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

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

Today’s adventure takes place in yesteryear, now, and the future – for what we experienced today will come with us tomorrow…in the best possible way!

The groups of Wild Westies set out today to visit the one and only Michael Roberts; a local anthropologist whose insight into the Wild West of Ireland is without end. We were fortunate enough to steal him away for the day to guide us around his areas of expertise – and he did so with enthusiasm; narrating our adventures with a voice of quiet passion & deep resonance.

IMG_6497.JPG

When it comes to making anthropological connections, Michael is the person to listen to – gathering with him around the sites of megalithic tombs in the area [an area he grew up in, knows well, and loves] was a mesmerizing experience. No one else in the world; I feel, could bring the dead back to life with the poignancy and courtesy Michael Roberts has. He has, as one Wild Westie put it, “a story for everything” – but it never feels like he’s even thinking about what he’s saying. He’s thoughtful, it just happens to be that his words flow like water, a delightful and refreshing stream of concise consciousness made myth, then made word.

IMG_6514.JPG

We got to walk around this incredible old-world site while Michael drew connections between Ireland’s ancient past with that of Egypt’s and Native American culture – things people might seldom connect came together with absolute clarity. He focused majorly on old Irish legends, however – there were so many Celtic myths in particular that explained the natural formations of the Irish countryside; such as how the “Mother” figure of Ireland presented itself in various forms; why there was a shadow on a nearby mountain, and the origin story of the megalithic site itself [a ‘hag’ happened to drop a bunch of stones in a fit of surprise, but that’s really a legend I leave up to Michael to tell – you’ve got to hear him speak at least once in your life].

Everyone was enraptured by Michael – hanging onto every word he had to say; from his wider anthropological take on the folklore in the area to his stories of boyhood. He spent his youth exploring everything this green corner of the world had to offer – his heart thrives here, and it shows in the way he encourages people to ask questions, embrace the region’s heritage, and earnestly shares whatever information he has [it’s a lot; for those keeping score] with anyone he feels might be interested.

IMG_6541.JPG

Michael is all about the human connection to the earth and to each other. After a lunch with further discussion [plus delicious food], he took us to a nearby holy well; one of beautiful statues, stations of the cross, and a magnificent rag tree. Water flowed throughout the site, filling the air with the music of movement that cascaded toward the sea. Rustling leaves and hushed voices were all that filled the glen of emerald and Kelly hues. Before entering, Michael told us about the spiritual properties of one aspect of the well with an interesting illumination: that sometimes just the act of doing something to counteract a predicament [an ailment; mental, physical, spiritual, etc.] could be enough to help it. It helps a person feel less stagnant, at any rate. Like a placebo, to place oneself in an area of healing with intention to help oneself is sometimes a kick-start toward recovery – just because you’re finally able to do something to help yourself.

IMG_6603.JPG

After that, it was off to one of Michael’s favorite places growing up – a magnificent forest sanctuary around the lough we’d traveled on earlier in the week. Apparently he used to swim the length of it – something mad like nine miles across. He and his friends also caught their own game and cooked it out there; climbed the mighty stone in the heart of the woods, and got up to all sorts of mischief. This, he said, was his playground in his youth. And one could see why, with plenty of places to run and so much to see. He told us to take time to soak it in, and it was a beautiful contemplative walk in the shimmering woods; hearing the lapping of the lake waters against the shore, scanning the silvery surface for signs of life, and breathing deeply the scent of earth and pine…

IMG_6590.JPG

It was a reminder for man to reconnect with nature.

We had to split from Michael then; my group of Wild Westies and I, for it was off to the sea for a seaweed bath at a local spa.

21740290_10155468475761885_1266647936976892748_n.jpg It was a bit surreal to go from the rambling woods and sloshing lough to the steam rooms and tiled floors of the spa – but it was also somehow so inadvertently right, to lay down and submerge in nature as caught by man, rising to hear the sound of the ocean just outside the window. To sit in quiet meditation again and allow nature to soak into one’s skin was appropriate with the themes of the day. A ritual, if nothing else, to center oneself and perform an act of healing.

It’s as important for one to be an individual as one is a part of a community, and vice-versa – talking with one another today and sharing the experience of reflective silence in the forest was a really harmonious balance. With Michael spinning his stories and weaving us in, the threads of the day came together with simple magnificence.

Community, conversation, connection, and celebrating a history of nature and man culminated in David entertaining us back at one of the B & Bs with wonderful music – on three separate instruments, no less. Irish traditionals centuries old filled the air on tin whistle, harp, and guitar – David was even kind enough to sing for us [quite nicely, I might add], and the whole experience of an admiring group of colleagues communicating on several levels felt so genuine. That belonging feeling returned; giving us a sense of ‘home’. Residual memory, perhaps, from ancestral times.

