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Couple's Tours Connect Travelers with Ireland

Vienna-based Wild West Irish Tours, recognized by Irish Embassy, offers residents rare look at the country.

This is the story of a new business and the Auld Sod.

The new business, Wild West Irish Tours, (www.wildwestirishtours.com) is based in Vienna. But its function is to get people across the sea to that green land that co-owner Michael Waughfell ever in love with when he lived there. So much so that he figured if he was going to go back so often, he might as well try to make a living of it.

“There’s something about this country (Ireland),” Waugh says.

“It’s transformative,” says Trish Jenkins, his partner in the business and in life.

Their tour company, which had its first full season in 2012, aims to prove that to its customers.But it goes about it in an unusual way.

First, Wild West Irish Tours won’t be taking you on a journey through the pubs of Dublin, or anywhere else in Ireland you typically find busloads of tourists. These are instead excursions to Northwest Ireland, especially to County Sligo, also known as “Yeats Country,” because itinspired the famous Irish poet.

Tours are kept small, about six to eight people, so that Waugh andJenkins can fully immerse their customers into real Irish life. Patrons of Wild West tours don’t meet the operators of attractions. They meet pub owners and other small businessmen who maketheir living catering to their neighbors, not to tourists.

“We keep it small and personal,” Waugh says. And that has had some unexpected results.

“We’ve had people fall in love on the tour,” he says. “We’ve had them fall in love with Irishpeople (whom they meet) and fall in love with each other (fellow tour patrons.)”

Waugh and Jenkins plan to keep each tour small in 2013. But this year promises to be biggerfor them in other ways. Their success has already earned them the kind of attention they didnot expect when they started out. The Embassy of Ireland has recognized them as promotersfor “The Gathering – Ireland 2013,” , which it calls “a community –ledinitiative that encourages overseas visitors who are Irish-born, Irish-bred or Irish in spirit to join Irish people for family reunions and cultural, sporting and other events in 2013.”

Last month, the Embassy hosted Waugh and Jenkins at a reception to promote “The Gathering.” The reception also featured singer Cathy Jordan, lead singer of Dervish, an established Irish band that tours internationally. Jordan provided the music – appropriatelytitled “All the Way Home” -- for a promotional video Waugh and Jenkins made about “The Gathering.”

Waugh and Jenkins consider her the event’s musical voice, a role she is only too happy to play.

“When I was a kid in Roscommon, the highlight of the year would be the Yanks (her American relatives) coming,” Jordan recalled last month as she visited with Waugh and Jenkins for the embassy event. “What this Gathering is to me is a larger version of that --- ‘Come home,everybody and we’re going to give you the time of your life.’”

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