St. Paul Pioneer Press

Apr 7 2023

It’s official: Several St. Paulites were enjoying “the craic” (the Irish term for “fun”) when I explored Ireland recently with a gaggle of Minnesotans.

Led by Celtic Journeys, a St. Paul travel company that specializes in trips to the Land of Leprechauns, we set out to experience the land, culture and the people of this green gem, while supporting one of St. Paul’s hometown Irish bands, the Wild Colonial Bhoys, as they performed in pubs from Killarney to Waterford to Galway.

Members of the band have been performing for close to 10 years and have been a fan favorite at Irish pubs and notable gatherings around St. Paul, including the annual Irish Fair on Harriet Island.

On a side note, as I share my newfound knowledge of all things Irish, did you know the word “pub” is short for “public house,” a place where Irish folk regularly, and I mean REGULARLY, gather.

The band’s tour also included a performance at a charity benefit supporting the building of a new suicide-prevention center in Waterford, Ireland.

Maria Flynn Conway, proprietor of Celtic Journeys, is originally from Waterford, and she has been taking groups to Ireland for many years. The trip is as much a reunion for many who have traveled with Celtic Journeys in the past as it is a tour of the land. The company and the tour is truly a family affair.

Conway’s Uncle Paddy drives the bus, and brother Owen narrates the tour. Paddy’s comments are the “Abbott” to Owen’s “Costello.” Owen, in true Irish tradition, tells tales and shares folklore of the Irish culture. The tales are informative and entertaining and, in the end, it’s up to the travelers to decide which tales to believe.

Joining the cast of characters on the tour bus were St. Paul’s proud Irish son, Patrick Connolly of Connolly Kuhl Public Affairs; his significant other, Kelly Schwinghammer; Ryan Feider, Eagle Street Grill’s version of Sam Malone, accompanied by his Northfield namesakes Gary and Sandy Feider; and, of course, yours truly with my father, Lee Walker of West St Paul.

We headed to the towns and villages of Ireland, assuming we’ve got this “Minnesota Nice” thing in the bag … that is, until we encountered the over-the-top hospitality of the Irish clad in their Aran fisherman sweaters. It rains A LOT in Ireland (between 151 to 225 days a year on average), but the wet and dreary climate doesn’t seem to dampen the friendly spirit of the Irish.

It was difficult to resist the invitation of our new Irish friends to raise a glass of perfectly poured Guinness, followed by a few obligatory shots of Jameson whiskey.

They say you are a visitor on your first visit to the pub, and a regular after your second. This was certainly our experience. I now truly appreciate why my Irish friends in St. Paul take such pride in their homeland: The people and the scenery are magical.

I was also surprised and pleased to see the influence of my Nordic ancestors; Waterford was given its name by the Vikings.

Of course a trip to Ireland is certainly not complete until you have spent time touring the capital, Dublin. We enjoyed a perfect evening window shopping and strolling along the world famous high-end luxury shopping area known as Grafton Street, then on the south bank of the River Liffey in the Temple Bar area known as Dublin’s cultural quarter for night life and entertainment.

If you have ever wanted to kiss the Blarney Stone (a “must-do” but way overrated as you are basically puckering up to kiss a wall while lying on your back), experience the Aran Islands, see the Cliffs of Mohr, take a tour of the Waterford crystal headquarters, and of course, drink a few pints along the way, you just may want to do it with your St. Paul friends.

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