The road back: Cork tour providers preparing for challenging season ahead

The road back: Cork tour providers preparing for challenging season ahead
Pictured are some of Cork's walking and photography tour providers. Clokwise from left to right: Brian O'Neill and David Peare of Kinsale Ghost Tours; Dr Michael Martin of Titanic Trail, Barry Moloney of Don and Barry's Kinsale Historic Stroll; Cllr Kieran McCarthy who runs suburban tours in the city; Tom Deasy of Toms Tours; and photographer Tim Bingham who hosts smartphone street photography workshops.

Independent walking tours and photography tours providers are amongst those in the tourism sector who have had to face the unprecedented challenges that Covid-19 has brought upon their businesses.

Before reopening, tour providers across Cork have to review how they work and employ new practices and procedures to ensure the safety of everyone, both customers and staff.

Fáilte Ireland, in consultation with Sectoral Bodies, developed operational guidelines in line with the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) and the Health Service Executive (HSE) under which those in the tourism sector can reopen.

Cork’s tour providers fall under Fáilte Ireland’s guidelines for activity providers which include: Adapting and restructuring operations by reviewing employee practices and considering the design of their business to ensure physical distancing; Putting dedicated resources in place and ensuring dedicated personnel implement and operate a robust system; and adapting and enhancing hygiene practices which implement touchless solutions where possible.

The guidelines have been created in consultation with Ireland’s Association for Adventure Tourism (IAAT) to help activity providers prepare to reopen and are underpinned by advice made available from the HSA, HSE, World Health Organisation (WHO).

With most of Cork’s walking tour providers located outdoors, the biggest concern among them in regards to the guidelines is the current requirement of two metre social distancing which has seen many of them racking their brains as to how they can continue to offer walking tours at less capacity and adapting to what is the new norm going forward.

Different elements will have to be thoroughly thought through, particularly for those offering suburban or city-based tours who may have to look for alternative suitable locations where people can safely distance themselves from those within the tour while also making sure that they are not obstructing members of the public from using the public space.

Obstacles such as narrow streets will also have to be taken into consideration, as well as options that would include a microphone system or transmitting system, which comes at a cost.

The most concerning issue for these walking and photography tour providers is the lack of customers due to the continued uncertainty surrounding international travel.

Tour providers who year on year rely almost entirely on international tourism are now having to quickly adapt to and cater for a domestic market as people turn to staycation options.

Some have had all bookings for the remainder of the year cancelled and others who have recently reopened have had no bookings to date.

In what is an uncertain time for tourism as a whole, walking tours in particular rely heavily on other sectors such as the hospitality sector and travel industry in order to operate.

Unfortunately for most, until restrictions surrounding travel are lifted and people can travel freely around the country, it will mean a lack of domestic customers. 

For others, their businesses will be heavily affected until the return of international tourism.

Some well-known and smaller walking and photography tours in Cork, including Toms Tours, Tim Bingham’s street photography workshops, the Titanic Trail in Cobh, Kinsale Ghost Tours, Don and Barry’s Kinsale Historic Stroll and Councillor Kieran McCarthy’s suburban tours of Cork have spoken of the changes they have had to make and will have to make in order to reopen, how they have adapted to the new norm and the various challenges that lie ahead.

Toms Tours

Tom Deasy and his dog Archer.
Tom Deasy and his dog Archer.

West Cork man Tom Deasy runs tours which encourage people to explore the parts of Ireland that are off the beaten path.

Before Covid-19 hit, about 85% of the Clonakilty native’s business came from groups of international travellers who he would spend one to two weeks travelling around the country with, showcasing real, rugged Ireland.

With international travel not looking likely in the near future, Mr Deasy is seizing the opportunity to evolve and focus more on his real love for local walking tours which will have no more than 10 to 11 people going forward, a significant cut in numbers from the 40 to 50 people Mr Deasy welcomed on larger tours pre-Covid.

He is currently adapting Toms Tours to suit the current situation in Irish tourism after his season was “absolutely shattered” due to Covid-19 and is ready to hit the ground running when it is safe to do so again.

Mr Deasy who also runs tours in Edinburgh, London and Paris, said that there is no better feeling than leading a group on walks through rural Ireland with his future tours covering mostly West Cork.

Tom Deasy and his dog Archer.
Tom Deasy and his dog Archer.

“There will be a range of walks to choose from going through local woods, beaches, cliff walks and for those interested, some of our epic historical sites dotted all over our countryside. I will be hoping to spread further afield in the near future too.” He said that the current situation has given him “the prompt to push on with plans” for more walking tours and to show people just how beautiful their own country is.

