A Special Event!

Hello all! Hope you’re enjoying the beginning of your week; that Monday is treating you well, and you get out to some sunshine soon.

I just wanted to take this moment to thank you all for following us – and to introduce the special event kicking off tomorrow: the launching of the brand new, exclusive Wild West Atlantic Way Tour!

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Yep – you heard it here first (or possibly second; if you follow us elsewhere), folks – we’re gearing up to do something truly unique. Embracing our spontaneity and flexibility; we are putting out a new experience – Wild West Irish Tours had this to say regarding the launch:

Wild West Irish Tours is proud to announce a brand new tour for 2018, and we have brought in the 2017 Mayo Rose, Ms. Sandra Ganley, of the 58th Annual Rose of Tralee International Festival, to introduce you to some of the stunning places we will be exploring as well as people you might meet along the way. The Wild West Atlantic Way Tour is essentially “the best of” of places we have been visiting for years on our other 4 adventures. (the hidden, seldom seen, mystical and some well known) Enjoy the premiere of our stunning new video!

Wild West Irish Tours are proud sponsors of Mayo Rose, Sandra Ganley and are delighted that she is part of this new video and tour.

The adventure begins tomorrow with the unveiling of a truly spectacular video – being behind the scenes, I got to peek behind the curtain, and let me tell you, folks, it’s one of the most gorgeous things you’ll see all year. It embodies the Wild West of Ireland to a T – and reveals some of the dazzling places you can go on the upcoming tour(s)!

What’re you waiting for?! Please come join us tonight,  here on our website

Because there’s some special prizes in store for those who do! In spring-boarding this event with us, you could walk away with something memorable and unique…

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Come with us – dare to be wild in the Land of Heart’s Desire!

– This has been your very excited Wild West Irish Tours scribe, Sam Fishkind, signing off.

Establishing an Irish Connection

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening!

First and foremost, if you haven’t heard our big news – please give it a gander here! We have some BIG ANNOUNCEMENTS and upcoming events – some wherein you might even win a prize!

To parallel our previous post – it never hurts to have a little Irish in you when visiting Ireland, either. A genetic connection can sometimes be the springboard into a grand adventure, pursuing familial ties and exploring clan histories! It’s certainly a part of why Wild West Irish Tours does what it does – we do, after all, have roots in both Ireland and America.

Many people choose to visit their ancestral homes – former President Barack Obama himself celebrated his Irish lineage by visiting the town of Moneygall, where his great-great-great grandfather came from. The entire town of Moneygall was abuzz for years to come – and it’s no small wonder as to why.

Presidents, actors, and many others have come to Ireland seeking connections to their pasts – and Ireland is as welcoming to those with heritage there as to those without. Either way, you wind up treated like family.

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Ann and Steve DesRoches in the Wild West of Ireland

One such visitor to Ireland was Ann E. Desroches; the Cape Cod Colorful Artist. Hailing all the way from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, she went to Ireland in pursuit of something bittersweet: closure, following the passing of her mother, Betty Smith (a descendant of the O’Shaughnessy clan).

“I wanted closure with my mother’s death,” says Ann. “I needed to go over there to see where her parents (my grandparents) came from. To investigate the O’Shaughnessy’s and the Doherty’s. I got plenty on the prior – I might have to go back to learn more about the Doherty clan.” Ann grew up with a mother who celebrated Irish culture in a relatively quiet way – wearing Irish sweaters, surrounding herself with green, and tending the earth: Betty Smith had a prolific garden.

The only UNquiet thing about her was her enthusiastic love of Irish music – something Ann, surprisingly, grew up detesting!

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Ann, Steve, and the Wild Westies!

“I hated it!” Ann laughs. “My mother would play that darn music every Saturday – they had it on the radio.” There is a pause; her tone softening: “But…with time, as I grew up, it became more important – I really began to embrace my Irish heritage as an adult. Ireland was so much of her. You could’ve planted her there and she would’ve fit right in.”

