Ann Quinlan’s brogue may have softened over the decades, but not her love for Ireland. She was born 80+ years ago in the Republic of Ireland, seven miles from the United Kingdom border. She recently gave me a brief history lesson.
The Republic of Ireland has 32 counties. We were occupied many times, over a period of 4500 years, primarily by the British, but we were invaded by everybody except the Romans. They didn’t make it to Ireland because I think they were too busy across the pond building Hadrian’s Wall. But, however, as a land of people, Ireland goes back to prehistoric times.
Ann knows her Irish history well, not just because it is where she was born and lived until she married. For the past 30 years, she has been leading tours of her native country.
Let me interject a bit of Ann’s personal history before I tell you about her Ireland tours. She came to America because she married an Irishman who was studying medicine in the United States and became a doctor on the East Coast. She had gone to nursing school in England and helped her husband establish his practice. She and their four children often accompanied him on house calls and some of the people they visited became like members of the family. During the summer, they would often come up to Maine, which is where she now lives. She began conducting her tours to Ireland in 1988.
What happened was when we were raising our children in Massachusetts, people would come to me and say, we’re going to Ireland, where should we go? But I think that part of the attraction for me in doing this and developing it over time is that my parents were very committed to our seeing Ireland before we went anywhere else. They really felt it important for us to know our own people, our own geography, our own history. And the more I go to Ireland the more I learn and the more I experience about my heritage.
Apart from the land itself, Ann is especially interested in the megalithic and the Neolithic period. One of the places she sometimes takes visitors is Newgrange, which is a Neolithic or Stone Age monument in the Boyne Valley, County Meath. It is considered the crown jewel of Ireland’s Ancient East. The name of Ann’s travel business, Spiral Journeys, comes from a triple spiral that was discovered inside Newgrange.
It’s a symbol of birth, life and death. The spiral goes around inward, then it goes outward, and then it goes inward again, so that its birth, life, death. Symbolically, this is what we believe it is. But as they tell you at Newgrange, whatever you interpret here is what you interpret so it can be anything.
You might think that by the age of 80, you’d want to slow down a bit, but not Ann. She’s already got the itinerary in place for her upcoming tour in May. Here’s a brief sample:
We’re going up to Connemara. The archaeologists will come with us, come on the coach and spend a whole day with us. We’ll also go into Galway. People like Galway, it’s a wonderful city with lots of history.
After 30 years of introducing people to her beloved country, you can be sure that Ann has developed a network of good connections. And some of them can be found in what is known as hidden Ireland.
The hidden Ireland piece of this are these restored mansions and manor houses and even castles that have become beautiful places where we can stay and then we go off every day. After breakfast we go off to a different area or a different site. I also consider hidden Ireland pieces of Ireland that you don’t see on a regular tour.
Spiral Journeys is not Ann’s only business. In 2001, she founded Healthy Aging Matters. As a certified geriatric case/care manager and dementia coach, she also helps people who are trying to navigate a different sort of unknown territory: aging.
I’m a coach, I’m a coach for families. That’s what I do. I help families who are managing someone with cognitive decline. More importantly, I’m really a navigator. I understand the healthcare system, which has become so challenging and confusing. A lot of times I’m just there to listen and get the story. But if there is a crisis, especially when people end up hospitalized and don’t know how to navigate the system, I go to hospital and I help.
Ann finds great fulfillment in the work she does, whether she’s leading people through Ireland or the challenges of getting older. But, still, where does she get all that energy?
You’ve got to stay in shape. You’ve got to get up and walk every day, you’ve got to move every day, get up and talk every day. I think I’m very fortunate because I’ve also inherited really good genes. I’m sure thats a big part of it. But I’m also committed and I’m very passionate about what I do.
If you’d like to learn more about Ann’s life, what it was like to grow up in Ireland, move to America where she knew absolutely no one, and how she is now handling her own aging journey aside from her work, watch for the interview I did with her for my podcast Conversations About Aging. It’s scheduled to air at the end of January.