It’s almost time to go home – but I’m just not ready yet!

As a Wild Westie experiencing the varied and plentiful things to do on The Heart of the Wild West Tour; I can honestly say I’m spoiled for choice to pick a favorite event, person, or place. Every day seems to bring in more and more excitement; and the crescendo to the end is as bittersweet as it is enthralling.

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Today was indeed quite eventful – Tom; one of my fellow Wild Westies and I opted to give horseback riding a try. I was grateful to have a friend to ride with; to even have the option to ride if I wanted to, and to be able to experience an intrinsic part of my life again. I grew up riding, so by the end of the scenic route along the seashore; overlooking abbey and castle ruins alike, the horse (Todd) and I had an understanding. I understood he wasn’t a fan of water, and he understood I could steer him around it – we all have our preferences, right? It was smooth sailing by hoof and sand following – embracing the natural world and imagining myself an ancient Celt patrolling the Western Shore.

We had gorgeous weather for riding – breezy, but sunny, with the tide out and the blackberries intertwining with hawthorn to frame our path. Everything was fresh and green and the sea breeze smelled of pleasant salt and tossing waters. Our guide was an expert at keeping our mounts in line and showing us around the stunning area – sand, sea, and sky were a glorious backdrop that best represented a September in Ireland – leaves barely beginning to tint gold; everything still fresh and fragrant, and the harvest season on the horizon.

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It was an absolutely perfect morning.

You think it couldn’t get better than that – but it could! After a lovely lunch at a nearby craft and antique market, we set out to meet Eddie O’Gorman with anticipation to hear his tales of the Spanish Armada.

IMG_6789Eddie is quite the character – a pleasant older gentleman with a twinkle permanently caught in his eye and another great voice for storytelling; he immediately filled our world with history and depth we likely didn’t think possible. Never in a million years did I expect to learn, for example, that the Spanish Armada wreck in the West of Ireland was so thoroughly documented by Spanish sea captain Francisco de Cuellar – nor that a chieftain liked a shipwrecked Spaniard so much he tried to give the man his sister to keep him around forever. Nor did I foresee traveling the nearly-undiscovered trails of the Wild West of Ireland to the world’s least likely places – wherein monuments to ages past stand still; sundials and sentries in the streams of time itself.

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Narrated by Eddie [punctuated by gracious participation from various Wild Westies such as Margaret, Tom, Virginia, Ian and myself], we were spirited away to a time of mighty sea vessels, clashing swords, vicious Englishmen, and treasure. Or, as the Dropkick Murphys might put it, “mischief, gold, and piracy”. Eddie has a real knack for engaging his audience and no fact felt unnecessary that he shared today.

Our journey even had an interwoven interlude – a stop at iconic waterfalls in the midst of beautiful West Ireland mountains that was both potentially a stop on de Cuellar’s journey and a place Yeats sat to write his work. We recited some of his incredible poetry by the soft roar of the falls, the shaking leaves and rumbling waters wild making for a truly terrific ambiance.

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Eddie also took time out of his day to show us what’s up and coming for the Spanish Armada in his neck of the woods – a visitor’s center, of sorts, that’ll be open to the public hopefully soon! We got to hold replicas of items from the 1580’s and chat about the upcoming conference wherein people with interest in the Armada can come mingle and discuss its past, present, and future. It was a truly extraordinary experience [and I’ll be happy to tell you all about it in a later piece if you’d care to stick around]!

Just after Eddie, we were greeted by Martin Feeney at his residence, which houses Atlantic Sheepdogs – but it’s so much more than that. The warmth of Irish hospitality runs so strongly in Martin – he welcomed us in out of the brief shower of rain and had so much to share with us – he was in no rush, and his calm & courteous nature made everything feel…natural; homey. Like we were distant relatives who had come to look into his work.

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We learned about different types of sheep and what the markets were best regarding their product output and how Martin is trying to preserve the rarer sheep breeds [among other fascinating insight – I may just have to do a sheep & sheepdog focus piece as well!]. A fun fact/example is that wool actually isn’t the main reason for sheep-rearing anymore. Any guesses what would take wool’s place in the sheep-based market?