 

And she would’ve had plenty of space to do so – Ann discovered the breadth and width of the O’Shaughnessy clan was far grander than she could’ve possibly imagined.

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“It’s one of the largest clans in Ireland!” Ann exclaims. “I got to hold the O’Shaughnessy banner – it was awesome! The O’Shaugnessy tour of the family castle, which Michael Waugh graciously set up for us, was one of the highlights of my life. [Michael] went out of his way to make sure I had that experience – and Rory, the tour guide there, told me all about the O’Shaugnessy clan being the BIGGEST clan in Ireland! He also mentioned that New York would have more of them than Ireland, now, after the famine.” There is a breath; wistful. “You learn so much.”

Ann also learned one of the family legends whilst over in Ireland – supposedly, there had been another O’Shaughnessy castle in the Wild West of Ireland – one wherein the men decided to go off to fight in “one of the wars – can’t remember which”, leaving the women and a few other men behind for protection. “They said they were going to attack,” Ann recalls, “and instead, they just started playing music to appease the attackers.” Needless to say…it didn’t work.

However, from history to modernity, the O’Shaughnessy clan has prevailed in size and longevity – as far back as 358 AD, in fact. “They have family reunions every May,” Ann says. “Another thing I learned while over there!” When asked if she’d return, Ann echoed Randy’s statement from our last post:

“In a heartbeat,” she says instantly. “I still have so much more I need to paint, too, as an artist –  I’ve never seen so many greens in my entire life. The beauty there amazed me.” She would reconnect with the O’Shaughnessy clan and her cousin, Kathy, who has lived in Ireland for the past 30 or so years.

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Ann’s work as the Cape Cod Colorful Artist – a scene in the Wild West of Ireland!

The fact of the matter is, genetic or not, Ireland does embrace all as family. The opportunities for connection and establishing lasting memories, finding closure, seeking peace – everything is valid when it comes to making the journey.

Any reason is welcome because you, visitor, are welcome.

Until next time,

Sam Fishkind

Chief Scribe of Wild West Irish Tours

(Our cover image this week is provided by Wild Westie Denise Foley of Irish Philadelphia, with our gratitude.)

 

 

Do You HAVE to be Irish (to Visit Ireland)?

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

A Mayo Rose in the Gardens of the Wild West of Ireland

                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

Defining the Undefinable: What IS a Wild West Irish Tour?

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening!

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

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

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Westie Margaret Ann & a few local friends!

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

1. Authenticity

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

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

2. Spontaneity [& Flexibility!]

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

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

OR BOTH!

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

               3. What’s Seldom is Wonderful

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

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

                4. Expect Great Things in Simple Places

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

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

                5. Imagination

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

                I wonder what it might mean to you?

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

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

Until next time, be well!

                                                                                                                                                                Sam Fishkind.

5 Friendly Faces You’ll Meet in Western Ireland!

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!

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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

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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!

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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…

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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).

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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

Have You Seen These Top 10 Mystery Spots of Western Ireland?

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Wild Westie artist Ann Desroches

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

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

Strandhill

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

 

5. Cromwell Couldn’t Take It: 

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

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

 

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

Do you know its name?

7. Hot Dog! What a Day:

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Till next time,

 – Sam Fishkind.

The Great Yeats

There are no strangers here;

Only friends you haven’t yet met.

Welcome back to another installment of our adventures on Wild West Irish Tours! Today, we venture a little bit out of the thicket of the philosophical and come back to a more solid and less-snarled foundation: poetry. Poetry, in a way, is a journey in and of itself – a pilgrim sometimes has to leave home to find home, as it were. And that’s just what a certain individual we’re going to discuss today did.

To enter the Land of Heart’s Desire, one cannot cross the threshold without first knowing the man who opened the door: William Butler Yeats.

