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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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Sam Fishkind

Wild West Irish Tours

Social Media Manager & Scribe

Back at it again with day two of a Wild West Irish Tour’s brief coverage for you all!

Today began with plenty of food, laughter, and caffeine – everything at the B & B is provided; you’re never left wanting for anything. Geraldine made sure we had fuel in our tanks before we set out on our adventures for the day: learning a bit about the man who made the Land of Heart’s Desire more visible, a roam around an old-world castle, a sweeping adventure across a silvery lake, a trip to a cozy tea room, and a great fanfare of local pub music that outdid anything I’d heard before…

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We began by visiting the grave of the one and only W.B. Yeats in a beautiful cemetery under the watchful eye of a familiar mountain. As you can see, Yeats himself seems to emulate the ‘great things in simple places’ motif – his desire to be memorialized without grandeur is evident here.

It was a strange joy; finding out a bit about his life from David; one of our capable driver-guides. I learned much from him about Yeats that I hadn’t been able to pick up from my studies, and everyone was enraptured with the way he told a story. Some of us broke off after a brief chat about the poet in question with the simple headstone to explore the church grounds – looking at said church’s interior, admiring the tall crosses, or simply breathing in the fresh air before we moved on to our next big adventure…

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Which happened to be the magnificent castle.

It was constructed; originally, in the 17th century – some of the old stone work from a structure prior is still visible to the eye, along with many fascinating details of varying eras. Rolling up to it is impressive enough as-is, considering its significant size and the way the castle drops off into a grand overview of the enormous lake beside it. The guides IMG_6074inside were friendly; funny, attentive, and eager for questions as the Wild Westies explored the places prestigious families would’ve made their dwellings in, admired woodwork remastered by means of its original craftsmanship, and found out the real use for a moat in this particular Irish abode…

An interesting highlight here is that during one of our presentations David decided to go test out the acoustics upstairs in the former banquet hall of the castle on a whim. It was something so authentically miraculous to hear beautiful music whilst waiting for the next presentation to start downstairs – a haunting lilt that filled the halls with something of another time. It was as if the castle had come briefly back to life; though it still thrives with the care and attentiveness of its guides and teachers; as well as consistent efforts in historically-accurate restoration. Altogether it was yet again a fabulous emphasis on people vs. area – not against one another, but feeding into one another in terms of culture, preservation, and enthusiastic willingness to share their history [and selves] with others.

We followed our “pied piper” and Senan [our other capable, informative driver] then out toward the lake to board a ship manned by a one umistakably famous Captain George – as blustery in words as the gusts on the lough today; but much warmer and more welcoming. Tina; first mate [and captain’s wife!] kindly served us tea upon entry to the wonderful little vessel – a nice surprise to enjoy while we set sail on the most majestic mirror of freshwater that shone under a briefly-platinum sky.

The sun did come out to play, however – dancing across the glistening waves that lapped the edges of the boat, guiding us on toward places that held homes in the heart of Yeats’ stories & poems as well as local legend and history. Captain George got us all reciting poetry with him;  narrating our adventure with lively music and conversation, which made the journey seem timeless and grand. Towering trees – “forty shades of green,” the good Captain pointed out to all of us – lined the hills that dropped and rolled toward the lough’s surface. Standing on the deck to survey all that could be seen, breathing in that dewy air – I could not possibly recommend a more refreshing thing to experience fully.

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We swung into a tea room for lunch after disembarking; cozily snuggled into a historical local tavern – their tea menu was varied, and let me just say, you can never have too much tea…especially in Ireland. For those keeping score; I had a delightful Turkish apple-pineapple tea that required nothing but itself to be enjoyed. It was a perfect pick-me-up for the walk to follow –

 

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A walk that followed a roaring river and emerald woods up to a magnificent abbey that overlooked the land from its seat in the sun. Windows long vacant became frames for the puffy white clouds and cerulean sky; while Senan took the time to explain a few details of the abbey – from carvings of St. Francis to the grave of a priest people went to for blessings; their ailments allegedly abated by spoonfuls of said priest’s grave dirt – there’s a whole method to it, but you’ll have to come here and have a local tell you the details. I’d hate to get it wrong and lead you all astray….

 

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Which brings me back to the “pied piper” motif, actually – albeit this time, we were led to a most marvelous little pub in town that held jam sessions every so often. We were fortunate enough to squeeze in before the crowds, gathering around to hear fiddles, concertinas, guitars, and of course, another tin whistle – met with cheers, whoops, hollers, claps, and the thumping of feet against the floor. Everyone came alive when the music came out – several Wild Westies enjoyed fresh beer on tap from a friendly barkeeper. It seemed only a matter of time before a few of us were to jump up and dance – luckily, we spared the locals…for now.

Though I’ve no doubt they would’ve joined in with the dancing, actually – the energy was up and spirits high. Music, one of a few universal languages, was spoken loudly and joyously tonight. And we; the Wild Westies, were eager to listen.

