Sligo Town tour guide Adrian O’Neill has always loved history. Sitting in secondary [or high] school; listening to an incredible teacher tell stories of Columbus, Magellan – explorers and guides in their own right. It’s no wonder Adrian wound up doing what he does: giving intimate tours of beautiful and historical Sligo Town, usually with groups of enchanted Wild Westies.
It wasn’t always Irish history that interested Adrian, however – by an indication of his preference for explorers; he notes that he left secondary school for college with the hopes that he would get to study topics far from home such as the Crusades…but instead found the “same Irish history” he’d been studying all along: just from a different perspective.
“With research, you do start to see the other side of things,” says Adrian. This included flipping the narratives of Catholics vs. Protestants, an admittedly touchy subject – but like all things historical, proved fascinating to Adrian.
Adrian, who, inspired by the sight of tours in the area, decided to apply one of his New Year’s resolutions [“public speaking!”] to a particular task: Becoming a tour guide himself – with a little nudge from Wild West Irish Tours’ head, Michael Waugh.
“Michael asked me if I’d be interested in taking on the tours in Sligo Town for the Wild Westies,” Adrian says cheerfully. “And I said ‘of course!’ – I’ve known him a long time.” Michael encouraged Adrian’s zeal for history from an early age. “As a kid, I was obsessed with the Titanic – and Michael would bring me books on it. Going to the cinema to see The Patriot with him was one of my favorite memories. I’d say Michael was even giddier than me, seeing that film – he loved teaching me facts about American independence.”
From Michael’s end, the memories are equally fond. “I used to take the kids to the Famine Graveyard,” says Michael. “I’d give them all a plastic bag and they’d all pick up the trash there for a fiver. Adrian was always so enthusiastic – never afraid of the graveyard, not like the other kids. We also used to take my dog and walk through the old Sligo lunatic asylum [now a hotel]. Adrian was always more curious than unsettled.”
The Power of Social Media
It was another Wild West Irish Tours connection that inspired the creation of Adrian’s own Sligo Heritage and History Club page on Facebook, in a way – at a Wild Westie “appreciation night”, Adrian met Dr. Michael Roberts, our renowned anthropologist colleague, and the two of them hit it off right away. They began to meet up every so often to discuss the local myths, legends, and folklore that had bewitched so many visitors – as well as the historical significance of these topics. A Facebook page was made, and over the Christmas holidays, Adrian found that his interest in Irish history was supported by numbers that jumped from 600 to about 10,000.
“Social media has a big effect on people’s interest in history,” Adrian points out. “A lot more historians have gotten in touch with me [because of the page] and I have so many more projects on right now.” He does research for the page every couple of weeks – his updates a vibrant window into the heart of Sligo from “back in the day” – though there is nothing quite like having a Wild Westie walk with Adrian in person and watching him hold up an old shot of the town against the backdrop of modernity. His narration and displays of historical prowess positively transport the soul. Adrian notes that it’s hard to cut stuff out of the tours – every year it’s more difficult because there is constant interest and more to incorporate from his research.
Connecting People with History
When it comes down to what Adrian truly enjoys most about his tours; however, it’s always about the people. “I love teaching and talking about history – everyone’s into something, be it war, ancestry, stories….” Adrian says. “But everyone enjoys wee myths and legends. The best part to me, though, is that people will walk away learning something new.” It goes both ways, too – Adrian found recently that he learned new things about Sligo from an American visitor! He also holds a special fondness for Wild Westies – for a somewhat cheeky reason.
“Other international people don’t get the Irish humor,” Adrian teases, “but the Wild Westies do. They also soak up the info like sponges. I actually added more myths and legends to the tours for the sake of the Wild Westies – they’re always looking for more.”
If interested in strolling about Sligo Town with an excellent historian, storyteller, and all-around passionate person, you can check out our available tour dates to explore Sligo Town following Adrian’s footsteps as he guides you down paths of times long past…
But just as lively and alive as ever.
– Sam Fishkind.