Hailed as, arguably, one of the quintessential poets of all time, Yeats remains a figure in history known for his quiet passion and his melancholic, if idyllic poetry – the imagery of which is so rich and flourishing it feels as though the reader has been swept off to Western Ireland already. It paints a vivid landscape of emerald hues and blue; cloudy skies – groves of trees and rolling fields, hills without end. Each sentence flows to echo the visuals of Ireland, ups and downs equivalent in emotional metaphor as they are in the countryside. 150 or so years later, Yeats is still prominent in the Irish and global environment.

But how does Yeats figure specifically into the so-called “Land of Heart’s Desire”? For starters; we have him to thank for that very title & term – it’s a play on a play; one W.B. Yeats himself penned. It’s a play that, in short, covers the fundamental aspects of wanting something more: a yearning that perpetuates Yeats’ writing; with a running theme of escapism and the seeking of something “other”. It involves faerie and all within; the enchanting aspect of which is alive and well in Ireland today – you might recall the mention of the immovable “fairy forts” or the disapproval (and danger) that comes from the cutting of hawthorn boughs.

All this and more are topics Yeats breathed life into when writing down his thoughts – thoughts deeply intertwined with the forlorn and wonderful qualities of the land. A resident of County Sligo; Yeats is, to this day, one of the most significant figures of the area, if not the most significant. His ardor for language and his enthusiastic grasp of old Irish legends, folklore, and mythology helped preserve the intrigue for generations to come. Inclusions of characters such as the fey; or fairies, Oisin (the folklore poet of many an Irish tale), Leda (costarring Zeus as the infamous swan), Cú Chulainn (whom you might know from the defense against the armies of Queen Medb of Connacht; and similar stories) are prevalent in Yeats’ poetic efforts. His work is a tapestry of emotion and education – education less about facts and figures as much as it is the world he grew up in and explanations for the feelings within.

547514_560955877257796_46431228_n Perhaps one of the most enchanting aspects of his poetry is how the landscape evokes expression – Yeats’ “Lake Isle of Innisfree” takes place in Lough Gill. The island, one of many in the Lough, while uninhabited, possesses the spirit of what Yeats hoped to capture: a sense of longing as much as it is one of belonging.

While ensconced in his “modern” London habitat, Yeats found himself yearning for his home – the Land of Heart’s Desire; albeit less fey and more solid, but with no watered-down amount of mysticism surrounding it. The Lake Isle of Innisfree is his ode to that feeling of restlessness and nostalgia; wanting nothing more than to escape to the wilderness and leave modernity behind.

Yeats writes,

   “I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:

Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;

And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping

     slow,

Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket

     sings;

There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,

And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

 

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

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

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

I hear it in the deep heart’s core.”

                Sligo has many places like this; little nooks and crannies into which the magical creeps. It resonates in the writing of Yeats like the plucking of a guitar string or the first note of a fiddle. The calm exodus of the spirit into the land can be felt in every word, as Yeats’ search for peace in the frustrating throes of hustling, bustling cities brought him back home. Home and heart are the focus of Yeats’ work, two elements so deeply connected they can hardly be separated at all.

Once again, it’s about leaving the technology and the urbane behind for something more – to be found in nature; thriving, living off what the world has to offer – the refreshment of quiet water and the softer sounds of outdoors.

Yeats; forever proud of Ireland and her struggles, never pulled his poetic punches when it came to exploring the gravity of the Irish spirit. Pieces such as “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death”, “At Galway Races”, “The Fiddler of Dooney” and countless others reflect place names, passions, and a deep understanding of what it is to be Irish. And if poetry is too much for some, Yeats is also famous for the line, “being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy.” The duality of the Irish spirit – to rejoice in stories, landscape/scenery, company, and love whilst acknowledging the bleaker aspects of death, distance, loss, and war – is something Yeats’ work still excels at presenting.

169562_461940157159369_819289521_oOne can stand and look out over a thunderous waterfall in the middle of nowhere in Western Ireland and feel the soft embrace of mist and cloud that so often falls along with the water – a reflective moment of possibility, as the water, so representative of life, is also a harbinger of gloom in the form of fog. Perhaps walking up the steppes of the mountains with cairns might be a better example – experiencing the harsh burn of breath in one’s lungs or a twine in the legs to remind you you’re alive – but you tread, as Yeats said, on dreams and the dead, picking your way through stony paths that bring you up to the great cairns of those who’ve passed on.

