It’s almost summertime! Have you made any plans for the upcoming months of sunshine, serenity, and sightseeing? If you’re having trouble nailing down plans, consider going on an adventure in Ireland. The perfect tour for you all depends on what sort of adventurer you are and what you’d like to check off your bucket list.

Heart

If you’re indecisive and reading this because you need some clarity, consider the Heart of the Wild West, a phenomenal combination of “the best of the West”. Michael and Trish have handpicked areas of interest such as archaeological sites, beautiful beaches lined with fossils, a magnificent forest full of mythical history, and quaint towns teeming with life. Get ready for the most epic adventure you could possibly imagine. Embrace the spirit of Wild West Irish Tours and this signature tour, and you’ll be swept away to the highest sea cliffs in all of Europe; down to valleys and villages frozen in time. This trip encompasses everything you could ask for in Ireland.  The music, the magic, the magnificent sights – you name it, and the Heart of the Wild West absolutely has it.

western Ireland coast green fields and Irish mountains
Open your heart of discovery during the Heart of the Wild West Tour

Iconic

If you’re looking for something truly iconic, try the Wild West Atlantic Way Tour! These are the areas you’ve seen on National Geographic or Lonely Planet. Where the untamed Irish coastline meets the ferocious beauty of her mountains. This is a tour that’s all about “the waters and the wild”; from Yeats to the greats – places such as the Aran Islands, Killary Fjord, Lough Gill, and many others mentioned in folklore and Irish history. You’ll find picturesque places; historic, heartfelt, and hands-down awe-inspiring. These are some of our absolute favorite places in Ireland – including County Mayo – where you’ll recognize backdrops from Game of Thrones, Vikings, and even Star Wars! And if you’re a real movie buff, you’ll also notice a place or two that’s a bit of a throwback to Irish film. You might want to make a trivia game as we go along the Wild West Atlantic Way.

rainbows over the Irish coast sheep
Rainbows appear for the luckiest travelers during the Wild West Atlantic Way Tour

Regal

Does the thought of music, folklore, and visiting enchanting islands stir your wanderlust? The Clare-Galway-Connemara Tour satisfies your thirst. You’ll feel like a king or queen in your castle. We visit a privately-owned castle. You’ll experience the heights and dazzling sights of the historic Burren and Craggaunowen Pre-Historic Park. And explore the town of Ennis, a world-renowned Irish gem. Take in iconic scenes such as Galway Bay and the Cliffs of Moher. Feel the adrenaline rush of the sea pounding against the coast and let the sweeping landscape of Ireland carry you away.

Clare Galway Connemara Ireland
Rolling hills of Clare and the mountains of Connemara frame the many castles in the wild west of Ireland

Home

Feel more at home on a farm than the wilderness? Our delightful Wild Atlantic Causeway Coast Adventure features a rustic array of opportunities based around County Donegal and the Inishowen Peninsula. Enjoy the quiet scenery of the farmhouse; and set forth on adventures from the magnificent Giant’s Causeway to sites that only our local storytellers and historians know about. The variety of possibilities on this tour will fulfill the most indecisive of hearts. If you’re a gardener, we know of a place filled with floral jewels as far as the eye can see. Enjoy a good hike? Explore the fantastic coastline with a romp on the beach! Historians will be right at home as you explore the cities and ancient megalithic sites. There truly is something here for everyone.

Giants Causeway Ireland Atlantic Coast
Let your imagination guide you through each step and stone of the infamous Giant’s Causeway

Spirit

If you’re a spiritual person who’s really focusing on  “serenity”, you may want to book yourself for our upcoming autumn adventure, the Wild West Irish Pilgrimage. This tour closes out our year by celebrating the Celtic New Year; Samhain. Come for the music, poetry, meditation, yoga, healthy food, creative expression, contemplative walks, hiking, or exploring the sacred sites of Celtic Ireland with focus on traditional Celtic rituals. Get back in touch with your roots, celebrate the beauty of Irish life, and experience the tranquility of the Irish autumn. Settle in to listen to the wisdom of local guides and colleagues who have practiced in the art of Irish traditions for decades.

magical fairy glen Irish forest spiritual journey
Let rushing waters serenade you during your journey through the magical fairy glen

We understand. It’s hard to choose just one – don’t worry; a couple of these might just have the overlap you need to check everything off your list. You never know where the winds might next carry you. If we go off-book, you’ll find side adventures that are both seldom and wonderful. Rest assured, the Wild West of Ireland is everything you think it is and so much more.

Until next time, be well!

Sam Fishkind

Wild West Irish Tours

Social Media Manager and Scribe

In a land of poets, powerful entities, famous saints, and timeless stories, it’s easy to imagine the figures of the Wild West of Ireland walking alongside you on a Wild West Irish Tour. When you depart; your bags might feel just a little bit fuller – with souvenirs and sentiments of good times had; but also, with the knowledge and even the people you’ve met along the way.

Here is a cast of characters historically documented to have shared the roads you’re traveling on. Walk alongside these folks and invite them home with you – so that they, through you, can tell their tales.

  1. And who better to bring home from the Wild West of Ireland than…a Spaniard? Believe it or not, this shipwrecked sailor walked the windblown dunes of Sligo, traveling toward Antrim; through Grange, lovely Leitrim, and onward into legend. Learn about him on a journey narrated by a brilliant educator who has dedicated his life to the preservation of this sailor’s history…and see how much of his tales you believe! To be fair, these stories come embellished by the sailor himself, who had quite a lot riding on his shoulders. Treasure, treachery, and old-world shenanigans await you!