 

All in all, it was a lovely action-packed day of melodies in every form that drew us together – a thread tugging many threads as one, stitching into creation a magnificent tapestry of wonderful sound and a thoroughly genuine experience.

Tomorrow we’re back at it again with more surprises in store for you yet – stay tuned for the next installment of our exciting times in the Wild West of Ireland!

Until then,

Sam Fishkind

Wild West Irish Tours

Social Media Manager & Scribe

Hello all! Hope you’re enjoying your July thus far. I know it’s early, but it never hurts to start the month off strong & positive.

As an Irish-American company; Wild West Irish Tours has roots in different places – Virginia, Ireland, and the many areas of the world our adventurers come from to join us on our quests (just this year we had Canadian, UK, and Australian visitors!). In celebrating a legacy of independence and immigration this past 4th of July, we thought it might be nice to discuss what the journey means to those who go to Ireland not out of lineage or genealogy, but from the perspective of an “outsider” – though nobody is really an outsider if they’re traveling with us.

Many of our visitors have come to Ireland to experience the history; folklore, traditions, culture, and beauty of the region. There really is no place like Ireland; and no people like Eire’s own. And, as we have highlighted before, the friendliness and openness of the Irish are but a few of their many positive traits – no one ends up feeling left out, and the welcoming atmosphere is pleasantly continuous.

 

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Randy & David Kurjan

Often, our guests leave a distinct impression on us – David and Randy Kurjan; Wild Westies from the South Carolina area, are but a few. Not necessarily Irish themselves; they possess a deep love and enthusiasm for Ireland that propelled them to explore it with us! Randy was kind enough to answer a few of our probing questions about her experience – from how her husband David got to see where his favorite film, The Quiet Man, took place, to Randy’s personal feelings regarding the overall journey.

“David and I never felt like outsiders when we were in Ireland!” exclaims Randy. “It was, in an odd way, like coming home. The closest we have ever come to that feeling was when we went to Israel (we are Jewish).” Many have described visiting Ireland as a “homecoming” feeling – but it seems even those without personal ties to Ireland in the familial sense can find that feeling as well.

“Even though we are not even the tiniest bit Irish (though we are ‘wannabes’ in terms of ancestry),” Randy says, “it just felt right. We  were beautifully cared for by so many kind people, from Michael [Waugh], to our hosts at the B&Bs, to shopkeepers why took the time to chat, to the lovely person at the farm market stand who went home to get an alarm clock for one of our group who had forgotten theirs back in the States, couldn’t find one in a local store and wanted to get up in time for Church!”

When asked about what she enjoyed most about her trip, Randy found it difficult to pinpoint the best parts of her journey.

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Photograph by David Kurjan.

“It’s hard to decide my favorite aspects,” says Randy. “The beauty of the country, the warmth of the people, the great music, lyrical poetry and the fascinating history and culture… From start to finish, our experience was like a dream.” On why they wanted to go to Ireland, Randy states,

“We went to Ireland for several reasons. It was definitely a ‘bucket list’ item for my husband, David – one of his all time favorite movies is The Quiet Man, and he wanted to see Ireland, especially the locations shown in the movie.” She adds, “I’m a romantic, so for me, it was seeing the land that inspired the beautiful, lyrical poetry of Yeats and John O’Donohue. David is a photographer, by avocation, and wanted to capture the beauty of the Emerald Isle.”

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Photograph by David Kurjan

There was also a lot of pleasantries exchanged between the others on the tour: “We got to know our trip-mates,” Randy says. “We really bonded. Though we were all different, we just clicked. From then on, one experience was even better than the one before. The countryside was beautiful…just as we imagined! Green rolling hills; so many sheep and flowers. We also really loved all of our accommodations. Our hosts were so warm and hospitable – so many stories! Delicious food! Elderberry cordial one night in the parlor, scones and oatmeal for breakfast…I think I ate my weight in salmon and wonderful tea! We had so many adventures.”

 

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Photograph by David Kurjan.

Some of those adventures included learning “so much about Ireland-history, culture, geography and architecture”. “There were terrific guides and speakers to inform our experiences,” Randy remarks. “Our boat ride was exhilarating, the music got our feet tapping and the poetry touched our heart…The people we met along the way were so warm! I could go on and on…”

 

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Photograph by David Kurjan

And that’s what we always set out to do – whether you’re redheaded and freckly with lineage through one of Ireland’s many clans, or just a visitor who’s interested in migrating to a foreign world of fantastical stories and rolling countryside, there is a place for you with us at Wild West Irish Tours, and a place for you in Ireland besides.

 

  In conclusion: no, you don’t have to have any direct ties to Ireland to seek her out. It’s as simple as enjoying her films; her poetry, her people, and majesty. It’s the pilgrim soul; the desire to travel, and the enthusiasm to get you there.

                In regards to whether or not she’d go back, Randy was quick to say “absolutely – in a heartbeat.”

                           Follow your hearts to a homecoming in Ireland – all are welcome without question.

Until next time, be well!

-Sam Fishkind

Wild West Irish Tours Chief Scribe

                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