Grace O'Malley & Celtic Invasion Vacation Expectations
Play • 31 min

Where are we going on the next Celtic Invasion Vacation? Listen and also enjoy some music related to the invasion. Plus, you’ll learn what you can expect to experience when you join an invasion.

It’s Pub Songs & Stories #258


I am Marc Gunn. This is the audio liner notes for the songs I record and play.

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1:01 - WHAT’S NEW?

This is a bonus episode. I finally settled on where to go for the next Celtic Invasion Vacation in 2023. I looked at Galicia in Spain, the Wicklow Mountains, south of Dublin, Ireland, and Westport in County Mayo, Ireland. And the winner is… Westport in County Mayo.

I don’t yet have details about the trip. Nor have I opened it up to the public. I’m gonna spend the next month working those out. But there are few things I want to explore while we are there.

First, County Mayo was the home of Grace O’Malley. She was known as the Pirate Queen of Ireland. A quick search revealed that there are not many records of her. However, there are some letters that were exchanged with Queen Elizabeth I, which show a mutual admiration of each other, two strong women in a time of men. I’m gonna research a bit about the Pirate Queen and see what we can find.

And to give you a small taste, The Gothard Sisters have a song inspired by Grainne, as she is often called.

2:15 - “Grace O’Malley” by The Gothard Sisters from Mountain Rose


One of my regular invaders, Jim, once said that what he enjoyed about our trips is that there are frequently different types of travel that we do. Meaning we might take a boat or train, instead of a car. So I’m always looking out for something cool like that for at least one day. Happily, Clare Island is nearby.

I honestly know very little about Clare Island. Although, it sounds like Gracy O’Malley spent some time there as well. What I do know about it is that The Saw Doctors have a fantastic song called “Clare Island”. It makes me excited to see it.

That’s what I have so far.


I’m gonna share a replay from the Celtfather Unkilted podcast. I noticed after publishing that episode last month that there is one thing that is a bit off at present. That is the requirement of a vaccination card. I am not requiring that at present though the sentiment is still valid. These trips are small and your fellow invaders should be treated like family. Meaning I do expect that you will get vaccinated as needed to protect your family.


If you go to the website you won’t find much information. I usually list the itinerary when it becomes available but that can be January or March before the trip. You will find podcasts and links to pictures and videos. I don't know that any of it really paints a good picture.

So I thought I would try to break down how these trips work to help you decide if you want to join me in the future.

Celtic Invasion Vacations are not your typical travel tour experience. Most tourists travel on big buses. They go place to place. You stay up late. You get up early. There’s 30, 60 or even 90 people packed on one to three tour buses.

If you’re like me, that sounds pretty miserable. My first two trips were on tour buses. Everyone was a fan of my music. So that was pretty awesome. The bus drivers were awesome too. But that's a lot of people for an introvert like me.

I don’t know how much of the fatigue was from so many people or the staying up late/getting-up-early business. But it’s not my preferred way of traveling. I like small groups.

My mom moved to Italy in 1985. So I’ve gone back-and-forth to Europe for a long time.

My mom is an awesome adventurer. I went to school on an American military base in Vicenza, Italy for my senior year of high school. While all the other high school seniors went to Remini to get drunk, my mom and I went on in artistic pilgrimage following the works of Piero Della Francesca. She instilled in me the value of planning as well as spontaneity.

You see that in my Celtic Invasion Vacations itinerary. When I finally make one that is. Typically, I don't have a full itinerary when I announce the latest trip. I have… ideas.

In fact, I usually have one big idea. Then I find a way to make it work.

One person told me he was disappointed when my trip to the Highlands of Scotland a few years back did not also include the Isle of Skye, like it was initially listed on the early itinerary.

That was because I had a big idea. But when I finally settled on details, I realized it was impractical. I learned from that error. If I make any big changes to what was planned, you are welcome to back out.

I don’t usually settle on solid itineraries until December or January. I just don’t have enough details to make a solid decision.

That might make some people uncomfortable, especially when you’re putting down nearly $3000, plus air travel, to join me.

The adventure is worth it!

The great thing about traveling on the Celtic Invasion Vacation in my opinion is that it is a small group. That means maximum flexibility for adventure.

So let’s answer some questions.


This can always vary. But typically I run my trips in late May or early June. This seems to be the best time to travel to Ireland and Scotland. People talk about rain in Ireland. June seems to invariably have one of the lightest rain falls ever. It's just... perfect!


Celtic Invasion Vacations are about seven days long. The trips are officially scheduled from Saturday to Saturday. That’s because that’s how long most vacation rentals book. But I’m not going to be taking you to seven hotels in seven days. We stay in one place most of the week.

If the vacation rental is more than a couple hours from the airport or there's something cool to see closer, we may stay in a hotel near the airport on the last night of the Invasion. It just depends on how soon everyone on the trip has booked their departure.


I usually ask Invaders to arrive the day before the trip. That way you can recover from jet lag and adjust to the time change. But that also allows us to leave first thing in the morning on Saturday to drive to our vacation rental.