    IMG_6809.JPG
    Following the Spaniard’s path…

  2. Speaking of Sligo, therein is known a marvelous woman of great ferocity, tenacity, and strength: a groundbreaking revolutionary whose love of her country encouraged her to use her power and privilege for good. Born to a wealthy family, this Countess is tied to defying English reign in Ireland, including the Easter Rebellion and her efforts to better the lives of poorer and working classes, setting a precedent for equality [including feminism]. You’ll find a sculpture of her in the Heart of the Wild West…

    885301_554931247860259_432171768_o.jpg
    Leading the people…

  3. Perhaps no less revolutionary in other [yet similar] aspects; Northward in County Derry is a well-known Irish poet whose style and of-the-earth demeanor set him apart from many of the poets of his time. To this day, he is one of Ireland’s most beloved figures; a humble man who used his words and his demeanor to illustrate the difficulties Ireland faced and bring light to those in rural areas or those in working classes. You may find yourself digging into the foundation of his work as you traverse along the Wild West Atlantic Way...

    13131577_1139172166102828_8132224150667213959_o.jpg
    Derry’s Peace Bridge.

  4. While on the subject of revolutions and poetry, a figure in Yeats’ poetry comes to mind – the woman who rejected him no less than four times; whose radical love of Ireland surpassed, arguably, her love of anything or indeed, anyone else. Yeats of Sligo never seemed to stop loving her, but her dedication to the freeing of prisoners; of Ireland overall, and liberation of women via the Women’s Movement took precedence. You can visit her final resting place in Dublin on the final day of your Wild West Irish Tour; or hear more about her in Sligo – alongside another lady still to yet to be introduced…

    IMG_5897.JPG
    “Under bare Ben Bulben’s head…” – W.B. Yeats

  5. If you need a breather from all this talk of revolution, we have just the fellow to introduce you to. Along the coast and flooding the hills of Ireland are the echoes of a beloved and renowned Celtic spiritualist – a title that doesn’t even begin to fully cover the concepts of poetry, philosophy, faith, and prosaic insight of a truly good-hearted man. His voice can be heard in the crashing sighs of waves outside Ballyvaughan, and in the enormity of the karst that is the Burren, resounding in the care and contemplation that comes from life in the Wild West of Ireland: raw, intimate, and deeply loving. His messages are perhaps best found in adventures to Clare-Connemara; or the very special (and spiritual) Irish Pilgrimage.

    11258085_972324199454293_8309589625605889661_o.jpg
    Following the voice of the poet…

  6. And finally, some people, no matter how real they once were, faded into legend over time – as you’ve seen now with Medb, for example, we bring you now to the much more recent story of a woman who may have inspired Yeats’ poem, “To an Isle in the Water”… Learn about the occupant of a small island in a shining lake; whose independence and determination won her the hearts of the local people – as did her infamous moonshine. You’ll hear stories of this tough and intriguing Irish lady on a cruise aboard a stalwart vessel around the enchanting lake itself; placing you in the very heart of her tale…

    74059_505659922787392_1026860705_n.jpg
    “To an isle in the water
    With her would I fly.” – W.B. Yeats

If your suitcase still feels light; or you’ve room to spare, not to worry – this is but a handful of the people you could encounter on your journey. And these are just the historical figures, after all…

You may want to stay tuned for a midweek adventure next week as we pack your bags with the more mysterious and mystical figures of the Wild West of Ireland! And if you’re familiar with Irish storytelling, their tales are boundless and numerous as the stars in the sky.

And you’ll find you can see them all the more clearly in the Wild West of Ireland.

Until next time, be well!

Sam Fishkind

Wild West Irish Tours

Social Media Manager & Scribe

As a new year dawns, humans tend to discuss thresholds, change, and resolutions – as well as lingering on the memories of the year passing; summoning celebratory nostalgia by candlelight and fireworks.

As a part of Wild West Irish Tours, from our perspective, we also focus on transformation – as we say, “you will be transformed” journeying with us, and stepping over the threshold to explore the Wild West of Ireland – from perspectives new and old.

Whether you’ve been to Ireland or are planning a visit with us in 2018, we have a lot of good recommendations. Our sample itineraries are chock full of wonderful surprises – and off the record, there’s a lot of spontaneous delights to consider. You might encounter a lively street band or pub session; perhaps listen to the stories of a Celtic wise-woman, or even submerge yourself in a crafts market nestled between the mountains and a quaint café. The road through Ireland’s Wild West is broader than you could possibly imagine – but I encourage you to try, as we recap 2017 with a couple of highlights, and prepare for 2018’s season with hopes to come!

