Monsters, The Sidhe, tragic lovers, secret caves, mystical landscapes!! Oh my!

Oh yes, our Wild West of Ireland is home to a great many myths and fairytales. So much so that we reckon you’re going to wish you had a magical bag like Mary Poppins when it comes to this next batch of colorful characters – a wee bit different from our historical cast from last time! We arise and go now into legendary territory – where even the smallest of stories can cast the most incredible shadows. Some are silhouettes of lovers cast against landscapes of raw beauty. Others are amorphous monsters who lurk out of sight just beyond the mists…

Here are six mystical beings you could take home from the Wild West of Ireland.

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Top right – the lovers’ safehaven…
  1. Diarmuid and Gráinne

In the Heart of the Wild West, there is a magnificent valley in which houses from another era rest; allowing the earth to reclaim them. We encourage travelers to raise their gaze to the magnificent cave above the valley; however – where a pair of lovers fled the wrath of a cheated Irish chieftain until the day of their reckoning came in the form of a great black boar summoned over the side of the mountains. Some say you can still see the shadow of said boar today, etched into the cliffs, waiting to return…

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Facing her enemies atop the mountain…
  1. The Queen on the Mountain

You’ve heard a lot about her majesty up on the mountain [Knocknarea], but here’s a few things you might not know until you’re standing in a megalithic site, gazing over the horizon; listening to an Irish anthropologist explain the details of a life both deified and turned to myth. Some speculate this feisty queen to have been a goddess of the Celts; while others consider her a strategist and warlord of the former ages. Regardless as to what is true and what is story, she cuts an impressive figure of indomitable strength and independence that sets a precedent for the viewing or hiking of her mighty mountain.

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Lough Gill – with a bonus figure [the Sleeping Warrior]!
  1. The Lovers and the Lough

The shining surface of Lough Gill seems to mask a great many secrets. History lies beneath its lolling, lapping waters, as do fish, and mysteries – including that of a story of another set of lovers with dozens of interpretations. As you glide over the Lough, listening to Captain George regale you with local legends, you might reflect on the one about the man who sank in the darkness; wrestling with unseen monsters in the water – whose lover gave him a sword of light to cut through the shadows. Whether or not you believe; it’s easy to imagine the sun piercing through the glossy black surface of the Lough to illuminate its enigmas below.

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Púca’s Leap(s)!
  1. The Púca

This isn’t a character you might want to take home with you – but it’s difficult to leave behind the eerie stories of the creatures who come out when the “veil” is thin. The veil, separating our world from those of the fairies in Celtic legend, is thinnest during the changing of the seasons – and perhaps felt most prominently in the Wild West of Ireland, especially in places such as Sligo [where all seems wild and free] and Connemara [with natural landmarks our guides can lead you such as the Púca’s Leap(s)]. These shapeshifting troublemakers are most definitely noted to emerge around Samhain; the end of the Celtic Calendar year – tricking unwary travelers and claiming leftovers in harvest fields. But much like the duality of the Irish lifestyle in general, some myths say this creature can be malevolent or benign. It might just depend on where you are, or how you greet it…

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Our famous Faerie Glen…
  1. Faeries

Almost everyone across the globe has stories of these beings. In Ireland these varied and fascinating individuals are known as the Sìdhe; or faeries, and much like the Púca [who some argue is also a Sìdhe] can be benevolent or malicious. Remnants of their existence erupt from the lush countryside in the form of “faery forts”, the likes of which are unlike anything you’ve ever seen. More than mere ruins, these structures are superstitiously left to the land and not to be disturbed for fear of insulting the fey – resulting in catastrophic consequences…lore of these people can be found on many of our tours, from references in Yeats’ poetry in the Heart of the Wild West all the way to the Wild West Atlantic Way…

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The fingerprints of faith…
  1. Legendary Figures of Faith

From a woman whose cloak could cover the entire countryside in order to sway a king, to a man whose existence began with the birth of a freshwater spring now renowned for healing properties; Ireland interweaves legend with faith in the form of several different saints. Imbibed stories; their wells and places of worship are some of our most special and sacred places found in the Wild West of Ireland. With spiritual guides who carefully balance the mystical with the soulful, you’ll have to discover for yourself just who walked the same roads you did, the marks they left, and what sort of pilgrimages they might’ve made for themselves and others…

If your bags still feel light after these dual adventures, be sure to stick around for another blog in the near future. And if you’d like, share with us who you’d like to meet in the Wild West of Ireland!

Until next time, be well!

