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

Ryan is a founding director of Irish Gap Year. He grew up on the East Coast of the United States near Philadelphia. Being an adventurous soul, he discovered surfing at a young age on the beaches of nearby New Jersey and found a passion that would stay with him throughout his life and take him on many journey’s all over the world. Ryan brings over 15 years of educational and outdoor knowledge to the team. He has taught outdoor education and worked in management capacities in Ireland, America, Norway and New Zealand and holds degrees in literature and American Studies from the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ryan loves getting out in the field with students and feels particularly fortunate to have the opportunity to marry his passions with his career.

Ryan is a new father and is loving the experience. He can often be found walking his baby Tommy with his partner Caroline around Bundoran.

Ryan Allen Director

Killian O’Kelly

Killian is a director of Irish Gap Year. He is from the town of Bundoran in County Donegal, on the north-western seaboard of Ireland. After completing an honours degree in Construction Engineering from University of Ulster Jordanstown he worked with DELL Computers for a number of years.

However, his passion for outdoor sports and life on the west coast of Ireland brought him back home to set up an adventure tourism company with his wife Mary. Their company, which they sold in 2019 was called TurfnSurf Tours and provided  adventure activities tours to tourists since 2006. His work has included providing activities and volunteer support to local community groups such as the Neighbourhood Youth Project (NYP).

In recent years Killian has conducted and managed, government funded, educational courses for unemployed youth to train to become a Surf Instructors and Beach Lifeguards.

Killian has had a lifetime interest in water-sports and rescue services related to the sea. He has been a pool and beach lifeguard for many years and is currently a volunteer crew member of the Bundoran RNLI Lifeboat.

He grew up surfing in Bundoran and this sport has meant he has also travelled extensively. In particular Killian spent many summers living and working in Boston in the US. He has also lived and worked in New Zealand and travelled to countries such as China, Russia, Mongolia, South Africa, Australia and throughout Europe.

Killian O Kelly Director

Margie O’Reilly, Ph.D.

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

Sarah Berkery

Program Leader 

Sarah decided that the west coast of Ireland was the place for her and left the rolling grassy hills of Tipperary for the rugged Atlantic Coast line, which she now calls home.  She has a BA in Outdoor Education and many years experience in outdoor adventure sports.

She has a huge interest in surfing, hurling, snowboarding, hiking, swimming, cliff jumping and more. She is passionate about everything outdoors and if she does have a bad day you simply just gotta put her in the sea!

She has gained valuable experience working with groups of all ages for the past few years working in various adventure centres along the west coast of Ireland as an outdoor instructor. Sarah has valued experience in volunteering over the years helping with Special Olympic events and most recently volunteering with Liquid Therapy and Foroige.

After college Sarah spent 2 years traveling around Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam exploring the different cultures, landscapes and adventure aspects before being pulled back to the west coast of Ireland.

Sarah’s energy and enthusiasm (she even bounces) always lifts the spirits of a group even on the wettest grey days. Sarah believes in the outdoor philosophy of allowing the mind, time and space to breathe and develop in nature and also the importance of one challenging themselves and stepping outside their comfort zone for personal development.

Sarah Berkery Program Leader

Sarah Callinan

Progam Leader

Originally from county Meath, Sarah has been living in the west and northwest of Ireland for the last 15 years. Her love of travel started early!

Having a father from county Clare and a mother from the State of Washington has led to some adventurous summer holidays. This theme has continued over the years in pursuit of outdoor sporting adventures in South America, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Europe, especially in Italy and Spain.

Sarah has qualified as a Royal Life Saving Pool and Beach lifeguard and done volunteer work with Surf2Heal, Croi, St Vincent de Paul and Ironman. Her overriding passion is any sport involving water and she has tried to pass on this love by teaching kayaking and stand-up paddle-boarding to all age groups in the northwest (thanks to her previous work experience with Killian and Ryan).

Sarah is currently a member of the Inver Rowing Club, is converting a camper van, learning Spanish and with her growing interest in Donegal history is completing a Tourism Guiding course in local and regional guiding with Letterkenny Institute of Technology.  She also has a BA in Marketing under her belt.

Niall Coombes

Program Leader

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

Onóra Gill-Fitch

Office 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

Fran Duffy

Student Support and House Manager

Fran is originally from Belfast where she studied business and accounts, but that all changed when she married a Donegal man and discovered the ocean! She now works as a Surf & Outdoors Instructor, she also runs a window business with her husband and 3 children.

In 2011 after 15 years in admin/accounts Fran decided to change career paths and train as a Surf & Outdoors Instructor, she never looked back, adding on new qualifications every year and developing her skills. She has her own Swim School and coaches with the local club, she is a Lifeguard Trainer/Assessor and has Tutored on Outdoor Instructor Courses. She also volunteers with Liquid Therapy delivering an amazing ocean experience to people with additional needs.