“Having been born and raised here near Clonakilty it wasn't until I travelled abroad for ten years and then lived in Cork city for another ten that I really began to appreciate just how lucky I was to have so much beauty, history and peacefulness right on my doorstep,” he said.

He said that although he is nervous about what is the new norm, Toms Tours and local hotels The Celtic Ross and The Clonakilty Park Hotel hope to compliment each others’ businesses going forward.

Mr Deasy also hopes to include local activities in his tours with restaurants and accommodation providers onboard also.

Mr Deasy and his four legged friend Archer will lead people on their walking tour and make it an experience” no matter your age or fitness levels”.

Contact Tom Deasy through his social channels: Instagram: @toms_tours and Facebook: @tomstoursireland, or email: tomstoursireland@gmail.com.

Don and Barry's Kinsale Historic Stroll

Barry Moloney of Don and Barry's Kinsale Historic Stroll.
Barry Moloney of Don and Barry's Kinsale Historic Stroll.

Barry Moloney of Don and Barry’s Kinsale Historic Stroll is adapting to what is the new norm and coming up with ideas which would allow him to safely run his popular historic walking tour of Kinsale.

From a local farming background, the storyteller, historian, publisher and surfer who has guided Don and Barry's Kinsale Historic Stroll for several years to rave reviews is now faced with bringing his business through a pandemic.

Mr Moloney said there are “a lot of options that can be explored” but that the main stumbling block at the moment is customers.

Don and Barry’s Kinsale Historic Stroll works predominantly with tour operators through the Fáilte Ireland who bring bus loads of people to Kinsale meaning that Mr Barry could have 30 or 40 people on a tour.

Mr Moloney is waiting until Irish staycations kick off to start running tours again but is “looking ahead and following events as they unfold”.

He said that when domestic tourism does pick up, that he will be lucky with his location close to Cork city.

“Kinsale is lucky, and Cobh, we’ve Cork city nearby. I’d imagine now for Kenmare or Killarney it’s very hard because there’s no big city within industry and a large population nearby to do the day trips.

“Really what I’m praying is a vaccine because one of our main problems as well is that our main clients are elderly, it’s difficult to get holidays in America because they have much less holidays than we do in Europe, so usually it’s retired people and they tend to be in the at risk category of this virus so there’s a lot against us,” he said.

Mr Moloney has been keeping clients interested by making YouTube videos which he described as “snippets of history through four minute clips”.

He said he is exploring the idea of cutting numbers on the tours, holding private tours, and using a microphone and transmitter so people can hear from a distance using an earpiece, but said that two metre social distancing will be a challenge on Kinsale’s narrow streets.

Mr Moloey hopes that the pedestrianisation of some of the town’s streets might offer a wider space for people to socially distance themselves on the tours going forward.

Kinsale Ghost Tour


Business partners Brian O'Neill and David Peare. Photo: Stefan Syrowatka.
Business partners Brian O'Neill and David Peare. Photo: Stefan Syrowatka.

Kinsale Ghost Tours are not set to haunt the town anytime soon as owner Brian O’Neill has had “every single one” of his bookings for the remainder of the year cancelled since Covid-19.

The tours which rely heavily on international tourism offer a historical and theatrical experience while visiting different historic locations in the town such as Desmond Castle and Saint Multose Church and is led by a character called Seán O’Barry who was one of the original owners of the Tap Tavern.

Mr O’Neill is the current owner of the pub which has been in the family for four generations.

His ghost tours which start at the pub run from April to October each year, but Covid-19 has forced people to cancel their bookings as the future of international tourism remains uncertain.

He said that until the hospitality sector is allowed to reopen, that there won’t be any customers for the tour.

“We don’t know what way it’s going to go, obviously there are no tourists in the town so we’d be relying on the Irish tourists who we do get a lot of every year, but the majority of our group would be Americans and so far all our bookings this year, every single one of them have been cancelled,” he said.

The tour attracts a lot of children and is suited to families in Kinsale and further afield, both locals and those who may be visiting as part of their staycation.

He said that he may have to introduce a booking only system as the two metre social distancing requirement will mean that he can only accept 10 people on a tour at any one given time.

Mr O’Neill and his business partner David Peare have owned the business for the last 20 years and rely on it to pay car loans and mortgages.

Mr O’Neill said that the pub is also taking a hit, not only because of Covid-19 but because of the changing culture of pubs and socialising in pubs.

“It’s our income and that’s it. What would have started as a side line is no longer a side line. Even in the bar, 20 years ago in the bar you’d be full every night and it’s a small bar, whereas now bars are event-driven, people only come in on occasion for an occasion, and tourism is a big thing,” he said.