IMG_6899Meanwhile, Jack the border collie; a sleek black and white dog whose sole focus is always on the sheep and his master, was a splendid addition to Martin’s presentation – even the penned sheep got herded by Jack; who paced the length of the pens to ensure nobody stepped out of line. For a dog of nine years, he moved like the wind and had boundless energy. I hope to be that way when I hit 60 or so…

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Martin told us much about his family, the traditions of sheep farming, why sheep are marked – he was eager to answer any questions and earnestly showed us how Jack responded to commands. The facts we learned today were flooring. I being a fan of James Herriot grew up loving Only One Woof, but that was the extent of my border collie knowledge till now – and it’s worth nothing that Martin expressed deep gratitude for his dogs. “Couldn’t do this without them,” he noted – it’d be impossible to herd sheep down off the mountains where they’d graze, after all.  IMG_6907

All this info was juxtaposed against Jack and Martin (and nine bewildered sheep) presenting for us – the fluidity of herding is something that absolutely needs to be seen in person.

Our day then wound down pleasantly with a local presenter back at the B & B homestead – Regina Fahey, a wonderful teacher well-versed in Celtic traditions; legends, Gaelic, lore and more. She is as riveting as she is brilliant, and to listen to the natural flow of her many, many stories is to be a part of the living past – becoming the present, to take with you to the future.IMG_6916

Between talks of “cures” [which are just as they sound – folk cures for small ailments, such as licking lizard bellies; then licking people’s burns to heal them – you know, just the over-the-counter stuff you can get anywhere, right?], fey folk [fairies], and discussing just who the Celts were, Regina seamlessly stitched her life into legend. Pieces of her existence are so unbelievable they seem folklore themselves – but it leaves one with hair standing on end and eyes wide as saucers.

Regina is a perfect balance between action and lecture – she and her daughter gathered stones in a bucket from the river for us, and we were able to take them with us when she left. Dreaming stones; they’re called, and they’re meant to assist with worries or questions we might have & desire answers to. She spoke to us of the elements; the Celtic calendar, religious parallels – the broad spectrum of things she could talk about was perfectly tailored to our inquisitive group of Wild Westies at the B & B.

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Regina noted that she usually doesn’t plan anything out – she can chat about just about anything, but tends to read the room and ask others what they’re most interested in. As L.D.; one of my fellow Wild Westies pointed out, “that’s the best way to do it – that way there’s something for everybody.” The flexibility parallels Wild West Irish Tours’ own; in adapting to the wants & needs of visitors – but also echoes the form of Irish hospitality that welcomes in anyone, from their physical form to their many questions and conversation. No door is closed in a place like this, and I find that truly amazing.

Altogether, today was a beautiful rainbow array of things to do, see, and feel. It’s honestly almost global; a whole world worth exploring wrapped up in a small, heartfelt part of a magnificent country.

Though it’s almost back to reality; I will carry this dream with me back into the waking world – and I feel many of my Wild Westies would agree with me there.

Until next time, be well!

Sam Fishkind

Wild West Irish Tours

Social Media Manager & Scribe

Day five on a Wild Westie live blogging adventure – a day about town, and so much more.

The Wild West Irish Tours group set out to the nearby town of Sligo; settled in the heart of various mountains flowing to the coast in its county of the same name – Sligeach, “the shelly place” is its name in Gaelic. The town itself is a colorful; quaint little central point of interest for those who invest time and energy in Yeats country. And who wouldn’t? Between the attraction of a poetic nature, the town hosts a bright and bustling art and music scene, as well as a great many historical sites that make much more sense when you did what we did: get a local guide!

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Adrian was our guide for the beginning of the day – a young man local to the area who not only knew it well, but was full of incredible little facts that showed just how passionate he was about it. Places we would’ve normally passed without a second thought [or picture] were put into new light – we got to stand and experience the history of the village as it grew (and burned down, and grew, and burned down – an official burn down number of about seven, Adrian said) whilst observing the details of the area. IMG_6635A keen example is the hand that is etched onto the bank the Yeats statue stands in front of. It’s got an interesting legend tied to it – any guesses why a hand would be used here? I certainly wasn’t prepared for the story Adrian told – and it was a grand one, too. The point is though that one might wander by the bank, admire the statue, and move on without even noticing the hand or even wonder about its origin.

Adrian’s enthusiasm for the area really resonated with our walking tour – I learned so much in about two hours time that I’m still [pleasantly] processing it – anything from the town’s history with brewing to what stones came from where to build which buildings, to other famous figures that emerged influenced from the Wild West of Ireland – particularly, Sligo town.

