From Diaspora Member to Donegal Based Business Owner

Patrick Keeney - Green Golf Travel
Patrick Keeney, Green Golf Travel

From Diaspora Member to Donegal Based Business Owner – The GGT Story

Whats the Craic?

After about 6 months of living in Brighton I had become pretty good friends with the English lad living below me in halls. It had obviously come to the point where he felt comfortable enough to ask me a difficult question, ‘Paddy, I’ve been meaning to ask you something, what exactly do I say when you ask me “What’s the craic?”. It was at this point that I realised I was a long way from home!

Becoming a member of the diaspora was never in doubt for me from a young age. Trips over to London to see my beloved Tottenham as a kid had me hooked on the idea of life in the big smoke. A place in the University of Brighton was on offer when I turned 18, and I was on the boat with a car full of my life’s belongings without a second thought.

Is this Homesickness?

I remember in those first years in the UK, becoming more Irish than I had ever been before. During the day I would listen to Highland Radio online, read through the Letterkenny Post and Donegal News digital editions and keep up today with the happenings at home on the RTE news site. I have a vivid memory of ‘the Commitments’ being on channel 4 during my first year in Uni and I don’t think I have ever felt so connected to a movie. I am well aware now that this was about as severe a bout of ‘homesickness’ as I have ever had but at the time I just thought I was going a bit mad!

Home Away From Home

My travels took me to Brighton, London, Thailand and Australia. As the years went on the homesickness became manageable and eventually ‘home’ became London. Opportunities were plentiful and as I heard news of job losses and recession in Ireland I was working for one of the fastest growing companies in the UK. YourGolfTravel.com grew from 10 staff members when I joined to over 100 when I left in 2014.

Life in London was fast paced and the perfect place for me in my early 20’s. Donegal games were watched in the White Bear in Kennington or in the Boston Arms in Tufnell Park. These old Irish pubs are filled with emigrants from around ‘the old country’, and the hardened faces always soften as soon as they hear the Donegal accent.

Change of Priorities

As I started to move towards my late 20’s, the call for home began to return. As you get a bit older the importance of family and the simplicity of rural living start to resonate more and more by the day. Working hard and playing harder are all good and well but this cycle has a limited shelf life.

While the idea of moving home became more prominent in my thinking, I started to notice a trend during my working days at Your Golf Travel. Irish golfers calling the UK to book their holidays to Spain, Portugal and in some cases, Ireland!! ‘Somebody needs to set up a golf tour operator that appeals to these clients… Maybe that somebody should be me’.

Moving Home? Are You Mad?

If we are honest, Ireland has had a pretty horrendous time in the media over the past decade. Failing governments, bank bailouts, job cuts, wage caps, the USC, unemployment and emigration seem to be the only stories that the Irish abroad ever hear about. On this basis, the decision to move home in early 2014 had a few people asking me if I was mad!

As well as the general feeling of negativity at home, I was in a pretty good position professionally in the UK. Working for the market leading golf tour operator was a dream job in many people’s eyes. As an employee of YourGolfTravel.com, we visited golf resorts around the world, got paid quite well and had a fantastic working environment. But home is home and at the age of 28, after 10 years as a member of the Donegal Diaspora, I was on a boat again with a car full of belongings ready to begin a new adventure back in good old Donegal.

Opportunity Knocks

Having been back at home for just under three years, I am certain of one thing, opportunities are available in Donegal if you look hard enough for them. On return to the county, I gained employment at one of the finest hotels in Ireland, Rathmullan House. My position here as sales and marketing manager gave me a front row seat to the renaissance of Irish Tourism and the wave of optimism surrounding the Wild Atlantic Way initiative. As I developed in this role, a personal ambition to set up the first golf tour operator in Donegal started to move to the forefront of my thinking.

Green Golf Travel was launched in January 2017 after I completed 6 months on the New Frontiers Programme. This is one of many initiatives run by Enterprise Ireland to encourage entrepreneurs to start up their own business.

The decision to set up a golf holiday company in Donegal was largely based on my professional background coupled with the wave of positivity around the county in relation to tourism. Bodies such as Enterprise Ireland as well as the Local Enterprise Office are in place to encourage great ideas and give them the tools to succeed. Having taken the risk of leaving a well paid full time job in Donegal (yes, they are available!), the support of Enterprise Ireland has been invaluable.

Green Golf Travel and the Donegal Diaspora

With the company now trading and taking bookings, I hope to use Green Golf Travel as a medium through which to engage with the diaspora. The idea of offering golfers with a connection to Donegal an incentive to return to the county is a big motivation behind the business.

Golfers from Donegal living in North America, the UK and Australia can become the biggest advocates for golf in the county. Through our shared connection with Donegal, I hope to engage with the diaspora around the world to begin talking about golf in Donegal. Tell your work colleagues and friends about the world class golf in your home county and we can work together to bring them back to the hills to experience what is on offer.

That offering is without doubt some of the best links golf in the world in a county that is on the up again and looking forward to welcoming back diaspora members.

www.greengolftravel.com