Limerick man guides tourists in the land of glaciers and volcanoes

Limerickman Neil McMahon who has made his home in Iceland.

A LIMERICK man who headed to Iceland to study for a year chose  to stay and almost five decades later, now walks in the footsteps of Vikings.

Neil McMahon, who grew up in Thomondgate, so fell in love with Iceland after his scholarship to a university there that he stayed on as a teacher and then studied further to become an official tour guide.

“Iceland is like Disney World. There is a massive choice of things to to do,” he told the Limerick Post.

From his first sight of the Aurora Borealis and swimming in outdoor thermal pools amidst freezing temperatures, Neil was smitten.

“Visitors can hike up glaciers, go whale or bird watching, trek into huge areas of wilderness in the interior, ski – it’s a wonderful country, even the weather is an enjoyable challenge. It gives you an adrenaline rush,” said Neil.

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As an Irishman, Neil was made to feel very welcome in his new home. “They like the Irish here, there’s a DNA connection. A recent DNA study showed that 65 per cent of Icelandic women are of Celtic extraction.”

Since becoming an official tour guide, Neil has made many trips to East Greenland, another country which has captured his heart.

“The Greenland landscape is magnificent. It’s very rugged and unspoiled, intimidating even, but I like that.”

Limerickman Neil McMahon who has made his home in Iceland.

Neil has come to know the local people in East Greenland, where he says the society is poised on the edge of the possibility of massive change because of their rich supplies of natural resources, which have awoken interest from Russia and the USA.

“People have to decide whether they will do business with either of these two and make a massive jump into a lifestyle which is very different from their almost primitive, hunter lifestyle.”

For many years when he first settled in Iceland, Neil taught English in a secondary school. While he struggled at first to learn Icelandic, in recent years, almost everyone has adopted English “which makes this a very comfortable place to visit”, he said.

Neil returned to Ireland and Limerick for Christmas for the first time recently, bringing his children and grandchildren.

“The city has changed and grown so much since I lived there,” said Neil, adding that he believes the change is for the better.

But there are still places here that feed his soul. “Kilkee, Kulusuk and Tassilaaq (in Greenland) are the places where I feel most comfortable,” Neil said.