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

Ah yes – here now; the waking world. Almost.

The last leg of our journey has been spent preparing us to [reluctantly] head home. It’s a heart-wrenching experience to leave the Wild West of Ireland – abandoning the warm hearth of Irish hospitality for the promise of cool plane air and faraway skies; leaving behind lush greenery that smells of fresh rain. Everything is a refrain of “next time I’ll” and “x was amazing; so was y” – a choir of wistful sighs and appreciations.

That being said, a venture into the city of Dublin can be a wonderful finale; the sweeping punctuation on a journey of fun. In a choose-your-own-adventure ending; the Wild Westies get to experience, well…whatever they’d like to experience in this fine city! You’re once again spoiled for choice as there’s so much to see, do, and feel. You might need to visit more than once; wink wink, nudge nudge.

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I for one was really interested in the botanical gardens and the enormous cemetery – which just so happen to run shoulder to shoulder with one another. When we arrived; a group of Wild Westies and I set out to learn some more – ever hungry for further information.

 

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The Glasnevin cemetery turned out to be completely fascinating. I actually used to be quite afraid of cemeteries – now I find them peaceful; and this was no exception. The towering monuments and enormous statues paid tribute to a rich Irish history – over 1 million people buried there! Some of them were Irish freedom fighters [such as Yeats’ own-but-not Maud Gonne, Constance Markievicz and more]; old families who existed in Ireland for centuries, and actually anyone who wanted to be buried there. The cemetery is unique in that any religion or lack thereof can coexist in burial there. The cemetery is also so big [and still active] that gravediggers and groundskeepers use an alphanumeric system to keep track of it all. Not something I could do; certainly – for someone constantly misplacing their keys, you certainly couldn’t rely on me to tell you where anyone is buried. But these guys know it all; and seem to have a lot of their system memorized.

IMG_6975After exploring the enormous grounds, I snuck off to peek at the botanical gardens nearby – they are very open and fresh; well-taken care of places of careful design. Art, interwoven with the flowers, produces a sense of man and nature intertwining – and it’s wonderful to see that much greenery in the center of a city. I found plants I couldn’t pronounce the names of [but at least I could photograph them!]; and many I didn’t know even existed. It was a little like being home; then, I feel – memories of my mother and grandmother patiently explaining which flowers were which. I think I’ll have to take my mom there someday; actually.IMG_6982

IMG_6987After that it was the Wild Westies at a pub – a rather famous one. Kavanagh’s, better known as the Gravedigger’s, because it’s where all the gravediggers from Glasnevin would go for a pint after working. The pub is majorly the same as it was back in “the day” [re: est. 1833], with a beautiful interior of worn wood and glass; swinging doors and long bar. It has a restaurant side, too, one in which service and hospitality are just as they are in the Wild West: our hostess was kind and attentive as anything, and we were served “what was left” for the day – two soups, multiple sandwiches, and crostini to choose from. Not a bad fare, considering they said they were running low. Then again, if you’re not being fed in Ireland, someone [or multiple someones] will undoubtedly ask if you want anything to eat or drink. So “low” to them is still plenty to us; usually.

Home was also hinted at in that one server had a Nantucket sweatshirt on. I got very excited and asked if I could ask him a question, and he went, “oh, about Nantucket? It’s a little island just off the coast of Cape Cod. What was your question?” with the biggest, most knowing smile imaginable. I was laughing too hard to ask him anything else after that – which is just as well, because our food arrived.

We branched out a bit more post-munching – several Wild Westies went off to tour the Jameson factory; while others went up to Henry Street for some shopping, and still others went to see the Book of Kells. We even had some folks go to the Emigration Center to look up relatives. The various opportunities for exploration were astounding. I being who I am decided to explore some of the All Hallows Campus; roam around taking more pictures, and just enjoy being where I was. To live on Irish time with no expectations for a moment – to find peace even in the bustling neighborhood of Dublin’s downtown was a real treat.

A few of us gathered back together for dinner – Wild Westies Wyatt, Robin, Virginia and I had a splendid time at the Cat and Cage. Who knew you could find Tex Mex in Ireland? Really good, too, I might add!

And now I write to you with pictures to edit, tales to tell, and another journey to take. My heart is so full – I cannot fully express the gratitude and excitement I feel being here – having had this adventure on the Heart of the Wild West Tour; something so monumentally special that it will stay with me for the rest of my life.

In many ways, the door to Ireland is always open to us. There isn’t a place you’d go in the Ireland in particular that wouldn’t welcome you in as kin – all I can say is to truly experience what I’ve experienced; with your own unique twist, you simply must come.

Come to the Wild West of Ireland, and let its food, drink, music, and hospitality resound in you.

