PATRICIA Doherty was a teenager when she first left Donegal with three friends, travelling aboard Cunard’s Britannic ship, bound for Cleveland via New York City in November 1959.
Today, she’s president of The Travel Connection , one of the regions longest-operating travel agencies and takes great pride in introducing travellers to her beloved Donegal.
While there have been numerous detours and diversions along the way Patricia, at the age of 77, has no plans to retire any time soon.
As a regular visit home she would like to see some additional flights into the Donegal Airport in the summer season but, overall, she believes that the county offers a unique product that will continue to attract visitors.
“All of my clients absolutely love Donegal. I’ve never heard a bad word. Once I get them up there, they always want to return. Any of us from the area have known for years that the scenery in Donegal is second to none in Ireland. I used to joke to my clients that it was the best kept secret on the island. Sliabh Liag and Glengesh Pass are always in demand. Donegal town is particularly favoured with the location on the bay, boat trips, Donegal Castle and the history of the O’Donnell’s. There’s also plenty of accommodation offerings ranging from places like The Central, The Abbey, The Milpark, Harvey’s Point, and Lough Eske Castle Hotel, all of which we use for our clients. I have one client who comes to Ireland every year, and insists on at least one night in Donegal Town just so he can enjoy a great traditional session at The Reel Inn,” she said.
Born and raised in Ardara and Glenties, Patricia left Ireland upon completion of her studies in Gaelic via The Sisters of Mercy and McDevitt’s Institute with her two school friends. Together, they stood on deck watching their ship sail away from Ireland, not knowing when, or if they would return again.
“I remember vividly, that it was a rough crossing, as we sailed through a large storm in the Atlantic ocean, that generated waves that were over 30 feet in height. With a sense of adventure and anticipation we looked forward to arriving in New York City and our new adopted country,” she said.
From New York, Patricia took a train to Cleveland, Ohio, where she lived with an uncle and his family for her first year in the United States. After a short stint with an Insurance company, she decided to pursue an opportunity in the Travel Business with the Rob Roy Travel Agency, located in East Cleveland.
“My passion was truly in travel, and I excelled in my role, getting the opportunity to experience many beautiful places both in the USA and other countries. After five years in Ohio, I applied for, and was granted U.S. Citizenship,” she said.
After several years in the US, Ishe returned to Ireland to manage the American-based Top Flight Tours/Holiday Services with offices in Dublin, Limerick, and Glasgow. She married Ray Hollywood in 1973 and began raising their family in the Dublin suburbs before moving out to Bray, Co Wicklow.
Patricia returned again to Cleveland, with her family in 1986, settling this time in Aurora, Ohio. It wasn’t long before she was once again immersed in the Cleveland Irish scene, and continued her career in the travel industry providing tours and trips to Ireland.
“Working in the travel industry, with a specific emphasis on Ireland, is something I still love, as it keeps me very connected to home,” she said.
“Adventure tours are in big demand and Donegal has some great opportunities including sea stack and rock climbing, kayaking and other water activities, as well as hill walking to name a few. The Donegal airport has opened up a lot of opportunities with their daily flights from Dublin.
“ I may of course be a little biased, but my home town of Ardara which was previously voted a best village in Ireland to live in always delivers for my clients. The local tweed industry is a fantastic resource with the likes of Eddie Doherty’s, Triona Design, John Molloy’s and Campbells offering great options to visitors. And if anyone knows Ardara, the pub scene with the likes of The Corner House, Nancy’s, and The Beehive have so much to offer. The Nesbitt Arms Hotel has also been a big hit with some of our tours with great reviews for their food,” she said.
“It also has been great to see new and improved visitor attractions come online. Last year, I visited Doagh Famine Village and Visitor Centre which was fantastic,” she added..
With a brother and sister still in Ardara, another brother down the road in Narin and a third brother who splits his time between Letterkenny and the Burtonport area, Patricia looks forward to getting home.
Her son, Mark, now works with her in the agency. Her daughters, Bronagh and Claire, live in Boston and Washington, D.C. Her youngest daughter was married in Ardara in 2009 while her son has been fortunate enough to be able to visit Donegal every year with his family.
“Our clients really appreciate the authenticity of the people of Donegal. The warmth of the people, who always seem genuinely appreciative of visitors, is something that comes through. As we work closely with Tourism Ireland, we see first hand how Failte Ireland in recent years is doing a great job of trying to promote Donegal. I think the Wild Atlantic Way promotion and marketing helped bring more tourists north. However, It’s a delicate balance that needs to be achieved, as you want the economic benefits for the area, but achieved in a responsible and sustainable manner.
“My son Mark Hollywood, who is in the business with me, participated in a familiarization trip last year centered around Donegal. Of course Mark was already very familiar with the region, but it was great for many of the other industry professionals and tour operators to get their first taste of all Donegal had to offer. Highlights of that trip included The Fanad Head Lighthouse, Rathmullan House, The Shandon Hotel and Spa, Doe Castle, Glenveagh National Park, Leo’s Tavern, The Glencolmcille Folk Village, Sliabh Liag, and Donegal Town where they stayed at The Central, dined at The Olde Castle Bar, and enjoyed a good session at The Reel Inn. They managed to cover quite a bit of the county in a couple of days, showcasing all Donegal has to offer,” she said.