Neil McMahon – 48 years ago, the Limerickman went to Iceland as a postgrad student on a scholarship at Iceland’s national university after finishing his degree in history and archaeology at UCC and stayed ever since.
Neil is an official tour guide of the gorgeous Icelandic landscape
48 years ago, Limerickman Neil McMahon went to Iceland as a postgrad student on a scholarship at Iceland’s national university after finishing his degree in history and archaeology at UCC and stayed ever since.
Neil grew up in Thomondgate and attended St Mary’s National School and CBS Sexton Street. In his youth, he played underage rugby for Shannon.
One September day 48 years ago, Neil boarded a flight from Shannon to Chicago that had a brief stopover in Iceland, his final destination for one year and hasn’t looked back since.
From there, Neil fell in love with the gorgeous Icelandic landscape topped with valleys, mountain peaks and cliffs and decided to study further to become an official tour guide.
Neil didn’t have time to feel homesick while in Iceland as there is just so much to do such as swimming in the geothermal waters of the neighbourhood pool and watching the Aurora Borealis under the Arctic winter sky.
Horse rides along the coastal beaches, hikes up to the Snæfellsnes glacier, whale watching, and bird watching were some of the many things Neil could do while settling into his newfound home.
Though Neil always felt welcome in Iceland, the inability to express himself in Icelandic, a North Germanic language left him frustrated so he was prompted to study a three-month intensive course but in recent years, almost everyone there has adopted English.
After his one-year scholarship was over, Neil realised he wasn’t ready to leave the country he now considered home and instead looked for his other options.
There, in a local newspaper, he noticed an advertisement about the need for an English teacher in a new secondary school and decided to apply and was successful.
In Iceland, teachers are entitled to a one-year paid sabbatical throughout their career so in 2010 Neil returned to university to qualify as a tour guide, a job that he could work throughout the summer months and pursue full time after retirement.
The staff of Neils’s school took a trip to Greenland as part of an educational system and just like in Iceland, Neil was amazed at what he saw.
Through his tourism degree, Neil landed a job with a US company which allowed him to travel to and from Iceland and Greenland and provide tours.
Neil has worked as a lecturer at the Icelandic Guide School for three decades and offers tours through Thor Travel, a tour operator that offers travellers the chance to connect to the souls of places visited.
“We are just back from our trip to Iceland. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the Northern Lights, but we did enjoy our tours. This was all due to the excellent guide Neil Mahon,” a testimonial from the Wallace Tour Group wrote.
“He was amazingly interesting, articulate and we learned so much from his stories. He was a joy to listen to and he was never boring.”
In his spare time, he enjoys finding new places to explore, both in Iceland and abroad. His daily routine includes an invigorating swim in one of Reykjavik´s fine swimming pools followed by two minutes sitting in the ice tub.
Recently, Neil returned to Ireland and especially Limerick for Christmas, bringing his children and grandchildren. While he notices a change in Limerick since he left, he says “it’s a welcomed one.”