The Wild West of Ireland with Phil Cousineau

The Myths, Music, and Magical Literature of Connemara, Clare, and the Aran Islands September 18 - 28, 2017

Join storyteller Phil Cousineau on a travel adventure to the Wild West of Ireland, where Celtic folklore and Viking legends exist side by side with Christian mysticism and the finest Irish music and literature.

Modern Ireland is a place where art and poetry, legends and mysticism meet; travel with us to explore the Irish Twilight literary revival, and the genius of its music, dance, filmmaking, and crafts. Our 2017 journey to Ireland includes excursions to Dublin, Clifden, the Aran Islands, as well as the sacred sites of Clonmacnoise, the lunar landscape of the Burren, Yeats’ Tower, Lady Gregory’s Coole Park, Tim Robinson’s Folding Landscape Art Studio, Malachy Kearns’ Bodhrán Shop, and much more. Invited speakers, contemplative nature walks, time for journaling, and lively discussions with Phil Cousineau make this a truly unforgettable tour. We look forward to seeing you there! READ MORE

Tour Leader Phil Cousineau

Phil Cousineau is a writer, teacher, independent scholar, documentary filmmaker, travel leader, storyteller and author of over 40 books including the national best-seller The Art of Pilgrimage, The Book of Roads, and Stoking the Creative Fires, winner of the Book of the Year Award from “Spirituality & Health Magazine.”


Phil has a way of provoking a sense of wonder in us that allowed me to open my heart, mind & soul to everything and everyone we were exposed to.Christina Moore, Springfield, MO


Our tour group was a fascinating blend of people who shared an interest in approaching Ireland from a spiritual perspective. It was a privilege to travel with them.Carol Ashworth, McLean, VA


Tour Description

Join writer and filmmaker Phil Cousineau on a journey that spirals into the heart and soul of one of the most unique cultures in the world, by way of what the ancient Irish called “The Back of Beyond.” The spiral approach is reflected by the iconic Irish spiral symbolism etched on ancient megalithic monuments, painted in illuminated manuscripts, and incised on swords and jewellery, variously representing the life force itself, the journey of the soul, from birth to death, as well as the movement between the three realms of Earth, Sea, and Sky.

phil cousineau sacred tour guide in Ireland
Our group in Ireland

For us, it will represent the subtle and respectful way we will seek the presence of Ireland’s great trilogy of “myth, poetry, and magic” through its incantatory storytelling, hypnotic music, and the sheer beauty of glorious countryside.

Meander with us along Ireland’s scenic roads that hug the rugged Irish western shore, roam about the undulating countryside and beautiful boglands, and ferry to the luminous lunarscape of the Aran Islands, as we spiral into the mythic and magical heart of Ireland.

Inishmor Aran Islands
The spectacular Aran Islands

Highlights include visits to the towering Cliffs of Moher, the limestone moonscape of The Burren, Yeats’ Tower, historian Tim Robinson’s Folding Landscapes Studio in Roundstone, Clonmacnoise, and Clifden Arts Festival, Clifden Castle. We will enjoy two nights on the serene Aran Islands, and in the colourful capital of Dublin we will visit Trinity College, the Abbey Theatre, and more. 

Our journey will be augmented by time each day along our route devoted to writing and drawing in our journals: A lasting, creative souvenir of our spiral journey into the heart of Ireland. 

Dublin in Ireland
The vibrant city of Dublin

Our journey will also be enriched by daily morning group discussions and augmented by guest appearances by several of Ireland’s leading authorities, including the music historian and novelist, P. J. Curtis, the Celtic mystic Dara Molloy, the founder of the Clifden Art's Festival, Brendan Flynn, Ireland’s most famous drum maker Malachy “Bodhrán” Kearns, as well as the historian Tim Robinson and his wife Mairead, and the founder of the Letterfrack Poetry Trail, Leo Hallissey.

(Thanks to Sacred Earth Journeys Ireland participants Chris Franek, Kat Anderson, David Chassis, and Elaine Foulkes for the use of their photos.)