Here’s some of what our Wild Westies reflected on regarding 2017:

19466587_1532023810150993_6066260312670099378_o.jpg
Wild Westie John Farrell; photo by Wild Westie Ron Byers
  • “The landscape scenery in both Co. Sligo and Co. Clare were my favorites. Each had their special beauty but both Counties were spectacular.” – John Farrell
  • “Serpents Rock- it was the solitude and the beauty of being in a place, not having to speak or rush… just being.” – Stacey Kinsey
  • “I’d say going out into the Burren with our tour guide, Pius. He makes it an experience, not just a place to see. And the time we spent with the Irish women who conveyed Irish folklore and some of the ancient connections among people/land/spirit.” – Saoirse Charis-Graves
13923373_1200771483276229_8083939692713358424_o.jpg
Finn himself!
  • “I loved walking down to the beach every morning and evening with Finn from our B & B in Donegal. I felt like I was in the real Ireland and just loved it!” – Mary Ellen Powrie
  • “Visiting the graves of my great-grandparents.” – Rita Byrne Tull
  • “The beautiful scenery was the best, but my favorite was the jam session withauthentic Irish Music and songs!” – Robin Winn Moore
  • “I would have to say it was a toss up between exploring the Burren with Pius and walking the cliffs of Loop Head.” – Colleen Marikje Barker
26757168_10212299903226517_2825960262455798816_o
Irish jam session – photo by Wild Westie Robin Winn Moore!

And here’s what our sojourners are looking forward to in 2018!:

  • “I hope to hear great music, see spirited dancing, taste hearty food, smell the sea, and feel the presence of something magical.” – Judy Peterson
  • “Just being there – I can’t wait!” – Claudia Pellegrini Quieroz
  • “Going back!!!!” – Terry White

From this past year, I think making new friends [I know, I know – I’m corny] and exploring new areas like Donegal were but a couple of highlights I can mention! The faerie glen as well, which was unforgettable.

As for the future, it’s definitely the possibility of new experiences – but also seeing said friends again; getting in touch with the land and its history [as well as the myths and legends], and finding new stories to hear & tell.

There are boundless opportunities for personal, mental, and spiritual growth in the Wild West of Ireland – and as one of my New Year’s resolutions, I’m trying to leave myself more open to the possibilities of said growth. I’m ready to let 2018 be a year of healing and hope! Especially when it comes to visiting Ireland.

Owner Michael Waugh threw in his two cents about the year past and year upcoming as well:

474546_3764846434164_132975841_o“Getting a chance to be shown the areas like the Burren and the Holy Wells this past year; finding new areas that no one knows about this past year – that’s just one aspect, though,” says Michael. “It’s hard to choose just one.” When it comes to the upcoming year, he’s delighted to be bringing people fresh experiences close to home: “We’re looking forward to the new Wild West Atlantic Way in particular – bringing people to what we consider the ‘best’ places of the four tours.”

“We love developing new tours and showing people these places dear to our hearts,” adds Michael. “Seeing everything from Clare out to the Antrim Coast; Connemara, Sligo – what we’d say is the best of Ireland.”

And, if you’re like a few of our Wild Westies who said “I wish” or “it’s not in the cards this year” [shout-out to Wild Westies Ann DesRoches and Cynthia Owens], there is always a time in the future you can take a journey with Wild West Irish Tours.

Please stay tuned with us as we enter 2018 with light hearts and enthusiastic adventures; eyes on the horizon of the Wild West of Ireland.

You might not know what to expect from the rest of the world, but we can promise you as always, you can expect great things in simple places with us.

Until next time, be well!

Sam Fishkind

Wild West Irish Tours

Social Media Manager & Scribe

Knocknarea.

The sound of stones being clacked together; the feeling of mist curling between grassy knolls, the sheer slick of mud beneath a traveler’s boots, and the bite of cool mountain air with just a splash of the sea. If one were to listen closely, one might hear the whispers of battle-song and chanting on the wind – echoes of a past as mythical and enigmatic as one can possibly imagine.

There are few places wilder in the Heart of the Wild West than this mountain – a towering tribute to ages past and the legends of a warrior queen who held her own against countless men. If one were to believe the stories; atop that mountain sits a cairn, or burial chamber, of said warrior queen: Medb.

996501_599043366782380_971823949_n.jpg
That bump at the top of the mountain? Medb’s cairn!

It’s befitting as one climbs the mountain to consider the origin of such a woman; such a name: Medb [Maeve when anglicized] supposedly comes from the early Celtic language “Medu”, or “intoxicating”. Thus she becomes “she who intoxicates” – and as a figure who had many lovers and whose mysticism survives beyond the grave, it’s fitting. But her name could also be derived from the ancient Celtic term for “ruler”; or “Medwa”. Either way feels fitting as she still seems to rule the area – and enchant travelers to venture up her mighty mountain to visit her final resting place at the top.

The wildness of the mountain and its mighty cairn of wishing-stones [we’ll get to those later] perpetuates Medb’s untamable spirit. Existing supposedly around the first millennium CE; her archaic imprint in Western Ireland is prominent. She was said to be fierce as she was fair and legends morph her into a sovereign goddess as much as she might’ve also been a queen. Whoever she was, her cairn remains, watchful and ominous in the West.

10479397_770931282926920_2741803950303110057_oWild Westies who’ve hiked Knocknarea on a Wild West Irish Tours adventure describe the experience as “magical”, “spectacular”, or even “transformative”. Adjacent to this is the fairy glen below, which some of you might remember from a couple of previous segments, here and here! It might be Medb’s impact or the ferocity of unbridled nature, but the hike up Knocknarea is unforgettable.

“There’s a great sense of ‘Presence’ on the mountain, in my opinion,” says Wild Westie Saoirse Charis-Graves. “I found even the trail up the mountain to be mystical in that it felt like there were energy signatures all along the way.” Such a thing can be felt in places such as Carrowmore and around fairy forts – even the most skeptical have been said to experience something out of the ordinary. It may be the telling of the tales regarding Medb and the fair folk, being surrounded by things and nature older than a visitor might be used to, or simply finding oneself more open in the Wild West of Ireland. Difficult to say – every person has a unique experience.

