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, 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

 

It occurred to me that in describing my elaborate adventures in the Wild West of Ireland this time around, some people might want the Reader’s Digest version of events that transpired.

How does one summarize a fantastical journey? The Heart of Ireland’s Wild West is enormous in its hospitality; tremendous in its nature, and resounding in its residual echoes. Even now, in rainy Massachusetts, I can almost hear the crash of the Wild West Atlantic Way on the wind and catch the sound of sheep and donkeys in the air. There’s the hope that, somehow, I’ll wake to find sunlight filtering through a skylight of a cozy B&B, in a comfortable room lovingly prepared.

But I arise and go now to my keyboard, to tell you instead of what I’ve seen – editing a cairn of photos piled high on my drive, and wrapping my fleece ever tighter around myself against the bite in the late September air.IMG_6702.JPG

From mountains to oceans, forests primeval and boglands, there are countless different places each meant for a certain type of person – and to all.

I’ll try to sum up as much as I can – bear with me, as no words can fully put to mind the experiences shared in the Wild West of Ireland.

IMG_6735.JPG     Arriving in September, when hours of light are long and the evenings speckled with rain, was a wonderful decision. The weather was still nice, with a rainbow just about every day – what a blessing it was to look skywards and see the many colors arcing across the sky. Before you ask, no, no pots of gold, but instead, a journey that was priceless.

And much like the rainbow, there was a shade of something in Ireland for everyone – whether it was a walk through the wilderness in some of the places off the beaten path, horseback-riding along the sea, getting a spa treatment in a seaweed bath after a day of hiking, participating in history with local guides, or enjoying rollicking music & performances, Ireland had it all.

When you consider what the Heart of Ireland’s Wild West might mean, it’s always going to be a personal adventure.

For me, there was a little bit of myself in everything I did [which sounds obvious, but bear with me].

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As a writer, I love poetry and thrive off the written word – it was surreal to stand before the grave of Yeats and walk the same beloved places he did; including majestic waterfalls and islands in a lough that seemed like a silvery sea.

As an equestrian of six or so years back in the day, trotting along the shoreline surveying castles and abbeys across the water was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life – far surpassing the days of dressage and rings.

IMG_6789.JPGFor someone who never ever wanted to leave school; ever, I got to learn heaps about an area I genuinely care about – local insight overshadowing all outside research I could’ve done. I learned new and fascinating things about places such as Knocknarea, the Spanish Armada, and more – told by the loveliest voices and in such an intimate setting among but a few friends and fellow travelers.

IMG_6899.JPGThere were irreplaceable, timeless places [and people!] I got to meet – the photojournalist in me reveled in submerging myself in all things new; old, and splendid. I didn’t even mention yet the tour of a beautiful artisan factory where Irish crafstsmen still make incredible things the same way as they have for years – offset by a woodcarver who’s performed his remarkable trade for decades in town. Nor did I get to the incredible sheepdog displays or visiting one of the oldest bars in Ireland. I could spend my whole life trying to write it all down for someone and it wouldn’t be the same – for them or for me! And I mean that in the best possible way.

From the first day in Ireland to the reluctant last, you can feel that this trip is tailored to your interests. There is focus on local areas as given by local people [such as our guides like the fantastic storyteller Eddie O’Gorman of the Spanish Armada for you history buffs, and brilliant anthropologist Michael Roberts whose insight into the Sligo area is irreplaceable to name but two], Celtic traditions & Irish culture [brought to life by the irreplaceable Laura Ganley and the intuitive, intelligent Regina Fahey], and the full immersive experience of the Wild West of Ireland [from unique homestyle B&BS run by folk who genuinely care about their guests to music sessions wherein anyone and everyone is welcome to join in].IMG_6163.JPG

The Heart of Ireland’s Wild West still beats inside of me, even as I’m back across the pond – it’s in everything I took with me that I collected on the journey in terms of photos, stories, and souvenirs, but more importantly, stored in the mind’s eye and the well of my spirit as an entirely engaging experience unlike any other.