Watch this video from participant Chris Franek, shot on our last journey to England – it perfectly captures the unique energy and engaging style Phil brings to all his journeys.

For more stunning photos from our Ireland journeys with Phil Cousineau please visit our Flickr album!

Arriving early morning in Shannon you will be greeted and taken by coach to the bustling market town of Ennis (from Inis Cluain Ramh Fhada, “island of the long rowing meadow”) where you will have a traditional Irish breakfast at the Old Ground Hotel, a venerable 18th century coach inn. After breakfast we will have time to wander the meandering medieval lanes of Ennis and explore its traditional Irish music shops and woollen stores. (*your flight must arrive by 7:30 am today, otherwise please arrive on Sep 17). (Travel time Shannon/Ennis approx. 45 mins.)

We then take a short drive to the majestic Cliffs of Moher, which rise 700 feet above the Atlantic. For many centuries, the site has been the inspiration for poets, photographers, and musicians, inspiring songs like the Wolfe Tones’ ballad about star-crossed lovers, “The Cliffs of Moher”. While looking out over the Aran Islands, Galway Bay, as well as the Twelve Pins mountain range in Connemara, we will engage in our first journaling exercise. 

After some traditional tea and scones at the Visitor’s Centre (at own expense) we will take you back to the Old Ground Hotel in Ennis. Here you will have the chance to refresh yourself from your long flight and prepare for our Opening Night Welcome Dinner at the hotel (included in Tour price). 
(Overnight in Ennis at the Old Ground Hotel or similar)

Cliffs of Moher in Ireland

Today we travel to the quaint village of Doolin, often regarded as the music capital of Ireland, from where we will take the 10am ferry to Inishmore – a stunning journey across Galway Bay, which until recently was made only by curraghs, the traditional wood and tar boat. (Your transfer and ferry will take approximately 1 hour 30 mins.)

Arrive at Inishmore, the larger of the three Aran Islands. Here, on the very edge of Europe, is an island rich in the language, culture, and heritage of Ireland, unique in its geology and archaeology and in its long tradition of gentle hospitality. Inishmore is a place to sense the spirit of Gaelic Ireland, but with all the comforts and facilities of the present. Aran will take you back to an Ireland of Celts and Early Christians. This is an island of great peace and tranquility, but it is also an island of great fun and activity. Irish is spoken by most of the locals on the island.

Upon arrival we will take traditional horse-drawn traps across the lunar-landscaped island to the Kilmurvey House, an 18th century stone house built at the foot of the path up to Dun Aengus, the famed Iron Age fort. Dun Aengus is the most famous of several prehistoric forts on the Aran Islands. We will be met near its colossal walls by local guide and archaeologist, Padraigin Clancy, who will regale us with updated information about recent excavations and theories about life for the ancient Celts on Inis Mor. While here we will enjoy some contemplative time and write in our journals. Evening dinner in town and live traditional music at the rollicking Joe Watty’s Pub (at own expense).
(Overnight in Inishmore at Kilmurvey House or similar)

horse traps aran Ireland

Enjoy Full Irish Breakfast at the privately owned Kilmurvey hotel followed by a discussion about the history of the islands, including a discussion about the many Irish writers who ventured out to the islands to find their literary voice, including J. W. Synge and Oscar Wilde.

After taking tea at the local café (at own expense) we will be met by the Celtic philosopher, author, poet, and guide Dara Molloy, who has lived on the island with his family for many years. Dara will lead us on a series of pilgrimages to a 5th century “beehive hut,” the Seven Churches, and the site of St. Kiaran’s 5th century monastery. Dara will lead us in song and prayer, and we will have time for contemplation and journaling in these moody ruins.

Dinner (at own expense) then evening shuttle into town for live music and storytelling at Joe Watty’s Pub (optional).
(Overnight in Inishmore at Kilmurvey House or similar)

Aran Islands in Ireland

This morning we check out of our hotel and transfer to the ferry port for our 11.15am departure to Doolin. From Doolin we transfer by coach for a day exploring some of the impressive sites of Co. Clare. We'll stop at Vaughan's Pub for lunch (included in Tour price) - a traditional Irish pub serving delicious bar food - before visiting Kilfenora Cathedral to see the high crosses.

