I’ve always been turned off by tour guides because from what I’ve experienced, they talk like broken records and they really just do it because it’s their job. Enter Sean Mullan of Walking and Talking in Ireland. He has been walking the walk and talking the talk for about five years, and it showed. Tours turn into experiences when you’re accompanied by someone who actually has a passion for the place you’re visiting. There are new lessons learned when your guide can answer every question you have without consulting any prepared speeches. Sean Mullan opened my eyes to this country I knew nothing about. An enlightening two-day tour, Walking and Talking in Ireland made me wish all tour companies operated Sean Mullan’s way.
We hiked Slieve League on the West Coast of Donegal, the highest sea cliffs in Europe known not only for its elevation but also its color: a range of brown to rust to orange and beautiful shades of green. Right from the beginning of our hike, we had an inspiring view of the cliffs, displaying miles of quartzites and slates that make up the mountain. We walked by unusual stacks of rocks known as the Giant’s Desk and Chair while the waves violently crashed against the cliffs thousands of feet below us.
From where we stood, we saw other groups continuing the hike along One Man’s Path to the summit. The Atlantic Ocean stretched miles beyond what our eyes could see. At times, I had to be careful when taking photographs because of the strong winds, but the hike was as exhilirating as anyone can imagine. Sean Mullan let us take in the viewâ€”a view I thought only the top of Waimea Canyon in Hawaii could provide. Thankfully, I was proven wrong.
We also traced the pilgrimage of one of Ireland’s three patron saints, Colm Cille, or St. Columba, believed to have driven away the demons of Donegal from the valley to the sea around 500 A.D. Gleann Cholm Cille, or Glencolumbkille, translates to the “valley of Colm Cille”, and every 9th of June, devotees stop at fifteen stations along the north side of the valley to touch the ancient inscribed stones and marked iron plaques for penance. We stopped by an old church and paid our respects at the small cemetery outside.
Among our other stops were the Folk Village Museum and the Napoleonic Tower. The Folk Village Museum exhibits rural Donegal lifestyle and was started by a local priest named Father James MacDyer in the 1950s. He provided jobs to the locals by encouraging them to set up craft cooperatives. It sells local wares and souvenirs and also houses the Tea House, where we took a break after walking along the beach. The Napoleonic Tower was built by the British to protect their country from an invasion by France through Ireland. The hike up to the tower took only under two hours, but we stayed a few extra minutes to rest and watch the sun go down. In true Irish fashion, we witnessed a dark cloud pour rain over the valley below us while we were simultaneously enjoying the soft glow of the afternoon sun on top.