Fran has a lot of experience working with people in the outdoors, she loves her job and has worked with many different groups. She really enjoys being part of a persons development and watching them grow in confidence through outdoor pursuits and learning new skills. She is friendly and approachable and people find it easy to come to her for a quiet chat or if they have any worries or concerns.

Fran loves surfing, swimming, running, caravanning with family and believes that the ocean fixes everything!!

Phillip Corrigan

Program Leader

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

Dee Lavelle

Marketing

Dee was born and raised in County Meath. Initially studying French and Business in college, her first job in marketing sparked her love for media. Following this she worked in advertising, marketing and sales for over 20 years. Dee loves bringing her skills of great communication to the Irish Gap Year.

In her spare time Dee loves to spend time outdoors especially walking with her dog Rosie and enjoying pilates classes.

Niall Coombs Program Leader

Kate Mullins

Program Leader

Kate is from Wexford, she started out 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.

After spending several years working in the online advertising industry between Dublin, Stockholm and London, she came to Bundoran for a few weeks to surf, and never left. Working here for several years as a surf instructor and later, manager of a surf school, she has also worked as a youth worker for the youth development organisation Foróige.
Her passions are surfing, sea swimming, art, and mornings sitting watching the birds, while she has a post swim coffee down at the westend pool.

Niall Coombs Program Leader

Ann Marie O’Keefe

Student Support and Program Development

Ann Marie was born and raised on a farm in the beautiful bog lands of County Mayo, which has taught her the value of hard-work. She has a huge interest in Gaelic football and played for the Mayo county teams a couple of years ago winning an All Ireland Final in 2011. She has a BSc in Forensic Investigation and analysis and a MA in bioanalytical techniques from the institute of technology Sligo with many years of experience in the science industry. Ann Marie is an online gamer who has her own group where she facilitates a mental health discussion each week to support followers and friends online. This shows people who are online by themselves all the time that they aren’t alone with their mental health challenges, that there is a support network for them. Ann Maries primary role to the Irish Gap Year is student support and program development.

Annie Bio Pic

Elizabeth Bezark

Outreach and Field Support

Elizabeth Bezark grew up in California in the States and has degrees in International Studies and French from the University of Oregon. Through her university’s leadership and outdoor experiential education programs, she traveled to Guatemala and learned about fuel-efficient cooking methods, and spent a week backpacking in the Oregon wilderness maintaining trails. These experiences ignited Elizabeth’s passions for place-based education, where the learning happens experientially through human connection, storytelling, and internal and external exploration.

Since graduating from university, Elizabeth has travelled to Thailand, where she volunteered at a permaculture education center, and she’s lived in Ollantaytambo, Perú working as a Service Learning Coordinator for an NGO focused on women’s empowerment through textile weaving cooperatives. The COVID-19 pandemic kicked her back Stateside, where she made the best of lockdown by volunteering then eventually working for the Gap Year Association (GYA), which accredits gap year education organizations such as Irish Gap Year for best practices in the field.

Elizabeth connected with Ryan Allen through the GYA’s professional development and felt inspired by the way that Irish Gap Year programs reignite students’ love for learning. As an artist and adventurer, she was especially drawn to the Arts & Culture and Adventure & Leadership Programs. She looks forward to supporting the IGY team to do our best work, and to supporting students to do their best learning.

While not working, Elizabeth enjoys ceramic sculpture and pottery, and loves making her own wooden tools.

Elizabeth Bio Pic

Ryan Harkin

Program Leader

Ryan wants to empower our students with the foundational skills and knowledge to complete their own DIY, grow their own food and live a life with a low environmental impact, in harmony with their environment. Ryan searched the world for a position in which he could inspire and educate the youth about sustainable living and practical ways to live a healthy and meaningful life.

Ryan went to university aged 17 and was so busy to achieve in exams, he didn’t have the space to allow his passion to teach come to fruition. He spent 4 years completing a BSC in applied mathematics in NUI Galway. A gap year to mature and grow would have been greatly beneficial, to giving the decision of a university degree the time and thought it deserved. Working up to 40 hours a week, competing in boxing, captaining the committee and helping to coach the university boxing team he did not lack determination but direction. His passion to help others achieve and learn through teaching soon came to light. Weight cutting for boxing, along with a part-time course for a certificate in nutrition lead to consistent study in the field for the past 10 years. Ryan has worked as a chef through his last years of college and in kitchens across the globe whilst volunteering in some of the most forward-thinking schools and permaculture farms in New Zealand, Australia and Indonesia.

Annie Bio Pic