Reimaging the Traditional Tour with Howth Hidden Experience
As we approach a year of lockdowns and restricted social lives the art of staying occupied and entertained has, at times, proved to be quite challenging. In the absence of our preferred social activities many of us will have explored new hobbies and taken up new interests. For example, baking saw a boost in popularity, as has birdwatching, DIY and knitting in recent months. Similarly, pastimes that could go digital, have. Concerts, exhibitions and book clubs have all moved online and previously scheduled film premieres have pivoted to launches via increasingly popular streaming platforms. When it comes to staying entertained, we are nothing if not resourceful.
Mark McHale’s Hidden Howth Experiences is one such venture that has made the switch to the online realm. Faced with the implications of Covid-19, Mark has reimagined the traditional tour format for the digital world and in doing has created a series of experiences that speak to our ever-growing need for escapism, our longing to be transported, if only for a short while, from our everyday lockdown routines.
The Howth Hidden Experiences attract a wide-ranging international audience. My group was made up of German, American, British and Russian participants of different ages, different interests, and with different motivations for joining the tour. Some were participating because their planned holiday to Ireland had been cancelled due to Covid-19 and were hoping the tour would satisfy their wanderlust until they could eventually make the trip. Others were considering the tour for a work event, a team-building exercise and source of entertainment for their colleagues who had been remote-working for the past few months. One person had received a ticket as a thoughtful birthday gift, a novel approach to celebrating the occasion in restricted circumstances.
A Howth native, Mark’s love for his hometown is evident in this tour. The Howth Hidden Experience guides you through some of the history, geography, culture, and folklore of Howth while situating it within the wider context of Ireland, Irish current affairs, and the nature of the Irish people themselves. Throughout the tour Mark generously offers advice and insight from his wealth of local knowledge, recommending restaurants and bars in the area and suggesting different hotspots around the seaside town he believes his guests would enjoy on future visits.
Through a clever use of pop quizzes, video footage, photography and illustrations Mark has ensured that his tours are not passive experiences, but instead are geared towards engaging and entertaining his audience as much as one can through video-call. In these socially-distanced days, the Howth Hidden Experiences prove to be quite the social experience.
Some facets of Irish history and culture in the tour have been anglicised or rebranded for an international audience, for example, Gráinne Mhaol becomes Grace O’Malley. It is understandable why this approach is taken, it is reflective of a trend in the wider Irish tourism industry. Many foreign visitors perceive the Irish language as complex. However, I personally share the view that if we, internationally, can learn to pronounce Tchaikovsky, Michelangelo and Dostoyevsky then visitors to Ireland can be encouraged to learn Irish names, and I would love to see this acknowledgement for the Irish language shine through in our offerings to our visitors.
In describing the tours on his website, Mark notes that “each Experience is designed to give you an insight into what it is like to be a native of the Emerald Isle and is delivered in a fun and charismatic way, that is sure to be the highlight of your trip and the envy of your friends.” I whole-heartedly agree with this description. Mark’s Howth Hidden Experience is a thoughtful, enthusiastic celebration of Howth and its surrounds. While in lockdown it is a light-hearted, fun way to spend an
evening and, once we can travel again, the Howth Hidden Experience in-person tours should be included as a ‘must-do’ on your next trip to Ireland.