Normally my wife and I organize our own travel activities and implement them. We have done it for years in more than a dozen countries and across the US and Canada. Why did we jump to using a personal guide when we went to Ireland for a week?
1) Our heavy schedule at home in the months before our trip meant we had far less time than we would have liked to plan in advance and read up on places.
2) While my wife has driven around the narrow rural roads in the UK before, it made me nervous. Having someone else do the driving means less stress and more time to look. No big bus on some narrow, road like the Ring of Kerry. Rather our guide, Annie, drove us around in a small but roomy van.
3) We communicated in advance by email, and of course during our first day with Annie, and she absorbed what Ruth likes and what I like and developed a string of ideas that suited our interests, time, and personalities -- and of course the changing weather. She then developed a daily custom plan for us. It's flexible. We can get out of the car and stop any where, or edit the plan with Annie as we go.
So those are the three things that led to our engaging Annie for four days last year, and three and a half days this year. (Yes, we went back, and used her services for a second time!) What we discovered as we spent time with Annie the first trip, is that we became good friends in the process - she cared about us, wanted us to enjoy our vacation days, and not only drove and narrated geographical, historical, and cultural information but set up activities so that there was never a wait-time... everything was seamless. Her scores of local contacts meant that she could arrange a jaunting car ride, boat ride, and dinner plan so that all of the connecting hassle was eliminated and and the pleasures maximized. She is well experienced and skillful in organizing in such a way that we are participants together in an adventure.
Normally when traveling, you can pick up little things about the culture and views of a country by talking with cab drivers, wait persons, and the random local one might meet. What we found with Annie, is how much you can learn from spending several days with a person, just casually. Annie is a thoughtful, intelligent, kind person and easy to talk with. Annie grew up in a village on the coast, is well educated, has been a teacher for over 20 years. Short of becoming a resident, having a local guide with you like Ann O Dowd is the next best way to get to know Ireland.
We learned so much, had an awesome time with her on both trips, and cannot recommend her highly enough... if you are lucky enough that she can fit you into her busy life.