Ireland, it seems, sits straddling life and death, a calm gateway upon which the words of Yeats are etched eternally – as Sligo captures the beauty of resilience and resurrection time after time, in the way the green country flourishes and never seems to forget its past. Yeats had a hand in that, too, after all – preserving stories and sentiments of Irish storytelling in his own way, making them more about the pride of Ireland and her heritage as much as their original lessons were about other things (like personal strength or respecting the land, etc.).

Further on the concept of death, Yeats’ grave rests in Sligo; closer than one might expect. It is simple, yet eloquent – a place of respite and thoughtful pondering immersed in the Irish countryside. Statues and mentions of Yeats adorn the area as a reminder of how proud Sligo was of their own, and just how much Sligo meant to the poet himself. As a “spiritual home” to Yeats; Sligo seems to call to her many visitors as a welcoming resting place for those of creative or spiritual minds. The quiet is almost peculiar to those venturing out there from big cities – a deep, settled sort of quiet that makes the world seem still. It is from this silence that ideas are raised; and the historical aspects of Ireland remain intact – even celebrated.

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Nothing is more timeless than the written word. In its many developments and formats, it is the description of human nature; the scrawl of the human soul that calls out to people from beyond the page. It’s why many find it easier to experience things through the stories and eyes of fictional beings; how magical places are escapes people seek outside of themselves and their world. In many ways, Yeats, through his writing, brought people to Ireland ahead of their time – or, quite possibly, he was their main window through which to glimpse the green and rolling hills of Connacht and beyond. Through Yeats, one could feel both the joyful and the morose; the entanglement of emotions in the Irish soul.

I encourage you readers to sit and reflect. Find a Yeats poem to enjoy today, and read it under a great green tree. If you’d rather not read, I have a little reading done for you by Irish actor Cillian Murphy, closing in Yeats’ common motif: addressing old age and the beyond as friends, as concepts to not fear, but embrace.

Come and be spirited away by the sound of softly lilting words and all there within. If you can’t make it to Sligo today, we hope you enjoyed this small trip to the Land of Heart’s Desire.

                                                                                                                                Until next time,

                                                                                                                                                                Sam Fishkind.

 

[Do YOU have a favorite Yeats poem? Please share in the comments below! If you enjoyed this post; please feel free to share it among friends. We’d love your feedback!]

Healing, Seeking, Accepting.

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening – wherever you are and whenever you are, I hope this finds you well. I invite you to relax, put your feet up, and follow me on a conceptual journey as we tackle the difficult question of:

What is a pilgrimage?

Normally, I’d launch into a discussion about where you can find one. But to me, it’s not so much a place as it is a feeling – less a physical journey and one of emotional and spiritual exploration.

In many ways, the pilgrim sites in Ireland are more a guideline for the experience of the journey, and less the epitome of the journey itself. Standing outside of shrines and churches older than anything you’ve ever seen before in the Wild West of Ireland can invoke that feeling of awe, true – but to take an Irish pilgrimage, one must be open to the possibilities of healing, seeking, and accepting.

Let’s break that down a bit: in terms of healing, the Celts were famous for their influence on the land – not because they changed it terribly much, but because they used the land in such a resourceful way that the land shaped itself to their desires, it seemed. Besides dolmen and similar structures, they also fashioned sacred sites from bubbling springs and flowing streams, creating places believed to heal and help those who came to visit them. These places were known to cure ailments such as eye conditions (though some might infer “blindness” also refers to that of the mind – to dip one’s head in the water of a certain well was said to open their mind up to new possibilities and provide pathways for enlightenment), headaches, toothaches, ankle sprains, and more.

Sacred spaces over time transferred to places such as an ancient face carved into the stone of a churchyard wall or (going back a bit in history); “fingerprints” of saints in eroding stone, or even saunas dug into the earth where heated stones and cold water could sweat out sickness or strain.

