A couple of weeks ago, we caught up with Naomi Sheehy here in Skibbereen. Naomi runs a company called Ireland Luxury Travel – which is a family concern based here in Skibbereen. She lives on a farm on the outskirts of the town with her husband, John – a growing family – and an undisclosed number of heads of Aberdeen Angus and Limousin cattle!
After we talked a while, it became apparent to Carina and myself that what Naomi means by the word “luxury” was away more than that. It really meant: “tailored”, “different” and “personal” – and with a distinct Irish touch.
So, we invited Naomi to tell us a little more about herself and her family history – and share her perspective on the best of what Ireland has to offer.
Mike: Can you start by telling us a little about your own background in West Cork – and specifically the Irish surnames in your family tree?
Naomi: Hi Mike, thank you yes, my family are all from west Cork from both sides going back as far as we can trace. My Father is McCarthy (Mac Cárthaigh), and has a huge family (seven sisters and two brothers) all still living in the local area. The McCarthys, as you know, were the chieftains of Munster and built castles all over the south of Ireland. The famous “Blarney Castle” was built by a Dermot McCarthy. They certainly left their mark!
His mother was O’ Driscoll (Ó Drisceoil), a very local name, whose family came from Sherkin Island just off the coast of Baltimore. The O’ Driscoll clans in the middle ages were fisherman and when needed, engaged in looting and piracy up and down the south west coast of Ireland. That goes back a long time now, but I like to think there is a sense of adventure still in the O’ Driscolls in the area.
There is O’ Brien and Donovan on my mother’s side, all very old Irish names. The famous Brian Buru (of the O’ Brian Clan) battled his way to becoming High King of Ireland. I’m sure if I try hard enough I can claim Irish Royalty!
My married name is Sheehy. The Mac An tSithigh clan were galloglass soldiers that were paid mercenaries by the McCarthys and other Irish clans to come to Ireland from Scotland and work as skilled soldiers. Sheehy isn’t a very common name in Ireland and parts of the family that made it out to California for the gold rush have traced their ancestry back to my husband and his family farm. It was very exciting to meet our California cousins who interestingly have kept the same Christian names traditionally passed on as we have here in the Ireland. The names Tom, Patrick, Edward and James have been carried on by both the American and Irish sides of the Sheehy family.
Mike: Have you noticed any changes in the places people want to visit in Ireland over the past number of years?
Naomi: People visiting Ireland, and I think this is true of all over the world, wish to see the genuine real culture and people behind the specific touristy trail that has been beaten down before them. We all want to feel like the first to discover a place. People coming to Ireland now want to go off the beaten path, get out and explore the coastline and the rural countryside.
Irish food has also influenced a change in the places people wish to visit. Artisan farm visits, deep sea angling,country manor guest houses and whiskey distilleries combine the history of Ireland and a foodie experience. They are all new additions to the Irish tourism landscape, and in my opinion, a very welcome one.
Mike: What is the most unusual tour request you have received to date?
Naomi: Movie location tours are very popular and we have designed many Game of Thrones tours for people visiting the North of Ireland where the popular HBO TV series filming locations are set. The most unusual request we have had is to meet the “Dire Wolves”. Any fans of the programme will know that they are giant size wolves who are strong features in the fantasy programme. This particular visitor to Ireland was an avid fan! We did arrange a meeting with the actual wolves that are used in the filming. This was a real treat for a diehard fan.
Mike: Do many of your clients come to Ireland because of a specific ancestral connection?
Naomi: Yes, there is a huge number of people from all over the world who are aware of their Irish ancestry and have a life time dream to visit the country where their people came from. We help our clients find out what they can about specific towns and villages where their family came from. We arrange a visit to the place, even searching out the old homestead farm house which are often only ruins left behind and abandoned. This experience is very intense and personal for someone to feel the connection over time between the present day and an ancestor who left their home in search of a better life. It is extremely rewarding to help someone realize that dream and complete the circle back to the home country.