I’ll elaborate on a few of these points in the future, so be sure to check back in – for stories on the people and places of the Wild West of Ireland, here’s where you want to be until you can be there – again, or for the first time.

                Until next time,

                Sam Fishkind

                Wild West Irish Tours

                Social Media Manager & Scribe

Back at it again with day two of a Wild West Irish Tour’s brief coverage for you all!

Today began with plenty of food, laughter, and caffeine – everything at the B & B is provided; you’re never left wanting for anything. Geraldine made sure we had fuel in our tanks before we set out on our adventures for the day: learning a bit about the man who made the Land of Heart’s Desire more visible, a roam around an old-world castle, a sweeping adventure across a silvery lake, a trip to a cozy tea room, and a great fanfare of local pub music that outdid anything I’d heard before…

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We began by visiting the grave of the one and only W.B. Yeats in a beautiful cemetery under the watchful eye of a familiar mountain. As you can see, Yeats himself seems to emulate the ‘great things in simple places’ motif – his desire to be memorialized without grandeur is evident here.

It was a strange joy; finding out a bit about his life from David; one of our capable driver-guides. I learned much from him about Yeats that I hadn’t been able to pick up from my studies, and everyone was enraptured with the way he told a story. Some of us broke off after a brief chat about the poet in question with the simple headstone to explore the church grounds – looking at said church’s interior, admiring the tall crosses, or simply breathing in the fresh air before we moved on to our next big adventure…

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Which happened to be the magnificent castle.

It was constructed; originally, in the 17th century – some of the old stone work from a structure prior is still visible to the eye, along with many fascinating details of varying eras. Rolling up to it is impressive enough as-is, considering its significant size and the way the castle drops off into a grand overview of the enormous lake beside it. The guides IMG_6074inside were friendly; funny, attentive, and eager for questions as the Wild Westies explored the places prestigious families would’ve made their dwellings in, admired woodwork remastered by means of its original craftsmanship, and found out the real use for a moat in this particular Irish abode…

An interesting highlight here is that during one of our presentations David decided to go test out the acoustics upstairs in the former banquet hall of the castle on a whim. It was something so authentically miraculous to hear beautiful music whilst waiting for the next presentation to start downstairs – a haunting lilt that filled the halls with something of another time. It was as if the castle had come briefly back to life; though it still thrives with the care and attentiveness of its guides and teachers; as well as consistent efforts in historically-accurate restoration. Altogether it was yet again a fabulous emphasis on people vs. area – not against one another, but feeding into one another in terms of culture, preservation, and enthusiastic willingness to share their history [and selves] with others.

We followed our “pied piper” and Senan [our other capable, informative driver] then out toward the lake to board a ship manned by a one umistakably famous Captain George – as blustery in words as the gusts on the lough today; but much warmer and more welcoming. Tina; first mate [and captain’s wife!] kindly served us tea upon entry to the wonderful little vessel – a nice surprise to enjoy while we set sail on the most majestic mirror of freshwater that shone under a briefly-platinum sky.

The sun did come out to play, however – dancing across the glistening waves that lapped the edges of the boat, guiding us on toward places that held homes in the heart of Yeats’ stories & poems as well as local legend and history. Captain George got us all reciting poetry with him;  narrating our adventure with lively music and conversation, which made the journey seem timeless and grand. Towering trees – “forty shades of green,” the good Captain pointed out to all of us – lined the hills that dropped and rolled toward the lough’s surface. Standing on the deck to survey all that could be seen, breathing in that dewy air – I could not possibly recommend a more refreshing thing to experience fully.

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We swung into a tea room for lunch after disembarking; cozily snuggled into a historical local tavern – their tea menu was varied, and let me just say, you can never have too much tea…especially in Ireland. For those keeping score; I had a delightful Turkish apple-pineapple tea that required nothing but itself to be enjoyed. It was a perfect pick-me-up for the walk to follow –

 

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A walk that followed a roaring river and emerald woods up to a magnificent abbey that overlooked the land from its seat in the sun. Windows long vacant became frames for the puffy white clouds and cerulean sky; while Senan took the time to explain a few details of the abbey – from carvings of St. Francis to the grave of a priest people went to for blessings; their ailments allegedly abated by spoonfuls of said priest’s grave dirt – there’s a whole method to it, but you’ll have to come here and have a local tell you the details. I’d hate to get it wrong and lead you all astray….