Titanic Trail

Dr. Michael Martin, author and creator of the Titanic Trail in Cobh, Co. Cork, pictured at the Lusitania peace memorial in Cobh.Picture Denis Minihane.
Dr. Michael Martin, author and creator of the Titanic Trail in Cobh, Co. Cork, pictured at the Lusitania peace memorial in Cobh.Picture Denis Minihane.

Prior to Covid-19, the popular Titanic Trail walking tours in Cobh which welcomed between 30 and 45 people numerous times a day in high season have suffered the biggest loss of cancellations in 22 years.

The walking tours have been running since 1998 and cover the heritage of Cobh and the history of its streets and buildings which have not changed since the Titanic’s port of call in 1912.

Since Covid-19 put a stall on the hosting of guided walking tours, Titanic Trails’ Dr Michael Martin has been developing high quality documentary style virtual guided tours and delivering online presentations.

He said that going forward, two metres social distancing will present challenges “especially in urban and city settings” but that the Titanic Trail is “obliged” to adhere to the guidelines set out.

Dr Martin noted that Fáilte Ireland has acknowledged that two metres is the “current” guideline but that “most in the industry believe that it will be reduced to one metre”.

He said that bookings “have completely collapsed” and that the problem now lies with having no one booked into the tours, and not the current guidelines.

When bookings do start to come through, the guidelines will see his walking tours reduced to just 18 people.

He said that going forward he will try to build on the domestic market which up to now has been less than 10% of overall customers.

“The loss of the international visitors has been financially disastrous, we have suffered the biggest losses in cancellations in 22 years of business. Refunding clients who booked tours last year and earlier this year for the 2020 season has been particularly challenging. 90% of our clients are usually overseas visitors.” 

Dr. Michael Martin, author and creator of the Titanic Trail in Cobh, Co. Cork, pictured in Cobh.Picture Denis Minihane.
Dr. Michael Martin, author and creator of the Titanic Trail in Cobh, Co. Cork, pictured in Cobh.Picture Denis Minihane.

He said, however, that he is “confident” about the future of walking tours and that the Irish people who do take the Titanic Trail tours “are usually fascinated at what Cobh has to offer in terms of its maritime history and connections with the Titanic”.

“Much work has to be done but I do think that the crisis has helped people embrace and appreciate new outdoor exploration of their environment, This provides us with an opportunity that can only be good for the walking tour industry,” he said.

Dr Martin’s 23 years service in the Navy “offers an understanding of historical events that provides insights” to an urban and maritime environment “that people would simply miss if they just walked down the street”.

Dr. Michael Martin, author and creator of the Titanic Trail in Cobh, Co. Cork, pictured in front of the information point.Picture Denis Minihane.
Dr. Michael Martin, author and creator of the Titanic Trail in Cobh, Co. Cork, pictured in front of the information point.Picture Denis Minihane.

His walking tours bring to life the story of Titanic’s brief visit to her last port of call, the story of emigration and struggle all set against the events in the town on the day Titanic left to sail towards her icy fate in the North Atlantic.

“What is really unique is that we are providing a narrative in a place where the same buildings, streets and piers that were used by Titanic passengers, hopeful emigrants, victims of the Lustania are all still here,” he said.

Titanic Trail walking tours are back offering socially distanced tours since June 9.

To book a tour visit www.titanic.ie or follow Titanic Trails on social media. Facebook @The Titanic Trail, Instagram @titanictrailcobh or Twitter @docmartin1558.

Councillor Kieran McCarthy's suburban tours


Cllr. Kieran McCarthy watching the last section of the Shakey Bridge being installed and linking the Mardyke and Sundays Well in Cork. Picture Dan Linehan
Cllr. Kieran McCarthy watching the last section of the Shakey Bridge being installed and linking the Mardyke and Sundays Well in Cork. Picture Dan Linehan

Independent Councillor and historian Kieran McCarthy has been giving tours of Cork since 1993 when he was just 16 years of age.

When Cllr McCarthy became a Cork City councillor in 2009, he developed suburban tours as a means to meet people in his constituency through something he was interested in.

Over the 11 years he has developed and ran over 12 different tours of his immediate Ward and has found them to be a “good political tool” which allows his constituents to get a sense of who he is and an alternative to spending five minutes at someone's door.

The free tours have grown in popularity over the years and Cllr McCarthy has gone from taking 11 locals on tours, to 40 or 50 people, of whom most are locals and others are from other areas of the city or tourists to Cork city.

Cllr McCarthy also runs tours for groups of businesses people and private tours which he charges for but “about 80%” of his 25 tours of Cork city are free of charge.

