Wild West Irish Tours, the creation of Michael Regan-Waugh and Trish O’Donnell-Jenkins, was founded on St. Patrick’s Day, 2011. Within only two years, the Embassy of Ireland in Washington DC, honored and selected Wild West Irish Tours to launch Ireland’s national initiative, “The Gathering 2013.” World-renowned Irish singer Cathy Jordan of the Irish traditional band, Dervish was invited by WWIT to launch this incredibly successful world Gathering. Both Ms. Jordan and Michael and Trish were presented with the honor of “Cathy Jordan/Wild West Irish Tours Day” in Fairfax County, the largest county in Virginia, by the Honorable Michael R. Frey, Supervisor. Mr. Frey had experienced a Wild West Irish Tour the previous year. The Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce Vice President, Christine Crawford, was also on a Wild West Irish Tour and said she had a “fabulous experience that far exceeded my expectations…it was a chance of a lifetime to experience Ireland as our ancestors knew it…thank you so much.” Wild West Irish Tours had had to add tours or has sold out all tours since 2012.
This “over-night success” did not come overnight. Michael, the grandson of Irish immigrants, has been living, working and providing tours in Ireland since 1992. Michael was born in the Bronx, New York, and after a 22=year career in the United States Coast Guard, moved to Sligo, Ireland. Being very familiar with the landscape and with the guidance of friends and family, Michael set out to find the historical places and the people behind the story. With the help of Irish folklorist and author, Joe McGowan, Michael had access to the hidden places and people of the west of Ireland. You can read about Michael’s experience here in the Travel section of the Tampa Bay Times. This was the beginning of what would eventually become Wild West Irish Tours.
Trish O’Donnell-Jenkins, who is from the Washington DC area, also has strong Irish roots. Trish’s career path started with a Master’s degree in Psychology at George Mason University and she has spent many years in the IT field. Trish and Michael met in 2006 and within a year, initiated a Travel Award/Scholarship Program at Lord Fairfax Community College in the Shenandoah Valley. These awards were incentives for students to earn a trip to Ireland. Eventually, Michael and Trish brought groups of students and faculty to Ireland, where they would meet the likes of novelist Joe McGowan, novelist and playwright Dermot Healy, and poet Leland Bardwell, enjoying a full experience in Ireland. The groups were kept to eight people at a time to ensure each student/faculty had a full immersion in Irish culture, history, and nature.
Honored by the Embassy
Presented with an award during The Gathering, a community-led initiative that encourages overseas visitors who are Irish-born, Irish-bred or Irish in spirit to join Irish people for family reunions and cultural, sporting and other events.
Left to Right: Kevin Conmy deputy chief of mission at the Embassy of Ireland, Michael Waugh Co-Founder of Wild West Irish Tours, Cathy Jordan Lead Vocalist of Dervish, Trish Jenkins Co-Founder of Wild West Irish Tours
Meeting with the Prime Minister (Taoiseach in Gaelic) Enda Kenny
Michael and Trish decided to make the tours “official” and cast a wide net to reach people all over the world who always dreamed of coming to Ireland. The formula of small groups of individuals interacting with local people in the West of Ireland, was an essential key in this “overnight success.” The Wild West Irish Tours approach is that travelers who take a tour, are in a way, not on a tour at all. They are among family and friends, and have access to the seldom seen and yes, iconic places of the Wild West of Ireland.
Wild West Irish Tours Panel of Tour Leaders and Contributors
Joe McGowan is a native of Mullaghmore, Co. Sligo. Born on the family farm, he worked there in his early years until emigrating to the U.S.A. in the early ‘60s. Shortly after his return to Ireland, Joe, becoming keenly aware of the accelerating pace of change in the Irish countryside, decided to record the old lore before it vanished completely. For many years he has been dedicated to preserving, visually and orally, Ireland’s disappearing traditions and customs.
His books and recordings are inspired by countless nights spent listening to the stories of the older generation augmented by meticulous archival research. His short stories, cameos of Irish life both past and present, feature frequently in magazines, on local radio and on RTE. The days of the storyteller are gone but their knowledge and lore will, happily, live on because of Joe’s labors.
His books include: Echoes of a Savage Land; In the Shadow of Benbulben; Inishmurray: Gale Stone and Fire; Inishmurray: Island Voices; Constance Markievicz: The People’s Countess; Sligo: Land of Destiny; A Bitter Wind; A Fairy Wind CD; The Hidden People, and most recently in 2015, Sligo Folk Tales.
Dr. Michael Roberts was born in Sligo. His home, which overlooked the Garavogue River, was at the edge of Sligo town within walking distance of all the major mythological and archaeological sites. He walked to all of them before he knew what they were or who put them there or why they did so. He passed a large fairy fort on his way to and from school every day of his young life. Maebh’s Carn and Carns Hill were in sight of his home and afforded places to roam and play as a boy. This sparked a lifelong interest in the mystery and myths of these sites that was fanned to flame by the conversations overheard in the everyday speech of family and friends. This flame still burns brightly. Michael invites you to take a spark and bring your own fire aflame. In many ways, the landscape of Sligo shaped his life, his values and belief systems. It informed him and formed a foundation to build a life on, now Michael shares the Myths and Legends he uncovered from the Northwest of Ireland in his first book The Cailleach.
Auriel Robinson is a qualified and professional Maritime Archaeologist who is passionate about Irish historical and archaeological heritage, land and seascapes and the natural environment. She worked for many years as an archaeologist in the field and underwater but also as a consultant and adviser to the Irish government on the protection of archaeological and historical monuments and underwater sites. Auriel promotes heritage awareness in Ireland through her walking tours. Auriel is founder of “SeaTrails” and has been recognized by National Geographic Travel Magazine. We are delighted to have Auriel onboard with Wild West Irish Tours!