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And you can’t visit the area without seeing a local craftsman of great renown – Michael Quirke is known and beloved, and we were fortunate enough to get some time with him today. An expert woodcarver, Michael brought out of beech the beauty of local myths and legends – happily lecturing on them as he whittled away; drawing life from within the wood. He’d also chat with his visitors; asking favorite animals, names, all sorts of things to uniquely design something off the cuff if inspired. If he wasn’t telling a myth or legend relating to whatever he was doing, he was sharing stories of his own life – how he’s been carving since the 1960’s, things he’s heard from his neighbors, or things relating to family names. And it’s worth noting he never slowed down or paused in what he was doing – no, Mr. Quirke kept up the pace in quick wit and quick hands alike, dazzling all who came to see him.

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Then it was a lovely day to ourselves out on the town – at free range, I swung into a café and had a nice soup, then strolled around looking for little things to bring home, a few small things for myself, but most of all, new experiences [and of course, photo opportunities]. There wasn’t a place I felt unwelcome and at every corner, something new and interesting would catch my eye. Musicians kept to the street corners and overhangs – I caught a fiddle and a guitar on my way around town, but I’m sure there were even more in different parts. I spent time in a shop chatting with a local artist who makes wonderful jewelry – and instead of just leaving it at that, she wanted to know what I was up to. When she heard I was into photography and art, she delightedly showed me upstairs to a gallery with an amazing exhibit! What I liked best about the whole experience is that Sligo is a constantly moving little town that teems with energy, but never feels overly busy or crowded. A really nice visit, with beautiful weather to enjoy it in, no less.

 

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It was history and nature after that – we stopped by a historical site of sobering importance that deserves its own moment in time and silent reflection. It felt rather like paying respect to the country’s history; acknowledging that the Ireland we know today was not the Ireland of yesterday – of occupation and destitution. There’s a real sense of thankfulness upon exiting this particular area – walking back out into nature on a hike Senan guided us on. Just up to a fairy circle in the sunshine; more grateful and humbler than before, I’d wager.

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It was not my only hike of the night, however – no, we got to experience something my good friend Geraldine had been suggesting the Wild Westies experience for a good while now: the Fairy Glen.IMG_6749

Another one of those “blink and you’ll miss it” sites; this particular glen takes a bit of a walk out to – along a narrow path through the woods whose trees twine and twist in the most impish of ways. Tunnels of emerald and lime spiral around whoever dares travel up to the glen, and golden light filters through the dense leaves above to shower the ground with sparkling rays.

Entering a perfectly-even chasm of stone cloaked in ivy; looking up at stacked ferns surrounding a fresh, open space of damp and cool twinkling in the fading afternoon sun was…unlike anything I had ever experienced before. It was the utterly peaceful moment of silence that comes before diving into a swimming pool meets the adrenaline of the start of a race…and yet, it was tranquil. There was nothing but the wind to breathe life into the limbs of trees and sunlight to shift the shadows on the ground. It’s easy to imagine being watched by elfin faces between the boughs – the burbling of streams is silvery laughter and the rustling of leaves is an ethereal being passing by on a wisp of mist. A surreal renaissance painting come to life – or rococo, considering…

g2There was a swing there, too – you might be familiar with Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s “The Swing” painting? The one with the girl in the fancy dress whose shoe is flying off as she swings back and forth? It was a bit like that, albeit I was less fancy, my shoe did not fly off, and I looked a bit less graceful, no doubt. But it felt incredible to simply sway and become a part of the swaying of the forest.

For Geraldine to go out of her way to take us somewhere she said we simply had to see (she was right, of course) is something I’ll always be grateful for. To simply sit, be, and chat when we felt like it was enough – the glen in all its glistening beauty was the perfect end to an extraordinary day of learning, feeling, thinking, and reflecting. Most of all, simply allowing oneself to be – in a busy day and age like ours, time to just exist is now considered a valuable luxury.

Also, I continue to be amazed by the way the entire country seems to open its arms and show people around – the towns local people love and take pride in, history lovingly preserved, and nature respected & accepted as a part of life worth knowing. Today was a day worth experiencing fully – and I am so very happy I did so as a Wild Westie.

Until next time, see you on the other side of the rainbow.

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Sam Fishkind

Wild West Irish Tours

Social Media Manager & Scribe

Today’s adventure takes place in yesteryear, now, and the future – for what we experienced today will come with us tomorrow…in the best possible way!

The groups of Wild Westies set out today to visit the one and only Michael Roberts; a local anthropologist whose insight into the Wild West of Ireland is without end. We were fortunate enough to steal him away for the day to guide us around his areas of expertise – and he did so with enthusiasm; narrating our adventures with a voice of quiet passion & deep resonance.

