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Further Afield's Journal


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The Balkan Peninsula is the area that incorporates the countries surrounded by the Balkan mountains and ruled throughout the ages by a variety of Empires. From the first century when the Roman Empire was in control it was a time that the Balkan people were most united in their history, with a common legal system, a single arbiter of political power, and absolute military security.

The Fall of the Roman Empire in the 4th century after the attack by the Barbarians from Northern Europe saw the Byzantine empire rulers take over from 330-1450 The capital was Constantinople, with a few interruptions every now and then. Namely during the Crusades of the 12th & 13th centuries, Catholicism was the official religion of the Holy Roman Empire, that developed in Europe during the Middle Ages and lasted until 1806 during the period of the Napoleonic Wars. The Pope in Rome, Urban II calls on all Christians in Europe to war against Muslims in order to reclaim the Holy Land. 


The Slavs were settlers that came to the Balkans in the 6th century, a peaceful farming community that over a century became a powerful factor. They separated into four groups, Slovenes, Croats, Serbs and Bulgarians, Constantinople (Istanbul) was where the Palace of the Emperor was. Rome and Constantinople separated irrevocably in 1054. The Croats and Slovenes became part of Roman Catholic Europe while the Serbs, Bulgarians and Romanians joined the Greeks in their allegiance to Eastern Orthodox Church. The Crusades had two profound effects upon the Balkans, a hatred of the Eastern Orthodox Church against the Westerners and Catholics. The second was the weakening of the Empire. The Ottoman Empire came to prominence in 1350-1922. 



Cruising on The Danube.

The above gives a brief outline of the Balkans. The Danube River one of the longest rivers in Europe at 2800 km. The Danube is connected to the North Sea through the Rhine and Main rivers and then through the Danube Canal. Flowing through 10 countries it empties into the Black Sea.


Sailing from Budapest the capital of Hungary there’s a myriad of wonders to behold. The Paris of the East as it’s fondly referred to. The Carpathian Mountains act as a backdrop to the city. The Danube dissects the city of Budapest which is the amalgamation of what was once three cities, Buda, Obuda and Pest. For the purposes of administration and education, politicians and economists reached this agreement. A tour of the city will show evidence of Stone and Bronze Age settlements. The Architecture and sheer beauty of the city is to be envied. The focal point being the river one can visit Buda castle the residence of former Hungarian Kings, that now houses the National Gallery and Museum. See the Citadel and the Fisherman’s Bastion overlooking the city and the river, and visit St Stephen’s Basilica. Walk on the Chain bridge, intact after 150 years. For food enjoy the wonderful restaurants and eateries that are to be found on every street. The treat for today is a visit to Count Vlad III (Vlad the Impaler), Count Dracula’s grave.


Hungary was a monarchy until the deposition of the last king, Charles IV in 1918, after which it became a Republic. The Kingdom was nominally restored during the ‘Regency’ 1920-1946, ending with the Soviet occupation in 1946 after the Paris Peace Treaty. The country has a checkered history with various rulers in power. WW I Hungary had one third of its territory annexed by the Treaty of Versailles. WW II had the Soviet Union take control to become the Hungarian People’s Republic in 1949. Agreements with Allies had Hungary now part of the Warsaw Pact. 


As in many countries throughout the world we see that students and others of an educated background have led many a revolt. Look at South Africa. Budapest is no different and in 1956 a revolutionary group wanted change. The Soviet Army dealt harshly and quickly with those involved. Lives were lost and many Hungarians fled the country. The USSR was coming under severe pressure towards the end of the 1980s. In 1989 the Berlin Wall was torn down, many East Germans took refugee status in Hungary. On the 50th anniversary of the 1956 revolution many countries worldwide remembered Hungary’s efforts to quell the Communist expansion. In 2006 the then president George W Bush of the US paid a visit to Hungary to commemorate the event.


Sailing out of Budapest one can only imagine the merchants, people and cargo that have been transported in all directions on these waterways.


