Irish Essence Tours

Today I’m delighted to introduce you to a new Irish Tour Company, specializing in taking tourists off the beaten path, to discover a hidden Ireland. 

As you all know, I love to talk about all things Irish, especially little known, out-of-the-way places in the land of my birth. When Deborah Feery of Irish Essence Tours contacted me about her new company’s dedication to creating customized vacations, focusing on personal experiences, and fulfilling clients’ dreams, I knew this company may be a perfect match for some of my readers.

 

And so over to Deborah of Irish Essence Tours…..

 

Deborah Playing Traditional Irish Music With Her Father

Deborah Playing Traditional Irish Music With Her Father

Let me introduce myself – my name is Deborah. I’m the founder and Managing Director of Irish Essence Tours. I come from the Midlands of Ireland – County Westmeath to be exact.

The little village where I grew up, Tyrrellspass, is hugely important to me and I am so proud of my heritage.

I am Irish to the bone! Since I was a very young child, I’ve enjoyed Traditional Irish Dancing and played Traditional Irish Music. I started playing the tin-whistle at the age of 4, inspiring me to complete my degree in Traditional Irish Music and Dance at the University of Limerick.

 

So, how did I end up working in the Travel Industry?

 

Well, many years ago, I took a job working with one of the biggest Tour Operators in Ireland. During my time there, I noticed opportunities for improvement. It was apparent to me the industry needed something a little different, so I took the plunge and launched my own Company.

There are literally hundreds of companies in Ireland offering Tours of Ireland and they promise to make them ‘personal’, ‘unique’, or ‘original’, but how many of these companies can deliver on their promises?

The whole idea is a little jaded at this stage. Many of these companies are so big, they are unable to offer the level of personal attention I feel is imperative to our line of business. You receive auto-responders before you actually speak to a real person. How frustrating!

The Travel Industry in Ireland is hugely male dominated. Don’t get me wrong, I am certainly not saying that’s a negative, but a female perspective might just mix things up a little.

 

What’s Different About Irish Essence Tours?

 

Deborah Feery Of Irish Essence Tours

Deborah Feery Of Irish Essence Tours

At Irish Essence Tours I surround myself with a small, closely-knit team of people who have years of experience working in the field. I work hard to ensure I find people with my same passion for the job.  It’s important to me we don’t just see this as work– there’s more to it than just arranging a tour.

I want my team to build close working relationships with our clients, listen to their needs, and if there is anything they can do to make a trip extra special, I want them to go above and beyond, just as I would.

I put a lot of effort into sourcing new attractions and activities for our clients. I especially want to draw more tourism through the Midlands of Ireland which tends to get neglected due to its central location. The Coastal Counties of Ireland are tough to compete with and are seldom shunned in favour of the Midlands of Ireland, but I want to help people discover the magic of the Midlands.

 

Small Group Coach Tours:

 

Irish Soda BreadFor our Small Group Coach Tours, I arrange workshops in Irish soda bread making in a wonderful little Café, called The Grocery, in my local village.

We visit a charming and quaint family-owned Folk Museum just outside of Athlone, County Westmeath. The dear couple who run the Museum love to welcome our visitors; they even open at any time to accommodate our clients.

There is also a family run farm literally 15 minutes away from my home that specializes in organic produce. They conduct instructional workshops for our tour participants.  So much untapped talent!

Irish Nights are a highlight of our Small Group Coach Tours. We visit local pubs in County Westmeath. As Managing Director of Irish Essence Tours, my main tasks are administrative, but when it comes to Irish Nights I just can’t help myself but get involved.

I love to attend these nights, meet my clients and join in with the other musicians providing entertainment. Picture that scene from Titanic where Jack and Rose attend the party in Third Class and the band (Gaelic Storm) raise the roof? That was always my aim for our Irish nights and it’s now a reality.

 

Self-Drive and Private Chauffeured Tours:

 

For our Self-Drive and Private-Chauffeured tours, I ensure people are getting the best value possible in terms of attractions. I started working on a Discount Card Scheme but as we are a relatively new company, many attractions were not willing to offer much in terms of a discount until we have sent a lot of business their way.

Our remedy for this? We take the hit on the attractions that don’t offer a discount. We’ve reduced the cost of these attractions for our clients by paying a percentage of the admission. Every little bit helps when you’re traveling on a budget – right?

Irish Cliffs
As Irish Essence Tours is relatively new, one of the problems we face is people worrying if we’ll survive as a Company. Is their money safe if they book with us? Well the simple answer to that is a resounding ‘Yes!’.

