Good morning, good afternoon, good evening! Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, we invite you to take a break from your daily lives to stop and admire the Roses…

From when she was a wildflower in the rolling hills of Western Ireland, to her blossoming as the Mayo Rose; we at Wild West Irish Tours have enjoyed watching Sandra Ganley (and her sister Laura) grow. We are pleased to announce our sponsorship of Sandra’s journey to Tralee in the hopes she will take home the crown; as she quite possibly best exemplifies what it means to be the Rose of Tralee.

We are, as you might’ve guessed, huge supporters of Irish-Americanism, and thus we believe the Rose of Tralee competition [a staple in bringing people of Irish descent together across the world] is both traditional and an exceptional opportunity for young ladies looking to make a difference in a niche area: celebrating Irish heritage and promoting the cultural poise, elegance, and energy of Celtic upbringing – all things Sandra embodies tenfold.

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The gang’s all here – Sandra, Michael, Trish, and Laura!

It is our intention to endorse Sandra in her journey and help her accomplish her dreams. From when she was just a sprout (and our tours in but their second year), we had the privilege of watching Sandra and Laura perform their traditional dances to a house band at the Michael Coleman Center in Sligo. It was an absolute smash-hit with those on our tour – and us. We became friends with the family; best-described as the “dream family” of rural Ireland – from their friendliness to their simple greatness in their ability to forge connections with the community. Sandra has picked up on their teachings and has, in turn, given back to the community with charitable focus. She is also a dance instructor (with her own studio; Jiving Juniors!), primary school teacher, and a tremendous supporter of the Irish language.

 

Back to our connection: after performing for a few of our in-Ireland tour events, the Ganley sisters were asked to come to America by Wild West Irish Tours. They obliged; and flew in with their parents to fill our world with homage to Celtic tradition in the homiest of ways. Performances on the tour and conversations with the lively sisters sealed the deal: they became like family to us; as did their parents.

With this history between us in mind, we will be moving forward to ensure Sandra has all she needs in her successful future regarding the Rose of Tralee competition. We believe she has the gumption and the generous spirit to achieve whatever she sets her mind to – Sandra Ganley exudes beauty, inside and out, which is what this competition truly is about.

Sandra was kind enough to make time in her busy schedule to talk about her journey thus far!

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Sandra and Michael taking a stroll in the Wild West of Ireland

WWIT: When did you first realize you wanted to pursue the Rose competition(s)?

Sandra: I suppose growing up in Ireland; everyone watches it on television. Looking at these amazing women; every young girl loved it. There’s a picture of me when I was about eight; dressed as the Rose of Tralee. They dressed me up in a dress and made me a sash with Rose of Tralee on it. I was always aware of it. When I was 18/19; around here ,there’s a lot of local competitions. The same kind of layout as the Rose of Tralee, all the girls get up on stage and do their piece. Curry Castle, Coleman Queen. I was quite young – when I have my degree and am more established in the world, maybe I’d pursue it. Will I or won’t I? No, I will!

WWIT: How would you describe the experience so far?

Sandra: It’s been absolutely surreal. Mayo was a great day – there were 19 of us. I loved meeting all the girls. Since I was crowned [it’s been about two months] – it’s been crazy, it hasn’t hit me fully yet. It won’t till I get to Tralee, I think.

WWIT: Enjoying the journey so far?

Sandra: It’s brilliant – I get to visit so many places and do things I haven’t got to do before. Meeting the many Irish Roses is great. To actually be in the midst of it all is surreal and overwhelming (in a good way)! I get to visit the local primary schools; nursing homes to visit the older people…I’ve been supporting local charities – on a larger scale, I got to have afternoon tea in Ashford Castle with the Galway Rose. That was something special. I also get to visit other places in Mayo [quite a big county] that I haven’t visited before.

WWIT: Excellent! Also – you mentioned charity work?

Sandra: Yes! Two charities/organizations – the Celiac Society and Mayo Mental Health Association. I wouldn’t have been able to do that before. Both are important to me, as mental health support needs more awareness and I myself am Celiac.