“And of course, there is also the occasional faery tree,” Saoirse adds. “Then, at the top, circumambulating the cairn and taking in the 360-degree panorama…one guide in particular helped me understand the people who had come before. One feels that, too: the history, the overlay of people from a long distant past.” Whether Medb is indeed atop Knocknarea; buried beneath 40 feet’s worth of stones, upright and facing her enemies as oft told or not, it seems unlikely that any visitor can dismiss the power felt atop the mountain.

25994513_1923541307685937_7044217017591224919_n.jpg
Wild Westie Tara atop Knocknarea!

Perhaps again, it’s the triumph of the hike or the age of the earth there, but the rawness and regality of Knocknarea is unparalleled. In fact, Wild Westie Tara Leigh Accavallo’s first mountain hike happened to be Knocknarea – an “exhilarating” experience, she says, adding, “there are no words that do justice to the views from along the way up and at the top.”

26116454_10215936637795629_7740906262036319098_o.jpg
Wild Westies cast their stones atop Medb’s cairn!

Wild Westie Steve Hogan has hiked the mountain twice already – “it is a tradition to carry a stone to the top and leave it on Maeve’s Cairn,” he notes – a tradition that comes with a notion that one can make a wish or prayer as they toss the stone atop the enormous cairn. In a way, there’s an energy in adding your own history to somebody else’s – be it the hundreds who laid stones there before, or the impact of a legend. “We did the climb right after visiting the Glen,” adds Steve, “and that along with being the only ones ascending Knocknarea that April afternoon made it quite a magical experience.” Wild Westie Debbie Walker-Spies had an interesting interpretation of her journey: “I climbed it in 2015 on a day so windy I imagined Maeve was trying to blow me off of her mountain. It was fabulous!”

Perhaps Medb does want to test travelers visiting her mountain – as she tested her enemies and men of olden days. The reward for completing the trial of the hike [which is actually quite accessible, like all things, weather permitting], however, is one of a breathtaking view and the purest form of history: up close, beautiful, and indeed, incredibly wild.329540_458629680823750_2056127544_o

Whether you just enjoy the challenge of a hike, exploring the history of the Wild West of Ireland, or are a true believer of the mystic & mysterious, Knocknarea has something for everyone. The Heart of the Wild West and Wild West Irish Tours are delighted to bring visitors to the cairn and the glen; as well as countless other places to be explored in the future, either on your own journey or here in our words…

Until next time, be well!

Sam Fishkind

Wild West Irish Tours

Social Media Manager & Scribe

 

When it comes to the Wild West of Ireland, there is plenty to be surprised about.

But according to our alumni “Wild Westies”; or people who travel with us on a Wild West Irish Tour, nothing is more surprising than these top three [technically four] things:

  1. The Fairy Glen

IMG_6757.JPG

Nestled against the bosom of Knocknarea, accessible to locals and those who know the area well, this niche of fantasy sparks the imagination with possibilities. It is one part enchanting hiking trail, another part unexpected mystery. Enormous trees older than time itself part to allow visitors safe passage through winding paths and sunlight-drenched thickets. Golden hues find their way amidst the greens, and the grand finale is an open cleave through the mountain itself that looks as though some great machine shaped a tunnel through the wilds.

A few swings and signs of life likewise exist there, a soft wind blowing the prior in gentle sways. All are welcome to partake of the swings, as well as take a moment in reflective silence to listen to the songs of nature. Perhaps you’ll encounter one of the “good neighbors” here – or simply achieve the tranquility that comes from a trip outdoors to the rare and wonderful landscape of Western Ireland. Take a peek here in the “Outdoors” segment of our virtual Heart of the Wild West!

  1. The Horsehoe Walk *

IMG_6420.JPG

Perhaps one of our most iconic stops along the Heart of the Wild West Tour is that of the Gleniff Horseshoe. This particular area is a perfect balance of history and Celtic legend – expressing the duality of the Irish people in that it holds a great amount of tragedy and a great deal of hope for the future, all at the same time. The cavernous mountains incite stories of two lovers on the run; who hid in the grandest of caves overlooking this sweeping valley until the end – and the valley itself, filled with the skeletal remnants of buildings from days past; famine houses, and roaming sheep, evokes a sense of the forlornly breathtaking.

Words almost fall short of describing the epic quest that is a stroll through this area – walk in contemplation to a heart-shaped waterfall, stop to examine what history left behind, and learn from local guides the different aspects of the Horseshoe as you go along. You can catch a glimpse of it here in our “Outdoors” segment as well if you have a sharp eye!

  1. A Secret Island *

461551_455585314461520_731874806_o.jpgUnparalleled in many ways, tying in second with the Horseshoe [according to our Wild Westie alumni poll] is our incredible hidden gem of Inishmurray…or not so much a gem; singular, but a veritable treasure chest of various gems, from the amethyst flowers in the springtime; to golden blossoms later in the year, to the silvery-gray stone and the greenness perpetual.

Beautifully-preserved archaeological sites such as a monastery and family homes from the 6th century dot the landscape like stony Easter eggs. Exploring the island at your own pace is a wonderful way to absorb the history all around you – Wild Westies skim cerulean waters by boat to roam the paths after chatting with local and informative guides [such as our friend Auriel Robinson of Seatrails] about what they’ll be seeing. Wild Westies are given free range to roam the island until it’s time to return to their B & B – though many would probably want to stay in such a peaceful, open place…for now, though, you can visit Inishmurray virtually right here.

