Every town has one: the unofficial tourist offices
Tourists seeking advice are often sent to the amateur tour guide for advice, directions and the kind of expertise guidebooks cannot compete with
Amanda Burke and Jonathan Powell at All Things Connemara, in Clifden, Co Galway
Kieran and Sean and Murphy of Murphy’s Ice Cream, in Dingle, Co Kerry
Queen Elizabeth has fishmonger Pat O’Connell laughing at the English Market, Cork, in 2011. Photograph: Reuters/Maxwell’s/Pool
If you travelled in Ireland this summer, you might have had the experience of stopping in a town or village and asking a local to suggest somewhere to stay or eat. “Do you know who you should ask?” they’ll say, pointing you in the direction of the local unofficial tourism ambassador.
You might be sent to speak to a retired postal worker, or a walking enthusiast, or amateur historian, or perhaps the longest-serving business owner on the main street, but, rest assured, every town and village has such a person, dispensing the kind of knowledge difficult to replicate in an app or audio guide.
These people will often take a little extra care in where they send tourists, wanting them to experience their area in as full and local a way as possible, and helping to promote lesser-known locations.
Sean Murphy, director of Murphy’s Ice Cream, in Dingle, Co Kerry, has been living there for 13 years, and is well-placed to offer tourists a local perspective on what to do. As an American, he also has an insight into what outsiders might be looking for. Murphy believes that, more and more, visitors want the kind of local knowledge that guidebooks often lack.
“When tourists land in places, they want the inside scoop and to touch the real town,” he says. “With the internet, information is easily available, so they all come pretty well-informed. What they want from locals is that extra ounce of information such as where they should eat and what they should do.”
Sometimes, however, locals can miss things that might seem attractive or special to outsiders. Blame the self-deprecating nature of the Irish, Murphy says.
“The thing about Ireland is that it is a country of very humble people, to its credit. But in terms of appreciating what we have here, often the really simple things are overlooked, whether it is the quality of the milk or a walk along the harbour in Dingle. These are things I haven’t seen every day for my whole life, so I can perhaps appreciate them a little more and point people in their direction.”
The sage of Ennis
Another person closely connected with their local town is business owner Noel Tierney, who runs a traditional cycling, fishing and games shop – Tierney’s Cycles and Fishing – on O’Connell Street in Ennis, Co Clare. The shop has been in the Tierney family for more than 100 years, and Noel’s father, Michael (87), still works every day behind the counter.
Because they rent bikes, Noel and Michael are often the first port of call for tourists visiting Ennis. Noel says that, for his father, the interaction with visitors is what keeps him going. “My father’s oxygen is people,” says Noel. “He’s 60 years trading on the street, and his drug is meeting people and having the chat, and that gives him purpose to come in every day.”
For thirsty tourists, Noel helpfully lists several options in the town and generally sends visitors to one of his favourite pubs. “For a pint, thankfully we have loads of lovely bars in Ennis. I might send them to Knox’s across the road, or to O’Connell’s Bar, or Brogan’s or The Poet’s Corner in the Old Ground Hotel. The pubs that have survived are really catering for tourists now with meals and nice decor.”
Noel says he never feels burdened having to answer tourists’ queries several times a day – he recognises that, for a small town like Ennis, a vibrant tourism industry is vital to its economic survival.