WWIT: Who or what would you say has been your biggest inspiration so far?:

Sandra: Maria Walsh Rose of Tralee winner – three years ago; the Philadelphia Rose from Mayo. She did so much for Mayo – and she was the first Rose who came out as gay. She was not stereotypical – she had tattoos; short hair. She’s been an inspiration to ALL the Roses. She is likewise a great ambassador. I hope I get to meet her over the next year – I think she’s brilliant in what she does! It’s also been lovely to connect with all the Roses this year. For example; we have the first Hong Kong Rose this year – and we have a group chat to know everybody’s county; area, state, & so on. We still have to remember what county they represent in Ireland – the Sydney Rose, for example, is from Kerry. There’s 65 escorts to remember and 170 in total to recall.

WWIT: It’s a little bit like exams, isn’t it.

Sandra: [Laughing] Yes, I suppose it is, yes.

WWIT: That’s awesome. Here’s the big question: would you do if you won?

Sandra: That IS a big question, goodness. I suppose continuing on with everything I’ve done so far, in terms of charity work, but on a bigger scale would be my focus. Not just local areas, but visiting all over Ireland and Irish communities abroad. I’d try to visit as many as possible. As you know, I’m quite big into Irish music and dance, so getting to spread that in other places would be a part of it. As for prize money: I think I’d start by giving a few bob back to mom & dad.

WWIT: You’re so thoughtful! Our final question: how would you describe your relationship with WWIT?

Sandra: Well, it’s been…five-ish years now; from the day Michael (and Trish) saw us dancing in Sligo, he straight away was so supportive of us. He was up talking to us right after we performed. For the first year or two he’d come to all our shows with his tours. He used to bring us presents from America. Then he offered to bring us over and we were so honored. We’ve now been [to America] three times! The support and publicity/gigs they’ve brought us is amazing. We got to dance with Cherish the Ladies, which was also so surreal. They’ve been so good to us (on behalf of myself and Laura). We’re always happy to promote them back. We’re filming a new promo with Michael [now filmed; stay tuned]! We like to help them as much as they help us. It’s been a great relationship. It’s still just worked out perfectly. And I’m delighted they’ve offered to sponsor me. The money will go toward dresses and to travel down to Tralee, which is majorly helpful. And I’m absolutely delighted to be a Wild Westie.

WWIT: Thanks Sandra!

 Please follow Sandra’s journey to Tralee here to show your support!

We have just one more surprise in store for all of you [Sandra included; perhaps]! We at Wild West Irish Tours will be launching a BRAND NEW Wild West Atlantic Way Tour as part of our Rose of Tralee initiative in Sandra’s honor – look out, County Mayo, we’re coming your way!

Until next time,

– Sam Fishkind

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening!

It occurs to me that some of you may not know exactly who or what a Wild West Irish Tour is. I’d be happy to break that down for you now!

   Wild West Irish Tours is the beloved creation of Trish O’Donnell-Jenkins and Michael Waugh, founded [appropriately] on Saint Patrick’s Day in 2011. It explores fundamental traditional Irish practices, historical places, and the seldom-seen beauties of the Wild West of Ireland. Assisted by such wonderful people as Joe McGowan [an author and storyteller engrossed in the preservation of Irish traditions], Dr. Michael Roberts [whom you might remember from a previous post], and many terrific others, the Wild West Irish Tours took off with a triumphant symphony of fiddles and flutes. You can read more about it here, however…

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Westie Margaret Ann & a few local friends!

You might’ve been expecting something along the lines of an Irish John Wayne, given the tour title – but we trade cowboys for sheepherders [and we like it that way]. Let’s break down the top five fundamentals of what makes a Wild West Irish Tour a Wild West Irish Tour, shall we?

1. Authenticity

One of our top priorities is making sure you don’t experience a “tourist-y”’ tour. In the Land of Heart’s Desire; we try to stay true to our hearts: by connecting with locals and seeking out unique experiences. We speak with people who are immersed in Celtic folklore; those who know the area well and can tell us a thing or two new every time. There’s no big buses or long lines. We promise nothing but a good time: one that comes from a world that is both sincere and exciting; riddled with stories and, yes, occasional song. From the dust of the road on our boots to your first breaking of brown bread at a pub table, the genuine hospitality of Ireland is everywhere on our tours.