  1. And finally: the food!

25348448_10155720246631885_404135746596182101_n.jpg

It may surprise you to learn that Irish food is nothing like the “dreaded” things some might have come to expect of the U.K. [which may also not be the case]! That being said, you probably arrive in Ireland expecting corned beef and cabbage. Potatoes. All sorts of stereotypical things.

In reality, I can happily report I myself have personally had dishes such as butternut squash and bleu cheese soup [pictured above]; a Southwestern chicken panini [no joke!], full; hearty Irish breakfasts [thanks especially; B & B keeper and friend Geraldine!], honeycomb ice cream on the side of a magnificent mountain, the best “chips” [re: French fries in America]; arguably, and so much more. Ireland is not limited to the flavorless concepts of old. On the contrary, the food I’ve had in Ireland has been some of the best and most luscious I’ve had in my life – many I’m sure would agree, and DO agree, judging by the results of our poll!  Here’s a look at the local cuisine aspect of the Heart of the Wild West…

Have you been to the Wild West of Ireland? What surprised YOU the most? Feel free to share this with a friend as you embark on your own Wild West Irish Tours adventure –

We can’t wait to show you even more surprising things.

All you can really expect is great things in simple places.

Until next time, be well!

Sam Fishkind

Wild West Irish Tours

Social Media Manager & Scribe

I will arise and go now, for always night and day

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;

While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,

I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

IMG_6088.JPG

Going to the Wild West of Ireland, one probably doesn’t expect to take a cruise of any kind. Ireland, however, runs rampant with rivers and lakes [or “loughs”, if you will] as well as being surrounded by the wild Atlantic, lends itself to quite a few opportunities to peruse via cruise.

One of the most memorable opportunities to take a cruise on a Wild West Irish Tour is around Yeats’ famed Lough Gill.

10704284_824324544254260_8364030705248058963_o (1).jpg

When reflecting on the lore of Lough Gill [like most old places in Ireland, there’s quite a bit]; there’s no better place to do so than atop Gill itself. Skimming silvery water over which the ghostly mists of time and mountains flow, face braced against damp air and eyes fixed on the tree line – all while experiencing the narration of a devoted captain.

Lough Gill in and of itself is a magical entity. Watched over by a castle that is storied [thus indeed, stories for another day] and regarded as one of the best fishing spots by locals [such as anthropologist Dr. Michael Roberts], the Lough is tranquil as it can be choppy. The weather surrounding the lake turns it much more sea-like than one could initially imagine – waves and clouds collide in a spectacular waltz that dazzles the eye – particularly when sunlight strikes the surface of the crests, creating arcs of light that make the waters seem endless.

IMG_6104.JPG

 

Bear in mind this is not the usual cruise! First and foremost, it IS on a lake – a vast one, but a freshwater one nonetheless, ensconced in trees thick and lush with a nearby academic center overlooking the view a little ways out on the lough. What’s fascinating about Lough Gill, to me, is not only its myths and legends [be they the historic end to a royal heir, sleeping giants, an enormous stone table, or a varied telling of a man, his sword, and true love defying the odds of drowning] but its geographical aspects as well. It is a place that is timeless and seemingly effortless, carved by some loving hand into the heart of the Wild West and filled with heavenly water.

Dotted with tiny islands throughout; some even inhabited by locals [which are definitely worth hearing from the captain of our vessel; the Rose of Innisfree], it shifts from an occasionally-flat surface of water to a maze of magnificent plant life and channels. Yeats himself penned “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”, a stanza of which is featured at the top of this piece – inspired by one of the magnificent mini-islands floating in the middle of the lake.IMG_6105

All of which is lovingly described by Captain George; as much a part of Lough Gill and the Wild West of Ireland as he is his own individual person. With a weatherworn face and a classic Captain’s hat, he looks the part – the sort of man who seems born in a lighthouse and lived on a ship all his days. The feeling of safety in his navigational skills and charismatic presence is immediate – Captain George is as capable as he is kind.941395_588607861159264_543974610_n.jpg

[And a born performer, too!]

Boarding a cozy, warm boat with the thought of seeing things seldom seen [and therefore wonderful, as you might’ve guessed], the last thing I expected was to be served tea and snacks by a rosy-cheeked lady who was all smiles – first mate & wife Tina was prepared for that special brand of hospitality only the Irish can truly extend. Captain George, meanwhile, invoked the spirit of Yeats [and if you’ve ever heard Yeats recite his own poetry, you might know what I mean] from the ship’s loudspeaker – not overwhelmingly blaring, but rather, an intonation of emphasis. Every yard we covered across glimmering water alternated between narration in poetry, prose/quotes, and facts alike. Captain George; a well of information in the best possible way, got everyone involved in the recitation of poetry and the ‘pop quizzes’ of questions surrounding Lough Gill.

IMG_6090

[Wild Westies LD and Sam aboard the Rose of Innisfree]

It felt rather like we floated the lake in somebody’s home, listening to their stories and sharing fun facts, rather than on-board a ship. That was arguably due to both the conversational tone of the good captain and how smooth the ride was! Coincidentally, outside of educational Boston Harbor explorations and an unsuccessful whale watch, this was my first ‘real’ cruise – and it was one I wouldn’t trade for the world.