Altogether, today felt like something out of a dream – I was walking among ancient tombs, then a well that’s been visited for thousands of years, then treated myself to a wonderful spa followed by private music and more stories. I simply want to curl up with Michael Roberts’ book, and relive the stories I heard today – to keep the history of Ireland; her legends and lore, and all the nature I can carry with me alive in my heart.

Until next time folks, 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…

21433011_10155463408891885_8915195365426069784_n.jpg

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…

IMG_6083.JPG

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.

IMG_6105.JPG

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 –

 

IMG_6148

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….

 

IMG_6174

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.

21433011_10155459404021885_788495869775839134_n.jpg

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 –

IMG_5975

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.

IMG_6016.JPG

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.

IMG_5985.JPG

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

 

12717720_1088069491213096_3851526196365284285_n.jpg

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening! Wherever you’re tuning in from, we hope you’re having a lovely time.

The post this week is a little personal as this writer is headed back across the Atlantic to the Wild West of Ireland again for a second round with Wild West Irish Tours. It’s a big deal! I’m very excited. Almost everything is ready to go…the packing situation, however, could always do with some fine-tuning.

21231800_10155446896686885_5386894380474756335_n
The blogger. Photograph by Wild Westie Debbie Walker-Spies

 

 

The first time I went to Ireland on a Wild West Irish Tour, I had no idea what to bring with me – other than the suggested layered clothes, adapter, and passport. Oh, and a loofah. Those seemed to be the essentials – but I also grievously over-packed and was left with a suitcase larger than myself and an enormous backpack to haul around. Too much junk that wasn’t needed – being a worrier, typically, I doubled up on just about everything. For someone who typically tries to take up as little space as possible, this wasn’t ideal.

So this time I’m packing with one of our mottos in mind: expect great things in simple places. Recently I’ve been learning to roll my clothes for more economic options spacing. I found my long-lost windbreaker, and doubled up only on the socks I typically pack. But I also turned to the Wild Westies for some assistance in case I missed anything this time – and to avoid the sin of over-packing.

 

16463017_1378439925509383_18535908017230903_o
Geraldine – to the far right in the blue vest!

The consensus from many people was the same: good shoes for hiking/walking, layered clothing, a waterproof jacket, wool socks (or at least thick ones)…Geraldine Gibbons, our friend and keeper of a splendid Irish B&B, had the additional suggestion of packing a fleece: the ideal layer, especially during the evenings. Plus you might be able to get up close and personal with a sheep or two! An “Irish uniform”, as Geraldine puts it, seems to be warm clothes that deflect the mists and gusts.

 

15966321_10210262381690412_7960177557863123329_n
Wild Westie Mary Ellen Powrie!

A couple of important outliers are a camera – and for those using their phones as cameras, Mary Ellen Powrie had the great suggestion of using a portable battery pack that could be recharged and used on the go. In her words, this meant absolutely “no worry about missing that perfect photo.” You’ll find there’s quite a few opportunities for beautiful photos in the Wild West of Ireland – and inspiration for all the arts, actually.

19113549_10211677332023286_6040514980420837759_n
Wild Westie Cynthia on an adventure!

Talented author Cynthia Owens also had the brilliant suggestion of “a notebook to record every fascinating detail of the trip.” If that isn’t just the most writerly thing you’ve ever heard…she’s right, though. It’s also nice at the end of the day to jot down your thoughts and feelings on what you’ve done so far. There’s details that come to you later, and are wonderful to share with others.

 

Some things aren’t as easy to pack as a toothbrush or sleep mask, though – the incorporeal concepts are the ones most difficult to grasp; and some have to be unseen carry-ons….or visible ones, if you feel like, as a couple Wild Westies suggested, bringing a smile with you.

And it’d be hard not to, considering where you’re going.

18556923_10210431552558011_1168462003948589969_o
Wild Westie Lynda in blue to the right!

An open mind and willingness to try are two outliers that manifest unseen – adventures are about embracing the unexpected and feeling it fully. “Willingness to try”, a thought courtesy of Wild Westie Lynda Clifford, suggests emboldening oneself and experiencing new things – whether it’s exploring an unknown glen in which fairies are rumored to dwell, horseback riding via scenic route, or simply treading where ancient Celts built monuments of sacred stone.

 

What do YOU recommend bringing with you on a trip to the Wild West of Ireland? If you have tips for travelers; please share this with some of your insight! We’d love to hear your thoughts. As they say in Gaelic, “giorraíonn beirt bóthar”, or, “two shorten the road”.