Sam Fishkind

Wild West Irish Tours

Social Media Manager and Scribe

In a land of poets, powerful entities, famous saints, and timeless stories, it’s easy to imagine the figures of the Wild West of Ireland walking alongside you on a Wild West Irish Tour. When you depart; your bags might feel just a little bit fuller – with souvenirs and sentiments of good times had; but also, with the knowledge and even the people you’ve met along the way.

Here is a cast of characters historically documented to have shared the roads you’re traveling on. Walk alongside these folks and invite them home with you – so that they, through you, can tell their tales.

  1. And who better to bring home from the Wild West of Ireland than…a Spaniard? Believe it or not, this shipwrecked sailor walked the windblown dunes of Sligo, traveling toward Antrim; through Grange, lovely Leitrim, and onward into legend. Learn about him on a journey narrated by a brilliant educator who has dedicated his life to the preservation of this sailor’s history…and see how much of his tales you believe! To be fair, these stories come embellished by the sailor himself, who had quite a lot riding on his shoulders. Treasure, treachery, and old-world shenanigans await you!

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    Following the Spaniard’s path…

  2. Speaking of Sligo, therein is known a marvelous woman of great ferocity, tenacity, and strength: a groundbreaking revolutionary whose love of her country encouraged her to use her power and privilege for good. Born to a wealthy family, this Countess is tied to defying English reign in Ireland, including the Easter Rebellion and her efforts to better the lives of poorer and working classes, setting a precedent for equality [including feminism]. You’ll find a sculpture of her in the Heart of the Wild West…

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    Leading the people…

  3. Perhaps no less revolutionary in other [yet similar] aspects; Northward in County Derry is a well-known Irish poet whose style and of-the-earth demeanor set him apart from many of the poets of his time. To this day, he is one of Ireland’s most beloved figures; a humble man who used his words and his demeanor to illustrate the difficulties Ireland faced and bring light to those in rural areas or those in working classes. You may find yourself digging into the foundation of his work as you traverse along the Wild West Atlantic Way...

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    Derry’s Peace Bridge.

  4. While on the subject of revolutions and poetry, a figure in Yeats’ poetry comes to mind – the woman who rejected him no less than four times; whose radical love of Ireland surpassed, arguably, her love of anything or indeed, anyone else. Yeats of Sligo never seemed to stop loving her, but her dedication to the freeing of prisoners; of Ireland overall, and liberation of women via the Women’s Movement took precedence. You can visit her final resting place in Dublin on the final day of your Wild West Irish Tour; or hear more about her in Sligo – alongside another lady still to yet to be introduced…

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    “Under bare Ben Bulben’s head…” – W.B. Yeats

  5. If you need a breather from all this talk of revolution, we have just the fellow to introduce you to. Along the coast and flooding the hills of Ireland are the echoes of a beloved and renowned Celtic spiritualist – a title that doesn’t even begin to fully cover the concepts of poetry, philosophy, faith, and prosaic insight of a truly good-hearted man. His voice can be heard in the crashing sighs of waves outside Ballyvaughan, and in the enormity of the karst that is the Burren, resounding in the care and contemplation that comes from life in the Wild West of Ireland: raw, intimate, and deeply loving. His messages are perhaps best found in adventures to Clare-Connemara; or the very special (and spiritual) Irish Pilgrimage.

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    Following the voice of the poet…

  6. And finally, some people, no matter how real they once were, faded into legend over time – as you’ve seen now with Medb, for example, we bring you now to the much more recent story of a woman who may have inspired Yeats’ poem, “To an Isle in the Water”… Learn about the occupant of a small island in a shining lake; whose independence and determination won her the hearts of the local people – as did her infamous moonshine. You’ll hear stories of this tough and intriguing Irish lady on a cruise aboard a stalwart vessel around the enchanting lake itself; placing you in the very heart of her tale…

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    “To an isle in the water
    With her would I fly.” – W.B. Yeats

If your suitcase still feels light; or you’ve room to spare, not to worry – this is but a handful of the people you could encounter on your journey. And these are just the historical figures, after all…

You may want to stay tuned for a midweek adventure next week as we pack your bags with the more mysterious and mystical figures of the Wild West of Ireland! And if you’re familiar with Irish storytelling, their tales are boundless and numerous as the stars in the sky.

And you’ll find you can see them all the more clearly in the Wild West of Ireland.

Until next time, be well!

Sam Fishkind

Wild West Irish Tours

Social Media Manager & Scribe

As a new year dawns, humans tend to discuss thresholds, change, and resolutions – as well as lingering on the memories of the year passing; summoning celebratory nostalgia by candlelight and fireworks.