While it is recommended, it is not required. As long as you arrive by 11 am on Saturday, we will adjust. You are also responsible for the hotel on Friday night. But you might find a roommate with other Invaders.


Again, it’s up to you. I prefer you to set your departure after noon on Saturday. You can stay as long as you want.

I usually leave on Sunday after the trip is over.


Destinations are chosen by invaders and of course me. I usually have an idea of a place I want to see. I look for a suitable vacation spot.

But sometimes I ask for suggestions from Invaders. Our trip to Brittany and Cornwall were both chosen because some regular Invaders wanted to visit all seven Celtic nations.

Of course, I get the final say. And if I can't get enough people to attend one of these more remote spots, I may make adjustments.

Once we settle on a big destination, the next step is figuring out the generalized itinerary.


Yes. This is not an intense, constantly moving tour. Celtic Invasion Vacations are about relaxation, adventure, and fun. But how much can be up to you.

There’s usually at least one day where we are near to the cottage and take it easy. We explore the local town. Wednesday’s have the option of a little extra downtime for those who need it.


You can't make an itinerary until you know where you are going, right? Well, the challenge for me is that I need to know the exact place we are staying to figure out where our itinerary will go.

My next step then is to start researching vacation rentals. I look for rentals in our destination area that hold between 8-12 people (sometimes more). I want it to look nice, comfortable and easily accessible. In fact, I want the majority of the cool stuff that we will explore to be within 30 minutes of where we are staying.

Once I know the exact location, I can plan the itinerary.


The first day of the trip involves driving to our destination. We need at least one interesting place to stop along the way. Maybe two if you include lunch.

When we arrive, we need groceries. I confess, there's something extra fun about going to a grocery store in Europe. Some of our Invaders join me for a shopping experience as we load up on breakfast and a couple dinners.

I make dinner the first night, typically my secret pasta recipe. That evening is usually concluded with a little music by me.

The second day is usually a good day to stay local. So we explore one or two of the cool things nearby. We try to spend time out of the car, walking around. It's good to stretch our legs after traveling.

On either the second or the third day, I like to bring in a tour guide, if possible. My trips are not geared around "tours", but local guides are great for adding a little bit of history, culture, and legends to the experience.

Guides are also good at giving us a local perspective of things we should check out that are not necessarily on our itinerary.

In Brittany, we found some cool cairns that were not on our original itinerary. In Cornwall, we got an overview of Tintagel and found some standing stones I would've never found. In Wales, Gwilym Morus shared the incredible legends of Merlin and introduced us to an eco-resort, hidden in the mountains. In Donegal, we found some great restaurants and a former passage tomb.

Around day three, we're ready for a different travel experience. That's when I try to get us out on the water or on a train. Something to shake up the feel of the trip.

Day four is the midweek break. Again we stay local. Some choose to relax in our cottage. Others explore something new that’s local.

Day five usually takes us on a long adventure. We'll get in the van and drive further to see something outside of our main region. This gives us a nice look at other regions nearby. It also adds to the fun adventure.

Day six is intentionally left open. We usually find something cool by this time that we might not have realized before the trip began. Or perhaps a guide or a local we met had a recommendation. That's when we take the advice of others to explore something different

The final day is usually spent fairly local. It’s time for last minute exploration of our area. Sometimes we pack up and make our way back  \towards the airport. One or two bonus destinations end up on the final day.


I like to stress that Celtic Invasion Vacations are not tours. They are vacations. I want my Invaders to feel relaxed and happy by the end of the trip. Not exhausted, like I was on my first two trips to Ireland. You should be energized and excited for the next Celtic Invasion experience.


The number can vary. But I usually aim for between 8-12 invaders. Too many people and I start having trouble finding restaurants to eat at.


You DO need a passport. It's usually good to get your passport at least 90 days out. I would suggest applying for one a minimum of six months before you depart. But there are some expedited services that can get them sooner. Just plan ahead.

You do NOT need a visa. You don't need an international drivers license either. In fact, your regular driver's license is fine if you plan to drive in Europe with any car company. Make sure you bring that at the very least. But of course, driving on the Invasion is usually done by me.

Since the pandemic, you will need a vaccination card. Invasions are like family vacations. We want to take care of our fellow invaders. So your COVID vaccination card is essential for my trip and a lot of European travel.


That varies year to year. It starts at about $2800 for the land part of the trip, for each person on the trip.

It does not cover the cost of air travel. You handle your own airline tickets.

Your fee covers your housing for a full week. That's for a shared room, either a double if you’re a couple or two singles. Depending on our housing, it may cost extra to get a single room to yourself.

Your fee covers a breakfast every day and dinner at least five times. Often I cover more than that. Sometimes it works well to make lunches if we're not planning to be near restaurants. So I happily pay for lunch supplies if we need them. But in general, you are responsible for your own lunch.

You can have what you like for breakfast each morning. Some days we have a full breakfast with eggs, bacon, yogurt, fruit, cheese, or whatever you want.

Grocery shopping usually happens on the first day. So whatever you need, we can probably find it.

Other days, if we want to get going early, then we will have a Continental Breakfast with just breads, cheese, yogurt or fruit.