Mike: What would be your own “dream tour” around Ireland?
Naomi: With every tour I put together for a Client, it has to pass the “would I like this” test. So, each tour has an element of a “Dream Tour”.
My favourite itinerary would contain at least two days in Dublin City with a private guide through the whiskey museum, Jameson Distillery and a few stops through the city centre for a drink in the traditional pubs. This gives you history, fun and whiskey all in an afternoon. I would also dine in a Michelin restaurant to really get the best of Irish culinary expertise.
I would head south west to the hidden gem of west Cork where the Irish vacation. I would go whale watching during the day and night Kayaking in the evening. This experience is unique, and amazes even the most experienced world travellers. Bioluminescence lights up under the moonlight disturbed by your paddle. I’m afraid I cannot describe it to do it justice!
The next highlight for me would be a boat trip out to the world heritage sight, Skellig Michael off the coast of Kerry. It is unpredictable, stunning and a real privilege to be one of the few who get to land on the rock and visit the old monk’s stone huts clinging to the edge.
I would stay in Dingle town and head out for some Irish traditional music and craic that night. Dingle is lively, colourful and fantastic all year round.
The Cliffs of Moher in Co. Clare are a must see, I would go early or late to avoid the crowds and walk away from the set paths (taking care of course). I would spend the night on the Clare coast overlooking the Wild Atlantic and have dinner in one of the best restaurants on the west of Ireland. (But that is my secret hidden gem that my clients get to experience on our recommendation).
I would spend a night or two in Galway and head to “Tunes in the Church” music recital. Here top quality Irish Musicians play in the stunning setting of a local cathedral were the acoustics are inspiring!
This summer we arranged for a client of ours to spent a night on Aran Islands largest island Inish More. He since requested that we suggest it to any active adventure seeker, and I couldn’t agree more. After the crowds of day trippers leave on the last ferry, the island quietens and becomes a very special place. A cycle to the western side of the Island brings you to Dun Anghusa Fort. You are standing on the most western edge of Europe where people lived thousands of years before…magical. It is also one of the best places to see the stars as light pollution is at its minimal and the skies are the best you can see in this part of the world.
As you can see I could go on and on….. Connemara, West Mayo, Donegal, Wicklow National Park and the Antrim coast are all stunning, remote and worth a visit. The hardest part of the job is to try and leave out as little as possible in each itinerary. I find this very difficult indeed!
Mike: What, do you believe, are the “hidden gems” in Ireland?
Naomi: I think it’s the people who make the best hidden gems. A really special family run hotel with their own microbrewery run in the basement, a quirky restaurant were the produce is grown by the owner in the kitchen garden outside, a boutique hotel designed with the clean lines of a minimalist art gallery to make the most of the stunning coastal views.
They are all gems that incorporate the best of Ireland and her people. The Irish are well travelled themselves and incorporate the very best this country has to offer with their own taste, experience and genuineness friendliness. The best experience for a person visiting Ireland, is a long conversation with a local at a bar over a Guinness and a bowl of chowder with some soda bread. This can’t be recreated anywhere else in the world, but can be found all over Ireland.
Mike: What advice would you give to someone planning to travel to Ireland for the first time with family or friends?
Naomi: Do some research. The country is small on the map but is packed with things to do. The distance from here to there seems short if you count the miles, but with small roads, slow driving speeds and so much to see, you might have to pick and choose the sights and places that most appeal to you.
Local expertise is a must. There is so much written about Ireland now that is can be difficult to distinguish the genuine from the “paddy wackery”!.
And finally avoiding crowds is an obsession of mine, and helping our clients see the beautiful sights with some privacy and peace is very important. It still can be done in Ireland and for me that is the best advice I could give!
Thank you very much for your sharing your story and personal perspective, Naomi.
Naomi Sheehy can be reached at Ireland Luxury Travel.