Dungooley Irish Tours

conorcaseyFor over 30 years the Casey family has led small, personalized tours to Ireland, offering a unique experience for both first-time visitors and those who can’t stay away. Recently we caught up with Dungooley Irish Tours owner and operator Conor Owen Casey.

What is your own ethnicity/heritage?
I was born in New York, but moved over to Ireland at an early age and have kept a foot in both countries ever since. While I identify as both Irish and American, this is Celtic Life so I would be remiss in not mentioning that my grandfather was born just outside Edinburgh and I’m very proud of my Scottish heritage as well!

When and why did start the business?
I just launched the business this year after over a decade of working in politics. My father was an Irish literature professor and brought groups of university students over regularly since the 70’s. While he has since retired, our family has continued taking groups over every year. We’ve enjoyed it so much and received such positive feedback that it seemed natural to make it a full-time career. This is a passion of mine and I feel tremendously fortunate to be meeting so many wonderful people and traveling such interesting places.

What are the challenges involved?
There are so many tours on the market that you really need to find your niche. We can’t compete with the big tour companies in terms of advertising dollars, but I think we offer a unique enough experience to set ourselves apart. Our tours are small – so much so that we’ll occasionally bring the entire group to a cousin’s house for tea. We don’t believe that Ireland was meant to be seen through the window of a bus. By staying in locations for 2-3 days rather than moving every night it gives folks an opportunity to immerse themselves in the real Ireland – perhaps meet some locals, find a favorite pub or discover a secret hiking trail.

What are the rewards?
It’s an absolute gift to see visitors connect with the culture in such a meaningful way. We’ve even been able to facilitate folks on our tours meeting their Irish relatives for the first time, which is really amazing! Even those who don’t claim Irish heritage feel a very special connection with the people they meet. It’s a land of great character, but also a place with great characters, who are not easily forgotten. We have a lot of first-time visitors, but almost everyone expresses a desire to return – that’s how I measure a successful trip.

What are you core products and services?
Most of our tours focus on Irish history, but history that’s accessible and not overly academic. I grew up in the shadow of a massive Norman castle in Carlingford, County Louth – when I take groups to see it, they can immediately see how intimidating this structure that must have been to the native Gaelic population. We really try to bring the past alive by visiting places that seem untouched by time. All of our tours also include an introduction to Irish culture through music, dance, theater and storytelling. We’re starting to branch out and have just posted a “pub and brewery tour” package for craft beer enthusiasts and an “adventure tour” for those braver than myself.

Who are your clients?
We advertise open tours, which anyone can sign up for to join a small group trip (usually under 20 people). In addition, we offer packages and itineraries for independent travelers, many of whom just need some guidance and enjoy moving at their own pace. We also put together custom tours for groups as diverse as Irish clubs, sports teams, family reunions and religious communities.

What are your thoughts on the current state of the Celtic marketplace?
As an exhibitor myself, it’s great to see so many fine products being sold at festivals and events. The fact that one can buy Kerry gold butter and cheese in almost any supermarket these days is a thing of beauty!

Is enough being done to promote and preserve Celtic culture generally?
If you visit any Celtic heritage club in North America you immediately notice that new recruits are in short supply. I don’t think that’s unique to the Celtic culture specifically, but certainly demonstrates we need to do more to bring younger generations in.

What can we be doing better?
On the positive side, it’s fantastic to see over 150 Gaelic football clubs active in Canada and the States. There’s a vibrant traditional music scene and festivals like the Highland Games are well-attended each year. Unfortunately, I think holidays like St. Patrick’s Day too often celebrate a superficial part of our identity – we have a responsibility to go beyond this. In Burlington, Vermont for example we recently formed the Fenian Historical society, which promotes Irish history, mythology and language.

What’s next on your business agenda?
We’re particularly excited to be offering trips commemorating the centennial anniversary of the 1916 Easter Rising, a pivotal event that served as the catalyst for the Irish War of Independence and Civil War that followed. Please keep your eyes peeled as dates are posted!