If I’ve enticed you to come on said cruise with us around the Land of Heart’s Desire, feel free to see where the journey takes you from here:

Meet Captain George and his fine ship, and catch a shining glimpse of Lough Gill aboard the Rose of Innisfree in the Heart of the Wild West!

Let us know where you go from here – we want to go with you!

Until next time, be well!

Sam Fishkind

Wild West Irish Tours

Social Media Manager & Scribe.

 

It occurred to me that in describing my elaborate adventures in the Wild West of Ireland this time around, some people might want the Reader’s Digest version of events that transpired.

How does one summarize a fantastical journey? The Heart of Ireland’s Wild West is enormous in its hospitality; tremendous in its nature, and resounding in its residual echoes. Even now, in rainy Massachusetts, I can almost hear the crash of the Wild West Atlantic Way on the wind and catch the sound of sheep and donkeys in the air. There’s the hope that, somehow, I’ll wake to find sunlight filtering through a skylight of a cozy B&B, in a comfortable room lovingly prepared.

But I arise and go now to my keyboard, to tell you instead of what I’ve seen – editing a cairn of photos piled high on my drive, and wrapping my fleece ever tighter around myself against the bite in the late September air.IMG_6702.JPG

From mountains to oceans, forests primeval and boglands, there are countless different places each meant for a certain type of person – and to all.

I’ll try to sum up as much as I can – bear with me, as no words can fully put to mind the experiences shared in the Wild West of Ireland.

IMG_6735.JPG     Arriving in September, when hours of light are long and the evenings speckled with rain, was a wonderful decision. The weather was still nice, with a rainbow just about every day – what a blessing it was to look skywards and see the many colors arcing across the sky. Before you ask, no, no pots of gold, but instead, a journey that was priceless.

And much like the rainbow, there was a shade of something in Ireland for everyone – whether it was a walk through the wilderness in some of the places off the beaten path, horseback-riding along the sea, getting a spa treatment in a seaweed bath after a day of hiking, participating in history with local guides, or enjoying rollicking music & performances, Ireland had it all.

When you consider what the Heart of Ireland’s Wild West might mean, it’s always going to be a personal adventure.

For me, there was a little bit of myself in everything I did [which sounds obvious, but bear with me].

IMG_6091.JPG

As a writer, I love poetry and thrive off the written word – it was surreal to stand before the grave of Yeats and walk the same beloved places he did; including majestic waterfalls and islands in a lough that seemed like a silvery sea.

As an equestrian of six or so years back in the day, trotting along the shoreline surveying castles and abbeys across the water was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life – far surpassing the days of dressage and rings.

IMG_6789.JPGFor someone who never ever wanted to leave school; ever, I got to learn heaps about an area I genuinely care about – local insight overshadowing all outside research I could’ve done. I learned new and fascinating things about places such as Knocknarea, the Spanish Armada, and more – told by the loveliest voices and in such an intimate setting among but a few friends and fellow travelers.

IMG_6899.JPGThere were irreplaceable, timeless places [and people!] I got to meet – the photojournalist in me reveled in submerging myself in all things new; old, and splendid. I didn’t even mention yet the tour of a beautiful artisan factory where Irish crafstsmen still make incredible things the same way as they have for years – offset by a woodcarver who’s performed his remarkable trade for decades in town. Nor did I get to the incredible sheepdog displays or visiting one of the oldest bars in Ireland. I could spend my whole life trying to write it all down for someone and it wouldn’t be the same – for them or for me! And I mean that in the best possible way.

From the first day in Ireland to the reluctant last, you can feel that this trip is tailored to your interests. There is focus on local areas as given by local people [such as our guides like the fantastic storyteller Eddie O’Gorman of the Spanish Armada for you history buffs, and brilliant anthropologist Michael Roberts whose insight into the Sligo area is irreplaceable to name but two], Celtic traditions & Irish culture [brought to life by the irreplaceable Laura Ganley and the intuitive, intelligent Regina Fahey], and the full immersive experience of the Wild West of Ireland [from unique homestyle B&BS run by folk who genuinely care about their guests to music sessions wherein anyone and everyone is welcome to join in].IMG_6163.JPG

The Heart of Ireland’s Wild West still beats inside of me, even as I’m back across the pond – it’s in everything I took with me that I collected on the journey in terms of photos, stories, and souvenirs, but more importantly, stored in the mind’s eye and the well of my spirit as an entirely engaging experience unlike any other.

I’ll elaborate on a few of these points in the future, so be sure to check back in – for stories on the people and places of the Wild West of Ireland, here’s where you want to be until you can be there – again, or for the first time.

                Until next time,

                Sam Fishkind

                Wild West Irish Tours

                Social Media Manager & Scribe

Ah yes – here now; the waking world. Almost.

The last leg of our journey has been spent preparing us to [reluctantly] head home. It’s a heart-wrenching experience to leave the Wild West of Ireland – abandoning the warm hearth of Irish hospitality for the promise of cool plane air and faraway skies; leaving behind lush greenery that smells of fresh rain. Everything is a refrain of “next time I’ll” and “x was amazing; so was y” – a choir of wistful sighs and appreciations.

That being said, a venture into the city of Dublin can be a wonderful finale; the sweeping punctuation on a journey of fun. In a choose-your-own-adventure ending; the Wild Westies get to experience, well…whatever they’d like to experience in this fine city! You’re once again spoiled for choice as there’s so much to see, do, and feel. You might need to visit more than once; wink wink, nudge nudge.

