A Journey of Discovery with Backroads: Guests Reconnect with Family History in Ireland

After leading Backroads trips in Ireland, I can tell you that guests visit the Emerald Isle for three main reasons: to take in the breathtaking scenery, experience the down-to-earth hospitality of the Irish, and trace their family history.

Bar none, every trip has at least one guest whose parent, grandparent, or distant relative has an attachment to Ireland. For some guests, it’s their first time visiting their ancestral homeland, seeking to uncover more about their genealogy. Others are frequent visitors, drawn back time and time again because of a powerful connection to land and culture.

Today, the National Museum of Ireland estimates that some 43 million people—one-sixth of US citizens—identify their national background as Irish.

Guests share their Irish experiences

ireland smiles

For many Backroads guests, their trip to Ireland is deeply personal. That was true of Alison and Jeff Holland, a couple who traveled from their California home in 2023 to trace the history of their respective families. For both, it was their first time in Ireland.

Within an hour of landing in Ireland, Alison was on a consultation call with a genealogist from EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum in Dublin. Combining her personal research with the expertise of the genealogist, Alison was able to pinpoint baptismal records in Schull, a coastal village where her great-great-grandfather was born in 1840. As it happened, she and Jeff’s County Cork & Kerry cycling trip would take them within an hour’s drive of that very place.

With the help of her Backroads leaders, Alison caught a taxi to Schull. Though she found no physical evidence of her great-great-grandfather in the town, she felt an emotional connection and couldn’t help but put herself in his shoes.'

ireland graveyard

"What was most striking for me was to have a sense of what the day-to-day was like in Schull, to stand overlooking the harbor thinking about what it looked like and felt like during the end of the potato famine years when he left,” says Alison.

During the trip’s pub night, Alison and Jeff spoke with Mike Murphy, a local guide with Backroads for more than 20 years. Learning that she and Jeff planned to visit another town, Duagh, on their genealogical journey, Mike connected the couple with a friend who lived there.

Alison laughs when she recalls the story of how Mike’s friend, Paddy, accompanied them on a tour around Duagh. “The concept of coming 5,000 miles to meet someone who was so generous and waited for us in his driveway was incredible,” she says. “It was the most amazing coincidence—Jeff’s great-grandfather’s home would have been a stone’s throw from his house.”

county cork

Alison says she now feels a deeper bond to her Irish roots: “By virtue of all those connections, having the flexibility to talk with people, and riding a bicycle through the countryside to see it firsthand, it all felt very close.”

Another of our recent Backroads guests was Sean O’Shea. With a name like that, it’s hardly surprising that the Florida man has Irish roots.

Sean spent part of his childhood in a coastal village in southern Ireland, and his father grew up in Waterville, a town along the Ring of Kerry. Despite this close family tie, it took until 2022 for Sean to feel as though it were the right time to visit.

Backroads, he says, played a part in that. Sean and his wife Patty are avid cyclists and have been on a handful of Backroads trips since 2020. That now includes our pair of Ireland premiere cycling trips in Connemara and County Cork & Kerry.


“If I hadn’t been a cyclist and I hadn’t discovered Backroads, I probably never would have gone back to Ireland,” says Sean. Arriving in Ireland a few days before their Backroads trip, Sean and Patty rented a car to try and track down the farm where his father’s family had lived. Though they found no record of it, Sean still felt a connection to the country: “As I told you, it was like going home.”

Adding to what he describes as a “freaking beautiful place to cycle,” Sean says the most special moments were when he and Patty stopped to take in the scenery: “There were no cars around, no other people. You got a mountain off to the left, a mountain up to your right, and maybe a lake thrown in between the two. That was when I was the happiest. Just the beauty of being there.”

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Find your perfect trip at Backroads today. Search through over a hundred unique adventures.