On our way back to Ennis we will have a stop in The Burren, a karstic plateau – a stony chaos to the casual observer – with a full assemblage of the curious landforms that characterize such limestone landscapes. Here we will visit the 6,000-year-old Poulnabrone megalithic tomb, engage in our daily contemplative writing exercise, and visit the highly regarded Burren Visitor’s Centre. Here we will discuss the folklore surrounding holy wells and fairy mounds, and pay tribute to the Irish mystic and poet John O’Donohue with a reading from his book of blessings. 

Late in the afternoon, we transfer to the Old Ground Hotel to check in. 
(Overnight in Ennis at the Old Ground Hotel or similar)

poulnabrone dolmen

Enjoy Full Irish Breakfast at The Old Ground Hotel followed a morning talk in the hotel conference room with P. J. Curtis, music historian and screenwriter, about the history of Irish music and what rural life was like growing up in County Clare in the 1950s. After our session we will travel to the village of Gort, where we explore Thoor Ballylee, Yeats’ Tower, the former summer home of the great Irish poet, playwright, and statesman, which inspired his long poem “The Tower.” While there we will read some of his poetry and Lady Gregory’s collected fairy tales, and then have time for a leisurely country stroll.

Afterwards, we will enjoy a private tour of the Kiltartan Gregory Museum, which chronicles local County Clare history, and then we travel to Lady Gregory’s Coole Park, where we will enjoy a brief break for tea and scones (at own expense) at the lovely café in the old carriage house. The grounds are an impressive monument to her incalculably important collecting of ancient Irish myths and legends. Coole Park was once home of Lady Augusta Gregory, dramatist, folklorist, and cofounder of the Abbey Theatre Dublin with W. B. Yeats, and, in the early 20th century, was the centre of the Irish Literary Revival. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, John Millington Synge, and Sean O’Casey all came to experience its magic. Although the house no longer stands, one can still appreciate the surroundings that drew so many here. Enjoy this afternoon at leisure to wander the magnificent grounds of Coole Park.

Dinner at own expense this evening with optional pub crawl to experience the town’s legendary traditional music.
(Overnight in Ennis at the Old Ground Hotel or similar)

Yeats' Tower in Ireland

Enjoy Full Irish breakfast this morning followed by a discussion on the classic book, “How the Irish Saved Civilization.”  This morning’s excursion is to the enchanted ruins of Clonmacnoise, an early Christian site founded by St Ciaran in the mid 6th century. We will enter along the fifteen hundred-year-old pilgrim’s trail, with the time-burnished cobblestones still intact, to visit the three magnificent Round Towers, and its Scriptorium. There, we will have an unforgettable chance to discuss in situ “How the Irish Saved Civilization” by copying many of the great manuscripts of antiquity. The long and varied history of Clonmacnoise is recounted in an audiovisual presentation shown in the Visitor Centre. There are also exhibitions that deal with the flora, fauna, and landscape of the region. Lunch (at own expense) at Clonmacnoise. 

On the way back we will make a stop outside Athlone to visit one of the most haunted ruins in all of Ireland, Moydrum Castle, which is featured on the cover of the U2 album, The Unforgettable Fire. We will then visit Athlone, an ideal regional centre and the largest town on the River Shannon standing on the boundaries of two counties, Westmeath and Roscommon, in the centre of Ireland. It is a historic town because of its strategic location and is commonly referred to as the “Gateway to the West.” Take optional refreshments at Sean’s Bar (at own expense), which dates back to 900 AD, and is regarded by some as the “Oldest Pub in Ireland,” and by others as the oldest pub in the world!

