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

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

Welcome to the daily updates of a Wild Westie on the Move!

Day one closes on a beautiful beginning to a Wild West Irish Tour.

What an experience it’s been – now that I’ve caught up on a little sleep and a lot of food, I can effectively [and drowsily] inform you of some of what’s transpired thus far.

First and foremost, it’s wonderful to feel as safe and surrounded by love as I do here in the Wild West of Ireland. From our drivers to Geraldine; one of our beloved B & B keepers, there’s not a moment wherein I am uneasy. Everyone is helpful as they are informative and warm. There’s not a meal that isn’t good – every bite; from full breakfasts to lunch paninis and dinner entrees (tonight I had chicken goujons – and chips!) is scrumptious. The air is fresh and smells of the wet earth and sea; and everything is without restraint – the world thrums with energy.

Secondly, our adventures today were but a taste of what’s in store for all of us on this particular grand adventure: emphasizing a particular point Wild West Irish Tours tends to focus on.

Expecting great things in simple places: breaking this down, the countryside itself in the Wild West of Ireland is teeming with stuff to do: not big bus tours; mind, but rather, finding local musicians who might be playing in a pub nearby, encountering poets in unexpected areas, or, in our case, being welcomed into the home of Kathleen Meehan, one of the most talented knitters I think I’ve ever met.

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Kathleen welcomed us into her home as if we were her own kin – tea was on, the stove was warm, and her rainbow of wares was laid out for the world to see. Crimsons, lavenders, cobalts, black wool and all were on display – some sweaters long enough to serve as dresses, others snug cardigans with perfect buttons all lined up in rows. I, having had the pleasure of greeting the wind with my baseball hat in a handshake that sent my cap flying [shout out to fellow Wild Westie Tom who retrieved my wayward hat], opted for one of Kathleen’s lovely hats – something she noted tended to go quick. I counted myself fortunate, especially when we hiked later: the cap I’d brought would’ve never kept my ears warm on the way up the mountains.

What struck me about the experience was that Kathleen was just so genuine – a woman of sharp mind, enormous talent, and big heart altogether made for feeling like family who happened to knit (albeit super-humanly well). She went out of her way for everyone, grabbing mirrors so her guests could see themselves; telling us about her trade, and even demonstrating how fast she knits at the behest of a few Wild Westies. In the heart of her cozy cottage by the sea, I felt as if I’d come home.

                It’s how I feel with Geraldine; actually, too [and did from the get-go the first time we met] – the ability to simply talk to people here is remarkable. Folks seem to want to talk; and are happy to chat about any old thing. For someone like me who communicates primarily through the written word, it’s definitely helped me come out of my shell – it’s good for the soul to have human connection no matter where you go. And important to remember in the age of digital communication and urban settlement. The country is much more open in oh, so many ways.

There’s a Gaelic saying that goes something along the lines of “,” or, “there’s no hearth like your own hearth”. I would disagree if only to amend and say that these hearths of the Wild West of Ireland do in fact feel like one’s own hearth. Rather than being a visitor; this immersive, heartfelt experience allows for one to fully embrace the sentiment of “home”. Between multiple cups of tea, laughter and conversations, it’s easy to settle in –

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Until of course, you find yourself at the top of a great height looking down into a cerulean sea; transported into another world of clashing swords on bobbing waves, the foam of which thunders against the craggy stones below. You can see the waterfalls rushing down the slick sides of great cliffs; the boom of the surf muffled only by the towering height you have between yourself and the water.

There’s the surreal addition of scaling ever higher, watching the whitecaps become white commas on the crests of the waves. The mists descend to meet you; foggy hands hauling you up slippery slopes towards the heavens. Everywhere is silver and light; and the wind nips at one’s heels to urge faster travel.

“Coming back down,” noted Virginia, another one of my Wild Westie companions, “was much faster.” She said this with the comedic timing of a trained acrobat as the mountain; with a truly Irish sense of humor, refused her foot a little on her next step (she’s perfectly fine and we laughed about it later, not to worry). The rain chased us on the way back, but that didn’t bother me – there was a little cart at the bottom of the winding road that was calling my name; and my insatiable curiosity (plus rumbly stomach) brought me to the window to ask for (not a hot chocolate as the man behind the counter sort of expected) honeycomb ice cream. It was the divine nectar of old and unnamed gods; that – enjoyed thoroughly as I hastened back to the car, refusing to be late for the next leg of the adventure.

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What’s beautiful about this next part is how people and land came together: in a cove by the sea sat a village frozen lovingly in time: preserved to its fullest, with cultural significance and historical fascination. Thatched roofs and beautiful accents of color made each little cottage unique – artifacts as old as the land itself; just about, existed within – along with everything that’d piled up in the decades to follow. A note from an Irishwoman found by Newfoundland sailors in one little house was the most recent thing I could find – a letter from a bottle from the sea back in 2004, retrieved and brought back whence it came. An endless cycle of communication exists even in houses silent save for their guests. There was also something so wholesome about how the founder of that village had striven to make something good there, and how his good lived on preserved in the land and what was built upon it.

 

On a similar subject, I must add that the minute we stepped out of the van, we saw a beautiful plaque of stonework depicting each county in Ireland (with stone from the respective counties!) – another exemplary balance of people and place. What’s taken from the land always seems to be given back in some way, shape, or form.

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The closing for today was a lovely visit back at the B & B from the even lovelier Laura Ganley of the Ganley Sisters– an enthusiastic, brilliant young lady who tells stories almost as fast (and concisely) as she dances. Between her incredible footwork and her practiced methods in movement, Laura is a free-spirited person who feels the music resonate through her very soul: someone who takes the Sean-Nós traditional dancing and gives it her own twist! She’s traveled to America with Wild West Irish Tours before – something she delights in, as dancing anywhere, she says, is her deepest passion. She’s constantly trying new things, allowing the artistry of dance to become a living language that bursts out of her so fiercely it scarcely seemed impossible to glimpse sparks beneath her heels. She was met with well-deserved thunderous applause and cheering all night long; her poise and pluck unrivaled – from reel to jig and barrel dance, she made everything seem effortless and lively.

Her presence sparked more conversations – she told us of her love of Wal-Mart when she was over in America, how her dad embarrasses her from time to time with his silly antics, and all of a sudden, it was back to Earth for all of us in the best possible way, I feel. The ethereal quality of landscape, music, dance, is grounded beautifully by the people of Ireland. These are people of the earth who live and breathe their world; especially those who live by the land and the trades they can perform. They embrace passion and meet life with zeal; with spirit. To merely sit and talk overlooking the mountains and ocean; to fully experience the moment with others, was literally great & simple. Leisure time, after all, has become quite the luxury.

Today was, in conclusion, as my friends and family back home put it, “just enough” for day one.

That being said, I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!

                                                                                                Until then,

                                                                                                Sam Fishkind

                                                                                                Wild West Irish Tours

                                                                                                Social Media Manager & Scribe