As a part of Wild West Irish Tours, from our perspective, we also focus on transformation – as we say, “you will be transformed” journeying with us, and stepping over the threshold to explore the Wild West of Ireland – from perspectives new and old.

Whether you’ve been to Ireland or are planning a visit with us in 2018, we have a lot of good recommendations. Our sample itineraries are chock full of wonderful surprises – and off the record, there’s a lot of spontaneous delights to consider. You might encounter a lively street band or pub session; perhaps listen to the stories of a Celtic wise-woman, or even submerge yourself in a crafts market nestled between the mountains and a quaint café. The road through Ireland’s Wild West is broader than you could possibly imagine – but I encourage you to try, as we recap 2017 with a couple of highlights, and prepare for 2018’s season with hopes to come!

Here’s some of what our Wild Westies reflected on regarding 2017:

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Wild Westie John Farrell; photo by Wild Westie Ron Byers
  • “The landscape scenery in both Co. Sligo and Co. Clare were my favorites. Each had their special beauty but both Counties were spectacular.” – John Farrell
  • “Serpents Rock- it was the solitude and the beauty of being in a place, not having to speak or rush… just being.” – Stacey Kinsey
  • “I’d say going out into the Burren with our tour guide, Pius. He makes it an experience, not just a place to see. And the time we spent with the Irish women who conveyed Irish folklore and some of the ancient connections among people/land/spirit.” – Saoirse Charis-Graves
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Finn himself!
  • “I loved walking down to the beach every morning and evening with Finn from our B & B in Donegal. I felt like I was in the real Ireland and just loved it!” – Mary Ellen Powrie
  • “Visiting the graves of my great-grandparents.” – Rita Byrne Tull
  • “The beautiful scenery was the best, but my favorite was the jam session withauthentic Irish Music and songs!” – Robin Winn Moore
  • “I would have to say it was a toss up between exploring the Burren with Pius and walking the cliffs of Loop Head.” – Colleen Marikje Barker
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Irish jam session – photo by Wild Westie Robin Winn Moore!

And here’s what our sojourners are looking forward to in 2018!:

  • “I hope to hear great music, see spirited dancing, taste hearty food, smell the sea, and feel the presence of something magical.” – Judy Peterson
  • “Just being there – I can’t wait!” – Claudia Pellegrini Quieroz
  • “Going back!!!!” – Terry White

From this past year, I think making new friends [I know, I know – I’m corny] and exploring new areas like Donegal were but a couple of highlights I can mention! The faerie glen as well, which was unforgettable.

As for the future, it’s definitely the possibility of new experiences – but also seeing said friends again; getting in touch with the land and its history [as well as the myths and legends], and finding new stories to hear & tell.

There are boundless opportunities for personal, mental, and spiritual growth in the Wild West of Ireland – and as one of my New Year’s resolutions, I’m trying to leave myself more open to the possibilities of said growth. I’m ready to let 2018 be a year of healing and hope! Especially when it comes to visiting Ireland.

Owner Michael Waugh threw in his two cents about the year past and year upcoming as well:

474546_3764846434164_132975841_o“Getting a chance to be shown the areas like the Burren and the Holy Wells this past year; finding new areas that no one knows about this past year – that’s just one aspect, though,” says Michael. “It’s hard to choose just one.” When it comes to the upcoming year, he’s delighted to be bringing people fresh experiences close to home: “We’re looking forward to the new Wild West Atlantic Way in particular – bringing people to what we consider the ‘best’ places of the four tours.”

“We love developing new tours and showing people these places dear to our hearts,” adds Michael. “Seeing everything from Clare out to the Antrim Coast; Connemara, Sligo – what we’d say is the best of Ireland.”

And, if you’re like a few of our Wild Westies who said “I wish” or “it’s not in the cards this year” [shout-out to Wild Westies Ann DesRoches and Cynthia Owens], there is always a time in the future you can take a journey with Wild West Irish Tours.

Please stay tuned with us as we enter 2018 with light hearts and enthusiastic adventures; eyes on the horizon of the Wild West of Ireland.

You might not know what to expect from the rest of the world, but we can promise you as always, you can expect great things in simple places with us.

Until next time, be well!

Sam Fishkind

Wild West Irish Tours

Social Media Manager & Scribe

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

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!  

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening! Wherever you are, whenever you are, I invite you to take a little time out of your day to experience a Wild West Irish Tour.

