An Irish Spirit in Hazelwood

First and foremost – go raibh to everyone who participated in our first post! You’ve all been a huge boon in kicking us off. The wind beneath our wings. The fire in our hearts.

Many of you had the same (or similar) things to say about Ireland – how much your spirits feel called there; how those who have gone can’t wait to return…and above all was the feeling that the people of Ireland are what make the country so extraordinary.

Westie (the cunning nickname for someone affiliated with Wild West Irish Tours) Deana had this to say about her personal experiences: “Everywhere we ventured, an almost palpable warmth emanated from the people of Ireland. Twinkling eyes, the lilt in their voices, such a willingness to be hospitable; to welcome us to their beautiful and beloved country, answer our many questions, share their stories, songs and humor…”

Friendliness, openness, a willingness to engage with others? Sounds like a magical experience to some in this day and age. And none is perhaps more magical than one individual who, quite arguably, embodies the concept of “twinkling eyes” and the sharing of stories…along with everything else.

mq1.png

Pictured: Westie Steve H. with Michael. Photo by Martin B.

 

Sligo’s very own mystic with a chisel, Michael Quirke, is notorious with the Wild Westies (and many others) for being an exceptional craftsman. This of course refers not only to his ability to carve wood as if it were butter and his chisel a hot knife; but also in part to his swift, witty, and informative storytelling.

Allow me to set the scene for you: it’s a soft and rainy day in the side streets of Sligo. The wind’s picked up and you’re looking for somewhere interesting; somewhere different to duck into to catch your breath. Or perhaps you’re with your band of Westies, blowing in out of the brisk weather and onto your next adventure.

Thus find yourself introduced to a shop not unlike something out of a legend: wall to wall with wondrous carvings and flaked with wood-shavings, the interior smells sweet, and dusty in an inoffensive way. The wide window overlooking the daily hubbub of the city lets in enough light to illuminate handsomely-made faces and elaborate engravings. A bucket nearby humbly states “Donations for the Artist’s Poor Wife”, implying you’ve entered the domain of someone with a sense of humor. That’s only putting it mildly, however.

Enter then Michael Quirke – an honest face weathered, yet somehow still youthful. Blue eyes bright with the promise of excitement to come address those who enter his shop with a smile the rest of him matches. With a light voice and hands so capable of spellbinding art after many years at it, he greets his guests and gets to it.

18118428_1289310431185276_1661641051394963967_n

Photo by Wild Westie Nancy S.

Agile and sprightly, he moves from project to project; leapfrogging between creating, say, a headboard for a young couple to be wedded, a statue of a Celtic deity, and, most infamously, displaying his skills firsthand for those kind enough to drop by on a tour.

Mary Jane (another Westie) had the pleasure of spending time with Michael during her trip – and found that after a warm salutation, Mr. Quirke didn’t hesitate to individualize little gifts for her and her fellow Westies. While working, Michael chatted with his visitors and connected with each on a personal level: asking their connections to Ireland and tying in family histories.

“His knowledge of the Sullivan family was amazing,” Mary Jane says. “He was digging out books and recommending I read this and that…he was a jewel of the trip, so warm and sharing…even telling us quite a bit about himself and his family.” The “wisdom and wit” Westie Nancy experienced when spending time with Michael is reflected in her salmon carving – salmon being infamous for eating the “hazelnuts of wisdom” in Irish folklore. Westie Mel keeps another statue representative of wisdom on her coffee table to admire daily, while Westie Piper has an otter and infamous Knocknarea to remember the special occasion she met Mr. Quirke.

Intricately carved into everything Michael Quirke does is a fundamental feeling of Something More – warmth; hospitality, and a foundational experience for those who are looking for an example of what the Irish spirit truly is. It can be found in strong hands and even stronger humor as much as it can be found in stories shared both verbally & through the crafting of fine wood.

Michael keeps company reflective of his charitable spirit as well – Debbie; another Westie, had an equally unique experience with the artist. She stopped by to find him with his friend, Malachi Quinn, a local poet, and each welcomed her into their conversation without a moment’s hesitation. According to Debbie, their stories were priceless.

