A LETTERKENNY man is using intimate knowledge of his home country to design holidays for high-end American clients.
Garvan McCloskey and his wife Leonie have been running Garvan’s Gastropub in New Paltz, New York for the past four years.
A former Senior Financial Planning Consultant with AIB, he started bringing his customers ‘home’ three years ago.
“Due to popular demand we decided to run two tours to Ireland this year and I’m delighted to say that they’ve both sold out,” he said.
Garvan oversees the entire programme, including destinations, and he’s looking forward to bringing 70 visitors to Ireland this year.
“We’re based in a small village. Garvan’s is a gastropub with no TV or microwave. We serve fresh farm produce with an Irish twist. There’s not a whole lot of Irish people in our neighbourhood and they’re always asking us about home so that’s where we first came up with the idea to do a tour.
“We didn’t think it would get any traction due to the costs involved and the logistics but we managed to over-sell it. That was three years ago,” he explained.
This summer ‘Garvan’s Reunion Tour’ will take guests to Dublin, Killarney and Galway – stopping off at the Westbury Hotel, Mount Juliet Estate and Dromoland Castle Hotel along the way.
“We’ve included Donegal on two of the three trips home so far staying at the Radisson Hotel in Letterkenny and Solis Lough Eske as we like to support local. A big highlight last year was Slieve League while we had lunch in Nancy’s (Ardara). We also got up to Malin Head and spent some time in the Famine Village,” he said.
“It’s only when you’re away from home that you realise how far removed Donegal is from the rest of Ireland as it’s not that accessible. That said, there’s a special vibe in Donegal and everyone loves that part of the tour.
“Me and Leonie lead the tours and our son Conor stays back here and runs the place. Our other son, Jack, works in Dublin so we get to see him when we come home,” he said.
With tickets starting at $5,450 each, the holiday to Ireland doesn’t come cheap.
“It’s a high end tour. We stay in places like Ashford Castle and there’s an appetite for it. We have folk who have recently retired, with no mortgage worries and it’s a high quality trip,” he said.
Garvan (56) first travelled to New York with fellow Letterkenny man Johnny Kelly, from the Oldtown, in the early 1980s. It was a time when rural Ireland was emptying out and, needless to say, two young single men in their early twenties had ‘great craic’.
1990 Garvan met his future wife Leonie, a Galway woman, and the couple returned home in 1991 before moving back to America 12 months later.
The couple have two sons Conor and Jack and when the boys were seven and four the lure of Ireland came calling once more. That was 1998.
Fast forward fourteen years and Garvan was on his way back to America to run a bar and restaurant by the name of Shea O’Briens in New Paltz, a small town of 6,000 people in upstate New York.
“We opened our own place Garvan’s four years ago. I do the day to day running of the place – the meet and greet (even though dad thinks I do nothing!) while Leonie looks after the décor and does a lot of baking.
“Mum and dad (Mary and Liam) are fit and well and I get home five or six times a year to see them. It’s a long way from the days of the Irish wake when you were never seen again after emigrating. The joke at home is that they see me more now than when I was living in Letterkenny,” he laughs.
“We’re enjoying life. I miss Ireland but I’m having a great time here. It’s always great to get home and we’re lucky that Leonie and I can get home free on these trips. The tours are not cheap – it costs about $12,000 a couple – but we’re getting a lot of repeat business. One couple are coming on their fourth trip while for several others it’s a third time in Ireland so we’re doing something right,” he said.
“Our second tour takes in guided walking tours of Derry, Galway and Ennis together with tea and scones at Slieve League. It’s always nice to get home,” he added.