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Michael Waugh hits the ancient sauna.

There were dozens of way the land is interwoven with action, and the Irish faith in the land is something that stems all the way back to Celtic tradition – something that survives and intertwines with modern spirituality. From balancing that cyclical quality of seasonal change to sustaining life and focusing on the aspects of the Goddess (e.g., the “emerald isle” herself), to some, pilgrimage was making the journey from place to place – and having it made meaningful by discoveries of fresh water that could flush away ailments and circles of stones that could turn one’s life (and leg) around properly. Resetting oneself seems to be a motif here – or perhaps the start of something new, shedding the old. There are a lot of different ways to heal oneself to varying degrees.

A placebo effect; perhaps, to some, but there is the possibility of an inarguable amount of “residual energy” to be found in the land – the feeling of walking over something ancient, of dipping one’s hand into water that has flowed and fallen on the land for countless ages is resounding. Standing in silence and allowing the mere concept; the possibility surround oneself is vital. There is renewal in simply being, for a moment, and taking the journey that thousands upon hundreds of thousands have taken before. And now, you’ve made it your own.

It is not as though the concept of pilgrimage isn’t universal: people can come from all over to seek out something greater; that healing concept that quite literally keeps a person going. Ireland is home to many pilgrimages; the Christian aspect bringing in thousands of people per year. However, spirituality can be more universal than that – and more individual, besides. In taking steps; in seeking something, there is also a sense of motivating oneself forward: the cliché being the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step actually being rather apt here. The truth is, what one feels on the pilgrimage is what makes it what it is. Whether or not you travel in a pack, so to speak, the concept of pilgrimage infers going it alone: in the sense that it is an individual journey among the journeys of others.

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John & Donna Farrell

The most recent group of Wild Westie “pilgrims” shared their personal journeys through various creative ventures; a keen example being Westie couple John & Donna Farrell’s reflections on their journey:

“So much more than sightseeing,” John wrote, “the history, myths, legends, and connections with native people and local teachers and guides were an immersion to Ireland that exceeded our hopes and expectations.” He explains that it was a unique, Celtic spiritual “presence”, actively engaging with the experience through photographs and prose. His wife; Donna, focused more on poetry: her haikus regarding her pilgrimage resonate as someone who found what she might’ve been seeking.

the Burren’s not barren
there are flowers everywhere
each a gift for me

pay attention, girl
look carefully and closely
shalom awaits here.

Shalom, to me, is a type of acceptance. A welcoming of peace. Acceptance in the form of being open to possibility. Whether it’s walking in solitary silence through a valley flanked by mountains and famine houses or sitting by the wild Atlantic, turning a smooth stone over and over again in your hands, you have to let the experience happen. Nothing good ever came of forcing something – the pilgrimage requires the use of all of your senses. Take a moment to feel the earth under your feet. Listen either to what is being said or how the wind and water speak to you. Taste the salty brine of the sea, drink in the sight of weather-worn crosses set above places predating the origin of such symbols. Saoirse Charis-Graves; a spiritual leader of sorts for the Wild West Irish Tours, summarizes an event the Westies experienced on one of their events at the time of Samhain:

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Photo by Wild Westie Ron Byers

Guided once again by the incomparable Pius Murray (who is well-known for his pilgrimage walks), the Wild Westies traveled to a sacred site in the Burren area, where Pius demonstrated the concept of this particular well by kneeling, scooping up water in his hands, and allowing it to fall through his fingers once he’d found what he wanted to focus on: something he needed to let go of.

“This moment in our pilgrimage was profound for me,” says Saoirse. “It’s been showing up in my dreams, and has sparked in me a desire to engage in a daily practice of allowing this gesture to assist me in ‘letting go’.”

That can always be a struggle, especially nowadays. In making the voyage to Ireland; visitors embark on a pilgrimage, whether they realize it or not – an escape elsewhere, to let go of something, be it fear or work or stress…they choose to leave something behind as they go in search of something else entirely.

