Meet the Irish Gap Year Team

At Irish Gap Year, the focus is very much on working as a team. We foster this principle in our all our programs and it is no different in our own working lives in the company.  We love what we do and each others company!

Please let us introduce some of the main members of our team.

Ryan Allen

Founding Director 

Ryan founded Irish Gap Year in 2015 and sits on the Gap Year Association Board of Directors. He is the chair of the Gap Year Association Sustainability Committee and co-founder of Green Education Ireland.

Ryan grew up on the East Coast of the United States near Philadelphia in and Irish-American family. He is life-long passionate surfer and outdoorsman, a father of two young children (Maggie and Tommy) and a musician. He lives in Bundoran, County Donegal with his young family.  

In his formative years Ryan was drawn to the forests, farms and beaches in Pennslyvania and New Jersey, seeking adventure and occasionally mischief! In his own words, ”I didn’t fit the classroom mould, I needed to be out, moving, doing, exploring and learning about the world. Despite being what you’d call ‘a good student‘ I struggled through school and college. I think I was a bit too kinetic to find my calling in an academic environment!”

Happily, Ryan found a wonderful fit at the University of Canterbury Christchurch, NZ where he completed a BA in Literature. The leap of faith that Ryan took at 18 years old moving from America to New Zealand was formative in his adult life and allowed him to marry his passion for the outdoors with his educational path. 

Over the past 20 years, Ryan’s adventurous spirit has taken him all over the world adventuring and surfing while teaching outdoor and experiential education in Scandinavia, Europe and the USA. Ryan loves getting out in the field with students, teaching Irish Gap Year’s leadership workshops on the Adventure & Leadership Program and feels particularly fortunate to have the opportunity to marry his passions with his career.    

Ryan Allen Director

Onóra Gill-Fitch

Accounts Manager 

Onóra manages the office at Irish Gap Year. She has an excellent head for figures and but is also a very creative person. Although born in Dublin Onóra spent most of her childhood on the west coast of Ireland, moving to Drumcliffe in Sligo at the age of 8.

Living in such a picturesque spot the ocean definitely had a pull for her and she took to sailing in her early teens and swam at Streedagh beach most days rain, hail or shine.

After studying Art and Design Education in NCAD in Dublin Onóra moved to Brighton in the UK. While here she spent 7 years working as a ceramicist with Keneth Clarke Ceramics, working her way to becoming the director of the company. During this time Onóra also met the love of her life and now husband, Graham.

As she had always wanted to work with young people, Onóra became an Art Technician at Eastborne College helping students who were studying art and design achieve their goals. Here she again worked quite a bit with ceramics but also got into fine art and model making.

When her two girls came along her longing to come home to Ireland got greater and greater so they packed up, sold their house to start a new life back in Ireland. 10 years later Onóra is living by the sea with her husband and now four kids, loving life and enjoying her role in Irish Gap Year.

Niall Coombs Program Leader

Kate Mullins

Operations Manager

After spending several years working in the online advertising industry between Dublin, Stockholm and London, Kate came to Bundoran for a few weeks to surf, and never left. She is originally from Wexford and started her education studying Fine Art, moving on to Visual Communication, and Design in Interactive Multimedia in IADT. However these days much prefers being creative in a low tech manner. She has worked here for several years as a surf instructor and later, manager of a surf school, she has also spent time both volunteering and working for the Irish youth development organisation Foróige.

She has been with Irish Gap Year for several years now and has gained experience working as both a program leader on the Irish Arts & Culture program and the Adventure & Leadership program.
Her passions are surfing, sea swimming, art, and a morning coffee outside watching the birds.

Niall Coombs Program Leader

Margie O’Reilly, Ph.D.

Education Advisor  

Margie is a board member, academic advisor and head of our US offices at Irish Gap Year.  Margie holds a Ph.D. from Drexel University in Philadelphia and is a professor and program director at Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. As an Irish Gap Year board member and head of our offices in the US, Margie is our Irish/American liaison and a major contributor to the Irish Gap Year course content. Margie delivers the communication & Soft Skills modules of the Transition Adventure Program. 

