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.
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.
Eddie 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.
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.
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.
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?
Meanwhile, 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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
– Sam Fishkind.