“Malachi was writing a poem, and when he found out I write poetry too, he signed it and presented it to me,” Debbie says. “I was so touched.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There is a profound generosity and resilience to be found in the Irish spirit. I think it’s safe to say that in coming back around to it, the “soul of the Irish” and the people of Ireland are one and the same. To be open and welcoming; friendly and inquisitive, humorous and engaging are all aspects confirmed several times over by those who have experienced a connection to Ireland. Michael Quirke’s dedication to his art and people who come to experience said art is unparalleled. He and what he does are both so indicative of Irish hospitality – welcoming in strangers, inviting them to share their stories with him, and, in turn, sharing stories and time with them likewise. As Yeats once said, and is perhaps applicable here, “think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people”.

There is also something to be said of the authenticity in Ireland’s magic – that it can be found in Éire’s people, the stories they share, and the connections they make with others.

So please keep sharing YOUR stories! There’s a reason we’re all here. Celebrate that Irish spirit any way you can – make connections, be hospitable, adventurous, and open. You never know where it might take you.

Until next time, may the road rise to meet you on your journey!

– Sam Fishkind

[Note: last names were left out for privacy purposes.]

The Best & the West of Us: An Introduction!

From bountiful emerald hills to wild Atlantic coastlines, the Land of Heart’s Desire resides in Ireland’s wild west.

Image may contain: ocean, sky, cloud, outdoor, nature and water

Why Western Ireland; specifically? One need only look at the vast beauty laid out in a tapestry of watercolor hues further spread by soft rains to know that most of, if not all of, Ireland is worth the adventure of a lifetime. But here at Wild West Irish Tours, we believe the journey begins where houses peek out of craggy hillsides; caves gape in awe at the cloudy skies above, painted sheep decorate the necks of the great green goddess like so many jewels, and the ocean is but a salty breath away in every direction.

 

Whether you’re looking for peace, excitement, sentiment, or fulfilment, Ireland’s West has something for everyone. Needless to say, the wilderness and wildness [two separate entities; mind] of Western Ireland are each unmistakable.

 

Places such as the Clare-Connemara area harbor impressive mountains defiant of their respective landscape alongside lakes that reflect the sky above. Along the coast, secluded beaches and holy wells offer serenity unparalleled in the modern world. The hubbub of all things dies away to allow the traveler to become, in a way, their most complete self. Without obligation or expectation other than to one’s individual person, freedom and peace are more than possible: they’re almost guaranteed.

 

In small groups meant for intimacy and approachability, Wild West Irish Tours endeavors to make each experience of this mystical, invigorating world memorable and unique. Adaptable and surprising, each tour is unlike the other: no two events are ever the same – and that’s a good thing. As changeable as the coast and as steadfast as the mountains, the Wild West expeditions promise a fundamental experience for the human spirit – a connection to the world of Ireland that is remarkably unforgettable. We’d love for you to start your sojourn with us.

 

There is nothing quite like a new beginning. Which brings us now to the points of interest we’d like YOU; our audience, Westies and newcomers, to get involved in! As the tour season kicks off with triumphant return; heralding what’s sure to be a most exciting year for all of us here at Wild West Irish Tours, we’d like to hear what you want us to cover in our new journey through this journal.

 

What we’d like to do is make this blog a resource for those thinking about going to Ireland for the first time – and for those returning! What’re some of the most important things a traveler should know? What exciting facts about the area of Western Ireland should take the spotlight? What do people want to know about this region of Ireland? And of course: what makes Wild West Irish Tours different from everybody else out there? Not that we’re here to compare – we know who we are as people, and what we’d like others to experience when taking a journey with us.

 

If you could please take some time to reflect on these questions and respond accordingly, we would be delighted to share some highlighted replies for future enlightenment. Every thought counts, so please don’t hesitate to share! Tell us what you want us to know…

 

  1. What do you like most about Ireland?
  2. What is your personal connection to Ireland?
  3. What are some topics you’d like to see us cover?

Image may contain: sky, cloud, outdoor and nature

Go raibh, Westies & friends!

We’re delighted to have you with us on this eve of Celtic Summer; approaching the beginning of a brand new day…

–Sam Fishkind