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Simone; local shaman and guide to Celtic pagan traditions. Photo by Wild Westie Ron Byers.

2. Spontaneity [& Flexibility!]

                It’s important to keep an open mind and a keen eye when on one of our Wild West Irish adventures – a sudden stop for sheep and a scenic view might be more likely than you think! There’s a vague structure [we do have some plans, after all] to keep our opportunities open. There might be a music festival in one of our townships that evening; or perhaps a special performance by a local dancer. You just never know, and that’s the beauty of being open to possibility. On another note: flexibility might just mean sunrise yoga [literal flexibility; anyone?] or weaving between the trees to discover a glittering waterfall…

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Trish O’Donnell-Jenkins shows us how it’s done!

OR BOTH!

We also tend to keep groups small [6-8] to further enhance that flexi-spontaneity, if you will.

               3. What’s Seldom is Wonderful

                One of our more popular monikers is a Gaelic phrase, “an rud is annamh is iontach” or, “what’s seldom is wonderful” [alternatively: “the thing that’s seldom is wonderful”]. The easiest way to explain this one is marveling at a rainbow. You know it wasn’t there a moment ago, and in another moment, it could be gone. As a result, a rainbow is seldom-seen; a rarity: and therefore, wonderful to behold in its brevity. We see much of these seldom moments in Ireland – the tranquility and aforementioned spontaneity allow for the world to show us incredible things, even for a moment. These “Irish Moments” are what can make the trip that much more unique.

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Michael Waugh & longtime friend [and Westie!] Brenda Kennedy-Hudler showing us all how to seize the moment.

                4. Expect Great Things in Simple Places

                Coupled with the previous sentiment, this one refers more to the simplicity of the rural Irish West; the countryside (and quaint towns) that tells tales of rolling agate hills and bountiful forests; twisting groves where fairies supposedly play and upturned stones left to keep watch over fields full of lively livestock patterned with ribbons or splashed with all the colors imaginable. Perhaps you’re visiting from a big city – you’ll find peace in this place where time moves differently, around excitable border collies or shockingly-patient donkeys. If you come from farm country, you’ll feel right at home among people who make little to no fuss about the urbane lifestyle.  And if you’re somewhere in-between [re: suburbia], don’t you worry. The balance here is evident, and the point of it all is that you’ll find that even the simplest of things can hold the greatest wonders [there’s a story to be told here, but you’ll have to hear it on one of our fine sojourns].

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Discovering a simple, yet special place with WWIT guide Pius Murray.

                5. Imagination

                Finally, we wouldn’t be writing to you from the literal Land of Heart’s Desire; the home of Yeats, Joyce, Wilde, and others without implying imagination and creativity. The world of Western Ireland thrums with music; pulses with poetry, sings with performance, but also provokes a reaction from any who visit. It gives back in ways you might not expect; prompting response to its calm emerald enclosures and rocky mountain hills. The folklore told by our guides might inspire you to see Sidhe peeking between the leaves of the trees, or prompt song at a tavern when asked [even if you might be a little spotlight-shy]. With the flexibility that allows for imaginative thought, anything is possible: we encourage each and every one of you to use your imagination in thinking about the Wild West of Ireland. It means something different to all who visit –

                I wonder what it might mean to you?

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Create your own story in seeing all there is to see…

I hope this has cleared a few things up – at least enough to see the rainbow from the rain!

Until next time, be well!

                                                                                                                                                                Sam Fishkind.

Good afternoon, travel sleuths! Do you like solving mysteries? Were you a fan of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego as a kid? Perhaps you just like to see beautiful and enigmatic depictions of far-away places. Whatever your niche is, we’re delighted to unveil a little scavenger hunt for you all: a photographic tour of exclusive venues in Western Ireland, presented by Wild West Irish Tours.