He said that Covid-19 and the loss of his walking tours over the last number of months has minimal effect on his income as he has diversified into other areas in recent years.

Kieran McCarthy delivering the history behind Cork's Docklands on one of his walking tours.
Kieran McCarthy delivering the history behind Cork's Docklands on one of his walking tours.

Cllr McCarthy who usually runs various tours with a total of 500 participants throughout Heritage Week said that this will be the first year in a while where Heritage Week will not work as two metre social distancing on a tour of those sizes “is just not possible”.

He said that he has been racking his brains trying to come up with an alternative to his suburban tours and Heritage Week tours post-Covid.

“It'll be difficult, I could certainly hold a tour of maybe five people at two metre distance between them but I’m not too sure.

“There’s also the public rep element for me, I can't be seen as being irresponsible and people know who I am and I’m not an irresponsible person and take my tours quite seriously.

He said that alternatives would involve a cost and that he would go from offering free tours to “all of a sudden having expenses”.

“The suburban tours were never set up to charge people, they were set up to serve the purpose of meeting people in my local area and getting to know them and people in other areas of the city.” He said he is aware that there would be a lot of paperwork involved post-Covid in relation to contact tracing sheets and bookings also.

At the moment, Cllr McCarthy is using social media to tell the story in a different way.

“When I started posting images I was getting a big response from people. During the lockdown, people were walking around the two kilometre they were asking me what something was now that they pass it everyday, all of a sudden there was a huge interest in the two to five kilometre radius and a huge interest in Cork and discovering more about it, it’s a frustration that you can’t now start unlocking that yet,” he said.

Tim Bingham's street photography workshops

Street photographer Tim Bingham.
Street photographer Tim Bingham.

With over 25 years of delivering creative workshops to various groups and communities, award-winning street photographer Tim Bingham hosts popular and creative photo walks and workshops in Cork’s city centre.

The photo walks encompass the vibrant and happening streets of North Main Street and Blarney Street.

Mr Bingham’s workshops host 15 to 20 people with an interest in and an eye for street photography.

His workshop which focuses on composition, exposure and how to use the street to be creative with a smartphone was first delivered at St Peter’s on North Main Street.

Mr Bingham’s photography has also been exhibited locally in St Peter’s and throughout Europe and in the USA and he has won various different awards for his work including the 2019 MIRA Mobile Prize.

“I enjoy bringing this knowledge and my passion for photography into this personalised experience aimed at all levels,” he said.

Street photographer Tim Bingham shoots vibrant Cork city using his smartphone.
Street photographer Tim Bingham shoots vibrant Cork city using his smartphone.

Mr Bingham’s day-long workshop includes a two hour photo walk of the city and an editing and feedback session.

The workshops are aimed at all levels and the photowalks help people develop their own personal style of photography.

“I am able to demonstrate how they can develop their own visual and creative awareness in the street,” Mr Bingham said.

He said that social distancing guidelines will have an impact on how workshops are delivered but said that smaller group sizes will be an advantage to participants who will still enjoy the “freedom and fun that smartphone photography offers”.

Street photographer Tim Bingham shoots vibrant Cork city using his smartphone.
Street photographer Tim Bingham shoots vibrant Cork city using his smartphone.

His photo walks will see a reduction in numbers to between six and eight people and the interactive workshop will have to be delivered virtually.

Mr Bingham said he is lucky enough to have already delivered smartphone workshops online during the pandemic and now knows what works best.

Since lockdown, he has been hosting live conversations with renowned photographers on his Instagram account @public_lens.

“At the beginning of Covid-19 I realised that street photography wasn’t going to be possible and this gave me an opportunity to be creative. After a few conversations with close friends of mine who are photographers, I decided to reach out to photographers that inspired me.

Street photographer Tim Bingham shoots vibrant Cork city using his smartphone.
Street photographer Tim Bingham shoots vibrant Cork city using his smartphone.

“I have been extremely fortunate I have had some incredible conversations with well-known and respected photographers from the USA, Brazil and Ireland, such as Michelle Groskopf who is a photographer for the New York Times and has shot portraits such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, and Cathal McNaughton who is a multi-award-winning photojournalist who was awarded Pulitzer Prize for Photography,” he said.

He has also started an online virtual meetup for photographers that takes place twice a month and gives photographers from around the world the opportunity to share their photos and discuss issues that are currently affecting them.

Mr Bingham said that although he is nervous about what is in store, he is also confident that current obstacles faced will create other opportunities to be creative.

He is hoping to be back in action in July and people can register their interest in Mr Bingham’s workshops at tim@publiclens.ie.



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