Inside Destination Athlone: Vincent Harney, Athlone Guided Walking Tours
The next in the series – a glimpse of the people and personalities behind Destination Athlone businesses. Vincent Harney tells us about developing his business at the heart of Ireland – Athlone Guided Walking Tours.
After a long career as postmaster, most people would consider retirement a chance to put their feet up and enjoy a quieter life … clearly Vincent Harney isn’t like most people. Having run a Spar shop and Post Office in his native Cornafulla just outside Athlone for more than 30 years, he took on a brand-new challenge in retirement, and set up a walking tour business three years ago.
“I’ve always been interested in tourism and in local history”, explains Vincent, “People were always calling into the shop, asking for directions or information and I enjoyed meeting them and helping them out. It seemed like a natural progression for me”.
He also enjoyed the older generation who came in regularly and found a ready listening ear for their stories and recollections. By the time Vincent retired, he had a ready stock of information to draw on, much of it collected personally. You could say that he has been in training for his new vocation for most of his life! He did formal training with the Independent Tour Guides Association to ensure a professional experience.
Talking with Vincent, his passion for Athlone and its history is evident. Peppered through his conversation are anecdotes and piece of local lore. He loves human stories, speaking of Mary McCann who left Athlone for a new life in New York with just ten dollars in her pocket and within a few months, saved nine children from a steamboat fire, receiving a Silver Lifesaving medal and national acclaim. He has tales of Athlone people saving lives on the Titanic, of German spies, Athlone’s secret nuclear bunker and soldiers arriving after the Battle of Waterloo. He is fascinated by the town’s military history and waxes lyrical about famed tenor John McCormack.
His family have the history bug too and his three children Oliver, Clare and Patrick have helped with research and creating the tour. Over the years on family holidays, they made a point of doing walking tours – yet more accidental research for setting up his business. His two grandchildren Chloe and Amelia aged just five and seven took their own tour and loved it – the seven-year-old is clamouring to do it again.
People from all over the country find their way to Athlone Guided Tours and it is the highlight of their visit for many. Vincent loves meeting every one of them; he has a genuine interest in people which they respond to. He’s very proud of his hometown and wants to showcase all its facets and quirky aspects.
Vincent set up Athlone Guided Tours not long before the pandemic started and initial demand was high. He had to pause during lockdowns but is up and running again, with a few amendments. Vincent’s tour is 90 minutes long and acts as an ideal introduction to Athlone for visitors. Needless to say, he has plenty of stories to create a second tour and no doubt one will emerge soon.
This interview series was funded by Westmeath & Roscommon LEADER programme.