The Grand Canal Hiker

Well, I’m Irish.  Not by birth or citizenship, but I’m part Irish in heritage and certainly Irish in my love for that remarkable country and its people.

My first trip to Ireland was a spur-of-the moment trip in November and December 1997 when I spotted an airline fare too good to pass up and decided to gather my genealogy records and see what I could find out about my mother’s ancestors.  I was looking for information about Martin Fogarty, my mother’s great-great grandfather, probably born in the Thurles area of County Tipperary.  I had not much else to go on, so the ancestral research element of the trip was fraught with disappointments. But in my rental car, I drove through the wintery but still green countryside, stopped at friendly B&Bs, sampled Guinness in dark and smoky pubs, wandered through the streets of Dublin and fell in love with the place. 

The 2003 trip was my fifth to Ireland.  I led small tours of Americans to Ireland and Scotland in May 2000 and May 2001 and made a quick trip to western Ireland in August 2001.  On that last trip I picked up one of the Discovery Series 1:50,000 scale maps that included the Grand Canal and the town of Tullamore. Also on that trip I took leisurely walks on several evenings along a canal towpath just outside Tralee.  So even then I was unknowingly psyching myself up for the hike.

I must admit that it is highly unlikely that a semi-retired, mostly sedentary former paper-pusher would strike out alone on an 85-mile hike on another continent.  In late 2001 I retired a bit early from a university position I had held for 17 years.  It was the most enjoyable time of my professional career.  A few months into retirement a friend asked me if I was interested in helping with a little project for which I had a good background.  I took him up on the offer, which led to another much more involved project and then a few months later yet another work opportunity.  So now I am only semi-retired but enjoying the new professional challenges—in my old field of planning—immensely.  

I am divorced with a grown son who is one of many bright, ambitious, well-rounded young people who are on their way to leadership in America.  He, too, has a flair for things Irish and has been to the Emerald Isle twice.  He is maintaining this website for me.

I’m a Tennessean by birth who accepts as truth a saying I heard as a youngster:  “A little piece of Heaven fell to earth, and they called it Tennessee.”  In many ways middle Tennessee’s topography and land cover look much like parts of Ireland.  A Tennessean, even without Irish roots, will feel at home there among the rolling hills and fertile green fields.

I’m a military veteran, earning a Bronze Star for Meritorious Service in Vietnam. Earlier, I served on the USS Shea as an electronics technician.  My interests are broad and varied, from genealogy to photography as well as hiking, sailing, landscaping, music, budget high-end audio, and most importantly—travel.  I’ve visited Bangkok, Mexico City and the Yucatan, traveled to Italy and the south of France, to Paris and Belgium and spent a couple weeks in and around London.  Still my favorite destination is Ireland.

I began my college career at the The University of North Alabama and then earned a BA in sociology from Vanderbilt University in Nashville.  A few years later I completed a masters in planning (city/regional/state) at The University of Tennessee. 

My home these days is the Florence/Muscle Shoals area of north Alabama, about two hours south of Nashville.  I live amidst the oaks and hickory woods on Wilson Lake.  The area has a rich tradition tied to the water—the Tennessee River, its now gone Muscle Shoals Canal—to music (as a recording center and home of WC Handy)—and to other elements of arts, culture, education, sports and outdoors activities that make it an oasis unlike any other area in this part of the country.  Learn more about my adopted hometown at www.shoalsunited.com

I enjoy corresponding with people of similar interests and especially enjoy hearing from Irish fans and supporters of the Grand Canal.  Feel free to email me at GrandCanalHiker@aol.com

Bill