Travel on to Clifden (apx. 2 hours 20mins) and enjoy an evening at the Clifden Arts Fair at leisure. 
(Overnight in Clifden at the Abbeyglen Castle Hotel or similar)

Clonmacnoise in Ireland

After our morning discussion we will drive along the Sky Road to the haunting ruins of Clifden Castle, the manor home built for John D’Arcy, the founder of Clifden. We then continue on to arrive by late morning in Roundstone Village, which was featured in the 1997 romantic comedy The Matchmaker.

Enjoy lunch at O’Dowd’s (inlcuded in Tour price), which won the James Joyce Irish Pub of the Year Award, and a personal tour of the I.D.A. Craft Centre, led by Ireland’s greatest Bodhrán or drum maker Malachy Kearns, or Malachy Bodhrán, as he is known amongst folk musicians. Malachy works at his craft of making Ireland’s oldest product, the Bodhrán (Bow-Rawn). It is an 18” one-sided drum made from goatskin treated by a traditional process. Malachy supplies the drums for Van Morrison, U2, Christy Moore, and the River Dance troupe.

Our afternoon will be spent with the eminent historian and mapmaker of the Aran Islands and Connemara, Tim Robinson, and his wife Maidrean, at their magnificent home and art gallery overlooking Roundstone harbour. With the Robinsons we will have a wide-ranging discussion about the history, sociology, art, literature, and mythology of the West of Ireland. Afterwards we will drive up the oceanside road called The Wild Atlantic Way to Clifden.

Our evening highlight will be the final night of the Clifden Arts Festival, including the parade down Main Street and fireworks. Dinner at own expense.  
(Overnight in Clifden at the Abbeyglen Castle Hotel or similar)

Malachy Bodhran Kearns

After a full Irish breakfast and our morning discussion we will depart Clifden in our coach bound for the village of Letterfrack (from the Irish for “The Speckled Hill”), founded by the Quakers in the 19th century to provide help for the people of Connemara during the Great Famine, and now a music and craft centre. There we will meet with Leo Hallissey, the founder of the Letterfrack Poetry Trail, which features 9 plaques containing poems by Irish poets placed on buildings around the village and environs. Leo and a local poet or two will accompany us on our morning walk along the trail. 

Lunch time visit to Kylemore Abbey (lunch at own expense). Set in the heart of the Connemara mountains is the Kylemore Abbey Estate, home of the Irish Benedictine Nuns, and the famous girl’s school which the actress Angelica Huston attended when she lived in Ireland with her filmmaker father, John Huston, in the 1960s. Visit the picturesque Abbey reception rooms, video, and exhibition and enjoy a stroll to the beautiful Neo-Gothic Church and Mausoleum where original owners are buried; browse in the Craft Shop; view Kylemore Abbey pottery as it is produced in the Pottery Studio.

After Kylemore we will drive by coach to Strokestown for a mid-afternoon visit to the National Famine Museum. The Great Irish famine of the 1840s is now regarded as the single greatest social disaster of 19th century Europe. Between 1845 and 1850, when blight devastated the potato crop, in excess of two million people – almost one-quarter of the entire population – either died or emigrated. The Famine Museum is located in the original Stable Yards of Strokestown Park House. It was designed to commemorate the history of the famine of Ireland and in some way to balance the history of the “Big House”. The Famine Museum uses the unique documents that were discovered in the estate office, dealing with the administration of the estate during the tenure of the Mahon family. This collection includes many haunting pleas from starving tenants on the estate and the response they received. From there we drive into Dublin where we will have a free evening with an optional pub crawl to the haunts of James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Patrick Cavanagh, Edna O’Brien, and others.
(Overnight in Dublin at the O'Callaghan Davenport Hotel or similar)

Kylemore Abbey in Ireland

Breakfast at our hotel, then into the city centre for our morning discussion and a nice pot of tea at a local Tea House (at own expense). Afterwards, we take a casual walk down Grafton Street to Trinity College to savour the glorious campus and view one of the world’s most beautiful works of art.

Trinity College, the sole constituent of The University of Dublin, was founded in 1592 and is the oldest university in Ireland and one of the 7 ancient universities of England and Ireland. Trinity is also one of Ireland’s leading historical sites attracting in excess of half a million visitors each year. The main heritage attraction is The Book of Kells, a richly decorated textbook written in 800 AD. Also wonderful to see is the beautiful Old Library at Trinity College.

