Wild Atlantic Cultural Tours: Meet Denis Quinn
Where are you from originally?
Though I was born and reared in Dublin, my mother was from Co Clare and so I spent my youth on the western seaboard, learning a love of the land from my grandfather who was a huge influence on me. I’ve been living with my family in Mayo for 20 years.
When did you establish Wild Atlantic Cultural Tours and how did the idea for it come about?
After getting my degree in Heritage Studies, I really wanted to show off this hidden part of the world. When the Wild Atlantic Way was developed as a tourism offering, it seemed a perfect fit.
Where do your tours take place? Is it specifically the North Mayo area?
I am based in the historic coastal town of Killala, on the edge of Killala Bay. It is an area of incredible natural beauty with a wild, rugged shoreline, amazing cliffs, and the most beautiful secret beaches you could imagine.
There’s no place like it on earth! I offer tours and activities all along the Ceide Coast from Killala to Belderrig and further.
Every era of history from the Neolithic, through the Bronze Age and right up to the 19th century, is represented in the landscape of the region, so there is something for everyone.
Are they offered during the summertime only?
We offer tours and activities all year round, though our foraging trips are seasonal. Because they are tide dependent, we can only offer them for about 10 days per month, from February to October.
We also do an amazing wild/local 7-course tasting feast that we bring to people’s homes or self-catering accommodation – they can just sit back and enjoy the best local and foraged produce with matched drinks and some great chat!
What exactly is a Failte Ireland Local Marine and Countryside Guide? And how did you become one?
This is a one-year part-time course that focuses on how to get to know your locality, its history, culture, archaeology, and folklore, and includes mountain and guiding skills. This led me to the guiding profession and years later to a full-time honors degree in Heritage Studies.
Your degree in Heritage Studies must also give you particular expertise that others may not have. Would you agree?
It was really in-depth and incredibly interesting. I certainly learned a lot about the environment, folklore, archaeology, ecology, and eco-tourism.
We examined ideas around sustainable tourism and travel and developed a greater understanding of what our culturally curious visitors want from a trip to this remote part of the island, and how we can help them immerse themselves in an authentic way.
Give me an idea of the kinds of tours you offer visitors to the area?
We offer a range of unique, guided cultural and historical tours and activities. These experiences are relaxed and informative and easily adapted to suit our visitors’ needs and interests.
I usually drive – the narrow bendy roads can be a little daunting for tourists! – and so it’s a chilled-out day for our visitors.
What would you say is the most popular tour/activity that you offer?
Our “Close to the Edge” historical, environmental, and archaeological tour goes down really with those who like a little rest between the walks!
We take inbuilt heritage from the Neolithic era – Mayo is rich in this – as well as Early Christian and Medieval buildings along the awe-inspiring North Mayo coast, right up to the glorious Kilcummin Head with its amazing views and stunning rock formations.
This tour can be a half or full day, adapted to the needs and interests of our visitors.
Another popular tour is the seaweed foraging trip. This is a loop walk along the shore, identifying different edible seaweeds.
We spend some time identifying how to harvest, dry, and cook some of these extraordinary sea vegetables (dillisk, carrageen, nori, etc.).
This tour is suited to agile folks as the rock pools are tricky and sometimes slippery. The walk takes about 3 hours along small sheltered beaches and rocky shorelines. It takes in local geology, flora, and fauna, as well as the history of the Killala area.
Our coastal seafood foraging trip is hugely popular with wonderful insights into the local land and seascape. While out foraging, we head across the vast strand to a deserted island, where we gather cockles, mussels, winkles, and some other seasonal wild foods.
Under wide Mayo skies, we explore the little islands, keeping an eye out for the different kinds of wildlife here. Our visitors often go home with lots of goodies to cook later, but sometimes we cook them up on the beach for a real seafood feast! This is hugely popular with our younger visitors as there is a lot of poking about in things!
Where do most of your customers come from or is it a mix of different people from various countries around the world?
We get a great mix of people from lots of different counties along with Irish people on their staycations. We’ve had quite a few intergenerational families from the US in the last few years.
What do you think sets you apart from other tourism guides along the Wild Atlantic Way?
I don’t bring my visitors to the usual hot spots, and I have a lot of local knowledge, as I spend as much time as possible out under the wide Mayo skies, always learning more about this historical spot and the secrets of the land.
I’ve also a huge interest in local history and archaeology and so love to share stories and fables with our visitors. Our tours are laid back and relaxed, so it’s usually good craic.
What makes this stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way special, do you think?
It is still so undiscovered compared to some other parts that are very touristy and busy all year round. We love to see visitors – just not too many!
What else do you want people to know about Wild Atlantic Cultural Tours?
Here’s what Dorian, one of our visitors from Minnesota had to say about us on the Facebook page:
“I cannot recommend Denis more highly. Even in this cold and rainy season, he created a packed agenda of early church ruins, megalithic sites, a blanket bog, 2 ancient cliff walks, and a drive around the remote farmland and coastal areas of North Mayo.
He knows and loves this place like the back of his own hand and was great company. Don't overlook North Mayo on your travels and book a day with Denis to make a truly memorable experience.”
You'll find lots of information on the various tours that Denis offers on the Wild Atlantic Cultural Tours website, including the prices of each tour.