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Whether it’s to research family history, see “Game of Thrones” filming locations, visit castles or drink a pint of Guinness in a real Irish pub, most people have a wish list when it comes to Ireland.
Established by Maria Flynn Conway in 2000, the family-owned Celtic Journeys specializes in customized itineraries for groups and FIT travelers. From quaint bed-and-breakfasts to five-star country estates, as well as travel by train or with driver-guides, Celtic Journeys can make travel dreams come true for clients.
“When people travel, they should always feel like they’re ‘in the destination,’” Conway said. “Quality and value are priorities no matter what the budget, so we are a tool for agents to offer clients an end product tailored to their needs. What makes us unique is our knowledge, experience and willingness to go the extra mile to find the right fit.”
To better understand what Celtic Journeys has to offer, I recently had my own adventure with a group that included travel agents and Conway herself. Owen Flynn, director of European operations for the tour operator, also joined us as our knowledgeable and entertaining driver-guide.
Up-to-the-Minute Personalization “Some tours just hit the highlights, but it's not personal,” said Pam Streufert, a travel consultant for A Total Travel Agency in Knoxville, Tenn. “Celtic Journeys can make it experiential for your clients.”
During dinner on the first night, someone in our group mentioned Irish dancing. The conversation quickly changed, and the topic was forgotten — by everyone but Conway and Flynn. Toward the end of the trip, we arrived at Malzards Pub in Kilkenny, where we squeezed into a tiny private room and were surprised with live musicians and an Irish dancer.
“They listened to what we were saying, and they brought us something we wanted to see,” Streufert said. “This is exactly what you imagine when you think of a back room in an Irish pub, and I want all my clients to have this experience. I will remember it forever.”
Big Ticket ItemsJust as important to travelers as authentic experiences are wow moments, and Celtic Journeys delivers both. We visited two spectacular natural attractions — and we also walked with a hawk.
Giant’s Causeway on the north coast of Northern Ireland, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the Cliffs of Moher at the southwestern edge of Ireland are must-dos for the majority of travelers. That translates into crowds, especially during high season, but Flynn managed to get us in and out of both attractions ahead of the masses. Still, we never felt rushed, and even had time for lunch and shopping.
As for the hawk: We met John Duggan from Hawkeye Falconry at Mount Juliet Estate in Kilkenny. After a quick falconry lesson, we were able to call Ivy, a Harris's hawk, to our gloves; she flew from her perch on a 250-year-old Turkey oak tree. We then took Ivy on a walk to the estate’s walled garden to meet two feisty owl brothers named Turbo and Diesel.
Experiences Between ExperiencesMy adventure began and ended in Dublin, though we covered a lot of ground in between. But one thing I loved was that even our detours — for coffee, the restroom or otherwise — were interesting. On the first day, we headed to Monasterboice, the ruins of an early Christian monastic settlement that includes a round stone tower and three moss-covered Celtic crosses. Owen explained that he stops at Monasterboice because the crosses are original, while many other sites have been replaced with replicas.
Monasterboice was not our only detour off the main tourist track. Another was Drumcliffe Church, where we visited the grave of Irish poet William Butler Yeats, and a third was Cahir Castle, one of Ireland's largest and best-preserved castles.
Guided TouringFor clients who prefer preset itineraries, Celtic Journeys also offers guided tours. In 2020, the Ancient & Wild Tour will include visits to Mount Congreve and Royal Oak Distillery, as well as walking tours in the towns of Waterford, Lismore and Dunmore East. The company’s new Northern Adventure Tour will feature Hillsborough Castle and Gardens, Giant's Causeway, Slieve League Cliffs, Derry City and more.
The DetailsCeltic Journeyswww.celtic-journeys.com