Vessels navigating the river go through the ‘Iron Gates Lock’ a gorge forged by the Danube through the Carpathian Mountains. Stopping at Pecs to browse the town, glass, porcelain, and china are the delights of the visitor. The Danube sneaks its way through Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania. 


Into Bucharest the capital of Romania, once part of the Roman Empire. The Greek empires ruled through the middle of the First millennium, Europeans trading to Asia and the Far East were settling here. The Romanians were recognized as a noble race of people and brave in warfare or in the face of adversity. The Ottoman Turks expanded their empire into the Balkan states. Through the Middle Ages the Ottomans attacked Kosovo, Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary. War continued as the Mongolian armies came through. Geographic and historical places that are referenced to such as Transylvania, the Habsburg Empire to the West, the Russian Empire to the East and others that have been mentioned have a birth, rebirth and annihilation traced to these locations.


Geographically Romania has a land mass of about 240,000 square Km, approximately one third mountainous, one third forests and the rest is rich in mineral wealth and farmland. With a population of 22 million. It’s a religious country with 80% Romanian Orthodox Christians, Protestant, Catholic, Islam, Judaism and others.


WW II and Romania. With the outbreak of the War, Romania took a neutrality stand, but Fascist forces were coming to power urging an alliance with Germany. The Soviet Union had claims on Romania and some other Balkan states after ‘The Versailles Treaty’ in 1919. The Soviet onslaught on Germany-Romanian fronts and a coup d’état in Romania put the country on the side of the Allies in 1944. When WW II ended in 1945 there was a Soviet military presence there until 1958. Journeying on the Danube at low water levels it’s possible to see hulks of warships that were scuttled along the Danube by Nazi German forces retreating from the advancing Soviet troops.


The Communist Party ruled supreme in Romania. in 1965 Nicolae Ceausescu became the general secretary and president in 1967. He maintained independence from Moscow and established the most totalitarian European Communist state. The economic policies that were adopted proved disastrous for the country, world recession in the 70/80s brought enormous inflation and higher interest rates. Money borrowed from the IMF bankrupted the Romania economy. Ceausescu was re-elected after each five year term, the country was in financial ruin.


In 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev became president of the Soviet Union after an upheaval within Russia. Many member states of the Soviet States were in serious decline, Gorbachev’s efforts to democratize the political system and decentralize its economy led to the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize that same year, being classed as an outstanding world leader, mainly for confining the Red Army to barracks as the Berlin Wall war was torn down.


Ceausescu didn’t think so, having expected more from what he believed to be at one time the father of Communism. He brought his troops and tanks onto the streets and hundreds died. On the 21st December 1989 as he went to address a rally in Bucharest holding up pictures of himself and his wife Elena, the unthinkable happened for him. People jeered and shouted in protest, soldiers stood idly by. He and Elena fled the gathering. In a short time he was arrested and held in custody for a speedy trial.


Today Romania has a high-income economy with a skilled workforce. A member of the European Union and ranked 13th by the nominal GDP. The country’s growth is outstanding.


Looking back at the history of Romania over the past three decades, a presidential republic with a prime-minister as the head of government, as a nation it’s a tremendous success. Starting from a low platform its development has awakened many a country. Immigration and migration has given Romanians the opportunity to travel, for education, work, student exchange programs, with labourers and skilled workers coming to fill vacancies that have arisen from foreign investors who see a well educated workforce there already. 


Tourism has offered a visitor destination venue that’s comparable to many worldwide. While in Bucharest visit the Palace of the Parliament, the National Museum, Dracula’s Castle, the Castle where the Adams Family was filmed, take the Real Tour of Communism in Bucharest, the Story of the Cold War Museum, Revolution Square. Stroll the broad tree lined Boulevards and visit the pubs, restaurants or pick up something to nibble as you enjoy the pure beauty of Eastern Europe. 


Joe Fahy.




Entry By: 
Joe Fahy

D-Day 6th June, 1944. 