Lunch at your own expense at the nearby spectacular and stylish Café de Seine. Then an optional visit to the National Museum, where we can view such valuable icons as the Glenisheen Gold Gorget, worn by an ancient High King or warrior, the Ardagh chalice, the Oseberg Viking ship, and an emigrant’s tin teapot. Farewell Dinner (including in package) at the elegant Pearl Brasserie Restaurant, a 5-minute walk from our hotel. 
(Overnight in Dublin at the O'Callaghan Davenport Hotel or similar)

Trinity College Dublin

Enjoy breakfast in your Dublin hotel followed by a coach ride to the early Christian monastic site of Glendalough. Follow in the footsteps of it enigmatic founder St Kevin through his monastic city stopping at the 10th century round tower, St Kevin’s Cross, St Mary’s Church. At the Visitor’s Centre we will meet with Fr. Michael Rogers, a specialist pilgrim guide who will incorporate history, legend, Christian tradition, and an awareness of nature and the environment. Our visit will include: Diseart Chaoimhin (St Kevin’s Desert). Visit the Reefert Church, St Kevin’s Cell (foundations of Kevin’s 6th Century Hermitage), Teampall Na Skellig (The Church of the Rock). There will be time for Reflections with silence beside the Upper Lake, and a later visit to the 12th century St. Saviour’s Church. 

We will take lunch in the Writer's Room in Wicklow Heather Pub (included in Tour price) before boarding our coach back to Dublin. Free time in Dublin this afternoon. Early dinner (at own expense) at the oldest pub in Dublin, the Brazen Head, founded in 1198, followed by a play (Hamnet, a new project by the creators of the award-winning Lippy) at The Abbey Theatre, founded by W. B. Yeats and Lady Gregory, in the early 20th century.
(Overnight in Dublin at the O'Callaghan Davenport Hotel or similar)

Glendalough in Ireland

We enjoy our final Full Irish breakfast at the hotel this morning as we bid our farewells to our new found friends and the beautiful “Land of Eire”. As the old Irish blessing goes, “May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.” 

Transfer to Dublin airport for flights home.

(B = Breakfast; L = Lunch; D = Dinner)
Note: This itinerary is subject to change due to conditions beyond our control.

P J Curtis Irish poet

The Wild West of Ireland with Phil Cousineau

September 18 - 28, 2017

Tour Includes:

  • 10 nights accommodation in some of Ireland’s finest 4 star hotels and guest houses 
  • Arrival and departure transfers
  • Breakfast daily, 3 lunches 
  • 1 Welcome & 1 Farewell dinner banquet
  • Entrance fees to all sites noted on itinerary
  • Private luxury coach transportation
  • Professional driver/guide throughout
  • Return ferry to Aran Islands
  • All guide services as per itinerary



Added Features:

  • Travel with author, teacher, filmmaker, Phil Cousineau
  • Discussions and journaling opportunities with Phil
  • Traditional Irish entertainment
  • Evening pub crawls (optional)
  • Special guest speakers including: P.J. Curtis, Dara Molloy, Brendan Flynn, and Padraigin Clancy
  • Pony & Trap Tour of Aran Islands
  • Visit to Trinity/Book of Kells
  • Theatre outing to Abbey Theatre
  • Bodhrán drum-making demonstration with Master Bodhrán Maker, Malachy Kearns

Tour Does Not Include:

  • Airfare to Shannon, Ireland and return from Dublin, Ireland 
  • Cancellation & Medical Insurance (ask us for a quote)
  • Meals and drinks not specified
  • Cost to obtain valid passport
  • Any items of a personal nature such as laundry, drinks, and telephone calls
  • Any item that is not specifically detailed on our website or in the final retreat itinerary

Tour Price:

    • Double Room: USD $3,980 per person
    • Single Supplement: USD $795
Book this Journey
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