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WisBusiness: Irish Expatriate Delivers Expert Tours of Homeland

By Brian E. Clark

MADISON – When Philip Ryan worked as a tour leader in his native Ireland, he was notorious for ignoring standard routes and heading off the beaten path.

“I’d find out the interests of the people in my group and then we’d go for it,” recalls the amiable Dubliner, who was guiding for a company called Tir Na Nog, which, fortunately, catered to the adventurous. (Roughly translated from Gaelic, the name means “land of eternal youth.”)

Ryan worked for Tir Na Nog for three years, and in the process met his future wife and former Milwaukee resident Caroline Janette. She lured him to Madison, where the two settled five years ago.

His first job here, after obtaining the proper papers, was as an x-ray librarian at UW-Madison. He worked in a windowless room for six months and it nearly drove him batty.

“I needed daylight,” said the avid backpacker, climber and white-water kayaker.

So Ryan, 35, went back to school and got a degree in music and recording technology from the Madison Media Institute and set up his own business, Audio Architect. But he never lost his itch to travel.

So last year, Ryan and his wife established Inroads Ireland, which will begin leading groups of up to 20 to some unusual and not-so-unusual places in his homeland. The eight-night, seven-day trips will run from May through September and start at $1,450. The fee includes breakfasts, but not lunches or dinners.

Though the tours will visit Dublin, Blarney Castle and the Cliffs of Moher, Ryan said they will spend even more time visiting out-of-the-way villages that have historical or cultural significance.

“I want to show people what Ireland is truly all about, from Druids to Celts to Vikings to Normans,” he said. That means skipping mall outlet shopping and going to towns like Conakilty in County Cork, home to revolutionary and Irish patriot Michael Collins.

“Clonakilty also has great little restaurants and friendly pubs, including one that was run by Noel Redding, who was Jimi Hendrix’ base player,” Ryan said. Because travelers do not have set meals, they will be able to dine on their own and mingle with the locals.

Ryan said he will lead clients to ancient stone circles and megalithic tombs, as well as Crough Patrick - where St. Patrick is reputed to have cast snakes from Ireland - and a relatively unvisited community in the Aran Islands.

The tours will also pay a visit to the Dingle Peninsula, where visitors will have a layover day to hike, bicycle, shop, visit pubs and listen to traditional music, get a massage, go whale watching, and if they wish, visit more pubs.

Ryan said he and his wife have marketed their new company by attending Irish festivals, visiting Celtic organizations and focusing on Midwestern cities such as Milwaukee, Madison, Minneapolis and, of course, Chicago. He also gave a recent talk on Irish culture and history at Brocach, an Irish pub on the Capitol Square in downtown Madison. (Brocach means “badger” in Gaelic.)

“As a result of going to the Irish Fest in Milwaukee in August, we got a number of bookings,” he said. “We also passed out quite a few brochures.”

Ryan said the couple has tried to limit their expenses and they have not had to take out any loans to launch Inroads Ireland.

“We’ve invested our savings and our time,” he said.

The biggest expense was the company’s Web site - www.inroadsireland.com - which cost several thousand dollars to create.

“Basically, though, we’ve been marketing me and my expertise,” he said. “Ireland is about the size of Wisconsin and I think I can safely say I know a good deal of its roads.”

For more information about Inroads Ireland, call (888) 220-7711.

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