Known affectionately to her students as Doctor ‘O’, Margie has extensive experience in working with students and has awards for teaching and volunteering at the university. Over the past ten years, she has developed and led numerous student study tours to Ireland, Italy, Spain, the UK, the Czech Republic and Costa Rica. With over twenty years of experience in higher education, Margie is a passionate educator with a skill for developing curriculum that blends business, culture and fun.

Margie’s family is from county Cavan in Ireland and she grew up in the Philadelphia area and participated in the Philadelphia Cavan Society. Working with Irish Gap Year is a natural fit that combines her love of working with young people, travel, program design and spending time in Ireland.

Margie is an avid cyclist and can often be found on her bike touring the Delaware River routes, even on the coldest of winter days! She has cycled extensively in Europe and America, but enjoys her time in Ireland most of all. She also enjoys reading, swimming and spending time with her family.

Margie O Reilly Board Member

Niall Coombes

Program Leader: Adventure & Leadership Program / European Expedition Program

Niall hails from one of the most northerly towns in Ireland – Buncrana, Co Donegal.  Niall is typical of north Donegal folk, hardy and free-spirited.  He has a degree in outdoor education and has travelled a lot. 

He has worked in the US and the UAE as an outdoor instructor but his heart has always been in Donegal, Ireland.  He is an experienced instructor in surfing, kayaking and rock climbing.  He is also a beach lifeguard.  

In his spare time you can find him rock climbing or surfing.  He is also a fond of going exploring the more difficult to reach parts of the Atlantic shoreline on his kayak.  Niall has travelled to many European countries in particular has hiked the snowy peaks of the Alps in Switzerland.  He has also had the opportunity to surfing the warm waters in Sri Lanka (no wetsuit needed there!).

Niall Coombs Program Leader

Phillip Corrigan

Program Leader: Irish Arts & Culture Program / European Expedition Program

Phillip was born and raised in Dublin City but was drawn to the west coast because of his love of the great outdoors.  He has a Bachelor degree in Multimedia from Dublin City University and is a videographer and photographer by trade.  He loves working with our students teaching them video, photography and helping them communicate through mixed media.

His passions are hiking, cycling, ocean swimming and being creative.  When he is not jumping in the ocean or taking photographs he can be found writing and performing music and busking in cities throughout Ireland outside of program time.

Niall Coombs Program Leader

Lauren McColgan

Program Leader: Adventure & Leadership Program

Lauren is originally from Dublin, although her accent gives away all the different places she
has lived around the island of Ireland; from working on organic farms in West Cork to living
on the remote Inishbofin Island off the coast of Galway, she has found herself time and
again drawn back to the beautiful north west and her adopted home in Bundoran, County
Before coming to Gap Year, Lauren trained and worked in Arboriculture – the maintenance
and care of trees. She has climbed 90ft high 200 year old Oak trees, helped with
encouraging Owl nesting in trees, and examined trees for diseases and defects. She has a
love of the environment and is utterly tree mad. Lauren firmly believes in lifelong learning
and is currently furthering her studies in Environmental Science. She loves to pass on and
share her knowledge about trees and the natural environment every chance she gets.
In her spare time, Lauren can be found climbing trees for fun, bodyboarding and surfing,
getting blown about the local mountains with her dog Koba, and working on her van. Lauren
is also a Climate Ambassador for An Taisce, an Irish environmental charity.

Lauren Pic

Odhrán O’Reilly

Program Leader: Irish Arts & Culture Program 

Originally from Co.Cavan, Odhrán made the move to the north west of Ireland 4 years ago
and has been enjoying everything The Wild Atlantic Way has on offer ever since.
He is an experienced surf instructor and loves all things outdoors! He is also a keen
photographer, so if he’s not in the water you will find him snapping photographs.
His passions are surfing, photography, cooking and travelling. Odhran has travelled around
America, New Zealand, Indonesia and Europe the past few years. Currently in his spare time
you will find him exploring Ireland in his camper searching for waves.

Annie Bio Pic

Shane Garland

Program Leader: Adventure & Leadership Program

Shane is originally from Dublin but moved out west in 2017 after studying an outdoor recreation course. He much prefers life in the west with a steadier pace of living and with surfing on his doorstep.