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When it comes to making anthropological connections, Michael is the person to listen to – gathering with him around the sites of megalithic tombs in the area [an area he grew up in, knows well, and loves] was a mesmerizing experience. No one else in the world; I feel, could bring the dead back to life with the poignancy and courtesy Michael Roberts has. He has, as one Wild Westie put it, “a story for everything” – but it never feels like he’s even thinking about what he’s saying. He’s thoughtful, it just happens to be that his words flow like water, a delightful and refreshing stream of concise consciousness made myth, then made word.

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We got to walk around this incredible old-world site while Michael drew connections between Ireland’s ancient past with that of Egypt’s and Native American culture – things people might seldom connect came together with absolute clarity. He focused majorly on old Irish legends, however – there were so many Celtic myths in particular that explained the natural formations of the Irish countryside; such as how the “Mother” figure of Ireland presented itself in various forms; why there was a shadow on a nearby mountain, and the origin story of the megalithic site itself [a ‘hag’ happened to drop a bunch of stones in a fit of surprise, but that’s really a legend I leave up to Michael to tell – you’ve got to hear him speak at least once in your life].

Everyone was enraptured by Michael – hanging onto every word he had to say; from his wider anthropological take on the folklore in the area to his stories of boyhood. He spent his youth exploring everything this green corner of the world had to offer – his heart thrives here, and it shows in the way he encourages people to ask questions, embrace the region’s heritage, and earnestly shares whatever information he has [it’s a lot; for those keeping score] with anyone he feels might be interested.

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Michael is all about the human connection to the earth and to each other. After a lunch with further discussion [plus delicious food], he took us to a nearby holy well; one of beautiful statues, stations of the cross, and a magnificent rag tree. Water flowed throughout the site, filling the air with the music of movement that cascaded toward the sea. Rustling leaves and hushed voices were all that filled the glen of emerald and Kelly hues. Before entering, Michael told us about the spiritual properties of one aspect of the well with an interesting illumination: that sometimes just the act of doing something to counteract a predicament [an ailment; mental, physical, spiritual, etc.] could be enough to help it. It helps a person feel less stagnant, at any rate. Like a placebo, to place oneself in an area of healing with intention to help oneself is sometimes a kick-start toward recovery – just because you’re finally able to do something to help yourself.

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After that, it was off to one of Michael’s favorite places growing up – a magnificent forest sanctuary around the lough we’d traveled on earlier in the week. Apparently he used to swim the length of it – something mad like nine miles across. He and his friends also caught their own game and cooked it out there; climbed the mighty stone in the heart of the woods, and got up to all sorts of mischief. This, he said, was his playground in his youth. And one could see why, with plenty of places to run and so much to see. He told us to take time to soak it in, and it was a beautiful contemplative walk in the shimmering woods; hearing the lapping of the lake waters against the shore, scanning the silvery surface for signs of life, and breathing deeply the scent of earth and pine…

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It was a reminder for man to reconnect with nature.

We had to split from Michael then; my group of Wild Westies and I, for it was off to the sea for a seaweed bath at a local spa.

21740290_10155468475761885_1266647936976892748_n.jpg It was a bit surreal to go from the rambling woods and sloshing lough to the steam rooms and tiled floors of the spa – but it was also somehow so inadvertently right, to lay down and submerge in nature as caught by man, rising to hear the sound of the ocean just outside the window. To sit in quiet meditation again and allow nature to soak into one’s skin was appropriate with the themes of the day. A ritual, if nothing else, to center oneself and perform an act of healing.

It’s as important for one to be an individual as one is a part of a community, and vice-versa – talking with one another today and sharing the experience of reflective silence in the forest was a really harmonious balance. With Michael spinning his stories and weaving us in, the threads of the day came together with simple magnificence.

Community, conversation, connection, and celebrating a history of nature and man culminated in David entertaining us back at one of the B & Bs with wonderful music – on three separate instruments, no less. Irish traditionals centuries old filled the air on tin whistle, harp, and guitar – David was even kind enough to sing for us [quite nicely, I might add], and the whole experience of an admiring group of colleagues communicating on several levels felt so genuine. That belonging feeling returned; giving us a sense of ‘home’. Residual memory, perhaps, from ancestral times.

Altogether, today felt like something out of a dream – I was walking among ancient tombs, then a well that’s been visited for thousands of years, then treated myself to a wonderful spa followed by private music and more stories. I simply want to curl up with Michael Roberts’ book, and relive the stories I heard today – to keep the history of Ireland; her legends and lore, and all the nature I can carry with me alive in my heart.

Until next time folks, be well!