IMG_6926

I for one was really interested in the botanical gardens and the enormous cemetery – which just so happen to run shoulder to shoulder with one another. When we arrived; a group of Wild Westies and I set out to learn some more – ever hungry for further information.

 

IMG_6959.JPG

The Glasnevin cemetery turned out to be completely fascinating. I actually used to be quite afraid of cemeteries – now I find them peaceful; and this was no exception. The towering monuments and enormous statues paid tribute to a rich Irish history – over 1 million people buried there! Some of them were Irish freedom fighters [such as Yeats’ own-but-not Maud Gonne, Constance Markievicz and more]; old families who existed in Ireland for centuries, and actually anyone who wanted to be buried there. The cemetery is unique in that any religion or lack thereof can coexist in burial there. The cemetery is also so big [and still active] that gravediggers and groundskeepers use an alphanumeric system to keep track of it all. Not something I could do; certainly – for someone constantly misplacing their keys, you certainly couldn’t rely on me to tell you where anyone is buried. But these guys know it all; and seem to have a lot of their system memorized.

IMG_6975After exploring the enormous grounds, I snuck off to peek at the botanical gardens nearby – they are very open and fresh; well-taken care of places of careful design. Art, interwoven with the flowers, produces a sense of man and nature intertwining – and it’s wonderful to see that much greenery in the center of a city. I found plants I couldn’t pronounce the names of [but at least I could photograph them!]; and many I didn’t know even existed. It was a little like being home; then, I feel – memories of my mother and grandmother patiently explaining which flowers were which. I think I’ll have to take my mom there someday; actually.IMG_6982

IMG_6987After that it was the Wild Westies at a pub – a rather famous one. Kavanagh’s, better known as the Gravedigger’s, because it’s where all the gravediggers from Glasnevin would go for a pint after working. The pub is majorly the same as it was back in “the day” [re: est. 1833], with a beautiful interior of worn wood and glass; swinging doors and long bar. It has a restaurant side, too, one in which service and hospitality are just as they are in the Wild West: our hostess was kind and attentive as anything, and we were served “what was left” for the day – two soups, multiple sandwiches, and crostini to choose from. Not a bad fare, considering they said they were running low. Then again, if you’re not being fed in Ireland, someone [or multiple someones] will undoubtedly ask if you want anything to eat or drink. So “low” to them is still plenty to us; usually.

Home was also hinted at in that one server had a Nantucket sweatshirt on. I got very excited and asked if I could ask him a question, and he went, “oh, about Nantucket? It’s a little island just off the coast of Cape Cod. What was your question?” with the biggest, most knowing smile imaginable. I was laughing too hard to ask him anything else after that – which is just as well, because our food arrived.

We branched out a bit more post-munching – several Wild Westies went off to tour the Jameson factory; while others went up to Henry Street for some shopping, and still others went to see the Book of Kells. We even had some folks go to the Emigration Center to look up relatives. The various opportunities for exploration were astounding. I being who I am decided to explore some of the All Hallows Campus; roam around taking more pictures, and just enjoy being where I was. To live on Irish time with no expectations for a moment – to find peace even in the bustling neighborhood of Dublin’s downtown was a real treat.

A few of us gathered back together for dinner – Wild Westies Wyatt, Robin, Virginia and I had a splendid time at the Cat and Cage. Who knew you could find Tex Mex in Ireland? Really good, too, I might add!

And now I write to you with pictures to edit, tales to tell, and another journey to take. My heart is so full – I cannot fully express the gratitude and excitement I feel being here – having had this adventure on the Heart of the Wild West Tour; something so monumentally special that it will stay with me for the rest of my life.

In many ways, the door to Ireland is always open to us. There isn’t a place you’d go in the Ireland in particular that wouldn’t welcome you in as kin – all I can say is to truly experience what I’ve experienced; with your own unique twist, you simply must come.

Come to the Wild West of Ireland, and let its food, drink, music, and hospitality resound in you.

IMG_6825

Come away, O human child…

Until next time…Go n-éirí an bothar leat.*

                                                                                                                                        Sam Fishkind

                                                                                                                         Wild West Irish Tours

                                                                                    Social Media Manager & Scribe

[*may you/your journey be successful]

 

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.

IMG_6761

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.

IMG_6764

It was an absolutely perfect morning.

You think it couldn’t get better than that – but it could! After a lovely lunch at a nearby craft and antique market, we set out to meet Eddie O’Gorman with anticipation to hear his tales of the Spanish Armada.

IMG_6789Eddie 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.

IMG_6839.JPG

IMG_6817

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.

IMG_6822

IMG_6866

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.

IMG_6875

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?

IMG_6899Meanwhile, 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…

IMG_6910.JPG

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.  IMG_6907

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.IMG_6916

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.

IMG_6923.JPG

IMG_6921.JPG

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.

Until next time, be well!

Sam Fishkind

Wild West Irish Tours

Social Media Manager & Scribe

Day five on a Wild Westie live blogging adventure – a day about town, and so much more.

The Wild West Irish Tours group set out to the nearby town of Sligo; settled in the heart of various mountains flowing to the coast in its county of the same name – Sligeach, “the shelly place” is its name in Gaelic. The town itself is a colorful; quaint little central point of interest for those who invest time and energy in Yeats country. And who wouldn’t? Between the attraction of a poetic nature, the town hosts a bright and bustling art and music scene, as well as a great many historical sites that make much more sense when you did what we did: get a local guide!