Wild Westie Sue Kavanagh wrote us the most incredible love letter to the Wild West of Ireland today – a fantastic retelling of her experience on a Wild West Irish Tour that is deserving of its own highlight! These reviews mean the world to us, and Sue dedicated so much time and thought to reflect on hers that we simply had to share it outright with all of you…

“My husband and I signed up to take the Wild West Signature Tour, the Heart of the Wild West, several months before it was scheduled to leave. I eagerly read every post and blog on Facebook I could about the tour, which whetted my appetite for our trip. But nothing could have prepared me for how truly wonderful and amazing it was. Our experience in Ireland on the Wild West tour was above and beyond what we had wished for. It is difficult to capture the essence of our time in words, but I will try!

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First, we saw places that were magnificent in beauty. We traveled to see gigantic cliffs that rose majestically from the sea.22831122_10210760095813775_517764704_o.jpg

Our wonderful guide took us to a local castle where we took an interesting tour. Our tour guide there shared stories and trivia that brought the former occupants of the castle back to life. We followed the tour with a boat ride on a beautiful lough. Our captain quoted Yeats’ poetry and told us of his life in this region of Ireland. It was fascinating and loads of fun!

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“More magic – A white horse appeared suddenly at the ruins of a castle!”
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Auriel and the Wild Westies!

The most memorable and incredible place we went to was an uninhabited island. We sailed in a fishing boat in the open sea, passing a seal colony in our way there. Daryl, our captain shared stories with us of the sights we passed along our voyage of almost an hour! We were accompanied by Auriel, an archaeologist who led us ashore once we reached the island. I cannot capture what that experience was like. What I can say is that several of our group was moved to tears once we reached the upper part of the island.

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We were able to explore a monastery built in the 6th century. We entered structures where the monks slept and served mass 15 centuries ago. We saw ruins built by pagan people with Celtic crosses carve over the original symbols. It was incredible. Auriel taught us the significance of symbols and linked them to the history of both the island and of Ireland.

Alongside the monastery were the remains of a self-sufficient village of ten families who lived in the island until the 1940s! What stoic, hard-working people they must have been to live in such a harsh but surreally beautiful place.

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“The Spanish Armada Play – So Fun!”

One fun day we were led on the trail of a survivor of the shipwrecked Spanish Armada by guide Eddie O’Gorman. It was remarkable to know that someone made the trek on foot to the places we saw, including a beautiful waterfall. We had such fun reading poetry from Yeats and acting out a play about the events of so long ago.

 

There are so many hidden, precious gems we were taken to on our tour. Our wonderful B & B host and guide took us to a holy well which had once been a site of worship for pagans and now houses a shrine to St Patrick. Nearby we saw caves in which Catholic priest served mass in hiding for fear of punishment from the English.

Our amazing guides would pull off the road in various spots and before we knew it we would be standing before an ancient site full of history and intrigue. Our guides and B & B host and shared their passion and love for Ireland with us in such a way that we fell in love with it too.

22878987_10210769592451185_2028209384_oOur B & B was perfect. We had spectacular views of Benbulben from our room. Breakfast was amazing! Our host even arranged for a birthday cake for my husband on his birthday! And several nights we spent together watching an Irish dancer or hearing our guide and musician play a traditional Irish harp and tin whistle. Out last night we had a visit from a Celtic woman who taught us about ancient Irish traditions and rituals. It was fascinating!

We were brought to wonderful restaurants, quaint tearooms and pubs for lunch. You must try a seafood pie and, of course, fish and chips – and bangers and mash! Simply delicious! A pint of Guinness goes down so nicely in the Wild West, too!

I would say that anyone who wants to really feel immersed in Irish history and culture should go on A Wild West tour. They will experience Irish music and lore from people of Ireland who truly love their country. Our guides love and pride for their heritage was palpable in their every word and action. Their knowledge of their country’s history was impressive. And their warmth and friendliness made it all the more wonderful.

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It is impossible to describe every place we saw in the scope of a trip review. Just know that, if you join a Wild West tour, you will see places that will forever change you. That sounds dramatic, I know, but to go to these sights is a deeply moving experience.”

Sue, we cannot thank you enough for traveling with us – you’re a true Wild Westie! Your photo essay feels full of heart and home.

For more about the Heart of the Wild West, our Signature Tour, you can click here

Until next time, be well!

Sam Fishkind

Wild West Irish Tours

Social Media Manager & Scribe.

When people think of the Wild West of Ireland, they probably picture a lot of things: the iconic hills, the individual mountains, stories of Yeats, and endless rainbows. What they aren’t picturing, usually, is an old-world Spanish Armada shipwrecked in the briny Wild West Atlantic Way. A story of ambitious royals, desperate sailors, tall tale elements and more ensued – narrated by a one Francisco de Cuellar, brought back to life by a very special Irish historian.

