Ireland tour

The Wild West of Ireland with Phil Cousineau

The Myths, Music, and Magical Literature
of Connemara, Clare, and the Aran Islands

September 18 – 28, 2017

Tour operated in cooperation with Sacred Earth Journeys

Join storyteller Phil Cousineau on a travel adventure to the Wild West of Ireland, where Celtic folklore and Viking legends exist side by side with Christian mysticism and the finest Irish music and literature.

Modern Ireland is a place where art and poetry, legends and mysticism meet; travel with us to explore the Irish Twilight literary revival, and the genius of its music, dance, filmmaking, and crafts.

Our 2017 journey to Ireland includes excursions to Dublin, Clifden, the Aran Islands, as well as the sacred sites of Clonmacnoise, the lunar landscape of the Burren, Yeats’ Tower, Lady Gregory’s Coole Park, Tim Robinson’s Folding Landscape Art Studio, Malachy Kearns’ Bodhrán Shop, and much more. Invited speakers, contemplative nature walks, time for journaling, and lively discussions with Phil Cousineau make this a truly unforgettable tour.

Our journey will also be enriched by daily morning group discussions and augmented by guest appearances by several of Ireland’s leading authorities, including the music historian and novelist, P. J. Curtis, the Celtic mystic Dara Molloy, the founder of the Clifden Art’s Festival, Brendan Flynn, Ireland’s most famous drum maker Malachy “Bodhrán” Kearns, as well as the historian Tim Robinson and his wife Mairead, and the founder of the Letterfrack Poetry Trail, Leo Hallissey.

Your Tour Leader

Phil CousineauPhil Cousineau is a writer, teacher, editor, independent scholar, documentary filmmaker, travel leader, and storyteller. His life-long fascination with art, literature, and history of culture has taken him on many journeys around the world. He lectures frequently on a wide range of topics from mythology, film, and writing to beauty, creativity, travel, and sports. He has published over 30 nonfiction books including the international bestseller, The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred. Currently he is the host of the much-acclaimed “inner travel” television series, Global Spirit, on Link TV.

Your Itinerary

Day 1 – Monday, Sept. 18 – Arrive in Shannon; Ennis; Cliffs of Moher (B, L, D)
Arriving early morning in Shannon you will be greeted and taken by coach to the bustling market town of Ennis (from Inis Cluain Ramh Fhada, “island of the long rowing meadow”) where you will have a traditional Irish breakfast at the Old Ground Hotel, a venerable 18th century coach inn. After breakfast we will have time to wander the meandering medieval lanes of Ennis and explore its traditional Irish music shops and woollen stores. (Travel time approx. 45 mins.)

After a light lunch at Poet’s Corner pub, where W. B. Yeats and Lady Gregory used to dine, we will take a short drive to the majestic Cliffs of Moher, which rise 700 feet above the Atlantic. For many centuries, the site has been the inspiration for poets, photographers, and musicians, inspiring songs like the Wolfe Tones’ ballad about star-crossed lovers, “The Cliffs of Moher”. While looking out over the Aran Islands, Galway Bay, as well as the Twelve Pins mountain range in Connemara, we will engage in our first journaling exercise. (Travel time approx. 45 mins.)

After some traditional tea and scones at the Visitor’s Centre (at own expense) we will take you back to the Old Ground Hotel in Ennis. Here you will have the chance to refresh yourself from your long flight and prepare for our Opening Night Welcome Dinner at the hotel. Overnight in Ennis.

Day 2, Tuesday, Sept. 19 – Ennis; Yeats’ Tower; Kilmartin Gregory Museum; Lady Gregory’s Coole Park; The Burren (B, L)
Enjoy Full Irish Breakfast at The Old Ground Hotel followed by the first of our morning discussions, which will orient our time for the rest of our journey. Opening talk in the hotel conference room with P. J. Curtis, music historian and screenwriter, about the history of Irish music and what rural life was like growing up in County Clare in the 1950s. After our session we will travel to the village of Gort, where we explore Thoor Ballylee, Yeats’ Tower, the former summer home of the great Irish poet, playwright, and statesman, which inspired his long poem “The Tower.” While there we will read some of his poetry and Lady Gregory’s collected fairy tales, and then have time for a leisurely country stroll.

Afterwards, we will enjoy a private tour of the Kiltartan Gregory Museum, which chronicles local County Clare history, and then we travel to Lady Gregory’s Coole Park, where we will enjoy a brief break for tea and scones (at own expense) at the lovely café in the old carriage house. The grounds are an impressive monument to her incalculably important collecting of ancient Irish myths and legends. Coole Park was once home of Lady Augusta Gregory, dramatist, folklorist, and cofounder of the Abbey Theatre Dublin with W. B. Yeats, and, in the early 20th century, was the centre of the Irish Literary Revival. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, John Millington Synge, and Sean O’Casey all came to experience its magic. Although the house no longer stands, one can still appreciate the surroundings that drew so many here. Enjoy this afternoon at leisure to wander the magnificent grounds of Coole Park.