Please stay tuned for more of the upcoming journey – you’ll be seeing some exclusive insider stuff from this next adventure. I can’t wait to show you around the Wild West of Ireland from a new perspective…

                                                                                Until next time,

                                                                Sam Fishkind

                Wild West Irish Tours

                Social Media Manager & Scribe

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening! Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, perhaps you’d like to join us for another trip around the world…

Recently, a few folks have come forward to express how much Ireland reminds them of certain places close to home – how the craggy edges of the Wild West Atlantic Way emulate that of Cape Town; or how the thatched houses in the rolling emerald hills are a mirror’s image to those in Tennessee. Regardless of division of geographical areas, it’s sometimes nice to recall just how small the world can be – a pleasant echo of a home away from home exists especially in the Irish West.

On a personal level, Ireland is only my second venture out of my country of origin – and said venture echoed my earlier journey to Nova Scotia, whose varied terrain and monumental hills were paralleled by the Wild West of Ireland’s own. The miles of coastline were a constant companion in either realm – and moreover, it was comforting to know the same ocean spanned around either island as well as littoral Massachusetts, which is my actual home. Nova Scotia might’ve meant “New Scotland”; but people often link Ireland to Scotland regardless – they are, in my mind, sister regions.

claudia2
Photograph by Wild Westie Claudia Pellegrini Queiroz

Globally, Ireland is linked to many different land-forms – comparisons could also be drawn to Iceland [albeit temperately; Ireland is just a bit warmer] or even to parts of Louisiana [shout-out to the bogs!]. Typically, places with a rugged, drastic coastline, deciduous zones, and mountains or hills make the comparison to Ireland very easy –

That being said, a place you might not have considered comparing to Ireland but is worth the note?

Brazil!

                Claudia Pellegrini Queiroz, an exceptional photographer from Brazil (or, more accurately, Brasil), says she felt at home when traveling with Wild West Irish Tours in Ireland.

“Arriving in Ireland feels like a welcome home. I am Brazilian. The Irish spirit is just as musical and happy [as in Brazil].” She adds that Brazilians are friendly and welcoming – just like the Irish. Claudia herself brought that spirit with her as she embraced the scenery and people – bringing to life the many colors and emotions in the Irish landscape.

claudia1
Photograph by Wild Westie Claudia Pellegrini Queiroz – featuring Claudia herself!

“I loved the historical, anthropological, musical [aspects] and the times we were free to experience nature,” says Claudia of her time with Wild West Irish Tours. “I keep coming back. Ireland soothes me. Going to Ireland felt like a calling, and once I heard it, I felt it will be eternal.”

Brazil, being more Southern than Ireland and on the opposite side of the world, wouldn’t be someone’s first choice in comparative geography [then again, is comparative geography on anyone’s mind, usually?]. That being said, you can find a camaraderie in the way certain Irish houses emulate the vibrant colors of some Brazilian homes. The lush green landscape and coastal drama of land and sea is a heartbeat that pulses in time to Ireland’s own, especially its Wild West.

Claudia9
Photograph by Wild Westie Claudia Pellegrini Queiroz

The Rainforest and places such as the Burren in Ireland, while two very different ecosystems, are home to a considerable amount of life forms [some you might not even expect]. Each are home to famous rivers – the Shannon and the Amazon, respectively. In fact, both areas are known for their plentiful rivers! There are even trees that look similar – the Irish “palm” [Cordyline Australis, an arbor visitor from New Zealand] and the Brazilian palm [what you’d expect to see on a beautiful sandy beach]. The Gulf Stream seems to connect them, as Claudia connects with Ireland herself: warmly and with boundless enthusiasm.

Claudia7
Photograph by Wild Westie Claudia Pellegrini Queiroz

“I have been 6 times and I am looking forward to being there in September,” says Claudia. “Funny thing, the first place we went, I just laid in the ground like I belonged and had missed the land…the day before I was returning home, after 3 weeks in Ireland, I caught myself in tears. Somehow I heard a voice saying, it is ok now, you will always come back. As I have and will.”

Being connected in so many ways to each other in this world is an arguable blessing.

Ireland has, by itself, an individual brilliance about it that can make anyone feel at home – there is something for everyone here, be it the culture, the music, the people, the folklore, the history, or simply a little farm in a valley that feels like the heart of wherever you’re from –

claudia3
Photograph by Wild Westie Claudia Pellegrini Queiroz

So no matter where that is, you have a piece of home waiting for you in the Wild West of Ireland. It is a unique experience unto itself, and there is nowhere like it in the world exactly – just places within itself that feel like coming home.

                                                                                                                Until next time,

                                                                                                                Sam Fishkind

                                                                                                                Wild West Irish Tours

                                                                                                            Social Media Manager & Scribe

(All photographs in this post are taken by Claudia Pellegrini Queiroz, with our sincere gratitude!)

