Travel 2012: Go Wild West
If Michael Waugh said to you, “How would you like to come with me to Ireland for 10 days to meet all my neighbors?” you might not jump at the chance. But the small groups who’ve traveled to Ireland’s West on Waugh’s “Wild West Irish Tours” have enjoyed every minute of his tours to his old ‘hood.
After all, one of Waugh’s neighbors is Dermot Healy, award-winning novelist, playwright and poet. They became such good friends that when Waugh took up residence in Sligo after retiring from the U.S. Coast Guard he would dog-sit for Healy when he was away.
Waugh and wife, Trish O’Donnell Jenkins, now divide their time between Virginia and Sligo, where they lead small groups—only 4-8 people—on tours of Ireland’s breathtaking west coast, including Sligo, Leitrim, Mayo and Donegal, and occasionally points south.
You’re not going to miss the best parts of Yeats Country. You can’t go to Sligo without visiting Ben Bulben, after all, and Waugh can arrange for a day of hill walking with a friend “who just likes doing it.” But Waugh also has unexpected treats in store for you.
“We pride ourselves in going places the Irish Tourist Board doesn’t know about,” says Waugh, a Bronx native whose family came from Clare and Derry.
That includes the mysterious fairy glen near Knocknarea, the burial spot of Queen Maeve. Most people make the arduous climb to the top of the cairn for the panoramic views. They don’t go to the fairy glen, because nobody but the locals knows about it. “I’ve taken many people here and they all react the same way—they become stunned and quiet,” Waugh told me when we met recently for coffee in Chestnut Hill. “I’ve had people from all faiths tells me they felt close to God or to nature. Everyone who goes there has a spiritual experience.”
He’s also pressed his friend, folklorist and author Joe McGowan, into leading tours of holy wells that are often hidden away on farms. “We have to tiptoe over the walls,” laughs Waugh. One of his groups insisted on stopping to watch a group of men tug a bullock out of a mud pit. Afterwards, the farmer invited them in for tea.
You’ll go to the local ceilis (“Not something put on for tourists”) and enjoy evenings at Ellen’s Pub with Healy and other locals who tell stories, recite poems, and punctuate the night with laughter. “We went to see Dermot at his cottage one day and when we were leaving, I noticed that one of the group wasn’t there,” recalls Waugh. “Then I see her in Dermot’s car and they’re driving to Ellen’s!”
A friend has border collies so he can arrange a live demonstration of sheepherding. And for a group he took at Halloween, he even found a local haunted house. “This house was occupied by poltergeists,” he says. “The people who own it are Protestant, but they brought in the Jesuits to say Mass for three months in a row.”
In fact, says Waugh, since his groups are so small, he can customize the tours to each individual. “What makes us work is the people,” he says. “No matter what you want to do, I can call up a friend who does it.”
Tour Dates for Wild West Irish Tours are April 19-29, May 3-13, May 17-27, June 7-17, July 5-15, July 26- August 4, August 16-26, September 2-12, September 19-29, October 4-14. The price, $1599 per person, doesn’t include airfare but covers the cost of mini-bus travel and accommodations at a family owned guest house with cottages on a scenic peninsula in West Sligo. For more information, call 571-236-9650 or email email@example.com. Go to Waugh’s website to read more about its “life-altering” vacations.