He already has the freedom of Connemara – but when it comes to the west coast, Ryan Tubridy wants it all. Which partly explains why he is taking his radio show to Inis Mór next week – and broadcasting for the first time from the Aran Islands.
“I’m hugely looking forward to it – not that I ever need an excuse to head to the West. But the Late Late season finishes on Friday . . . and my ‘working holiday’ then sees me head straight for the Wild Atlantic Way,” he laughs.
Thus, his RTÉ Radio 1 show next Thursday will see Ryan pitch up at the Tourist Office in Kilronan, facing out onto the beach.
“When you put it like that, it doesn’t sound like work, does it?” he admits.
But this is no flying visit or fleeting love affair; his radio show is also coming close to its summer break – which means Ryan is straight back to Galway for his annual holiday just a week later.
His affinity with the county goes back to his childhood.
“From as early as I can remember, we headed off for the summer out to Baile na hAbhann; my mother’s father had a little house there and that is deeply associated with the happiest days of my childhood.
“It’s the sort of ‘sand in the sandwiches’ summer that we so remember; trips to Tí Johnny Sean’s pub; snooker tables with rips in them – happy days,” he says.
But it really wasn’t until about a decade ago that Galway – and Connemara in particular – began to form such a part in Ryan’s own story.
“Ten years ago, when I did Who Do You Think You Are?, I really discovered how deep this goes,” he says about his experience of the TV genealogy documentary series.
“My dad’s dad was from Beal a’ Daingean and indeed his parents had come here to work as joint principals in the national school, Scoil Mhic Dara in Carraroe.”
Ryan’s great-grandparents, Patrick and Jane – from Kilmurry Ibrickane in Clare and Kilkelly in Mayo respectively – shared a vision; that education held the key to progress.
At a time of great poverty along the west coast, they actually worked with the great patriot, Roger Casement, and helped to set up a fund for free school dinners there.
Their son – Ryan’s grandfather – Seán, shared their passion for progress and served the area too, both as the local GP and then as a TD for Galway. But it could all have ended before it really began.
“Granddad was taking over as the local GP from a man who was retiring after a long and distinguished career in the post,” reveals Ryan.
Such was Seán’s enthusiasm that he presented himself for duty the day before he was supposed to start and offered to begin work immediately – the night before his posting officially began.
“The serving GP told him to wait until the morning as planned because he had one particular patient who was living on one of the islands; this man was dying and as his GP he wanted to see him one last night,” says Ryan.
But tragedy struck on the return journey; the boat went down, taking the lives of the small crew and the retiring GP – a death toll that would have included Seán Tubridy, if his predecessor hadn’t insisted on him taking the evening off before starting work the next morning.
“I often think about that – if my grandfather had gone on that boat, the story would be a very different one,” says Ryan.
He knew little of this when, as a teenager, he was dispatched to Irish college in the Gaeltacht back in the 1980s – a summer he remembers fondly in Carraroe.
“Last summer, I was driving around the West and I went on a day trip to Carraroe. Nothing would do me but to find the house I’d stayed in all those years ago – and when I arrived my old Bean an Tí was outside.
“I walked over to her and said: “You don’t know me, but I know you”, and she nearly died. We went in and I had a look at the bunk bed I’d slept in that summer,” he says.
So his Galway connections – and his family roots – are beyond reproach, although he readily admits that he’s not quite as familiar with the Aran islands.
“I don’t know Aran as well as I should. I’ve always gravitated towards Inishbofin and this summer when I’m there, once again I’ll be spending time in a little cottage that my cousin owns on Inis Turbot.
“We’ve taken the show the most parts of the Wild Atlantic Way over the last few years and I love it; what we try and do is create an aural postcard, where we bring the listeners with us on the journey.
“We want to make it feel like they’re there too,” he says.
While the purpose is to promote all that is good about the Wild Atlantic Way, he doesn’t want it to feel like a hard sell. “I’m just in my element, being where I love to be,” he says.
Part of his experience on Inis Mór will be immersive – quite literally because he will be the Bláth na Mara seaweed bath, as well as taking in a visit to Dún Aengus.
But he wants most of all to meet the local people and therefore he’s issued an open invite to all to turn up at the Tourist Office in Kilronan next Thursday morning to take part in the show.
“My only regret in life,” he says, “is that I’m not a Galwayman. I’m half-Galway by blood – but I want to make it full-Galway by legal documentation. I wonder if that can be sorted?,” asks the man who is already an official Freeman of Connemara.