On our way back to Ennis we will have a brief stop in The Burren, a karstic plateau – a stony chaos to the casual observer – with a full assemblage of the curious landforms that characterize such limestone landscapes. Here we will visit the 6,000-year-old Poulnabrone megalithic tomb, engage in our daily contemplative writing exercise, and visit the highly regarded Burren Visitor’s Centre. Here we will discuss the folklore surrounding holy wells and fairy mounds, and pay tribute to the Irish mystic and poet John O’Donohue with a reading from his book of blessings. (Travel time in total today is approx. 1 hour.) Dinner at leisure this evening with optional pub crawl to experience the town’s legendary traditional music. Overnight in Ennis.

Day 3, Wednesday, Sept. 20  – Ennis; Clonmacnoise; Moydrum Castle; Athlone (B)
Enjoy Full Irish breakfast this morning followed by a discussion on the classic book, “How the Irish Saved Civilization.”  This morning’s excursion is to the enchanted ruins of Clonmacnoise, an early Christian site founded by St Ciaran in the mid 6th century. We will enter along the fifteen hundred-year-old pilgrim’s trail, with the time-burnished cobblestones still intact, to visit the three magnificent Round Towers, and its Scriptorium. There, we will have an unforgettable chance to discuss in situ “How the Irish Saved Civilization” by copying many of the great manuscripts of antiquity. The long and varied history of Clonmacnoise is recounted in an audiovisual presentation shown in the Visitor Centre. There are also exhibitions that deal with the flora, fauna, and landscape of the region.

On the way back we will make a stop outside Athlone to visit one of the most haunted ruins in all of Ireland, Moydrum Castle, which is featured on the cover of the U2 album, The Unforgettable Fire. We will then visit Athlone, an ideal regional centre and the largest town on the River Shannon standing on the boundaries of two counties, Westmeath and Roscommon, in the centre of Ireland. It is a historic town because of its strategic location and is commonly referred to as the “Gateway to the West.” Afterwards we take optional refreshments at Sean’s Bar, which dates back to 900 AD, and is regarded by some as the “Oldest Pub in Ireland,” and by others as the oldest pub in the world! (Travel time today is approximately 2 hours.) Return to Ennis for a free evening in town. Overnight in Ennis.

Day 4, Thursday, Sept. 21 – Ennis; Doolin; Aran Islands (B)
Today we travel to the quaint village of Doolin, often regarded as the music capital of Ireland, from where we will take the 10am ferry to Inishmore – a stunning journey across Galway Bay, which until recently was made only by curraghs, the traditional wood and tar boat. (Your transfer and ferry will take approximately 1 hour 30 mins.)

Arrive at Inishmore, the larger of the three Aran Islands. Here, on the very edge of Europe, is an island rich in the language, culture, and heritage of Ireland, unique in its geology and archaeology and in its long tradition of gentle hospitality. Inishmore is a place to sense the spirit of Gaelic Ireland, but with all the comforts and facilities of the present. Aran will take you back to an Ireland of Celts and Early Christians. This is an island of great peace and tranquility, but it is also an island of great fun and activity. Irish is spoken by most of the locals on the island.

Upon arrival we will take traditional horse-drawn traps across the lunar-landscaped island to the Kilmurvey House, an 18th century stone house built at the foot of the path up to Dun Aengus, the famed Iron Age fort. Dun Aengus is the most famous of several prehistoric forts on the Aran Islands. We will be met near its colossal walls by local guide and archaeologist, Padraigin Clancy, who will regale us with updated information about recent excavations and theories about life for the ancient Celts on Inis Mor. While here we will enjoy some contemplative time and write in our journals. Evening dinner in town and live traditional music at the rollicking Joe Watty’s Pub (at own expense). Overnight in Inishmore.

Day 5 – Friday, Sept. 22 – Aran Islands; Na Seacht Teampail (The Seven Churches); Bee-hive hut; Kilronan (B)
Enjoy Full Irish Breakfast at the privately owned Kilmurvey hotel followed by a discussion about the history of the islands, including a discussion about the many Irish writers who ventured out to the islands to find their literary voice, including J. W. Synge and Oscar Wilde.

Seven Churches InishmoreAfter taking tea at the local café (at own expense) we will be met by the Celtic philosopher, author, poet, and guide Dara Molloy, who has lived on the island with his family for many years. Dara will lead us on a series of pilgrimages to a 5th century “beehive hut,” the Seven Churches, and the site of St. Kiaran’s 5th century monastery. Dara will lead us in song and prayer, and we will have time for contemplation and journaling in these moody ruins.

