The Wild West of Ireland is a magical, mystical place, and I’m so grateful to Michael, Trish, and their team of home-grown guides for showing it to us. The ancient Celts called the West a “thin place,” where the veil between heaven and earth seems to disappear, and as we trudged across the Burren in the path of a sixth-century saint, it was easy to see why. I’ll always treasure our walk to St. Colman’s cave on a gray, misty morning, making our way across rocks and through mud, to find a holy place that seemed to transform all of us in simple, subtle ways. Thanks to Pius, retired schoolteacher, indefatigable guide, and very cool guy, for bringing us off the beaten track to this lovely corner of the world where we drank cold, clear water from a primeval well. We’d never have found any of it on our own. And as if that weren’t enough, after lunch it was off to a megalithic portal tomb, sitting unceremoniously in the middle of a field.

We’re not sure where Michael finds these fellows, but somehow he does: A sturdy Galway man named Rory, friends with the farmer on whose land the O’Shaughnessy castle sits, grabbed the skeleton key hanging in the farmhouse kitchen– the one with the cardboard tag marked “castle”-and walked us across the fields to a storybook castle built a thousand years ago. It may have been a ruin, but it was a glorious ruin, and later the farmers’ children told me that as little kids it was their constant play-place. How cool is that—to have a medieval castle sitting in your backyard, with cows grazing around it. Bonus: Rory also provided a demonstration of the Irish sport of hurling and some good conversation. I could go on and on: There were plenty of castles, and a ride across Lough Corrib to an ancient monastic settlement, and a wobbly seafaring voyage to the Aran Islands, where a Gaelic-speaking man took us around in his pony cart. And a visit to a sheep farm, where we watched in amazement as border collies’ way smarter than me herded hundreds of sheep up and down craggy hills to graze. (And then there was Bob, my new favorite dog.) Oh, and the music! Michael started us out with a bang, on our first night in Oughterard, with a world-class trad performance in an ordinary little pub. And the music continued everywhere we went, in every pub where we had a pint. One highlight: Charles, one of our fellow Westies, grabbed his guitar and joined in on a music session in O’Connor’s in Doolin. Happy to have made good friends, and so many good memories.

Our Wild West Irish Tour was the trip of a lifetime, and a great way for Gary and me to celebrate a special anniversary. Thank you, Mike and Trish! Go raibh maith agat!”

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