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.

 

randy and david
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.

12219465_10208261991089896_9142261402589668472_n
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.”

david's photo3
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.”

 

david's photo
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…”

 

12239700_10208261999010094_7953620774868755054_n
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!

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

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

025-Copy-768x569
Westie Margaret Ann & a few local friends!

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

1. Authenticity

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

18740383_10210475153208000_6999917187546422241_n
Simone; local shaman and guide to Celtic pagan traditions. Photo by Wild Westie Ron Byers.

2. Spontaneity [& Flexibility!]

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

1518368_852586351428079_5893402191240025677_o
Trish O’Donnell-Jenkins shows us how it’s done!

OR BOTH!

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

               3. What’s Seldom is Wonderful

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

13343100_10208420902054572_4342075807083696477_n
Michael Waugh & longtime friend [and Westie!] Brenda Kennedy-Hudler showing us all how to seize the moment.

                4. Expect Great Things in Simple Places

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

DSC00166.JPG
Discovering a simple, yet special place with WWIT guide Pius Murray.

                5. Imagination

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

                I wonder what it might mean to you?

11149693_942160925803954_7040047485593065218_o.jpg
Create your own story in seeing all there is to see…

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

Until next time, be well!

                                                                                                                                                                Sam Fishkind.

We’ve talked a lot about how welcoming the Irish can be – and that point holds up across the board! Between music; genuine interest in travelers abroad & their stories, hospitality and storytelling, the Irish overall have been remarkably open – especially when on a Wild West Irish Tours adventure.

It isn’t just the two-legged who tend to be curious about visitors; however – the residents of Ireland who walk on four legs instead of two are also known for their inquisitive and outgoing nature.

Here is a handful of the furry friends you might encounter on one of our tours!

 1. Herding Our Hearts

The use of the Border Collie in Ireland for livestock herding is famous – their showmanship, cunning faces, knowing personalities and beautiful bold coloring make them a true icon in the Irish countryside!

330391_277632168923503_89428166_o
These sweet creatures can herd even the wildest of adventurers…

We might even know where you can meet a few – and where you can watch them work their magic.

2. A Woolly Rainbow

10984581_921645914522122_5805907896147922280_o
Calm before the storm…

Want to get up close and personal with the creators of some of the world’s finest sweaters? These tight-knit (get it?) herds of sheep are content to roam the areas of rural Western Ireland, carrying the colors of their farmers with them – as local farmers have begun to color-code their flocks to tell them apart! As a result; all those hills of green are filled with cloudy rainbows pretty much year-round.

3. Kick Up Your Heels!

This might surprise you; but donkeys are a delightfully common part of Irish culture. Useful for plowing and farming; they’re full of sass and pep – and are incredibly capable, as they are one of the few animals able to cross bog territory without a problem. There’s so much more to them than their so-called stubbornness – mostly because, in part, they’re almost as smart as we are!

11896543_996003220419724_7941903034913072718_o
Our good friend Eppy sporting some quality WWIT gear!

4. Cow Do You Do?

Another friend you’ll likely find in places we venture out to is the cow! Might seem anticlimactic; but cows are actually a vital part of Irish culture & legend: between dairy & beef, Ireland produces some of the best in the world. Legendarily speaking; you might know the tale of Saint Brigid and her cows: how she was told by her father to go and milk the cows and ended up giving all she milked away to the poor. What happens next will shock you – but you’ll have to follow us to pastures unknown to hear the rest of the tale…

545273_488730984480286_1037564330_n
It never hurts to have more than one friend in the same place.

5. Come Horse Around!

And finally, no trip to Ireland would be complete without glimpsing an equine friend of another variety: horses have been a part of Irish history for quite a while. Several breeds originate in Ireland – the Irish Cob; for hard work as carthorses, the Irish Draught, a versatile breed for farm work, hunting, and more, the Irish Sport Horse for athleticism and showmanship, the newest Irish Warmblood (also used for equestrian ventures), and the endearing/enduring Kerry Bog Pony (a splendid family horse).

564561_643028562383860_1488984341_n
Can you guess which Irish horse breed this is?

But we cannot dismiss perhaps the most famous Irish equine of all: The Connemara Pony! Known for its calm and versatility; this horse can be ridden by just about anyone.

Of course, these aren’t ALL the animals you’ll see in Ireland – honorable mentions go to creatures such as the cheeky magpie; the graceful swan (heavily featured in the Land of Heart’s Desire!), the wandering cats, coneys (do you know that word?), and all creatures great & small.

The only way to discover them fully, of course, is to come with us: we’d be happy to make introductions with just about anyone (and indeed; anything).

Until next time!

-Sam Fishkind