We cannot become members of the I.T.O.A. just yet but we’ve prepared for this and have purchased bonding insurance. It’s important to us that people feel entirely comfortable putting their faith in us from the beginning.

 

Choosing A Name For My Company:

I’m very conscious of the Irish Experience becoming too commercialized and I really think it would be a shame to lose sight of what we are renowned for as a Country – our culture, our history, our raw, rustic magnetism, our authentic charm and gift of the gab, our friendly locals and our wonderful accommodations.

From the beginning, it was important to me the title of our Company represent what is essential to us – the essence of Ireland, the spirit, the core, the soul.

 

This truly was a trip of a lifetime for us.

I find myself looking at it and sighing, wishing we could be back there!

We couldn’t have asked for a better trip and we’re already planning our return for 2015.

The level of personal attention you devoted to every little detail will never be forgotten

– we raised many pints of Guinness to Irish Essence Tours and to you Deborah on our trip!

─ Martha & Jim Foster and Bitsy & Bob Morales, Texas

 

My Dream Is Your Perfect Vacation:

 

For me the time had come to peel back a layer on the whole Irish Tourism package and that’s what we’ve aimed for and hopefully achieved with Irish Essence Tours.

It’s my dream to arrange people’s vacations, so they don’t find the task to be a chore. Some enjoy the challenge but do not realize that as Tour Operators, we get better rates for accommodations, we know the best accommodations in Ireland, and we get better deals on attractions.

Romantic-Ireland-Private-Chauffeured

 

As a Company, we don’t slap on hefty commission charges since we don’t have a huge workforce to pay. We charge what we need to charge, but we certainly don’t believe in excessive prices. People sometimes underestimate the benefits of having a person in Ireland whom you can phone 24/7 should something go wrong. It’s insurance in itself!

So why not take a look at our website, Irish Essence Tours.

Remember we can customize any trip you like to suit your needs.

We’ll do everything we can to make this the trip of a lifetime for you.

 

A big thank you to Deborah for this very informative guest post. Wishing the Irish Essence Tours team every success with their wonderful business.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

 

Irish American Mom

 

P.S.  Irish American Mom is not affiliated with Irish Essence Tours. I hope this post promote helps Deborah spread the word about her company as she builds upon her dream of creating once-in-a-lifetime experiences for tourists to Ireland.

 

 

 

Good Friday Traditions In Ireland

Good Friday is a strange name for the day the Son of God was put to death, but it is generally believed to be derived from the term God’s Friday.  To mark Good Friday, I thought I would share some photos of Irish Celtic crosses which I took last summer, and review some old Irish traditions associated with this holy day.

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In Ireland, this day was traditionally dedicated to penance, fasting, and prayer. Some Irish Catholics fasted completely until midday. Then at noon they only broke their fast by eating a piece of dry bread washed down by three sips of cold water, each sip taken to honor the Holy Trinity.

Hot Cross Buns cooling on wire rack

For those who preferred a little less Lenten austerity, one meal and two collations (snacks) were allowed on their Good Friday menu, but fish was recommended for the main meal.  Hot cross buns could be eaten for one collation.

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In the past this was a day of rest with little or no work completed on the land.  One minor task was allowed – good luck and blessings for the summer’s crops could be attained by planting a small amount of grain or seed potatoes.

In preparation for Easter, cleaning and tidying the house and yard was permitted.

No nail could be driven on Good Friday as a mark of respect. Carpenters definitely took the day off.

No animal could be slaughtered, since shedding even a drop of blood was frowned upon.

Fishermen stayed at home with all vessels and fishing nets remaining idle on this holy day.

Good Friday was never the day scheduled for moving house or starting an important project.

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Good Friday is not an official public holiday in Ireland, but banks and pubs are closed. When I was young no pub was open on this day, but I believe in recent years a few exceptions have been made.

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Good Friday is one of the best days to visit a graveyard or holy well.  On this day it is believed holy water has curative properties.

Silence is encouraged by many older Irish people. Remaining silent between noon and 3 pm is a sign of respect for our Crucified Lord, who hung on the cross for these three hours.

Celtic Cross at Cashel

Good Friday has always been considered a good day to die. I’m not sure if any day is a good day to die, but on Good Friday the Irish believe the deceased’s soul ascends straight to heaven.

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If you happen to be a migraine sufferer today is the day to cut your hair. Our ancestors believed a good haircut would ward off headaches for the coming year.  A good toenail and finger trim was also recommended on Good Friday.  Women and girls working in the house loosened their hair, allowing it to hang down as a symbol of mourning.

Penance was practiced by remaining barefoot throughout the day.