Shane has worked in the outdoor industry all over Ireland, Switzerland and New Zealand;
mainly teaching watersports. He is a fully qualified surfing, windsurfing and sailing instructor with experience in hiking and rock climbing also.

In his spare time he loves to surf, windsurf, travel to new places and play music. He has huge
interest in the Irish language after working in the Gaeltacht and is currently trying to learn
Spanish. Shane has traveled a good chunk of Europe; Portugal being his favorite! He has also
driven a van all around New Zealand and has recently explored sunny Morocco.

Paul Timmel

Program Leader: Adventure & Leadership Program

Paul was born and raised in the east of France, a short cycle away from the German border. He was involved since a young age in the local community youth project and developed through that commitment, a taste for new horizons.

Turning 18 he left Alsace for West Cork where he volunteered in a pre-school for a year. He discovered Ireland and Surfing, either of which would never leave his mind again.
On returning home he pursued a technician certification in audiovisual and worked in this field for several years. The need for space and a life down to earth eventually dragged him back to Ireland in 2015 where he came to work for the summer season and has not left since.

Paul finds his peace in contact with nature and outdoor activities but what has stuck with him since childhood is that he likes fixing things. So if you find him lying under his car swearing in french, don’t worry. He is just having fun trying to put it back together.

Andrew Gilmore

Program Leader: Adventure & Leadership Program

Andrew grew up on a farm in County Derry. Family holidays were exclusively to the West Coast in a retro caravan, where he was introduced to the simple joys of hillwalking and rock pooling.

He spent his teenage years exploring the forgotten woods, bogs and hills near his home, which turned into a passion for photography, conservation and trying to get lost.

After his first gap year (which culminated in a solo cycle tour to Bundoran), Andrew studied Environmental Science and Outdoor Education at the University of Stirling. Surprisingly he resonated much more with the Outdoor Education component than the science, which involved more maths than anticipated. His fondest memories of this time are the countless trips to the Scottish Highlands with friends, where he would become a Mountain Leader.

Andrew took another gap year to recover from his academic exertions, this time hiking and hitch-hiking his way up and down the Andes in South America. He fell in love with the forests of Patagonia, where he became involved in a project that demonstrated the power and possibilities of living and working in a community. He revisited this project and experienced more of Peru on a third gap year, up until the pandemic.

Since returning to Ireland, Andrew has been working as an instructor and building his knowledge of native plant species. He has also caught the surfing bug, and is looking forward to sharing waves on the West Coast.
He can just as often be found indoors in cafes, antique & charity shops (thrift stores), cinemas and attending concerts.

Susan McCarthy

Progam Leader: European Expedition Program

Although originally from Dublin, Susan feels most at home in the northwest of Ireland. As a teenager, Susan spent her summers instructing windsurfing through Irish in an outdoor adventure centre on the west coast.

 Here, she developed her love for the outdoors, a passion for working with young people and a keen interest in experiential education. These experiences led her to complete a Bachelor of Education before undertaking a Masters in Outdoor Education at the University of Edinburgh.

 When she is not backpacking through Europe with gappers, Susan freelances as a teacher, Forest School leader and lecturer in Social, Environmental and Scientific Education at Maynooth University.

In her free time, Susan enjoys sea swimming, paddleboarding and hiking. Her love of hiking has taken her to peaks in Europe, Nepal and South America but her favourite hikes are found right on her doorstep in Co.Sligo.

Alex Sullivan

Program Leader

Alex is from county Kildare and has lived in the West of Ireland on and off over the last 6 years working in the outdoors, lifeguarding and in the Gaeltacht area of Mayo. Following his own Gap year abroad to Australia he studied Music at Bachelor level at University in Dublin.

Alex has gained over 6 years experience working with young people in a variety of roles such as as a substitute Art Teacher, water sports Instructor and Boarding school house supervisor.

Alex has a passion for travel, art and the outdoors and has most recently spent time in Germany exploring the skateboarding, music and clubbing culture on offer. In his spare time when Alex is not surfing he can be found in Bundoran’s Cinema, planning trips to gigs to see his favourite artists or cooking with friends.