My name is Cynthia Owens and I’m a proud and grateful alumnus of a Wild West Irish Tour.

Proud because I think Wild West Irish Tours are the best tours in Ireland. And grateful because my Signature Tour last May not only healed a very deep wound in my heart, it also offered me so much inspiration, I’ll have story ideas for many a year to come.

In case I didn’t mention it, I’m the author of twelve historical romance novels. My Claddagh Series stories are set in Ireland (with one memorable detour in Book III, Playing For Keeps). My Wild Geese Series is set in New York City just after the American Civil War (again, with a memorable detour, this time to Canada, in Keeper of the Light). All the heroes of that series are Irish, and all fought with Thomas Francis Meagher’s Irish Brigade.

Ireland has called to the deepest heart of me ever since I was a child. Her music, her myths and legends, have always inspired me. And when I travelled there last summer, I knew I would find inspiration on those emerald shores.

I just didn’t realize how much!

From the day I arrived in Ireland, I found stories everywhere: in the lovely, pearlescent light at dusk, the wild seas and quiet fields, the magical mist that hung over Ben Bulben each morning. And, of course, our wonderful guides. A trip to Glencar Falls on our first night evoked thoughts of W.B. Yeats and his wonderful poem, The Stolen Child, followed the next day by a trip to Drumcliffe Church and a cruise – complete with Irish music and Yeats poetry – on the Rose of Innisfree. How better to inspire a writer in love with all things Ireland?

The author, Cynthia Owens during a trip to Glencar Falls.

On another day, we visited Lissadell House, and what an amazing inspiration that turned out to be! As I walked through the magnificent house where the Gore-Booth sisters grew up, I thought of Grace Bennington, who appeared in Reluctant Betrayer (Claddagh Series, Book V). This was her house before the fire! I pictured her in the music room, climbing the stairs and pausing to gaze wistfully into the blazing fireplace. I immediately began making notes for her story, The Landlord’s Daughter.

The Lissadell House (pictured above) inspired the author to make notes for her story, The Landlord’s Daughter.

The gardens at Lissadell were just as awe-inspiring. As I strolled through paths, taking in amazing plants and flowers on all sides, catching glimpses of Lissadell Beach with its wild, gray seas, Deirdre O’Brien of the Claddagh Series, daughter of Rory O’Brien of Ballycashel House, stood next to me. A child in Coming Home (Claddagh, Book II) she grew up and became such a wonderful secondary character in Wishes of the Heart (Claddagh, Book VII), I knew she had to have a story of her own. And when I begin writing that story, tentatively titled My Lady, My Love, this summer, I plan to send her for a long stroll about magnificent gardens with her hero, Colin. And who knows? They might just fall in love while they’re there!

A long stroll through the magnificent gardens at Lissadell.

Every day of the tour brought new inspiration, new story ideas. Wandering through a magical fairy glen made me think it would be the perfect place for my heroine to visit when she wanted to escape from the world. A walk along Strandhill Beach made me think of fishermen from the Aran Islands, battling a sea storm. Ancient passage tombs brought ideas for a fantasy series I’m planning, and the story of the survivors of the Spanish Armada sent my imagination in a dozen different directions!

The author wandering through a magical fairy glen.

But even more than the wonderful research opportunities my Wild West Irish Tour afforded me, was the incredible friendliness and helpfulness of our guides. I had only to ask a question to receive detailed information on the subject. Every place we went, there was a story or a legend attached. Bram Stoker’s Dracula, a mass grave dating from Famine times, Knocknarea, where Queen Maeve is buried. And our guides knew them all. Even a simple plant had a story, especially those on Coney Island. Our guides were extremely knowledgeable about their chosen subjects, and I’m grateful for their generosity in sharing that knowledge.

I personally had some lovely discussions with Geraldine, the owner of Yeats Lodge, about an Gorta Mor, the Great Famine, as we strolled through a village abandoned more than a hundred years ago. My very first night at the Lodge, Geraldine, knowing I’m an avid reader of everything Irish, took the time to find several books she thought I might enjoy, and brought them to my room. You certainly wouldn’t find that kind of personalization on any other tour!

We Wild Westies were treated not like tourists, but as friends. And for a shy writer like me, who’s always been more of a hermit that a social butterfly, it was a wonderful experience.

I highly recommend a Wild West Irish Tour—in fact, I’ve mentioned WWIT to several friends who are considering visiting Ireland. I took the Signature Tour, and I’m hoping to gift myself with the Clare-Connemara Tour before too long.

If you’d like to find out more about my books, please visit my website. You can also find me on Facebook.

~~~

About Cynthia: I believe I was destined to be interested in history. One of my distant ancestors, Thomas Aubert, reportedly sailed up the St. Lawrence River to discover Canada some 26 years before Jacques Cartier’s 1534 voyage. Another relative was a 17thCentury “King’s Girl,” one of a group of young unmarried girls sent to New France (now the province of  Quebec) as brides for the habitants (settlers) there. My passion for reading made me long to write books like the ones I enjoyed, and I tried penning sequels to my favorite Nancy Drew mysteries. Later, fancying myself a female version of Andrew Lloyd Weber, I drafted a musical set in Paris during WWII. A former journalist and lifelong Celtophile, I enjoyed a previous career as a reporter/editor for a small chain of community newspapers before returning to my first love, romantic fiction. My stories usually include an Irish setting, hero or heroine, and sometimes all three. I’m the author of The Claddagh Series, historical romances set in Ireland and beyond, and The Wild Geese Series, in which five Irish heroes return from the American Civil War to find love and adventure. I’m a member of the Romance Writers of America and Hearts Through History Romance Writers. A lifelong resident of Montreal, Canada, I still live there with my own Celtic hero and our two adult children.

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, 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