 

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Which brings me back to the “pied piper” motif, actually – albeit this time, we were led to a most marvelous little pub in town that held jam sessions every so often. We were fortunate enough to squeeze in before the crowds, gathering around to hear fiddles, concertinas, guitars, and of course, another tin whistle – met with cheers, whoops, hollers, claps, and the thumping of feet against the floor. Everyone came alive when the music came out – several Wild Westies enjoyed fresh beer on tap from a friendly barkeeper. It seemed only a matter of time before a few of us were to jump up and dance – luckily, we spared the locals…for now.

Though I’ve no doubt they would’ve joined in with the dancing, actually – the energy was up and spirits high. Music, one of a few universal languages, was spoken loudly and joyously tonight. And we; the Wild Westies, were eager to listen.

 

All in all, it was a lovely action-packed day of melodies in every form that drew us together – a thread tugging many threads as one, stitching into creation a magnificent tapestry of wonderful sound and a thoroughly genuine experience.

Tomorrow we’re back at it again with more surprises in store for you yet – stay tuned for the next installment of our exciting times in the Wild West of Ireland!

Until then,

Sam Fishkind

Wild West Irish Tours

Social Media Manager & Scribe

Hello all!

With less than three weeks till the Rose of Tralee International Festival comes to fruition, we thought we might take a moment to recognize the competition our dear Rose of Mayo; Sandra Ganley, has entered into.

For those who don’t know, here’s a brief background on the Rose of Tralee competition in the words of the Festival itself:

The Rose of Tralee International Festival is one of Ireland’s largest and longest running festivals, celebrating 58 years in 2017. The heart of the festival is the selection of the Rose of Tralee which brings young women of Irish descent from around the world to County Kerry, Ireland for a global celebration of Irish culture. The festival also includes street entertainment, carnival, live concerts, theatre, circus, markets, funfair, fireworks and Rose Parades.

Dozens of young women have come forward to compete again this year – you might recall from our previous mentions of Sandra that she has befriended fellow Roses from around the world! It might be difficult to choose a favorite, but it’s easy to be reminded why we chose ours…

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From left to right: Laura Ganley, Trish, Michael, and Sandra Ganley!

While each young lady is exemplary when it comes to Irish tradition and heritage, we truly feel in sponsoring Sandra Ganley, we’ve made the right choice. Between dance and languages, Sandra promotes a great deal of the Celtic spirit.

She and her sister Laura are, as aforementioned, well-known for their beautiful dancing! And Sandra, in speaking being the Irish Language Officer at Kilmovee Comhaltas, encourages the continued tradition of Irish Gaelic – you can actually hear her speak it in our most recent release for the upcoming Wild West Atlantic Way tour (which she helped inspire via County Mayo)! Sandra was kind enough to host this video for us, and we want nothing more than to see her succeed.

In sponsoring Sandra, we also believe in choosing someone who best embodies compassion, enthusiasm, and heart. She has inspired us beyond belief, and it has been a privilege to see her grow as an individual to pursue her dreams. You can take a moment to read her bio on the Rose of Tralee website here, if you like – it describes her better than perhaps we ever could.

Please show your support for Sandra by following her Facebook page and spreading the word! We’d love for everyone on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere to cheer Sandra on!

Stay tuned for the festivities of the Rose of Tralee in a mere 20 days!

Until next time,

Sam Fishkind

Wild West Irish Tours Scribe

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening!

It occurs to me that some of you may not know exactly who or what a Wild West Irish Tour is. I’d be happy to break that down for you now!

   Wild West Irish Tours is the beloved creation of Trish O’Donnell-Jenkins and Michael Waugh, founded [appropriately] on Saint Patrick’s Day in 2011. It explores fundamental traditional Irish practices, historical places, and the seldom-seen beauties of the Wild West of Ireland. Assisted by such wonderful people as Joe McGowan [an author and storyteller engrossed in the preservation of Irish traditions], Dr. Michael Roberts [whom you might remember from a previous post], and many terrific others, the Wild West Irish Tours took off with a triumphant symphony of fiddles and flutes. You can read more about it here, however…

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Westie Margaret Ann & a few local friends!