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In years gone by there were no fancy chocolate Easter eggs to be found in Ireland. Instead, eggs laid on Good Friday were marked with a cross.  These eggs were then cooked and eaten on Easter Sunday. Also if you were in need of healthy hens, setting eggs to hatch on this day was highly recommended. 

Those born on Good Friday and baptized on Easter Sunday often possessed the gift of healing.  Boys born on Good Friday were encouraged to join the priesthood, with the expectation they would become a parish priest or a bishop.

Crucifixion Carving at Cashel, Ireland

These old Irish customs show us that in days gone by, Good Friday was not merely a day to commemorate the sorrow of Christ’s death. Through these simple, solemn customs our ancestors found a way to remember Easter’s spiritual message of ultimate hope.

 

 

Beannachtaí na Cásca Oraibh

(Easter Blessings)

Irish American Mom

The Sleeping Man Mountain Of County Donegal

Mountains throughout the world are said to resemble human form. Ireland too boasts such rock formations, and this summer we spotted the ‘Sleeping Man’ or ‘Sleeping Mummy’ of County Donegal.

With Halloween fast approaching, I thought it might be a good time to share my photos of Donegal’s ghostly hill.

The Sleeping Mummy Mountain, Co. Donegal, Ireland

“The Sleeping Man” mountain of County Donegal lies in peace overlooking the magnificent Sheephaven Bay.

If you look directly up from the pier in the photo above, you can see the silhouette of a sleeping man, where the mountains meet the sky.

The Sleeping Man Mountain, from Ards Friary, Co. Donegal, Ireland

 

Here’s a closer shot where you can clearly make out his human-like form.  I took this photo from the car park in Ard’s Friary.

My husband, being a Donegal man speaks fondly of the ‘sleeping mummy’, but I’m afraid he knows little else. I would love to learn any local legends surrounding it.

Found in the area of Donegal where the legendary Diarmuid and Gráinne were pursued relentlessly by Fionn MacCumhaill, I wonder if there is any mythological link between the great warrior of Ireland and this sleeping giant.

If any reader can shed some light on the mystery of our Donegal mummy, I would love to hear your story in the comment section.

Sleeping Ute Mountain, Utah

Sleeping Ute Mountain, Utah, USA

Image Credit

Years ago my husband and I visited Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado. From there we spied ‘Sleeping Ute Mountain’.

“We’ve got one of those in Donegal,” he pronounced.

“Ah sure, you’ve got everything in the Hills of Donegal,” I replied, with a laugh.

View from Ards Friary, Co. Donegal

It was only this summer I finally got to see, he was not kidding. They do have a sleeping man in the Hills of Donegal.

Blasket Islands, Co. Kerry

‘An Fear Marbh’ (The Dead Man), Inishtooskert, Co. Kerry

Image Credit

Another Irish landform said to resemble a reposing body is found in County Kerry.  Innishtooskert, one of the Blasket Islands, is locally referred to as ‘An Fear Marbh’ (the Dead Man in English).

Legend has it the whole island is a giant who was put to sleep by a druid in days long gone.

Beach near Ards Friar, Co. Donegal

I searched on-line to try to find more information on this Donegal hill, but found nothing. I couldn’t even find the names of the peaks forming his head, shoulders, knees and toes.

Wikipedia has a great list of world-wide rock formations that resemble human beings.  Inishtooskert is mentioned, but I’m afraid our Donegal mummy didn’t make it.

Ards Friary - Beach

And so, this Halloween, may the anonymous, ghostly hill of Donegal rest peacefully overlooking Sheephaven Bay.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

A Full Moon Over Dublin Bay

During my time in Ireland this year I have been a very lucky moon-gazer.  Our summertime night skies haven’t been blighted by typical Irish cloudy skies. I’ve been blessed to observe the full moon in all its glory casting a torchlike glow over Dublin, illuminating both sea and land. Dublin Bay by the light of the full moon is a breathtakingly beautiful sight.

 

Full Moon Over Dollymount

In typical Irish fashion myths and superstitions abound regarding the full moon. Here’s a little sampling of some of these ancient stories.

Full Moon

In centuries past, Irish people didn’t always observe a man in the moon. Instead they talked of spotting the hare in the moon who supposedly carried an egg. A lunar hare image is also prevalent in Chinese, Japanese and Mexican mythology, but I don’t know if he was an egg snatcher in those corners of the world.

In some parts of Ireland the ‘man in the moon’ is said to have once been a lazy Irish boy who was carried to the moon as punishment for his slovenly ways. His inadequate brush sweeping skills were at fault in some stories, and in other versions he failed to carry sufficient water from a well with his bucket. Whatever the poor lad was remiss in doing, he is doomed to watch the sleeping world forevermore.