You probably won’t get the full experience without being there, but we’re hoping you enjoy this peek through the window into where we like to venture: if you dare to be wild, come with us now to discover these secret places…

10308759_753984827954899_8118328282955448221_n1. Walk With Ghosts in a Valley of Singing Wind: Experience the tranquility of walking through a valley as sweeping and epic as anything out of Lord of the Rings: this landscape in Western Ireland is dotted with abandoned monuments of a much more solemn time; the walk of which is both breathtaking and sobering. Where the valley begins to curve is where you’ll see the open darkness of a cave in which legends were made. Any ideas on where this might be?

2. Four Seasons in One Day?: Jenny1It’s more likely than you think in this mystical garden. More than mere flowers grow here; though their abundance is noted with joy by all who visit: the preservation of history and harmony is vital to the owner’s mission. Would you like to come convene on Celtic lore whilst enjoying a spot of tea? Here’s where to do so with all of us!

3. Familial Crests and Towering Turrets: There’s a castle in Western Ireland that only we have the keys to (aka; we ask the owners nicely and they’re kind enough to oblige).

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Photo by Wild Westie artist Ann Desroches

Overlooking lush green landscape marked by archaic churches and rolling hills, this family-specific home is one near and dear to at least three Westies’ hearts. Bet you can’t name the clan attached to it! Hint: They’re one of the most well-known in all of Ireland.

4. You’ve Heard of Red Roof Inn, Now Get Ready for Red Door Cottage:

Strandhill

A quaint and functional little house hidden away in the West, this adorable nook has great history with an area of Ireland that hugs the shoreline. If you can wager a guess as to how old it is, we applaud you. Hope you have good weather for thatching!

 

5. Cromwell Couldn’t Take It: 

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This church dates back to the 11th century – far older than what you might expect from

a spot frequented by pilgrims and self-guided historians. It’s stood both the test of time and trials through the ages. It’s a must-visit for those seeking some peace and reflection.

 

6. Enchantment on the Rocks; Both Shaken & Stirred: 13600155_1178432058843505_1753631613558701804_nThis area of Western Ireland is pleasantly notorious for its ecological exploits. Rarely do four types of flora (arctic, alpine, Mediterranean, and deciduous) exist in harmony with one another; much less growing out of terrain lovingly referred to as “living stone”. It stretches for miles; touching mountain and shore.

Do you know its name?

7. Hot Dog! What a Day:

Spending time on this island [which shares a name with a famous American island]

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isn’t just a jaunt at a carnival. Named for bunnies more than balloons and barkers, this isle is sometimes inaccessible due to weather and tide: making it a mysterious getaway fit for fey instead of faire-fare.

8. See Red, But Relax: Take a moment in this gem in the woods to watch the stream flow and hear the birds sing. Smell the fresh fragrance of forest air and imagine yourself in a storybook setting where all problems seem easily solved. Something about this area just seems to sing of solitude and peace. Come with us – we know the way!

 

9. Not Always a Grave Situation: One of the Wild West Irish Tours mottos is “expect great things in simple places”. 17188_563282707025113_1241170839_nThis area exemplifies that; as not only is it simple, it contains a great story (or several great stories; actually) tucked against the bosom of Ireland’s beating heart. Well-worth the visit for those who enjoy the written word (and beautiful scenery; not to mention history).

10. Peak Performance Located In: ? Bet you can’t guess! 10620203_835660336454014_7540137972645945897_o.jpgThis magnificent mountain is one of several worth noting in Western Ireland especially: a towering testament to a varied and mysterious landscape, it’s a “brother peak” of sorts to a mountain previously pictured within the same range!

And if that’s not enough for you, here comes a bonus round!

We’re asking you readers to come up with the answer to where this most exclusive Wild West Irish Tours locale is located:

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Imagination is encouraged! Try to think outside the box; because seldom do we stay in the expected. If you want to wager a guess for a potential prize, please contact us via our website at https://wildwestirishtours.com/contact-us/ ! You’re welcome to comment on any of the other images; share with your friends to solve our picturesque puzzles, but this last one is our secret. 🙂 So don’t give it away!

Thanks for tagging along! Stay tuned for our next big romp.

Till next time,

 – Sam Fishkind.