You might’ve been expecting something along the lines of an Irish John Wayne, given the tour title – but we trade cowboys for sheepherders [and we like it that way]. Let’s break down the top five fundamentals of what makes a Wild West Irish Tour a Wild West Irish Tour, shall we?

1. Authenticity

One of our top priorities is making sure you don’t experience a “tourist-y”’ tour. In the Land of Heart’s Desire; we try to stay true to our hearts: by connecting with locals and seeking out unique experiences. We speak with people who are immersed in Celtic folklore; those who know the area well and can tell us a thing or two new every time. There’s no big buses or long lines. We promise nothing but a good time: one that comes from a world that is both sincere and exciting; riddled with stories and, yes, occasional song. From the dust of the road on our boots to your first breaking of brown bread at a pub table, the genuine hospitality of Ireland is everywhere on our tours.

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Simone; local shaman and guide to Celtic pagan traditions. Photo by Wild Westie Ron Byers.

2. Spontaneity [& Flexibility!]

                It’s important to keep an open mind and a keen eye when on one of our Wild West Irish adventures – a sudden stop for sheep and a scenic view might be more likely than you think! There’s a vague structure [we do have some plans, after all] to keep our opportunities open. There might be a music festival in one of our townships that evening; or perhaps a special performance by a local dancer. You just never know, and that’s the beauty of being open to possibility. On another note: flexibility might just mean sunrise yoga [literal flexibility; anyone?] or weaving between the trees to discover a glittering waterfall…

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Trish O’Donnell-Jenkins shows us how it’s done!

OR BOTH!

We also tend to keep groups small [6-8] to further enhance that flexi-spontaneity, if you will.

               3. What’s Seldom is Wonderful

                One of our more popular monikers is a Gaelic phrase, “an rud is annamh is iontach” or, “what’s seldom is wonderful” [alternatively: “the thing that’s seldom is wonderful”]. The easiest way to explain this one is marveling at a rainbow. You know it wasn’t there a moment ago, and in another moment, it could be gone. As a result, a rainbow is seldom-seen; a rarity: and therefore, wonderful to behold in its brevity. We see much of these seldom moments in Ireland – the tranquility and aforementioned spontaneity allow for the world to show us incredible things, even for a moment. These “Irish Moments” are what can make the trip that much more unique.

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Michael Waugh & longtime friend [and Westie!] Brenda Kennedy-Hudler showing us all how to seize the moment.

                4. Expect Great Things in Simple Places

                Coupled with the previous sentiment, this one refers more to the simplicity of the rural Irish West; the countryside (and quaint towns) that tells tales of rolling agate hills and bountiful forests; twisting groves where fairies supposedly play and upturned stones left to keep watch over fields full of lively livestock patterned with ribbons or splashed with all the colors imaginable. Perhaps you’re visiting from a big city – you’ll find peace in this place where time moves differently, around excitable border collies or shockingly-patient donkeys. If you come from farm country, you’ll feel right at home among people who make little to no fuss about the urbane lifestyle.  And if you’re somewhere in-between [re: suburbia], don’t you worry. The balance here is evident, and the point of it all is that you’ll find that even the simplest of things can hold the greatest wonders [there’s a story to be told here, but you’ll have to hear it on one of our fine sojourns].

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Discovering a simple, yet special place with WWIT guide Pius Murray.

                5. Imagination

                Finally, we wouldn’t be writing to you from the literal Land of Heart’s Desire; the home of Yeats, Joyce, Wilde, and others without implying imagination and creativity. The world of Western Ireland thrums with music; pulses with poetry, sings with performance, but also provokes a reaction from any who visit. It gives back in ways you might not expect; prompting response to its calm emerald enclosures and rocky mountain hills. The folklore told by our guides might inspire you to see Sidhe peeking between the leaves of the trees, or prompt song at a tavern when asked [even if you might be a little spotlight-shy]. With the flexibility that allows for imaginative thought, anything is possible: we encourage each and every one of you to use your imagination in thinking about the Wild West of Ireland. It means something different to all who visit –

                I wonder what it might mean to you?