Dinner (at own expense) then evening shuttle into town for live music and storytelling at Joe Watty’s Pub (optional). Overnight in Inishmore.

Day 6 – Sat. Sept. 23 – Inishmore; Ros a Mhil; Roundstone Folding Landscape Cultural Centre; The Wild Irish Way; Clifden (B, L)
Following Full Irish Breakfast this morning depart for the 8.15 am ferry to the southern coast of Connemara where our coach will meet us at the Ros a Mhil port to drive into the wild and rugged Connemara area. From the Twelve Bens mountain range in the north through lake-rich Roundstone Bog to the golden beaches reaching out into the Atlantic Ocean, you’ll know you’re in Connemara by the light that constantly changes the mood and tone of the landscape. Connemara has long been regarded as the “Wild West” of Ireland, which the Irish mystic-poet John O’Donohue said  “helps awaken and grace the beauty of the heart’s landscape.” By late morning we will arrive in Roundstone Village, which was featured in the 1997 romantic comedy The Matchmaker.

Enjoy lunch at O’Dowd’s, which won the James Joyce Irish Pub of the Year Award, and a personal tour of the I.D.A. Craft Centre, led by Ireland’s greatest Bodhrán or drum maker Malachy Kearns, or Malachy Bodhrán, as he is known amongst folk musicians. Malachy works at his craft of making Ireland’s oldest product, the Bodhrán (Bow-Rawn). It is an 18” one-sided drum made from goatskin treated by a traditional process. Malachy supplies the drums for Van Morrison, U2, Christy Moore, and the River Dance troupe.

Our afternoon will be spent with the eminent historian and mapmaker of the Aran Islands and Connemara, Tim Robinson, and his wife Maidrean, at their magnificent home and art gallery overlooking Roundstone harbour. With the Robinsons we will have a wide-ranging discussion about the history, sociology, art, literature, and mythology of the West of Ireland. Afterwards we will drive up the oceanside road called The Wild Atlantic Way to Clifden.

Free evening in Clifden for seafood and traditional music. (Travel time today is approximately 2 hours including the Ferry crossing.) Overnight in Clifden.

Day 7 – Sunday, Sept. 24 – Clifden Castle; Clifden Arts Festival (B)
Following your full Irish Breakfast at your hotel partake in a morning discussion on what the Irish call The Great Hunger, or The Famine, which took the lives of up to a million and led to the emigration of at least another million. Our morning will be highlighted with a guest visit by the founder of the Clifden Arts Festival, Brendan Flynn, who will welcome us and treat us to the history of the arts in the West of Ireland. We will then drive along the Sky Road to the haunting ruins of Clifden Castle, the manor home built for John D’Arcy, the founder of Clifden. 

Clifden CastleAfterwards we travel by coach 20 kilometers to Renvyle House for a one-hour play on the life and times of W. B. Yeats, in an 1883 country house hotel, restored by Oliver Gogarty, legendary poet and friend of James Joyce. There we will be greeted by the current manager Ronnie Counihan and his son Phillip, who have arranged a play for us featuring local Connemara actors, based on Yeats and his wife George, who honeymooned at the hotel in 1917.

Our evening highlight will be the final night of the Clifden Arts Festival, including the parade down Main Street and fireworks. Dinner at own expense.  Overnight in Clifden.

Day 8 – Monday, Sept. 25 – Clifden; Letterfrack; Kylemore; Strokestown Famine Museum; Dublin (B)
After a full Irish breakfast and our morning discussion we will depart Clifden in our coach bound for the village of Letterfrack (from the Irish for “The Speckled Hill”), founded by the Quakers in the 19th century to provide help for the people of Connemara during the Great Famine, and now a music and craft centre. There we will meet with Leo Hallissey, the founder of the Letterfrack Poetry Trail, which features 9 plaques containing poems by Irish poets placed on buildings around the village and environs. Leo and a local poet or two will accompany us on our morning walk along the trail. 

Lunch time visit to Kylemore Abbey. Set in the heart of the Connemara mountains is the Kylemore Abbey Estate, home of the Irish Benedictine Nuns, and the famous girl’s school which the actress Angelica Huston attended when she lived in Ireland with her filmmaker father, John Huston, in the 1960s. Visit the picturesque Abbey reception rooms, video, and exhibition and enjoy a stroll to the beautiful Neo-Gothic Church and Mausoleum where original owners are buried; browse in the Craft Shop; view Kylemore Abbey pottery as it is produced in the Pottery Studio.