IMG_6627

Adrian was our guide for the beginning of the day – a young man local to the area who not only knew it well, but was full of incredible little facts that showed just how passionate he was about it. Places we would’ve normally passed without a second thought [or picture] were put into new light – we got to stand and experience the history of the village as it grew (and burned down, and grew, and burned down – an official burn down number of about seven, Adrian said) whilst observing the details of the area. IMG_6635A keen example is the hand that is etched onto the bank the Yeats statue stands in front of. It’s got an interesting legend tied to it – any guesses why a hand would be used here? I certainly wasn’t prepared for the story Adrian told – and it was a grand one, too. The point is though that one might wander by the bank, admire the statue, and move on without even noticing the hand or even wonder about its origin.

Adrian’s enthusiasm for the area really resonated with our walking tour – I learned so much in about two hours time that I’m still [pleasantly] processing it – anything from the town’s history with brewing to what stones came from where to build which buildings, to other famous figures that emerged influenced from the Wild West of Ireland – particularly, Sligo town.

IMG_6665

And you can’t visit the area without seeing a local craftsman of great renown – Michael Quirke is known and beloved, and we were fortunate enough to get some time with him today. An expert woodcarver, Michael brought out of beech the beauty of local myths and legends – happily lecturing on them as he whittled away; drawing life from within the wood. He’d also chat with his visitors; asking favorite animals, names, all sorts of things to uniquely design something off the cuff if inspired. If he wasn’t telling a myth or legend relating to whatever he was doing, he was sharing stories of his own life – how he’s been carving since the 1960’s, things he’s heard from his neighbors, or things relating to family names. And it’s worth noting he never slowed down or paused in what he was doing – no, Mr. Quirke kept up the pace in quick wit and quick hands alike, dazzling all who came to see him.

IMG_6632

Then it was a lovely day to ourselves out on the town – at free range, I swung into a café and had a nice soup, then strolled around looking for little things to bring home, a few small things for myself, but most of all, new experiences [and of course, photo opportunities]. There wasn’t a place I felt unwelcome and at every corner, something new and interesting would catch my eye. Musicians kept to the street corners and overhangs – I caught a fiddle and a guitar on my way around town, but I’m sure there were even more in different parts. I spent time in a shop chatting with a local artist who makes wonderful jewelry – and instead of just leaving it at that, she wanted to know what I was up to. When she heard I was into photography and art, she delightedly showed me upstairs to a gallery with an amazing exhibit! What I liked best about the whole experience is that Sligo is a constantly moving little town that teems with energy, but never feels overly busy or crowded. A really nice visit, with beautiful weather to enjoy it in, no less.

 

IMG_6675

It was history and nature after that – we stopped by a historical site of sobering importance that deserves its own moment in time and silent reflection. It felt rather like paying respect to the country’s history; acknowledging that the Ireland we know today was not the Ireland of yesterday – of occupation and destitution. There’s a real sense of thankfulness upon exiting this particular area – walking back out into nature on a hike Senan guided us on. Just up to a fairy circle in the sunshine; more grateful and humbler than before, I’d wager.

IMG_6704

It was not my only hike of the night, however – no, we got to experience something my good friend Geraldine had been suggesting the Wild Westies experience for a good while now: the Fairy Glen.IMG_6749

Another one of those “blink and you’ll miss it” sites; this particular glen takes a bit of a walk out to – along a narrow path through the woods whose trees twine and twist in the most impish of ways. Tunnels of emerald and lime spiral around whoever dares travel up to the glen, and golden light filters through the dense leaves above to shower the ground with sparkling rays.

Entering a perfectly-even chasm of stone cloaked in ivy; looking up at stacked ferns surrounding a fresh, open space of damp and cool twinkling in the fading afternoon sun was…unlike anything I had ever experienced before. It was the utterly peaceful moment of silence that comes before diving into a swimming pool meets the adrenaline of the start of a race…and yet, it was tranquil. There was nothing but the wind to breathe life into the limbs of trees and sunlight to shift the shadows on the ground. It’s easy to imagine being watched by elfin faces between the boughs – the burbling of streams is silvery laughter and the rustling of leaves is an ethereal being passing by on a wisp of mist. A surreal renaissance painting come to life – or rococo, considering…

g2There was a swing there, too – you might be familiar with Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s “The Swing” painting? The one with the girl in the fancy dress whose shoe is flying off as she swings back and forth? It was a bit like that, albeit I was less fancy, my shoe did not fly off, and I looked a bit less graceful, no doubt. But it felt incredible to simply sway and become a part of the swaying of the forest.

For Geraldine to go out of her way to take us somewhere she said we simply had to see (she was right, of course) is something I’ll always be grateful for. To simply sit, be, and chat when we felt like it was enough – the glen in all its glistening beauty was the perfect end to an extraordinary day of learning, feeling, thinking, and reflecting. Most of all, simply allowing oneself to be – in a busy day and age like ours, time to just exist is now considered a valuable luxury.

Also, I continue to be amazed by the way the entire country seems to open its arms and show people around – the towns local people love and take pride in, history lovingly preserved, and nature respected & accepted as a part of life worth knowing. Today was a day worth experiencing fully – and I am so very happy I did so as a Wild Westie.

Until next time, see you on the other side of the rainbow.

IMG_6736

Sam Fishkind

Wild West Irish Tours

Social Media Manager & Scribe