Overall, the pilgrimage idea seems to concentrate on quite a bit of “availability” – letting oneself become a part of the moment and the environment. There is enlightenment to be found in the smallest of ways – it won’t always be a Siddhartha-esque experience, wherein sitting under a tree for hours on end invokes a sort of ascendance from the mundane. It could easily be the simple act of picking something to let go of – to weave yarn around a branch and hurl it into a river; allowing the water to carry your troubles away. It could be giving in to supposed superstition and putting faith in a stone face to kiss your pain away. At the very least, these experiences are a part of the journey – one travelers will take with them when they leave Ireland. In many ways, a piece of the visitor will always stay behind, as is true of any journey: in coming to Ireland, you are becoming more. More aware, and hopefully, more open to possibilities, as every experience in travel is a new one.

Circling back to the idea of the journey of a thousand miles beginning with a single step, any individual who sets out with Ireland in mind is probably looking for something. It could be a genetic link; seeking relatives and history. It could be historical, in wanting to walk among the ancient sites and explore areas of stone and sensation. It could be a spiritual event; yes, in that there is something that calls a person to Eire in endless song.

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Photo by Saoirse Charis-Graves

The point is, we are all of us pilgrims, each on individual journeys that interweave across footpaths – like Pius’s Coisceim Anama, or Footstep of the Soul, it is an undertaking of the heart – to move where the universe moves you. Saoirse had more to say when I reached out to her, and she brings everything together beautifully:

I think of ‘pilgrimage’ as a journey of spirit,” says Saoirse.

“It may be a physical journey. To another land, to another country, to another place. It may be done on foot, on water, a trek across a frozen land, a road traveled by car or bus or motorcycle. It might be done alone, or it might be with a companion, known or unknown, human or not. Or with a group of people, familiar or unfamiliar.

 

It could be a retreat from one’s everyday life into a series of new places, new people, new experiences. It might be accompanied by a guide, or several guides, or no guide at all.

 

It might be done with intentions, written or unwritten, or dreams, fully-formed or half-realized, or simply a desire to journey ‘away’ from whatever ‘here’ might be.

 

One might carry totems or icons on the journey. Some might be left behind, tucked into a niche, tossed into a well, or tied to a tree branch. Some might return home with the pilgrim, or the pilgrim might carry a new totem home … something that holds the memory of the journey for the time to come.

 

A pilgrimage might mark a time of transition, from single to married, or married to single. From parenting to empty-nesting. From coupled to widowed, from addiction to freedom, from hopeful to empty.

 

A pilgrimage can be a journey of self-discovery or of penance and forgiveness or of healing. It can be religious or spiritual or both … or neither. A journey from one way of being to another.

 

A pilgrimage can be a returning … to home, to self, to sanity, to peace.

 

saoirse

Saoirse on pilgrimage.

A pilgrimage can be an opening … to joy, to amazement, to Mystery.

 

A pilgrimage can be the journey you make from the time you rise from your bed to the time you fall into sleep at the end of the day. And each rising brings the promise … or perhaps the opportunity … for a new journey.

 

May the pilgrimage you undertake this day be filled with moments of blessing.”

So what makes your pilgrimage a pilgrimage?

                We’d love to know your thoughts – let’s discuss this together.

We’ll walk a while and see where the conversation and road alike leads.

                                                                                                                                                                Until next time, travel safely!

Sam Fishkind.

The Importance of Walking with Earnest

Welcome back to the Land of Heart’s Desire!

If you recall from last time, we approached the topics of Carrowmore; brushed shoulders with Queen Maeve, and listened to the wise old stories of Dr. Michael Roberts. Today, we follow Maeve’s path to a different place – one sadly without a gentle narrator, save for the one that’s hopefully in your hearts.

Off the beaten path and so small you might just miss it is the rustic township of Strandhill.

