“Hello, welcome to Wild Rover Tours, my name is Jim and I’ll be your tour guide for the day.”
If you do not hear these words… you’re on the wrong tour bus!
Our time in Ireland can only be matched with the fun and jubilance that Jim Dempsey, our tour guide from Wild Rover Tours brought to our journey – and what a journey it was! Accompanied by Patty, our driver, and David, who had been commissioned to make a promotional film about Wild Rover tours (in which we’re hoping we have a cameo appearance), Jim’s cheerful demeanour and candid storytelling added an enchanting layer to our adventures.
Travelling westward through the Irish countryside listening to a collection of fiddle tunes, U2 and the Cranberries on rotation, Wild Rover Tours endeavoured to ensure that we, as first-time visitors to Ireland, had a memorable experience. On day one, we climbed the Cliffs of Moher, walked along the Burren and strolled down the cobblestone streets of Galway, the cultural and creative capital of Ireland. In the afternoon, we enjoyed a pint at Tigh Neachtain, bought a Claddagh ring from “Thomas Dillon’s Claddagh Gold” who have been making the rings since 1750, and listened to all sorts of stories about landscape, history and folklore. What resonated most from the tour was the vivid descriptions of Irish history and the creative edge that permeates Galway that Jim brought to life with his lively narratives. We learned that the power of the individual is more valued than the concept of the collective and this permeates through Irish folklore; bold, boundless and without reservation.
By the second day-tour with Wild Rover, we earned the nick names, “Trouble” (that’s Chant), and “More Trouble” (that’s me!); Jim arranged for us to sit up front. We travelled to Kilkenny, Ireland’s oldest medieval town and spent three hours walking around and exploring the sites. Let me say this: the time absolutely flies! At Jim’s suggestion, we started our visit with a coffee at “The Hole in the Wall” pub, a quaint little establishment down a narrow lane-way off the beaten track where we were greeted by the aromas of fine coffee beans brewing, and hot steamy blueberry scones baking in the oven. We then made our way to a chocolate-caramel cupcake at “A Slice of Heaven”. We visited the “Rothe House & Garden”, a 17th century merchant’s town home and museum, and finally stopped for lunch at the “Kilkenny Design Centre”; again at Jim’s suggestion – did we mention that he used to be a professional chef?!
Before disembarking the bus, Jim asked us all who was going to have a pint during our visit, Chant and I were two of a few (out of 40) who slowly raised our hands… at which point Jim looked at the group with a knowing glance and said, “On your way back, when you ask yourself if you have to go to the bathroom, and that little voice in your head says, ‘no’, I want you all to remember my voice telling you ‘yes’!” This raised a round of laughter from our eclectic tour group.
After Kilkenny, we drove through King’s valley, where on route we learned about Hollywood Village and the three Murduch brothers. Jim went on to explain with cheerful insight how commercial forestry in Ireland is mainly Sitka spruce and that Hawthorne trees are associated with fairies, i.e. “The little people” (given that I’m an urban forester, this was of particular interest!). We passed by St. Kevin’s Way, a pilgrimage route in the Wicklow Hills where Jim explained was a great place for foraging for wild mushrooms in the autumn; and just as a misty rain began to kiss the earth, we stopped at the Wicklow Gap and saw the first blooms of purple heather. We finally arrived at Glendalough National Park which houses a monastery (actually seven) and Upper Lake. A very magical place indeed; and to be completely honest, I’d like to get lost there awhile.
We ended our evening in Dublin, at O’Neill’s pub with a pint of Guiness, watching world cup soccer between mouthfuls of turkey pie and mashed potatoes excitedly sharing a collection of anecdotes of what we now endearingly refer to as, “Things We Learned from Jim”, these include: a story about 12 million spent on moving the motorway for a sacred fairy tree (yay!); where the term Lynch mob came from; and that the Irish were the first to find North America.
Since I was a child I’ve wanted to visit Ireland. Friends who had been before always spoke about how friendly the people are and without a doubt, I now understand its allure. All through our travels Jim made sure everyone was comfortable and well looked after. He was generous with his stories and did not hesitate to share his knowledge and insights about traditions and food, and invite everyone to his favourite spots. He is truly passionate about his culture and country and that made all the difference in our experience. The most important thing for us was to live and learn, and Wild Rover Tours did an exceptional job at realizing our dream. A special thanks to Jim Dempsey, for making our first trip (of hopefully many!) to Ireland truly memorable. Check out our photos.
~ As written and posted online for Trip Advisor. Review titled, Excellent Experience: two days in a row with Wild Rover Tours! Dublin, Ireland.