Noel Quigley – Becoming a Tour Guide at 63 ‘Exceeded my Expectations’
Alumni of Tour Guide
Travel & Tourism
At 63 years of age, Noel Quigley knew that his time in full-time employment would be coming to an end soon and retirement was a quietly looming shadow in the distance. Instead of waiting for its inevitable embrace, however, he decided to be proactive and open his opportunities to follow his passion when he eventually left his job as a salesman.
“I wanted a plan for my retirement where I could do something that keeps me active and engaged that matches my interests. It was a case of what I liked doing, and how I can get paid for it, and tour guiding was a good fit,” he said.
Noel enrolled in Portobello Institute’s QQI Level 6 Tour Guide course. It was a natural choice for him as throughout his life he has developed a deep interest in Irish history. And, coincidentally enough, his full-time job only helped to nurture that curiosity about the Emerald Isle.
“I am a salesman and have been for the last 25 years. For 20+ of those years, of all the products to sell, it’s road signs in Ireland. That’s mad because it’s taken me to every corner of Ireland and beyond.
“I’ve been to West Cork on a Wednesday and Donegal on a cold November morning. I know Ireland very well. To be a new tour guide, I have huge experience of Ireland in terms of its geography.
“I’m actually weakest in Dublin. But if you asked me to go down to Tipperary and go to the Rock of Cashel and ask if I know any cafés or places to use the bathroom, the job that I have would have given me all that information. I would know restaurants, hotels, pubs, and places to stop. To that degree, my job as a road sign salesman has given me a good grounding in the geography of Ireland,” he said.
Coming into the course, Noel’s keen interest in Irish history set an expectation for how much he would enjoy a course centered around that very topic. His expectations were still exceeded, he says.
“It was absolutely terrific. It exceeded my expectations. It was much more challenging than I expected.
“I enjoy Irish history and that’s a large part of the course. Not the only part though. You learned people skills too.
“I thought I’d be ok, but it was a great challenge than expected and it took more time than I expected. But I enjoyed every minute of it.
“The tutor [Jim Dempsey] was really clever. He had this group of people who were all very different. Different ages, different backgrounds. He engaged with everybody. You’d be sitting there sometimes, and suddenly you’d be asked a question, and you had to be on your game. You couldn’t drift. He was really good at getting the group to engage.
“The other thing he did, and I give him credit for it, is sometimes there would be a disagreement on Irish history and he would let the group thrash it out amongst themselves. He would sit back for three or four minutes and let people give an opinion. He wouldn’t interfere. He would let you vent and exchange views which I thought was good,” he said.
While there was a broad range of focus when it came to the Irish history they covered, Noel found the more modern Irish history to be most enjoyable.
Noel is looking forward to putting his qualification to good use in the coming years as his workload eases. Kerry, Kilkenny and Abbeyleix are among places of interest for him.
“Kerry would be an obvious, easy ticket. Kinsale is a wonderful town for food. There are some lovely structures like the Charles forts of Kinsale.
“Kilkenny too, if you can’t sell Kilkenny to people there’s something wrong with you. The Rock of Cashel. I could go on.
“I have family in Mayo so I’m a bit biased. The Wild Atlantic Way has been staggeringly successful. It’s transformed the coast of Ireland.
“I now look at websites and pages, particularly American ones, and I see what they’re interested in. And it’s not the Rock of Cashel. It could be a church in the middle of Sligo. They see the beauty that we don’t see sometimes. The trick, I guess, is to find things of interest in not-so-interesting places.
“I tell people, for example, about Abbeyleix. It’s a small town. But they made the carpets for the Titanic in Abbeyleix. Suddenly, you’ve got things to tell people.
“If you go down to Mitchelstown in North Cork, and you go down the High St, there’s a right turn. In there, there’s an English-style housing estate from the 1900s like you would see in Bristol, Bath, or Edinburgh. It’s the houses from the Edwardian era. They housed the Protestant vicars when they retired. There’s a little Protestant village that you would not know was there only for the fact that you stumbled across it. In a rural Irish town, there’s a little part of England. Finding little nuggets in ‘so what?’ places,” he said.
One benefit of the course that he might not have considered before signing up was the benefit to his mental health, but that’s exactly what he experienced.
“You get to an age where you haven’t done any studying since you left school at 20 something and here you are at 60 something and you’re not reading books as you did in your youth. You’re tending to flick through mindless social media.
“I have no mental health issues, I should add. But what I did find was that I was wasting an awful lot of time looking up drivel. Pictures of cats playing table tennis. It was an awful lot of not much.
“When you do the course, suddenly you have to get your dates, your history. You have to write it down in a lucid way because it’s not good saying ‘I think the Battle of Clontarf was this’, you’ve got to know the date and you’ve got to know the outcome.
“It has been fantastic for me that I’ve had to concentrate like I haven’t concentrated in years. In doing so, I really enjoyed it. My wife would tease me saying that I have homework tonight. But away I’d go and submit pieces of work that I took pride in. I was proud of what I could put together and write it in a way that told a story.
“You’re not bringing people on a tour and giving them dry dust history. You’ve got to bring it to life. Why did something happen on this day? Why Oscar Wilde was so famous,” he said.
The tour guide course has been a transformative experience for Noel and he highly encourages anyone in a similar position to consider taking this path to tour guiding.
“Don’t let age put you off. I’m 63 and I thought I would be the old man on the bus. In reality, whilst the group had people from 25, the average was certainly over 50, so don’t let age be the deciding factor.
“If you have a passion for Irish history, this is a natural fit. You won’t regret doing it. It’s opened my eyes,” he said.
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