Strandhill, occasionally an Leathros (Larass), is a beatific piece of landscape. Buffeted by the ocean and the mountains on either side, it sits on a crescent of time-worn stone and shifting sands. Thunderous cerulean seawater continuously grapples with the shore, throwing foam as it seethes and froths. The sea here is an animal; prowling between the stones, and signs advise against swimming – though, not surprisingly, waves of this capacity attract a great deal many surfers. It’s argued that Strandhill is one of the 18486122_10155098657041885_1766112559642403169_nbest, if not the best place to go surfing in Europe. Races and a guitar festival occasionally take place there, including an infamous 15k that takes participants all the way up Knocknarea – to Maeve – during its journey. Down the way (as they say), there is a thatched cottage; still operational, 200 years old and counting that is open to the public.

In terms of less modern and commercial things, we take you back to the sea. During a Wild West Irish Tour of any kind, it’s vital to check your surroundings. Not because you’re in any imminent danger, mind, but because if you don’t, you’re likely to miss something extraordinary. Upon exiting our distinguished chariot; one might take a moment to breathe in the salty air and hear the rush and thrash of wild waves. Indulge in the spray of the sea and drink in the sight of its endless passions. The coastline is a crumbling scene of silvery stones and soft white sands with a thousand and one different types of tinier rock littering the neck of the beach like jewels. Everything is anointed in a fine amount of salt – save the people; somehow, who remain warm, pleasant, and welcoming despite their stormy neighbor; the Atlantic.

A cannon is offset to face the sea; a tribute to times long ago. A rock wall barricades the beach from the rest of the town, and, strolling to the right, there is a plaque dedicated to Queen Maeve, fearsome warrior and infamous lady of legend. A Yeats poem greets the viewer in marble, etched to reflect the silvery cover of the sky:

The wind has bundled up the clouds

                High over Knocknarea,

                And thrown the thunder on the stones

                For all that Maeve can say.

                Angers that are like noisy clouds

                Have set hearts abeat;

                But we have all bent low and low

                And kissed the quiet feet of

                Cathleen, the daughter of Houlihan.

W.B. Yeats.

Anam24This is the perfect time to start on a whole new journey.

                Beware the saw-toothed grass as you pace toward the distant horizon. The winding beach trails offer all kinds of variety; opportunities to commune with nature both reflective and interactive. In the waving fronds, one can find nests of stones laid there by the ocean or passersby. Remnants of small campfires or travelers (the regular kind, we’ll get to the other sort at a later date) lay whispering their stories to the ether. Gulls circle soundless overhead and chase the leaping sea still heaving itself against the coast.

Taking the high or low road seems not to matter – each offers unique choices of landscape. Cresting the dunes and looking back over the remnants of jetties and the occasional stone house left to seed the landscape with questions of yesteryear or walking along the more enclosed places toward the spotted tree line is open for debate. Friendly folks fleck the dune trails; so a more solitary jaunt is likely found closer to the ocean.

This is Maeve’s territory; all of it. Knocknarea is close; watchful and distinct despite descending clouds. One can think of her legends; the mountain and the madam, overlooking this beautiful place of self-reflection and focus.

Maeve’s name comes from Meabh, or Meadhbh, which is said to mean “she who enchants”. Occasionally, “enchants” is swapped for “intoxicates” – and, given the stories of this powerful figure and her surrounding territories, it’s easy to see why. Some of her stories include the possession of a mighty bull who outdid her enemy-friend’s bull in a spar. She was the daughter of the king of Connacht; she had many lovers and five husbands – all of whom became kings and were “married to the land” more than they were married to her. And who wouldn’t want to be? The region is bountiful in beauty and seemingly bottomless in hidden wonders. Whether the folklore of Maeve is true or not (she would’ve existed around 50 BCE – 50 CE), she is a prominent figure whose cairn atop Knocknarea casts a shadow – less ominous than night: more a cool and shady reminder on a hot day. Or a long, but meaningful jaunt.

Further down the way, the world begins to bend around a bay – a small inlet in which locals fish beyond the rock walls and cast themselves along the more tempered waters. During this time, the sojourner might find themselves approaching a certain silhouette of ruins – different from those of the houses left behind in the tall grasses closer to the trees.

