I love sharing what my country is all about. I have an original fourth century name in the clan system, O’Quinn, and I suppose I like people to see where they fit into our society if they have immigrated. I did a lot of research about 10 years ago on this project. I actually pride myself on finding, and that’s what we look for in this company, the exact spot for somebody when they come back.
Ireland is broken down, like the medieval system, into counties and baronies and unions and churches and then finally townlands, which in Ireland, are not marked, and can be one acre to two thousand acres. So basically, I think I saw a niche about 10 years ago and said that I could be people’s eyes and feet on the ground before they ever got here.
Going back as a young person, I was involved in the hotel industry and that’s something that you either love doing or you don’t. I think as I progressed very quickly, especially when I was working in Dublin Airport, where I was management level with direct responsibility for all the passenger tourists going through, and tourism in general, I very quickly knew I had a feel for what I was doing.
A typical tour day would start at approximately 7:30 am and ends when the folks say they’ve had enough. In Fáilte Ireland, we’re always told, “Make sure you do your talking in the first part of the morning because people get tired.” A typical tour day would involve all of the high spots of the area, and if I’m doing a tour, say, of County Meath, which has huge history, I would put 40% more into that tour than all of the tour operators, because they don’t walk the backroads, but I do. And I try to make sure that I can get to places that everybody wants to see, and the day doesn’t usually finish until 8 or 9 pm.
When it comes to a family history itself, we have a lot to cover; the exact townland where the people would have had their house, the church, maybe if I’d met ancestors prior to the visit, a meeting with the people, the local schools and the important things in an area, like hill forts. I try to find them long before people come.
What is the best part of your job?
I suppose the best part of my job is finding the exact area for a client, the exact homestead or family settlement. It’s very easy to say, ‘My family was from Cork’, or ‘They were from the Union of Mallow in Cork,’ but I go further than that. We as a team try to find the exact spot where the homestead would have been and that is probably one of the best things I can do. If I can find exactly where they’re from, and build a history up, I also enjoy meeting them, seeing it through, and seeing their enjoyment when it’s all finished. You’d be surprised, people cry, people laugh.
One that sticks in my mind, it was a great one a couple of years ago. At best, you usually get back to the late 1700s in Ireland but I was able to trace these records to 1645 back because they are so good around Londonderry. The most interesting thing about this ancestor and his family was that at a later stage, he became Brigham Young’s (the Latter Day Saints leader) bodyguard as he travelled across America. That is a very true story, it’s on TripAdvisor, and it’s a wonderful story that I was able to take that family back so far.
Ever had any odd requests from clients?
I had a woman one time that was always chasing skeletons in the family. I got her to Lifford, in a courthouse, and as we walked in, there was a skeleton standing there. She said to me, “Sean, I presume this is the nearest I’m going to come to a skeleton in the family history,” and I said, “I have a court record for you down below and you can make up your own mind.” That’s something that sticks in my mind – this woman actually was looking for skeletons, I think because she was doing the history for her husband.
When you take on a proper registered guide, you get the facts, you don’t get opinions or false information. As part of Fáilte Ireland, you must provide the information as per the facts. Also, if a person asks you a question, if you don’t have the answer, you must come back and give them the answer. When a client has travelled to Ireland, I believe they want to see the exact place where their family has lived, and they need all the facts in relation to that as well, and we do all in our power to find this. We don’t just believe it’s enough to see the church or the county, I think it’s very important to see how the families would have lived. It’s exceedingly important to see the likes of a famine house, the importance of what part the famine played in Ireland and its devastation and to get the facts behind that.
In your view, what makes a good tour guide?
I think that a good tour guide is again someone who knows the facts, but someone who also cares and has a love of this country, who wants to make sure that everything is prompt and correct for the folks that are here, because after all, they’re on a vacation and it has to be seen as a vacation. I believe that they don’t need to waste time in doing stuff that they don’t like doing.
I love what I do. I love meeting people, as I have always done for 40 years, I love bringing this country and its facts and its heritage to people.