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Create your own story in seeing all there is to see…

I hope this has cleared a few things up – at least enough to see the rainbow from the rain!

Until next time, be well!

                                                                                                                                                                Sam Fishkind.

We’ve talked a lot about how welcoming the Irish can be – and that point holds up across the board! Between music; genuine interest in travelers abroad & their stories, hospitality and storytelling, the Irish overall have been remarkably open – especially when on a Wild West Irish Tours adventure.

It isn’t just the two-legged who tend to be curious about visitors; however – the residents of Ireland who walk on four legs instead of two are also known for their inquisitive and outgoing nature.

Here is a handful of the furry friends you might encounter on one of our tours!

 1. Herding Our Hearts

The use of the Border Collie in Ireland for livestock herding is famous – their showmanship, cunning faces, knowing personalities and beautiful bold coloring make them a true icon in the Irish countryside!

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These sweet creatures can herd even the wildest of adventurers…

We might even know where you can meet a few – and where you can watch them work their magic.

2. A Woolly Rainbow

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Calm before the storm…

Want to get up close and personal with the creators of some of the world’s finest sweaters? These tight-knit (get it?) herds of sheep are content to roam the areas of rural Western Ireland, carrying the colors of their farmers with them – as local farmers have begun to color-code their flocks to tell them apart! As a result; all those hills of green are filled with cloudy rainbows pretty much year-round.

3. Kick Up Your Heels!

This might surprise you; but donkeys are a delightfully common part of Irish culture. Useful for plowing and farming; they’re full of sass and pep – and are incredibly capable, as they are one of the few animals able to cross bog territory without a problem. There’s so much more to them than their so-called stubbornness – mostly because, in part, they’re almost as smart as we are!

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Our good friend Eppy sporting some quality WWIT gear!

4. Cow Do You Do?

Another friend you’ll likely find in places we venture out to is the cow! Might seem anticlimactic; but cows are actually a vital part of Irish culture & legend: between dairy & beef, Ireland produces some of the best in the world. Legendarily speaking; you might know the tale of Saint Brigid and her cows: how she was told by her father to go and milk the cows and ended up giving all she milked away to the poor. What happens next will shock you – but you’ll have to follow us to pastures unknown to hear the rest of the tale…

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It never hurts to have more than one friend in the same place.

5. Come Horse Around!

And finally, no trip to Ireland would be complete without glimpsing an equine friend of another variety: horses have been a part of Irish history for quite a while. Several breeds originate in Ireland – the Irish Cob; for hard work as carthorses, the Irish Draught, a versatile breed for farm work, hunting, and more, the Irish Sport Horse for athleticism and showmanship, the newest Irish Warmblood (also used for equestrian ventures), and the endearing/enduring Kerry Bog Pony (a splendid family horse).

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Can you guess which Irish horse breed this is?

But we cannot dismiss perhaps the most famous Irish equine of all: The Connemara Pony! Known for its calm and versatility; this horse can be ridden by just about anyone.

Of course, these aren’t ALL the animals you’ll see in Ireland – honorable mentions go to creatures such as the cheeky magpie; the graceful swan (heavily featured in the Land of Heart’s Desire!), the wandering cats, coneys (do you know that word?), and all creatures great & small.

The only way to discover them fully, of course, is to come with us: we’d be happy to make introductions with just about anyone (and indeed; anything).

Until next time!

-Sam Fishkind

Good afternoon, travel sleuths! Do you like solving mysteries? Were you a fan of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego as a kid? Perhaps you just like to see beautiful and enigmatic depictions of far-away places. Whatever your niche is, we’re delighted to unveil a little scavenger hunt for you all: a photographic tour of exclusive venues in Western Ireland, presented by Wild West Irish Tours.