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Come away, O human child…

Until next time…Go n-éirí an bothar leat.*

                                                                                                                                        Sam Fishkind

                                                                                                                         Wild West Irish Tours

                                                                                    Social Media Manager & Scribe

[*may you/your journey be successful]

 

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

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening! Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, perhaps you’d like to join us for another trip around the world…

Recently, a few folks have come forward to express how much Ireland reminds them of certain places close to home – how the craggy edges of the Wild West Atlantic Way emulate that of Cape Town; or how the thatched houses in the rolling emerald hills are a mirror’s image to those in Tennessee. Regardless of division of geographical areas, it’s sometimes nice to recall just how small the world can be – a pleasant echo of a home away from home exists especially in the Irish West.

On a personal level, Ireland is only my second venture out of my country of origin – and said venture echoed my earlier journey to Nova Scotia, whose varied terrain and monumental hills were paralleled by the Wild West of Ireland’s own. The miles of coastline were a constant companion in either realm – and moreover, it was comforting to know the same ocean spanned around either island as well as littoral Massachusetts, which is my actual home. Nova Scotia might’ve meant “New Scotland”; but people often link Ireland to Scotland regardless – they are, in my mind, sister regions.

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Photograph by Wild Westie Claudia Pellegrini Queiroz

Globally, Ireland is linked to many different land-forms – comparisons could also be drawn to Iceland [albeit temperately; Ireland is just a bit warmer] or even to parts of Louisiana [shout-out to the bogs!]. Typically, places with a rugged, drastic coastline, deciduous zones, and mountains or hills make the comparison to Ireland very easy –

That being said, a place you might not have considered comparing to Ireland but is worth the note?

Brazil!

                Claudia Pellegrini Queiroz, an exceptional photographer from Brazil (or, more accurately, Brasil), says she felt at home when traveling with Wild West Irish Tours in Ireland.

“Arriving in Ireland feels like a welcome home. I am Brazilian. The Irish spirit is just as musical and happy [as in Brazil].” She adds that Brazilians are friendly and welcoming – just like the Irish. Claudia herself brought that spirit with her as she embraced the scenery and people – bringing to life the many colors and emotions in the Irish landscape.

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Photograph by Wild Westie Claudia Pellegrini Queiroz – featuring Claudia herself!

“I loved the historical, anthropological, musical [aspects] and the times we were free to experience nature,” says Claudia of her time with Wild West Irish Tours. “I keep coming back. Ireland soothes me. Going to Ireland felt like a calling, and once I heard it, I felt it will be eternal.”

Brazil, being more Southern than Ireland and on the opposite side of the world, wouldn’t be someone’s first choice in comparative geography [then again, is comparative geography on anyone’s mind, usually?]. That being said, you can find a camaraderie in the way certain Irish houses emulate the vibrant colors of some Brazilian homes. The lush green landscape and coastal drama of land and sea is a heartbeat that pulses in time to Ireland’s own, especially its Wild West.

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Photograph by Wild Westie Claudia Pellegrini Queiroz

The Rainforest and places such as the Burren in Ireland, while two very different ecosystems, are home to a considerable amount of life forms [some you might not even expect]. Each are home to famous rivers – the Shannon and the Amazon, respectively. In fact, both areas are known for their plentiful rivers! There are even trees that look similar – the Irish “palm” [Cordyline Australis, an arbor visitor from New Zealand] and the Brazilian palm [what you’d expect to see on a beautiful sandy beach]. The Gulf Stream seems to connect them, as Claudia connects with Ireland herself: warmly and with boundless enthusiasm.

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Photograph by Wild Westie Claudia Pellegrini Queiroz

“I have been 6 times and I am looking forward to being there in September,” says Claudia. “Funny thing, the first place we went, I just laid in the ground like I belonged and had missed the land…the day before I was returning home, after 3 weeks in Ireland, I caught myself in tears. Somehow I heard a voice saying, it is ok now, you will always come back. As I have and will.”

Being connected in so many ways to each other in this world is an arguable blessing.

Ireland has, by itself, an individual brilliance about it that can make anyone feel at home – there is something for everyone here, be it the culture, the music, the people, the folklore, the history, or simply a little farm in a valley that feels like the heart of wherever you’re from –

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Photograph by Wild Westie Claudia Pellegrini Queiroz

So no matter where that is, you have a piece of home waiting for you in the Wild West of Ireland. It is a unique experience unto itself, and there is nowhere like it in the world exactly – just places within itself that feel like coming home.

                                                                                                                Until next time,

                                                                                                                Sam Fishkind

                                                                                                                Wild West Irish Tours

                                                                                                            Social Media Manager & Scribe

(All photographs in this post are taken by Claudia Pellegrini Queiroz, with our sincere gratitude!)