The tourism industry was one of many industries badly affected by the COVID pandemic. As travel restrictions begin to lift this summer, though, many people will be eager to book trips and start traveling again. On July 19, Ireland will start easing border restrictions for tourists from the United States.
The lifted restrictions came as great news for Marianne MacDonald, who has been running group trips to Ireland called Trad Tours since 1998.
“I had been on a couple of tours and I branched out from a tour I was on and took on some people in the group in a taxi to go out and do dancing in County Mayo,” MacDonald says, “and one of the couples said, ‘You know, you should really do your own tour because now we’re getting to see the real Ireland and getting to meet Irish people.”
The primary goal of these tours is to experience a connection to Ireland through the people, traditional music and dance.
This is the kind of authentic experience of Ireland that MacDonald has been providing for years with Trad Tours. MacDonald is able to give these authentic experiences because she has done a lot of traveling herself, but she has also made some unique connections.
“I travel on my own, but I also have a radio show, so I have a lot of friends in Ireland through the radio show.” says MacDonald. “That, and my coach driver is phenomenal. His name is Seamus Buckley. He’s independent. He doesn’t work for any travel company. He was assigned to me on the last tour I did for a travel company and we just hit it off. We both love the music and he knows a lot of musicians. So we both plan the tours together and we pride ourselves on going off the beaten path. We try to give people experiences that they wouldn’t get on any other tour.”
MacDonald has plenty of anecdotes from past tours. Like the time they managed to get a brand-new 54-seat coach down to a hay barn to see a ceili dance being held there. “We had to leave the coach there after we had our ceili because there were no streetlights. We had to get rides from the locals back to Ennis, and then Seamus had to go back in the morning for the coach. But these are some of the things people remember from the tours because they’re such funny and spontaneous experiences.”
One of the last Trad Tours before the pandemic was called “Haunted Ireland.” The group explored Waterford, Wexford, and Dublin while touring haunted jails and even had a costume party on Halloween. MacDonald recounted a paranormal experience while touring Leap Castle in Coolderry, County Offaly.
“I had a little minor encounter with a ghost as Seán Ryan (owner of Leap Castle and renowned Irish musician) was telling us about the little girl ghost who lives there, who is very harmless, but something brushed against my leg, and there was nobody sitting next to me.
Now, with travel restrictions in Ireland beginning to lift, MacDonald has another tour in the works for later in the year. “I have a tour planned for October 16 through 24. We’re going to Galway, Kenmare, Dingle and Malahide.” MacDonald says. “I’m calling it Back to the West—since it’s in the west of Ireland and we’re finally going back to traveling.”
Shannon Airport is shut down to incoming flights from the U.S., so the group will have to fly into Dublin and then drive west. However, this will all be worth it for the beautiful scenery, relaxed atmosphere and incredibly friendly people. MacDonald sings the praises of the small towns with lots of character. She notes that great music is always easy to come by in the west of Ireland.
For this upcoming tour, Marianne has a great lineup of local musicians, all of whom are eager to get back to performing after the pandemic shut down a lot of live music as well. MacDonald says, “We have a whole group of local musicians who will be doing an afternoon session for us in Seamus’ local pub called the Sandpit House. And that’s another experience that the tourists love because they know us there now. The locals love us when we come in because they know there’s going to be singing and dancing.”
Other musicians lined up include Ann Kirranne, Matt Keane, a group called Green Shine, and Ella Marie O’Dwyer. In Dingle, tourists can expect Éilís Kennedy and Gerry O’Beirne. These are all musicians that MacDonald plays on her radio show, “Come West Along the Road,” on WTMR AM, and all will provide a great live music experience for those who are going on the tour.
MacDonald says she is keeping this tour on the small side for safety and convenience. “I just didn’t want to take any chances. I wasn’t even sure I was going to do a tour this year up until very recently.” Because of this, there is a cap of 30 people on this upcoming tour, and there are only four seats left. MacDonald is also requiring that all participants be fully vaccinated and to have received any boosters if they are in effect in October.
This is the only Trad Tour of 2021, but if you can’t make it, you can always look forward to next year. “I will be doing a tour in March of 2022 over Saint Patrick’s Week.” Not much about the tour is set in stone yet as MacDonald still has to plan it out with Seamus in the upcoming months.If you are interested in taking a tour, the easiest way to get in touch with Marianne MacDonald is through the Trad Tours Facebook page. Visit it here.