Every day is a school day. I love learning new things and sometimes I’m embarrassed by how little I know.

Recently I enrolled in the Regional Tour Guide course in an effort to increase my skills and knowledge as a tour guide. The evening classes had a focus on the history of Ireland and I sat there remembering things I learned in school but also learned something new every night. The other focus was the history, culture, geography etc of Connemara and the Burren and again I remembered lots of it and learned new things.

But then came the practical aspect of the course. We had to be a tour guide sharing interesting and fun facts on a bus tour full of our fellow students. Not a problem as I am very familiar with both areas, right? Well, I have learned in the last few weeks just how little I actually know.

Stretch of road

We were each given a stretch of road in Connemara to talk about as the tour bus drove through it. I was assigned a stretch from Maam Cross to Screebe, a road I travel at least once a week so I knew there was very little of interest there. What was I going to talk about? I asked a friend to drive me very slowly while I tried to find something interesting to talk about and I discovered that when you really look at a place, it’s amazing what you find and what leads to you wanting to know more. So what did I talk about for 15 minutes?

Well, I started with things I knew about like commonage, forestry, sheep farming, suckler cows and the plants that grow along the way such as gorse and heather. But I also spoke of things I researched that I had no clue about previously. I knew the area was in the Gaeltacht, but didn’t know there were 26 such areas which were defined in the 1950s.


I learned about and spoke to a beekeeper passionate about protecting our native black bee. Not only does he have hives all over the area, but he also put hives of native black bees on the islands where there were none previously. This is to ensure that if the bees on the mainland get contaminated, there will be a supply of bees from the islands.

With little interest in fishing, I had in the past regarded Screebe House as a very nice place to have dinner. I knew it was famous for its fishing but I didn’t know there was a hatchery that raises and releases 50,000 smolts every year. Actually, I read that fact and then had to look up what a smolt is - a young salmon or trout. What I found really interesting was the story of Lady Dudley, who while she was staying in the area, set up The Lady Dudley Nurses in 1903. This was a result of her witnessing the very poor living conditions of families in the west and the lack of medical services. When she moved to Australia with her husband, she set up a similar scheme there which was the forerunner to the flying doctor service. She was a determined woman who wasn’t shy about asking their rich friends to fund the nurses and similar schemes. On a return trip to Screebe House in 1920, she drowned while out swimming. It’s said her ghost still walks the corridors of the house.

Big lesson

I could go on about so many things I learned, but the big lesson for me was how little I know about the area I live in. I also learned to not presume others either know or are not interested in what I do know. I’ve met so many who had no idea what commonage is or how little commercial value sheep’s wool has or the difference between dairy and suckler cows.

The course also introduced me to 16 new people who I’ve enjoyed learning with and from. Sharing is learning. Now to pass our exams!

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