Sam Fishkind

Wild West Irish Tours

Social Media Manager & Scribe

Day three of the Wild West Irish Tours live blogging adventure – and let me tell you, folks, today was one of the greats!

After another hearty breakfast lovingly prepared by Geraldine, I set out with my group; Senan at the helm, to discover what the day had in store…

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First and foremost to wake us up was a riverside walk to a pair of caves that served as areas of prayer during olden times. The remnants of a nearby abbey and mill wheel kept watch as the Wild Westies took in the sight of the rushing waters and fragrant greenery. Just a little bit down the way and ‘round the bend was one of Ireland’s famous holy wells, a place of quiet reflection and worship. A statue of St. Patrick stood guard nearby; overlooking an inlet the sea swept toward, five crosses in a circle indicating how and where one would pray if so inclined. The area resonated with peace, and the rag tree of people’s prayers danced on the breeze in an array of a hundred colors.

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After spending some time there (and, if you’re me, squirreling away blackberries up the path on the way back), we headed further North, just across the line that divides Ireland in two. But blink and you’ll miss it, because the scenery is so beautiful it distracts from the subtle difference between Ireland & Northern Ireland –a nearby mural hidden behind a convenience store I glimpsed on our way back that said “Welcome to Donegal” was all I had to go on to know we were headed South(ish) again.

We were part of a fascinating tour of a local craft and how it’s made – iconic decorative pieces originating in Ireland with definable parts meshed with informative (yet ever entertaining) speakers. We explored a factory wherein it became a living episode of How It’s Made – complete with demos, interactive activities, and more. I’m pleased to report our Wild Westies were the bold and brave ones to volunteer themselves at every opportunity to participate – helping to illustrate the detailed process which results in elaborate, individual creations still made by hand today:IMG_6245.JPG

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After that, it was a quick bite in a local pub that had excellent fare and quite the ambiance – an eclectic collection of local (stuffed) game; nick-knacks from eras past [someone spotted a disco ball hanging out in the rafters], and a beautiful mural of a black cat and fairies, which came with folklore we could glance at on the wall. According to legend, the pub was built where a black cat used to guard the river for the fey. You’ll have to come admire it for yourself, though – nobody tells a story quite like the locals, even in written form.

Then it was off on a rollicking adventure along the seaside – a castle in the distance with storied history loomed on the horizon; surveying the great crashing waves of the Wild West Atlantic Way; which tossed foam up to the heavens and dragged saltwater by the gallon back over aging stone. Senan was kind enough to make stops for us here and there [with wonderful info on the local areas provided] so we could look down at the waves, admire the rolling fields, and, if you’re me, set off on your own small adventure…IMG_6328.JPG

IMG_6301This is when things got absolutely magical, in my opinion – all of it’s grand, but every experience is uniquely tied to the individual on a Wild West Irish Tour. You can tinker and tailor it to fit you; and, in my case, I tinkered and tailored my way across the cliffs to a friendly face I saw longing for attention [or perhaps just fresh grasses] nearby. While others were looking at the ocean, examining stone walls, taking photos for Christmas cards [no joke – ask Wild Westies Tom and Margaret about their cute travel-themed cards], I was being nuzzled and nosed by a brand new friend.

We gathered around a local time capsule after that – a brilliant piece of artwork that’s meant for generations to come; set against the water. The details of it are gorgeous – each lovingly chosen and splendidly made.IMG_6335

Then came a walk in three parts – the first being a stroll through the woods under an iconic mountain; led along by another river that ushered us into the territory of mining and intrigue. Following this, we gathered in the heart of a beloved loop whose poignant, multifaceted history shines as bright as any emerald. The third took place on a windswept plane that bridged the gap between reality and fantasy; hugged on either side by mountains of geological and mythical magnificence.

 

It was very grounding as it was uplifting; really – to be immersed fully in the truly wild aspect of the Wild West of Ireland. There was laughing into the open face of the ocean and its breezes; running up hills for a better look at the lay of the land below, and taking time to wander by oneself, allowing the grandeur to truly sink in.

We have so much to discuss among one another when the day comes to a close – swapping stories about ourselves that relate to our surroundings, asking questions, and thoroughly engaging with one another really solidifies the impact of this particular experience. No matter who you are or where you’re coming from, you really do find a home here; sitting around a table at the end of the day with your fellow Wild Westies.

Home as of now just happens to be the incredible, unpredictable, ever awe-inspiring Wild West of Ireland.

See you tomorrow folks!

                Until next time,

                Sam Fishkind

                Wild West Irish Tours

                Social Media Manager & Scribe