155459404021885_788495869775839134_n (1).jpgAs the holiday season approaches, I am reminded of Donegal, but much more specifically, Kathleen Meehan. One cannot recall the trip to Donegal, or envision one with Wild West Irish Tours upcoming, without also picturing a warm lady with a big smile and clever hands: someone who spins artistry as inviting and comforting as herself and the home she keeps. One could argue that the spirit of Donegal is strongest by her hearth.

21432762_10155459572896885_1223325098012954570_n (1).jpgI think of her as I tug on my little black sheep’s wool cap, the exact color I had been hoping for, over my red hair almost every morning before work. Donegal is with me on the trains and in the much louder city. I can run my thumb across the ridges of the wool and feel a little bit more comforted by its existence.

 

 

The day I visited with the Wild Westies was a bright morning in September, when things were still green but the air a bit cool. It was a delightful surprise to be offered tea and delicious snacks to nibble on in Kathleen’s own home. Her wares were laid out around her living room akin to a rainbow of wool; anything from headbands to elaborate sweaters (or “jumpers”, if you will), plush socks and more. She even had books displaying the different types of wool; each hue more vibrant than the last. It was a delight to both the mind and the eye as we settled in to learn about who Kathleen is and what she does.

Kathleen was amazing – quick to answer questions and even provide incredible knitting demonstrations for all us curious Wild Westies. Her nimble hands made the work seem effortless – though every piece she makes is made by hand without the use of machinery. I, being notoriously clumsy and just a touch impatient, couldn’t imagine doing what Kathleen does. Her focus and dedication to the craft is unparalleled. She has a rare gift that absolutely deserves recognition & celebration.

For me, there was also a personal reason I was so looking forward to visiting Kathleen. It’s not something I initially talked about, but having grown up with a grandmother who was very much Irish, I knew seeing the knit items would remind me of her. My grandmother was always cold, that was a running theme – but she kept Irish wool, and wool in general, to stay warm. Nothing as beautiful or intricate as Kathleen’s work, but the patterns did bring up a feeling of family and nostalgia. I could so easily see the white wool jumper with cable-knit she used to own echoed in the array of offerings Kathleen had. My grandmother would’ve loved anything on display – I know I did.

Also, Kathleen in general instantly just felt like family. She had wonderful stories about each garment she had made – some just “for fun” because she liked the color of the yarn; others with specific customers in mind, some commissioned. She kept herself open to all possibilities and always accommodates her guests and customers alike. She doesn’t seem to limit herself in any capacity when it comes to creativity – and perhaps that is in part why her creations are so exemplary. Timeless, detailed, and boundlessly beautiful.

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Wild Westie Tara Leigh Accavallo in a Kathleen Meehan special!

Kathleen herself has become a staple in our lives over here at Wild West Irish Tours – our signature tour, the Heart of the Wild West, wouldn’t feel as complete without her. It was such a pleasure to experience the pure art of knitting, genuine and by hand; authentic to the last purl.  Countless Wild Westies from all over the world [even from stereotypically warmer places such as Texas or Australia] have something made by Kathleen. Her hospitable comfort extends beyond strands of wool and hearty tea – it arrives in the form of a loved one getting a surprise from the Heart of the Wild West; a piece of Ireland to call their own. It comes in the form of jumpers that feel like hugs delivered by one’s mother. It is as varied and wonderful as a rainbow over Slieve League.

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Wild West Irish Tours Owner Michael Waugh in a Kathleen sweater [with a bonus hat made by Wild Westie Debbie Walker-Spies!]
We’d be delighted to take you to Kathleen’s house to see her wares in person – chat with her on a Wild West Irish Tour, and find the deep Donegal love that is woven into the fabric of this incredible woman’s life.

You’ll need her sweaters when you hike the glorious mountains of Donegal; when you face the wild Atlantic, and in general, via the words of the great Yeats, for “when you are old and grey and full of sleep, and nodding by the fire…”

Expect great things in simple places – and expect great people in simple places, too, as we celebrate the craftsmanship of the Irish people, into which heart and soul is poured.

Until next time, be well, and be warm!

Sam Fishkind

Wild West Irish Tours

Social Media Manager & Scribe