As one arrives into Ireland, you are immediately struck by endless green landscape, stretching as far as the eye can see, giving the Country the moniker ‘Emerald Isle’. This title is as well-known as its iconic symbols; four leaf clovers, leprechauns, poets, awe-inspiring dancers, and my personal favourite, Guinness. But Ireland is a destination rich for so many more, less acknowledged reasons.
I hadn’t been to the Emerald Isle for about a year, and I was so looking forward to my return at the end of April.
I made the trip with three objectives in mind: (i) To continue my pledge to find additional extraordinary Insider experiences for our Trafalgar guests (ii) Visit the continuing regal restoration of Ashford Castle – a true Irish castle with a history over eight centuries – which The Travel Corporation purchased in June of last year. (This acquisition is an expression of belief in the future of Ireland through its unique, enchanting offerings for travellers) And (iii) importantly, I wanted to see first-hand how the Irish people are recovering from the economic malaise that has plagued the country since the GFC began in 2008.
I must admit, as a world traveller, I found my trip to Ireland to be inspiring, humbling, and reaffirming. I was reminded of the importance that travel and tourism can play in building, and rebuilding, sustainable economies.
The people of Ireland are exceptional, gracious, warm and welcoming. From the ‘Garda’ at the airport in Knock who greeted us at immigration, to the pipers upon our arrival at Ashford, their genuine friendliness and hospitality make them enchanting. They have endured hard times of late, seeing their nation go from a period of unprecedented growth and confidence to economic devastation. Yet,
their natural strength and brightness of spirit shine through. Their hardships have inspired their passion and creativity. Whatever the circumstances, the Irish have an innately charming, authentic, stalwart and engaging spirit, which makes being in their company enriching, genuine and uplifting. One immediately feels “at home” in Ireland.
As I looked for experiences for our guests to enjoy– from third generation Connemara sheep farmers whose remarkable dogs make this rugged landscape manageable, to Smokehouses that specialise in smoking wild smoked Irish salmon, or age-old story tellers like Mick and Eddie – all locals whose personal, lifelong knowledge of history and lifestyle make time stand still and memories to last a lifetime. It is these discoveries, uncovering these special opportunities to expose our guests to the real heart of our travel destinations that gives me an incredible sense of motivation and satisfaction.
Then there is Ashford Castle…
Last year The Travel Corporation became the custodian of Ashford Castle, and over the winter began a loving, thoughtful multi-year project to restore this proud building to all of the grace and grandeur that it once was. It is remarkable to meet, and be able to directly support local artisans whose skills have created such a work of art as Ashford Castle. The love and care that they put into their craft injects an emotion into each and every piece. It is impossible not to feel it. I will never forget my time with gifted individuals such as Edward and David, who have rebuilt their businesses and put their greatest talents into each and every part of the castle, making Ashford a truly unique estate. And then there are the local community – in the adjacent town of Cong (where the Quiet Man with John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara was filmed in 1952) who welcome and greet you at every street corner.
Ireland is a nation that rises above others. Anyone can find the statistics; an island of just under 4.6 million people, currently boasting a tourism sector attracting almost double its own population size. The tourism sector generates just over 9% of the country’s GDP and it creates jobs for over almost 1 in every 10 Irishmen/women. But, it’s truly what is behind the numbers that matters most.
As I write this, I know that Ireland is so much more than its history and its headlines. Like Irish poetry, when one looks closer, and deeper, the true richness is found. There is nothing ‘predictable’ about this small yet so diverse destination; rather it provides one with an enriching and rewarding experience.
Like any destination full of surprises and secrets, Ireland is best discovered by listening to the locals. Their heart-warming sharing, the memory making, the spirit, the sentiment, the unparalleled personal connections are what make local experiences exceed all expectation – this is Ireland. This is what I will ensure we bring to life.
I am frequently asked where I would travel to next. For all the wonder that new destinations offer with their journeys of discovery, sometimes, just sometimes, the greatest adventure is one of rediscovery. Having been touched once more by Ireland, I have a new answer… Visiting Ireland.