Full Moon Over Dublin Bay

Now if you are a student of Irish luck and want to learn all the rules for mastering the ‘luck of the Irish’ then pay close attention to these upcoming lucky lunar lessons.

When moon gazing it’s very important to search for the moon over the appropriate shoulder. Spotting the full moon over the right shoulder is considered lucky, but bad luck is inevitable if the moon is first spotted over the left shoulder. You wouldn’t know where to look on a moonlit night.

Dublin Mountains By Moonlight

To maximize your lunar luck then a haircut is in order. You are supposedly ensured the best luck  of all by getting your tresses trimmed in the light of the full moon.

But be careful afterwards as you sleep. You are doomed to the worst luck in the world if the light of the full moon lands on your face as you rest.  Some superstitions go as far as to say you won’t even see the year out if moonlight crosses your face as you slumber. So remember to close your curtains on full moon nights.

The Dublin Smokestacks by Moonlight

Now if you are interested in looking into the future to perhaps spy a potential beau, then head outside with a mirror to examine the reflection of the full moon. Stare long and hard and you might see that special someone.  And again, don’t forget to close your curtains as you dream of your prince or princess, for fear the moonlight illuminates your smiling face.

If you have recently recovered from an illness kneel and pray facing the full moon giving voice to your gratitude for being blessed with the grace to live.  This old superstition is once again an example of how the Irish mixed old Celtic mythology with Christian beliefs.

Dublin By Moonlight

The ancient druids were supposedly great students of the heavenly bodies. They often took their oaths by referring to the powers of the sun, moon, and stars.

This ongoing influence of astral bodies on human affairs is evident in old Irish folk speech. “By the strength of the sun and moon” was a favorite old exclamation.

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If you are as confused as I am by all these lunar directions, then I think it’s best to stick to the old poem we used to say as children.

“I see the moon, and the moon sees me,

God bless the moon and God bless me:

There’s grace in the cottage and grace in the hall;

And the grace of God is over us all.”

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

 

 

Happy Lughanasadh

Happy Lughnasadh everyone.  Celebrated on the 1st of August, Lughanasadh (pronounced Loo-nah-sah)  is the third of the four ancient Celtic seasonal festivals.

Today marks the waning of summer and the beginning of autumn in Ireland. Seasons change earlier on the Emerald Isle than in North America. And today on Lughanasadh the ancient Celts celebrated the first harvest festival of the year.

Lúnasa is the modern Irish spelling for both the month of August and the festival. With my little smattering of Irish, I mistakenly believed the name was associated with the moon. As a child I used ‘luan’ as the Irish word for moon.

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Since I don’t trust my rusty brain, I decided I better double check the meaning, only to discover the more common term for moon is ‘gealach’.  Well, that got me thinking I better investigate my assumptions for Lughanasadh, and as expected I was a little off base.

The harvest moon is associated with the festivities, but the feast bears the name of the sun god Lugh.  Ancient Celtic Ireland was an agricultural community. On the first day of Lughnasadh Celtic farmers cut the first grains of the season, and families baked loaves of bread, marking the beginning of the end of summer.

Lugh, the ancient Celtic sun god, is credited with hosting the first harvest festival. His poor foster mother, Tailtiu, died from sheer exhaustion after clearing the brush and forestry from the central plains of Ireland for planting crops (another poor, over-worked Irish woman!!)

Lugh commemorated his foster mother’s sacrifice and dedication, by organizing a great feast and sporting competition. Let’s face it, he really should have just helped the poor woman clear the brush.

Over the years this harvest festival evolved into a great tribal assembly. Násad is the ancient Irish word for assembly. It became a time for making legal agreements, resolving disputes, and challenging competitors to great sporting feats.  Hand-fastings, or ancient Celtic weddings were also held on this date.

Reek Sunday Pilgrimage Croagh Patrick - © Copyright Alan James and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License.

Reek Sunday Pilgrimage Croagh Patrick – © Copyright Alan James and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License.

Image Credit

Since much of the festivities occurred at the top of mountains, climbing Ireland’s hills became associated with Lughnasadh. This tradition was Christianized over time, the most famous trek being the Reek Sunday pilrimage to the top of Croagh Patrick. Thousands of pilgrims climbed this famous Mayo mountain last Sunday.

 

And so today, when celebrations of Lughnasadh no longer

dominate Irish culture, perhaps we should just pause for a

moment, taking time to be grateful for the food on our table

and for all of our blessings.

 

Summer days are drawing to an end and evenings are beginning to grow noticeably shorter.  Lughanasadh is a time to begin reaping what has been sown, and to remember the ever turning cycle of Mother Nature.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom