Michael Waugh and Trish Jenkins’ tour through Ireland follows the road less traveled by. There is no bus stopping briefly at each major tourist attraction, allowing its passengers to merely hop off, snap a quick picture, and leap back on. Instead, their tour brings a small group of six travelers to the quaint interior of a small neighborhood cottage for afternoon tea, to meet ordinary people who just happen to live in Ireland.
Burke-based provides travelers a portrait of small-town Celtic life and sweeping rural scenery that could only be furnished by someone who's lived there. The nine-day tour through Ireland’s west coast takes travelers to towns where farmers, poets, musicians, and storytellers still run the land and where Gaelic, Ireland’s traditional language, is spoken in daily life.
“The West, to me, is unexplored and still very much untamed,” said Waugh.
But if anyone has explored the mysterious coastline, it’s Waugh. Waugh was originally inspired to travel to the Emerald Isle by his grandparents, who had lived in County Derry in Northern Ireland. He emigrated to Ireland in 1992 and spent hours meeting locals - discovering their unique stories and their rich traditions of song and dance.
After living in Ireland for several years, Waugh returned to his native United States and began attending Lord Fairfax Community College in Shenandoah, Virginia. After he and several other students put on a special Saint Patrick’s Day event, Waugh realized many of his classmates were also interested in Irish heritage. He formed a Celtic club at the college and soon raised enough funds to organize a trip to western Ireland. He delighted in showing his friends what he considered to be the “real Ireland,” and even proposed to his fiancé, Trish Jenkins, on one such trip.
Waugh and Jenkins, though well versed in the rugged outcroppings, rocky beaches, ancient runes, and mountains of western Ireland, are also active in the Burke community. Waugh, who moved to the area in 2006 and Jenkins, who has lived in the area for eighteen years, decided to center their business headquarters in Burke, drawing inspiration from the diversity of the community.
“Very often we hear from people who are from other countries originally and live in Burke," Waugh said. "They are as enthusiastic as people who have an ancestral connection."
It is the people of western Ireland that make Waugh’s trips different from the typical tourist fare.
“I was aware that the big tour buses rarely would come to the Northwest and would be more interested in the more touristy places that you always hear about," Waugh said. "When we take people over now, they get to see places that no tour bus could even get to, and meet the kinds of people who are just going about their business."
These people, who often accompany the tourists and show them the land out of sheer love for their country, are the key ingredient to the success that Waugh and Jenkins have had so far. Waugh’s tourists often strike up friendships with the locals and are treated to conversations, demonstrations, and performances.
“I am amazed how people of all different backgrounds, and life experiences, come away with the most unbelievable and life changing feeling,” Waugh said.
Waugh and Jenkins are also active in the local Northern Virginia Irish community. Though Waugh and Jenkins’s Wild West Irish Tours is a new business, they have already gained recognition in Burke; members of the community have already registered for up-coming tours.
“There is nothing that changes a person as much as visiting another country,” Waugh said.
The testimonials on the Wild West Irish Tours website reflect the different approach the company takes to tours.
"All of the places we went to were much better than if we did a 'touristy' tour," said one comment by Brenna W., a recent tour attendee. "I loved that we could see things that were untouched by the tourist buses."
"...The group was lucky in having you as a guide," said another comment by Folklorist and Sligo based Author, Joe McGowan. "Why? Because of your advantage in having lived in the countryside for some time and having an appreciation, not just of the countryside and its secret places but also of the ordinary people living there."
“I can’t tell you how many tears of joy and other emotional responses I have seen from our travelers, who always seem to be on a personal journey of their own,” Waugh said.
Waugh’s journey has, and will continue, to take him from Western Ireland to Burke, and there and back again, from one home to another.