Donegal Tour Guide: Meet Henry Doohan
Where in Donegal are you from and has Donegal been your home since birth?
Yes, I was born and bred in Donegal and I couldn’t be more delighted by that. I grew up in The Gaeltacht in a town called Falcarragh.
I was very lucky to live right beside the sea with views of my second home Tory Island.
That small island 9 miles off the coast, is my father’s birthplace and I still have family living there today.
Currently, I live in Donegal’s second-largest town, Buncrana, Inishowen, with my wonderful wife and 3 young children.
How did the idea of becoming a Donegal tour guide and private chauffeur come about?
I worked many jobs growing up and never felt satisfied in any of the roles I had.
Even in the jobs I had, which weren’t tourism-based, I noticed myself always advising customers on places to visit or things to do in the area.
I always enjoyed chatting with people and volunteered on community radio, so presenting was always at the forefront of my mind.
A good friend told me that Joseph Mangan of Mangan Tours needed a tour guide at short notice and he knew I had an interest in history and didn’t mind working a microphone in front of a crowd.
Joseph trusted me to guide a coach bus group on a short excursion and thankfully everyone enjoyed the day. I felt such satisfaction after delivering the tour, I knew this was my calling.
Joseph Mangan persuaded me to gain the correct coach and limo licenses, so I’ll always be grateful to him for steering me in the correct direction and we collaborate still today.
While I was studying for my Fáilte Ireland Tour Guiding Badge, I worked in Glenveagh National Park.
It was a beautiful place to work and the staff there were so friendly and welcoming.
However, I much preferred the idea of showcasing the entire county to visitors and that’s how the idea for Donegal Tour Guide and my private chauffeur day trips came about.
What kinds of services do you offer as a tour guide in Donegal?
With Donegal Tour Guide, I provide bespoke, private day tours of Donegal and the Northwest in a luxury Mercedes V-Class 8 seat minivan.
With a private tour, it’s only your group that you’re traveling with, which is the safest option for this COVID-19 era.
I also offer airport and special event transportation as well as golf trips around the esteemed golf courses of Donegal.
For coach companies, I provide a step-on guide service. Many tour groups prefer a local guide to show them the area and hear firsthand accounts of what County Donegal is like from a native.
Oftentimes, I help tour managers tweak their tour itineraries to get the most out of their time in the county.
What countries do your customers generally come from?
Almost all of my customers are from North America. Some of these have ancestral roots in County Donegal and some have no connection to Ireland whatsoever.
Many of my tour guests are Irish-American and hail from all corners of the United States.
I’ve noticed a majority of my guests have been to Ireland before, but further south, and commented that they preferred to go visit Donegal as it felt more undiscovered, peaceful, and like the “real Ireland” of their dreams.
Could you describe a typical day tour suitable for a small group of people and what is included in that package?
On a typical day tour, I pick up my guests from their accommodation in the morning, always with plenty of time for them to enjoy their breakfast.
We’ll set off on the road trip in a luxury Mercedes-Benz V-Class, taking the scenic routes that the coaches can’t drive.
I try not to be a typical tour guide by just pointing out places of note. Instead, I like to chat with my guests and have conversations with them.
As we travel and talk, I get a sense of what my guests are like, and then more often than not, I alter the tour to suit their personalities and interests.
On one trip, a lady told me she really wanted to hug a sheep, so I made it my business to get her to a farm, and sure enough, she got to feed and cuddle one.
On my tours, we visit the popular tourist areas but also go off the beaten track. I don’t include lunch in my service as people like to eat at different times, but when they do want to eat, I know all the best places in the areas we visit.
I let them know about locally produced food and drinks, so they can have a taste of Donegal, too.
Usually, on my trips, my guests will see coastlines and beaches, get to stretch their legs in scenic walks, meet interesting locals at restaurants, shops, and tourist attractions, and end their day back at their accommodation with fond memories of their time in County Donegal.
Do you usually set the itinerary or do your customers have attractions in mind that you then take them to?
Usually, my customers will choose an area they want to visit from the descriptions of the sample itineraries on my website, while others will let me decide which of these tours is their best option due to where they are staying in the county.
But often I receive requests for totally bespoke day trips such as genealogy tours.
These can be the most fun as they are more like a treasure hunt as the guests try to locate their Irish ancestral roots or distant relatives.
I pride myself on the few occasions I had beginning these types of tours with vague clues in the morning and having my guests drinking tea with long-lost cousins by early evening!
Are there certain attractions in Donegal that are more popular than others?
The Sliabh Liag cliffs are becoming very popular to visit now. More than likely, anyone familiar with Donegal will have seen an image of these astounding sea cliffs, the highest accessible ones in Europe.
Malin Head is also on people’s bucket lists as it is the most northerly point in Ireland and a great bragging right to have after a visit to the Emerald Isle.
Many visitors from abroad (especially Americans who are used to driving on the right) are hesitant to rent a car. Do you offer them a viable alternative?
Absolutely. Roads in Ireland can be a bit intimidating for those coming from cities or countries that drive on the opposite side to us here.
I have driven in other countries myself and it can take more concentration to obey road rules and that’s not what you want when on vacation.
I’ve had a few past guests tell me they hired a car here before but it wasn’t worth the stress and worry of crashing or losing a security deposit over a scratched fender.
On occasion, passengers have told me that they are driving a rental car around Ireland themselves and that “Bob” has been the designated driver.
More often than not, poor Bob looks exhausted and I have to wonder how much fun he’s having on their trip.
With my private day tours, all of my guests can gaze out the windows, relax, and let me take care of the driving.
When it comes to your chauffeur services, are your customers primarily tourists or do you cater to other types of clients as well?
In the peak summer season, my customers are mostly tourists to the county but at other times I provide chauffeur services such as golf trips, corporate transport for multinational organizations, or airports, and special event transfers.
Being a native, I’m sure you love every part of your home county. But do you have a favorite place that you love to show to visitors?
I think the place that I always enjoy showing because of the reaction it gets is traveling up the Mamore Gap in Inishowen. “The Gap” is a steep pass that heads into the Urris Hills and can be a bit daunting for the nervous driver.
The summit reveals an amazing vista over Urris and out to the Atlantic and Dunaff Head. It’s breathtaking, but you’ll have to come to Donegal to see it for yourself.
What do you think makes Donegal special compared to the other counties in Ireland?
I think Donegal feels like an undiscovered county.
All of Ireland is beautiful, but there’s something about the remoteness and ruggedness of our mountains and coastline that really make it seem like you’re stepping out of reality and into a fantasy land.
On a sunny day, the countryside of beautiful green fields and hills is so relaxing to see and on a stormy, wet day, there’s nothing I love more than watching the waves crash against the beaches and rocky coastline.
It’s on days like that that you know how the Wild Atlantic Way got its name.
Because of our location, we’re only beginning to feel an increase in tourism so you really do get to see an unspoiled county.
Since budget is a concern for followers of Ireland on a Budget, is it fair to say that you offer a budget-friendly option for most travelers who are looking for services like yours?
The idea of chauffeur-driven private tours has this notion of being solely for the elite, but it’s not. My guests come from all walks of life so it’s not just for the Rockefellers.
With a private driver-guided tour from a local, you are getting to visit places that may not be on guidebooks or accessible by tour bus companies.
Because I can take up to 7 passengers, if you are a group of two or three couples, the cost can work out more affordable than hiring a minivan plus the diesel costs of double backing from wrong turns and detours.
Let us know how you can be reached and where readers can find more information