Lecturing at Portobello Institute on the Tour Guide course is Jim Dempsey. Jim has over two decades of experience in the tourism industry and gives fascinating tours right across the country.
This is not Jim’s first encounter with the Portobello Institute.
“I did what was a Dublin City and Environs Badge in 2013 here. I did the national badge which I was teaching here in 2018,” he said.
Jim has a somewhat unique set of credentials as a tour guide as he is only one of approximately 25 tour guides in Ireland to hold both of the aforementioned badges, both of which are accredited by Fáilte Ireland, in an industry of around 850 qualified tour guides.
When asked where his love for guiding comes from, Jim said:
“I always say the number one thing you need to have to be a good tour guide is to love the sound of your own voice. The other side of it then is you need to love the country, which I do”.
“I would be a very self-reflective person too. Tour guiding operates in the realm of public history. I am a public historian. In other words, I talk about history to the public which is a very different subject from actual history. A lot of people get that confused. When you’re dealing with public history, you’re dealing with the narrative, which is we all live in a narrative of what we think Ireland is. So, I’m sharing my version of Ireland. The more you do that the more you realise this is a very personal thing. I really enjoy that,” he said.
Tourism is a constantly evolving industry and the key to being a good tour guide is to evolve as a person alongside it.
“You have to stay very fresh. You must reinvent yourself every winter and I love the seasonality of it. So, teaching in the winter months is good because if you want to learn something, teach it. So, this is actually going to multiply my learning. I learn every year. I have taken courses in voice work, story-telling and specialist subjects like whiskey over the winter season,” he said.
That constantly changing environment is one of the challenges Jim embraces being a tour guide.
“Staying really fresh. Making people feel like this is the first tour guide you’ve ever done. Making people feel that they’re unique. Making people feel like you’re not just regurgitating something you’ve done a hundred times, which happens quite a lot. So, you have to stay on your toes. That’s probably the hardest part.”
Jim was hesitant to share where his favourite place is.
“It would really be wherever I am today,” he said.
However, after a gentle nudge, he settled on the West coast of Ireland and in particular the Dingle Peninsula.
“That’s where I began and put my tour guiding boots on. I know it very well. I’ve been going there for 20 years. It’s amazing seeing how that place has transitioned and it’s a very distinctive culture down there to the rest of Kerry,” he said.
But he finds pleasure in touring across the country and enjoys every area he gets to work in.
“This country is very different. Each county is different when you get to know it. For me, travelling around Ireland is like travelling around the world,” he said.
Jim is excited to lecture at Portobello Institute and teach on the programme he studied a couple of years ago.
He is a tutor on the QQI Level 6 course in Tour Guiding. He imagines he’ll be a direct and engaging teacher, something he picked up from his teacher for his Dublin badge, Sally Creegan.
“I think I’m direct. I’ll be looking to elicit from people what it is they need to learn and then start working with that. There’s a very set curriculum. It’s very organised. There are lesson plans for each lesson. You can just deliver that in a very monotone way, and you can deliver the course but you’re not actually teaching individuals. I would be looking to go into each individual and figure out what they need.
“When I did my Dublin badge here, Sally Creegan the tutor I had here was a fantastic teacher. I have my guru when it comes to how to teach tour guides. She made us into great tour guides. And that’s what she did. She went through us all individually. She’s a great teacher,” he said.
Jim will measure his success in the role by his student’s right results in their exams to a certain extent but also recognises that real-life experience is a key factor in his student’s journey.
“They all pass their exams as a baseline. Overcoming resistance and blocks. This is an intense course. There’s a mountain of learning to be done. Getting people to the other side and making sure they step into the industry is important.
“It’s starting off on the right foot. That’s important. This trade is changing all the time and no more so than now. Tourism is being totally reinvented because of COVID. So really making sure that they step out into the world with their eyes wide open. That will be a success for me. Giving them the real deal,” he said.
Tour Guide graduate Peter Boylan praised Jim’s teaching style.
“My qualification has opened doors with companies to allow me to work as a tour guide. But it’s the work we did with Jim Dempsey in the course that prepared me for the work.
“I really enjoyed my time as a student at Portobello Institute, the best thing was the lecturer, Jim Dempsey, he was excellent. He made the course so interesting and kept taking us out of our comfort zone, so we were always on our toes. Even though the course is over he still makes himself available for any questions or advice as we make our way into the industry,” he said.