Travel Stories: Ireland Salutes the Heroes in Blue

State Police Crystal TravelEveryday superheroes have a tough gig. They choose to put their lives on the line and deal with some stressful situations. There comes a time when they simply need to relax and unwind. That’s where this story starts, and it’s where Crystal Travel comes in.

Let’s set the scene. The year was 1999. Massachusetts State Police Trooper Michael “Okie” O’Connor was putting together a police trip to Ireland. In the past, a former colleague planned the trips. But Okie wanted to try something new. During his pre-planning stage, he got a recommendation.

“Someone told me, if you want to go on a trip to Ireland, you’ve got to talk to Jim Kelly at Crystal Travel,” Okie said.

After meeting with Jim, Crystal Travel’s founder, Okie knew this was the way to go. Jim helped him put together his first trip for 30 officers.

“I was really happy with the service and efforts Jim put into everything,” Okie said. “He completely exceeded my expectations.”

And so the first State Police trip with Crystal Travel came and went. It was clear many more journeys across the pond were in the group’s future. However, as with all good things, adjustments were made and the following grew.

“Originally, we were doing one trip each year, but we changed to one every 2 years,” Okie said. “It’s just easier for everyone’s schedules that way.”

That’s not all that changed. Through the years, the State Police Trip found its way into the planning expertise of Crystal Travel’s Paddy. A legend to co-workers and clients alike, Paddy has worked at Crystal Travel for over a decade. His tourism industry experience began long before that and spans more than 40 years. His resume lists the likes of Aer Lingus as well as running and operating his own travel agency.

Paddy has lived in London, New York and Boston but firmly believes there’s no place like home. And “home” is in County Waterford, Ireland. A part of the Viking Triangle, the coastal town of Dungarvan is a place of history, culture and intrigue.

With roots like this, it’s no wonder Paddy was the perfect fit for putting his spin on Okie’s travel planning.

“The State Police are a great group of people and we’re delighted to get to show them a good time,” Paddy said. And a good time it is. Trips generally last ten days and nine nights with stops in popular destinations like Dublin, Cork and Galway. Okie said Paddy has helped them pick these locations for nearly ten years.

“We bounce around the country,” Okie said. “I pick the cities, and I come talk to Paddy. He puts it together, and then I go back and talk to my wife and daughter. They go through it all and examine everything. Then we go back and forth with Paddy.”

“Working with Paddy is fantastic. He’s an incredible help, and the rest of the staff has no problem jumping in to give me more information. They’re all so helpful with ideas on places to go to and things to do.”

Though activities and locations vary from year to year, one constant remains: marching in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. This is the highlight for many on the trip and stands out as a shining memory for all who participate.

“It’s something we all really get a kick out of doing. There’s nothing like being in Ireland on March 17th, and my guys feel proud and honored to be a part of that parade. Not to mention, it’s a lot of fun.” Okie said.

While the trip is targeted toward the honorable men and women in blue, all of their friends and family members are welcome. “There are police of all different ranks who attend, and their family and friends join in on the fun, too,” Okie said. “Sure, it’s built as a state police trip, but the main ordeal is the day of the march. Otherwise, we do a lot of stuff that anybody would enjoy.”

No matter the size, every group’s trip deserves the utmost attention to detail and thought in the planning process.

“It’s Paddy working and the rest of the staff helping out. It makes everything so much easier for all of us,“ Okie said.

“There’s no way we could plan this on our own, and we’d never want to after the kind of service we get with Crystal Travel.”

Getting a large number of people from place to place also presents a bit of a challenge. That’s where Crystal Travel’s chauffeur connection comes in – Kennedy Coaches.

“They make it very easy,” Okie said. “Our main contact and one of our drivers (whose name is also Paddy) is fantastic. He heard I was coming back over for my own visit later in the year and said to let him know if I needed anything or had any questions.”

With logistics out of the way, the group can focus on what’s important: having a great time. Sometimes that comes with some bittersweet memories.

“Several years ago, we were in Dublin, which is sort of a cross between New York and Boston,” Okie said.

“I had 2 buses and nearly 30 cops. An Irish prison guard and a friend of mine, Kevin O’Connor, told us about a hospital for really sick kids. He asked me if I thought some of my guys would be interested in visiting the children and showing up in uniform.”

Okie threw the idea around and the response was unanimous: They would all visit the children at the hospital.

“We were there for 3 or 4 hours and they had to throw us out of there,” Okie said. “We had so much fun. We bounced around to every kid. I mean, I was having kids handcuff their mothers and fathers. It wasn’t planned at all, and it turned out to be a fantastic experience.”

What started as 30 officers in 1999 visiting Ireland turned into something much bigger. The trip became a tradition. The parade became a highlight. Friends became family.

In 2018, 135 people from Massachusetts and 25 from Rhode Island attended the State Police trip. Of that number, 40 to 50 are cops. Okie notes the trip’s following goes beyond that.

“We get new people that just want to come join the fun with us. What happens is, people return from these trips and rave about them. It’s gotten to the point where it sells itself with word of mouth.” Okie said. 5 “We’ve got a trip that isn’t happening for 2 more years already planned and ready to go.”

When Okie thinks back on trips from the past, he’s proud of the experiences and memories made.

“It just works out really, really well. We get treated like kings before we even leave and it only gets better on the trip. “

From the friendships to the marching and everything in between, the State Police trips are a delight for all who take part.

“Everybody loves it,” Okie said. “We try to keep everyone happy. With Crystal Travel’s help, we do a pretty good job.”