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.
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.
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.”
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.]