And yes, there's coffee. Every morning. And tea too. I need my coffee!

I cook dinner at least 2 days during the week. We have my world famous secret pasta meal. And then there's the Celtic Invasion specialty... Prince Charlie... Secret. It's a recipe we picked up years ago and is now a tradition on the Invasions. There may be more than two meals. But of course, we like to eat out too.

The toughest thing about dining on the Celtic Invasions is finding a place to eat. If the group is under nine people. That's usually not too difficult. But if we have more than that, it can be a challenge. I plan ahead for that. Because who doesn't like to eat out in Europe!?!?! I consider that a big part of the experience.


At least twice a week, we spend the evening relaxing at our cottage with dinner... and music.

I am, of course, host of the Irish & Celtic Music Podcast. But I'm also a musician. I play Celtic music with a sci fi drinking song twist. I call it Sci F'Irish music. You can hear my music through my website at

I plan to play for at least an hour. But a lot of it depends on you and how excited you are to hear some music. If we're really lucky, you might bring an instrument too. Then we can have an Irish session with songs and tunes afterward.

And if we're really fortunate, I will find a musician or bring in a musician to come play for us. That's frequently difficult to pull off.  But when it happens. It's absolutely amazing!


Breakfast is usually around 7:30 or 8 AM with a departure time of 8:30-9 AM.

We don't usually do too much in the evening. Since Irish sessions usually don't begin until 9 PM, it's not something we usually attend outside of our cottage. But if it's something you want to do, we might be able to make it happen.


I have had people ages 18 on into their 70s on my Celtic Invasion Vacations. I'd say the vast majority are in their 40s, 50s and 60s. But I don't really think much about it because I adjust each trip to who's on it.

In 2019, the younger group hiked up Skellig Michael while the less physically able landed on the Greater Blaskett Island by boat.

The physically active walk, hike and run ahead if they so desire. Those who aren't, take it at their own speed.

The Isle of Skye was one of the few places we went where it was better to be physically active. There's a lot of hiking on that island. But ye know, I don't think anyone's vacation fun was hindered by their physical activity.

As for younger folks, I typically don't prefer to have young kids on the trip. I know the challenges associated with that. But I'm willing to consider it as long as the you feel the kids are up to getting up and going.

One lady asked about a teenager. I think I might be open to a teenager who is a bit more independent but still willing to follow the rules.


Typically we travel in a van. These are usually large nine-seaters with lots of luggage space. Sometimes we will add a second van or a car to carry extra Invaders.

Speaking of luggage, we do have limited space. I find one suitcase per person is plenty, plus a carry on. You typically don't need more. There's usually laundry facilities too. So you can always wash something extra. There's a whole bunch of videos on YouTube where you can learn how to travel light.

If you truly need an extra suitcase, that's fine. But your experience is so much better when you travel light.


The first step is for me to open up the Invasion to the public. You see, former Invaders get first dibs. Once it's public, here's what you do.

First, email an application form to me.

Second, send me a check for your deposit. That reserves your spot on the Invasion within 2 weeks of emailing your application form.

Finally, just send me your final payment before the deadline and you're golden.

Speaking of your final payment, you are welcome to break it up into multiple payments if you don't want to or can't pay all at once. I'm happy to work with you to make the trip happen.


First off, there is a $400 non-refundable deposit. Though there is a caveat for the "non-refundable" part. If I change the dates, you can get a refund. If you can find someone to take your spot, or someone willing takes your spot, then you can get a refund.

However, if you are sick and turned away by an airline or country, I can't offer a refund. Typically, 30-60 days before the trip, once I start paying for things, like our housing, vans, tour guides, whatever, I can no longer offer a refund. That usually starts about the time of the Celtic Invasion deadline.

I'm not a corporation though. So there may be flexibility. My goal here is to have people "sign up" and then not drop a month later as happened on my very first Celtic Invasion. If you wanna go, make a commitment with a non-refundable deposit.


All in all, Celtic Invasion Vacations are about happily experiencing the fun culture, history, and legends of one small but magical location. I hope you'll consider joining me on the next Celtic Invasion Vacation.

Sign up at so you don't miss out on this incredible adventure!

And if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.


Let’s finish up with a recording of “Star of the County Down”. This was released on show #255 ConJuration: From Ren Fest to Sci Fi Conventions.

You can download this song as an MP3 when you join my Gunn Runners on Patreon.

26:45 - “Star of the County Down” by Marc Gunn also from How America Saved Irish Music

30:24 - CLOSING

What are you doing while listening to Pub Stories? I’d love your thoughts and feedback. So take a picture of yourself or where you are or what one of these stories reminds you of. Post it on social media. Use the hashtag #pubstories so I can find it and share your story.

Thanks for listening to Pub Songs & Stories. The show was produced by Marc Gunn, edited by Mitchell Petersen with graphics by Miranda Nelson Designs. You can subscribe and listen to the regular show wherever you find podcasts. You can also subscribe to my mailing list. You will get regular updates of new music, podcasts, special offers, and you’ll enjoy more stories behind several of my most-popular songs.

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Have fun and sing along at!

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