IMG_6862.JPGOne of the primary sources on Ireland’s (pardon the pun) rich history with the Spanish Armada is Eddie O’Gorman, someone Wild West Irish Tours enthuastically enjoys. Perhaps best described man who is a perpetual student as much as he is a teacher, Eddie seeks to inform people of the near-legendary events surrounding the wrecking of the Armada and all that followed. Through him, the voice of de Cuellar speaks – with impromptu theatrics and a voice made for telling stories.

To understand the fascination with history surrounding the Spanish Armada, one must first understand Eddie. Eddie’s interest in the Spanish Armada stems from his fascination with tall ships and reverence for history. He was, after all, a history teacher for many years; then switched to business, then went back to teaching – fluctuating, he said, in part because “kids don’t listen.” It’s a bit hard to believe, considering how he can spin a yarn.

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A restless soul in the best possible way; Eddie sought to travel – his own epic quest, in a way, exploring the historical aspects of Ireland and engaging with the past in ways few seldom do. Moving back to the Wild West of Ireland after his children moved out, Eddie took an interest in the work of novelist Patrick O’Brian, who wrote of nautical history – perhaps most famously, Master and Commander.

From thereon, it was an avid interest in tall ships – so much so that Eddie got the hip surgery he’d been putting off in order to do what he truly wanted to do: sail! “I healed fast like Francisco,” Eddie joked – and we’ll get what he means in just a moment. But so invested in tall ships and their legacy with Irish history was Eddie that he happened to be on the first recovery ship that went out to pull a cannon up from the Armada – and he’s been thus trawling up facts and stories ever since.IMG_6781.JPG The epic of Francisco de Cuellar is best described by Eddie himself – following the winding path the Spaniard took after his unexpected disembarking a galleon in the Armada- an Armada whose ships were toting a considerable amount of treasure back to Spain at the behest of its rulers. De Cuellar’s life from thereon out was a wild one – his recounting of events is as tall as it is long. Between the late 1500’s locals swarming the survivors of the shipwreck for their clothing [currency during that time], grievous injuries relating to the ship [his leg was badly wounded], and the many attempts on his life [as the British, who occupied Ireland at the time, did so hate the Spanish], de Cuellar seemed destined to an epic adventure. Whether or not he’d survive seemed uncertain –

Yet he was also destined to be dubbed an incredible survivor. Not only did he seem to heal astonishingly quickly on an [allegedly] decimated leg [the road stretched on for miles – a seemingly impossible distance for an injured individual]; much like Eddie and his hip, if you will, but de Cuellar also always seemed to find the right people to rescue him.

And believe it or not, most of them turned out to be women! Eddie did rib us with the fact that the Irish women did take a fancy to Spanish men’s “olive skin and dark hair” – so much so that one story had him as an indentured servant to a rather flirtatious blacksmith’s wife. This was offset only by de Cuellar’s prowess as a strategist – something more than one Irish chieftain admired enough to try to convince him to stay. How much of de Cuellar’s life is fact and how much is fiction during this retelling of events remains to be seen – but it makes for a riveting tale nonetheless!IMG_6803.JPG

IMG_6839      Eddie O’Gorman, meanwhile, makes an effortless effort of showing people around to places no one would know about – off the literal beaten path, through a field of roving sheep, to the last standing monument to a place that sheltered de Cuellar for a time, for example. The quietness and actual living history as a backdrop for Eddie’s enrapturing narration made the experience that much more all-encompassing. It was as if we were literally walking with de Cuellar across the hills to seek sanctuary.

And the people of the Wild West of Ireland have also been assisting in the conservation of this particular segment of history. Between carefully raising cannons miraculously preserved in the ocean water and enlisting embargos to prevent the selling of snorkeled artifacts off the wrecks as well as endeavoring to educate the public whilst protecting what they can of the sunken vessels, there’s been heaps of effort in making sure as many as possible know what transpired those 400+ years ago. Eddie O’Gorman also mentioned there’s work being done on a local visitors’ center, meant to culturally enrich people regarding the Armada – and much more in the beautiful areas surrounding the Armada.

If you’re lucky enough to meet Eddie on one of your Wild West Irish Tours adventures, you’ll be able to more fully experience these behind-the-scenes; wild adventures. And you’ll never forget him – nor will you be able to put out of your mind the unbelievable recounting of Francisco de Cuellar.  Come sail away on a discovery of history reimagined; reinvigorated, and inspired –

Then go home and tell your own tale just as de Cuellar told his.

Until next time, enjoy the seldom & wonderful!

Sam Fishkind

Wild West Irish Tours

Social Media Manager & Scribe