After Kylemore we will drive by coach to Strokestown for a mid-afternoon visit to the National Famine Museum. The Great Irish famine of the 1840s is now regarded as the single greatest social disaster of 19th century Europe. Between 1845 and 1850, when blight devastated the potato crop, in excess of two million people – almost one-quarter of the entire population – either died or emigrated. The Famine Museum is located in the original Stable Yards of Strokestown Park House. It was designed to commemorate the history of the famine of Ireland and in some way to balance the history of the “Big House.” The Famine Museum uses the unique documents that were discovered in the estate office, dealing with the administration of the estate during the tenure of the Mahon family. This collection includes many haunting pleas from starving tenants on the estate and the response they received. From there we drive into Dublin where we will have a free evening with an optional pub crawl to the haunts of James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Patrick Cavanagh, Edna O’Brien, and others. (Travel time today is approximately 45 mins.) Overnight in Dublin.

Day 9 – Tuesday, Sept. 26 – Dublin; Trinity College; Abbey Theatre (B)
Following breakfast at our hotel a drive to the city centre where we will have our morning discussion and a nice pot of tea at a local Tea House (at own expense). Afterwards, we take a casual walk down Grafton Street to Trinity College to savour the glorious campus and view one of the world’s most beautiful works of art.

Trinity College, the sole constituent of The University of Dublin, was founded in 1592 and is the oldest university in Ireland and one of the 7 ancient universities of England and Ireland. Trinity is also one of Ireland’s leading historical sites attracting in excess of half a million visitors each year. The main heritage attraction is The Book of Kells, a richly decorated textbook written in 800 AD. Also wonderful to see is the beautiful Old Library at Trinity College.

Lunch at your own expense at the nearby spectacular and stylish Café de Seine. Then an optional visit to the National Museum, where we can view such valuable icons as the Glenisheen Gold Gorget, worn by an ancient High King or warrior, the Ardagh chalice, the Oseberg Viking ship, and an emigrant’s tin teapot. Early dinner (at own expense) at the oldest pub in Dublin, the Brazen Head, founded in 1198, followed by a play (to be announced) at The Abbey Theatre, founded by W. B. Yeats and Lady Gregory, in the early 20th century. Overnight in Dublin.

Day 10 – Wednesday, Sept. 27 – Dublin; Glendalough (B, L, D)
Enjoy breakfast in your Dublin hotel followed by a coach ride to the early Christian monastic site of Glendalough. Follow in the footsteps of it enigmatic founder St Kevin through his monastic city stopping at the 10th century round tower, St Kevin’s Cross, St Mary’s Church. At the Visitor’s Centre we will meet with Fr. Michael Rogers, a specialist pilgrim guide who will incorporate history, legend, Christian tradition, and an awareness of nature and the environment. Our visit will include: Diseart Chaoimhin (St Kevin’s Desert). Visit the Reefert Church, St Kevin’s Cell (foundations of Kevin’s 6th Century Hermitage), Teampall Na Skellig (The Church of the Rock). There will be time for Reflections with silence beside the Upper Lake, and a later visit to the 12th century St. Saviour’s Church. 

Return to Dublin by coach for a late afternoon rest and then our Farewell Dinner (TBA). Overnight in Dublin.

Day 11 – Thursday, Sept. 28 – Farewell to Ireland (B)
We enjoy our final Full Irish breakfast at the hotel this morning as we bid our farewells to our new found friends and the beautiful “Land of Eire.” As the old Irish blessing goes…

“May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”

Transfer to Dublin airport for flights home.

(B = Breakfast; L = Lunch; D = Dinner)
Note: This itinerary is subject to change due to conditions beyond our control.

Tour Includes:

  • 10 nights accommodation in some of Ireland’s finest 4 star hotels and guest houses
  • Arrival and departure transfers
  • Breakfast daily, 4 lunches
  • 1 Welcome & 1 Farewell dinner banquet
  • Entrance fees to all sites noted on itinerary
  • Private luxury coach transportation
  • Professional driver/guide throughout
  • Return ferry to Aran Islands
  • All guide services as per itinerary

Added Features:

  • Travel with author, teacher, filmmaker, Phil Cousineau
  • Discussions and journaling opportunities with Phil
  • Traditional Irish entertainment
  • Evening pub crawls (optional)
  • Special guest speakers including: P.J. Curtis, Dara Molloy, Brendan Flynn, and Padraigin Clancy
  • Pony & Trap Tour of Aran Islands
  • Visit to Trinity/Book of Kells
  • Theatre outing to Abbey Theatre
  • Bodhrán drum-making demonstration with Master Bodhrán Maker, Malachy Kearns

Hotels (or similar)

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Poulnabrone dolmen photo by Frank Chandler licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.