18556407_10155098657051885_939227075920152005_nLooking back at the township of Strandhill, the platinum ocean seems stiller than before. Night is beginning to fall and the senses are stirred by the gentler scene; one uninterrupted by lights or sounds other than what nature has to offer. This is another moment, one which requires utmost attention in only that one should fully immerse oneself in it: breathe deeply and enter the ruins when you are ready.

Ben Bulben and Knocknarea flank its remnants in the distance – a graveyard both in the literal and figurative sense greets you upon entry, as the uneven ground is filled with markers, stones, and crosses, each reflecting one who’s passed on, but also, in regards to the remains of the church, which still stand, but only just.

Killaspugbrone (points to you if you can say it correctly the first time) rests in pieces on the edge of the Coolera peninsula – a very Christian offset to the surrounding pre-Christian elements that come from Queen Maeve’s legends. There is a haunted resonance that comes from standing in a place as old as the church ruins – sometime around the 12th century; supposedly yet another place St. Patrick made it to. Not all of him made it out, however – as legend says, Patrick tripped on a stone (easy to do, coincidentally) and lost a tooth on the grounds. It was encased in gold and enshrined, then given to the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin – after a great game of historical “hot potato” occurred, wherein said relic was tossed around and mistreated by various parties.

In the present, one can try to read the fading stones to uncover their stories. People old as 102 are buried there; and the peace that comes from this final resting place is unparalleled. It feels safe; to walk around the toothy turf of jutting markers and sweeping grasses. There are fresh flowers laid at some of the graves, and the last person to be buried there is from the 1960’s. All in all, the experience is spiritual and fulfilling – there is a soulful triumph in walking this far to see this “reward” at the end. A walk is a fine and good thing, but seeing Something Special at the end of it just makes the whole adventure seem that much more worthwhile.

And it’s a funny thing as you start the journey back: reluctant to leave; sure, but taking this piece of magic with you. This feeling of blessedness that comes from a solitary excursion is one that is encouraged and cherished. To be alone and to walk alone is something inherently necessary: that in solitude, one can talk to oneself or simply immerse oneself in the near-silence with an important realization:

Not everyone has to be “on” all the time. This is a walk that endeavors to teach you to appreciate the “aloneness” of existence: not in the negative, but as a positive to better understand yourself and your place in the world. To be fully present and to not be giving pieces of yourself away.

This is a walk meant to bring you back to yourself.

And, feeling whole and content, the walk back to civilization is almost one wherein you want to drag your feet:

But waiting for you at the end is another chance to reflect amidst the gifts of the sea; seaweed baths steaming with natural minerals and oils waft out of a spa center, 18485680_10155098657046885_4657123355995849767_noddly modern yet strangely archaic in the best possible way. The good people of Voya await like so many maids of the sea, permitting warmth and luxury that is good for bones chilled that have gone unnoticed on the glory of a solitary stroll. Altogether, the experience is one fully good for the body and the soul.

Whether it be the wildness of the waves or the wonders of a wander, the experience is vital to all. To be yourself; by yourself, is a truly remarkable thing – rare, in this day and age, to be entirely alone. Lay back in the hot bath and feel yourself slip into the abyss of bliss that comes from a cracked window through which the song of the sea prevails; and let the ocean embrace you in its own way – be present, and accept that everything has a purpose, even if that purpose is to simply be. It comes back to what Michael Roberts suggested regarding how people lead linear lives: the water and the walk should remind one to embrace cyclical replenishment again, to move differently and experiencing life more fully. To refresh oneself; one must recycle and renew. Here at Strandhill, standing in Maeve’s shadow; her strength in legends prevailing, it actually seems possible.

Let all troubles be soaked away in seaweed; salt, or sand. Let the wind whisk your worries away. Be free in the knowledge that you are present, and let yourself be truly wild.

It’s what Queen Maeve would’ve recommended.

Probably.

Until next time,

 – Sam Fishkind