You probably won’t get the full experience without being there, but we’re hoping you enjoy this peek through the window into where we like to venture: if you dare to be wild, come with us now to discover these secret places…

10308759_753984827954899_8118328282955448221_n1. Walk With Ghosts in a Valley of Singing Wind: Experience the tranquility of walking through a valley as sweeping and epic as anything out of Lord of the Rings: this landscape in Western Ireland is dotted with abandoned monuments of a much more solemn time; the walk of which is both breathtaking and sobering. Where the valley begins to curve is where you’ll see the open darkness of a cave in which legends were made. Any ideas on where this might be?

2. Four Seasons in One Day?: Jenny1It’s more likely than you think in this mystical garden. More than mere flowers grow here; though their abundance is noted with joy by all who visit: the preservation of history and harmony is vital to the owner’s mission. Would you like to come convene on Celtic lore whilst enjoying a spot of tea? Here’s where to do so with all of us!

3. Familial Crests and Towering Turrets: There’s a castle in Western Ireland that only we have the keys to (aka; we ask the owners nicely and they’re kind enough to oblige).

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Photo by Wild Westie artist Ann Desroches

Overlooking lush green landscape marked by archaic churches and rolling hills, this family-specific home is one near and dear to at least three Westies’ hearts. Bet you can’t name the clan attached to it! Hint: They’re one of the most well-known in all of Ireland.

4. You’ve Heard of Red Roof Inn, Now Get Ready for Red Door Cottage:

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A quaint and functional little house hidden away in the West, this adorable nook has great history with an area of Ireland that hugs the shoreline. If you can wager a guess as to how old it is, we applaud you. Hope you have good weather for thatching!

 

5. Cromwell Couldn’t Take It: 

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This church dates back to the 11th century – far older than what you might expect from

a spot frequented by pilgrims and self-guided historians. It’s stood both the test of time and trials through the ages. It’s a must-visit for those seeking some peace and reflection.

 

6. Enchantment on the Rocks; Both Shaken & Stirred: 13600155_1178432058843505_1753631613558701804_nThis area of Western Ireland is pleasantly notorious for its ecological exploits. Rarely do four types of flora (arctic, alpine, Mediterranean, and deciduous) exist in harmony with one another; much less growing out of terrain lovingly referred to as “living stone”. It stretches for miles; touching mountain and shore.

Do you know its name?

7. Hot Dog! What a Day:

Spending time on this island [which shares a name with a famous American island]

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isn’t just a jaunt at a carnival. Named for bunnies more than balloons and barkers, this isle is sometimes inaccessible due to weather and tide: making it a mysterious getaway fit for fey instead of faire-fare.

8. See Red, But Relax: Take a moment in this gem in the woods to watch the stream flow and hear the birds sing. Smell the fresh fragrance of forest air and imagine yourself in a storybook setting where all problems seem easily solved. Something about this area just seems to sing of solitude and peace. Come with us – we know the way!

 

9. Not Always a Grave Situation: One of the Wild West Irish Tours mottos is “expect great things in simple places”. 17188_563282707025113_1241170839_nThis area exemplifies that; as not only is it simple, it contains a great story (or several great stories; actually) tucked against the bosom of Ireland’s beating heart. Well-worth the visit for those who enjoy the written word (and beautiful scenery; not to mention history).

10. Peak Performance Located In: ? Bet you can’t guess! 10620203_835660336454014_7540137972645945897_o.jpgThis magnificent mountain is one of several worth noting in Western Ireland especially: a towering testament to a varied and mysterious landscape, it’s a “brother peak” of sorts to a mountain previously pictured within the same range!

And if that’s not enough for you, here comes a bonus round!

We’re asking you readers to come up with the answer to where this most exclusive Wild West Irish Tours locale is located:

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Imagination is encouraged! Try to think outside the box; because seldom do we stay in the expected. If you want to wager a guess for a potential prize, please contact us via our website at https://wildwestirishtours.com/contact-us/ ! You’re welcome to comment on any of the other images; share with your friends to solve our picturesque puzzles, but this last one is our secret. 🙂 So don’t give it away!

Thanks for tagging along! Stay tuned for our next big romp.

Till next time,

 – Sam Fishkind.