Wild West Irish Tours is owned and run by Michael and Trish, two Irish-Americans with a passion for sharing their knowledge and experiences in Ireland with their guests. For over 20 years, Michael and Trish have been delighting their tour guests by taking them to some of the most spectacular places in Ireland. Recently they took some time out of their busy summer schedule to answer some questions about their tours, and now, I’m delighted to share their story with you…
Can you tell us a little about Wild West Irish Tours – how did you start out, how you’ve grown, and what motivates you to keep going?
We started after having lived in Ireland for several years, and just being hypnotized by some of the hidden places we would stumble on, or that local friends and family would bring us to. At the same time we noticed the big tour buses zipping through the northwest, and if they ever did stop, it might be at Yeat’s grave, and off they go after a few camera snaps. It always surprised us how little known our area was, and we believe it is the most beautiful and mystical place in Ireland. So we started taking friends over for a few years, including young college students, and we loved watching how they reacted to a place such as here. And that what keeps us motivated; the role we play in facilitating a special journey of some kind for so many.
From what I’ve seen and read online, your guests seem to be very happy with the experience you give them while in Ireland. What makes your tours so special?
It is as if our guests are coming home to visit friends and family they have never met. Our guests get to experience so much first hand. Nothing is “put on” or “stage Irish.” They are welcomed into the homes of the people we know and are treated like family and get an experience of a lifetime.
Can you give us a brief rundown of what your guests can expect on the first day or 2, after arriving in Ireland?
It is always different, but we like to start by bringing our small group (of no more than 6) to a neighbors farm, where Leo, whose family has lived there for generations, walks us up to ancient structures on his property, which over looks the Sligo Bay, Lissadell Bay, Benbulben, Knocknarea, and the Atlantic Ocean, and he gives us an account of things that have happened on that very place from the ice age all the way up to the “Troubles.” If the weather is good, we try to get out to Innishmurray Island, to get the whole amazing journey started.
What do you find are the reasons many people sign up for your tours? Are they interested in connecting with their ancestors or distant relatives, or have they been fascinated by some of the spectacular photos you post on Facebook and want to experience Ireland’s beauty for themselves?
We have found that nearly 50% of our past travelers do not even have Irish DNA that they know of, and yet they are drawn to our tours and of course, Ireland. I think 2 poems by Yeats covers it: The Stolen Child, where we have “Come away, O’ Human child, To the waters and the wild, With a faerie, hand in hand, For the world is more full of weeping, Than you can understand.” Consider us the hand of the faerie who is bringing people away from whatever is happening in their lives, to a place where they can have respite, peace and a lot of fun! The “Lake Isle of Innishfree” is another where we have a place that people dream of going back to, and yet they have never been there, except in their own heart.
Are your guests primarily of any particular age group?
We have had people from the age of 17 to 77!
Is there any one place, county or attraction that seems to always be a favorite among your guests?
The Faerie Glen.
You recently gave away a prize of a free trip to Ireland to a very lucky winner. It must be an amazing feeling to give somebody a prize that many can only dream about. Can you tell us a little bit about how the prize was won, and how was the trip for that lucky winner?
We were moved by Lynn, who won the trip. She had tears in her eyes when she was with us for the first time in Baltimore, and it was a privilege to see her stand in front of the sign in Castlebar, County Mayo, and say to her husband “I’m home.”
I suspect the majority of your guests make the journey from the United States, but do you get people signing up for your tours from other countries also?
We have had people from Canada and now China!
What do people on your tours love most about Ireland? The food, culture, music, people, natural beauty….
It always comes down to the people. I often hear people in the tourism industry use terms like “bed nights” and how many beds were filled, and refer to the area as “a great product.” Sligo and the people of the northwest are not products. It is a way of life that is so wonderful here. And our guests all come with their own stories, dreams and aspirations and are not considered to be anything about “bed nights.”
Many tour operators are very rigid as regards schedule and places they visit. Can you accommodate special requests of places to visit, or are your tours completely planned ahead of time?
We are as spontaneous as you can possibly get. We know the locals, and if an opportunity, like a great music session at someone’s home is going on, we jump on it. We can’t be slave to a schedule…so we don’t have one. But we are out and about for just about 12 hours each day giving our guests access to places they would never otherwise see.
What is the best way that people can reach you?
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Feature Photo: Achill Island, County Mayo, Ireland. Shared via Flickr by: IrishFireside.com