WW II, (1939 to 1945). The war had been going on for five years. The Allied forces which included the armies of Britain, Canada and the United States on the Western front with the Soviet Union on the Eastern side and to a lesser extent China in Asia. The Allied forces launched an assault on the mainland of Europe from Britain, known today as the D-Day landing. The 6th June 1944 saw the largest invasion force of land, sea and air in military history. The operation was code named Overlord, delivered five naval assault divisions onto the beaches of Normandy, France. D-Day stands for nothing in particular. It’s used in US military terms to designate a launch date of a mission. One other reason for keeping the date unknown was because of spies.

World War 11: Causes, let’s go back a little to the ending of WW I 1914-1918. This WW saw a defeat for Germany. The agreement enacted in 1919 and the sanctions drawn up would return to haunt the world within 20 years. 

The Treaty of Versailles held that Germany was responsible for the war and so having lost, they were forced to pay reparations. They also had to forfeit lands they had annexed in Europe and their military army had to be curtailed.

The League of Nations was an organization set up to keep world peace. A great idea but absolutely useless in enforcement. Countries that had disputes would be expected to settle them by negotiation. Not all countries joined and there was no army to prevent military aggression. Italy invaded Ethiopia and Japan invaded China.

1931 saw a military coup in Japan, with the economy in the doldrums, the Japanese citizens welcomed this. The factories and industries needed natural resources and so Japan invaded China that was rich in minerals. The League of Nations could do nothing. Japan continued to expand its empire, Korea, South Asian islands and Vietnam. The United States were concerned with this expansion as indeed they should. An embargo was placed by the US on oil been exported to Japan. As 80% of the oil used in Japan was coming from the States, this was horrendous. When WW II o broke out in 1939, Germany had a packed with Japan. America’s naval base is at Pearl Harbour, Hawaii. The Japanese attacked the base in 1941, with the expectation of rendering their fleet inoperable. Not so however, and America declared war on Japan four days later. Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini declare war on the U.S.

After WW I the whole world was hit by an economic depression, in the late 1920s. Trade, businesses, prices fell, Banks failed, unemployment rose and economies were in turmoil. In Germany the economy was suffering more than most. In 1933 Adolf Hitler comes to power with promises of restoring wealth and power. Secretly he began to build up Germany’s army and weapons. The country is moving in the right direction. Iron and steel is being mined to build tanks and ammunition, planes, trucks and roads to travel on. Coal mines are at full capacity, heat is needed to turn iron into a commodity. Britain and France are aware of the increase in this military buildup, they presume however that a stronger Germany would stop the spread of Communism from the Soviet Union. In 1936 Hitler ordered German troops to enter German speaking areas of France, Austria and Czechoslovakia. Britain and France were not prepared to go to war. In 1936 Hitler made alliances with Italy and Japan. Known as the Axis Power. Appeasement meant agreeing to the demands of another nation to avoid conflict. During the early 1930’s politicians in Britain and France thought that the Treaty of Versailles was unfair on Germany, Britain adopted a Policy of Appeasement. In the Munich Agreement in 1938 Germany was allowed to annex areas of Czechoslovakia where German-speakers lived. Germany agreed not to invade the rest of Czechoslovakia or any other country. In 1939 Germany breaks that promise and invades the rest of Czechoslovakia. Three months later they invade Poland. Britain and France declared war on Germany, WW II had begun.

The D-Day landing took a lot of planning and designing, building, moving thousands of vehicles, ships and aircraft. Millions of men and women had to be trained. The war is spreading to other parts of the world. When talks on an invasion began it is agreed by Britain and the US a strategy of “Europe first”. That is, to concentrate on the defeat of Germany then turning to deal with Japan. The landing was postponed on a number of dates. 

History is an education for the future. By learning from the past we can prevent disastrous calamities for the future. We sometimes use the term ‘celebrate’ for the ending of a war in some place or other in the world. What can we celebrate when we think of the atrocities that were caused to achieve a surrender or an end to this violent struggle. General’s or commander’s that have to order an attack or a charge that they know will lead to numerous lives being lost on both sides. So let us commemorate this D-Day for the sacrifices that men and women did that we can live in freedom and safety. 

The assaults carried out on the Normandy beaches were not without dangers, not only being hampered from a barrage of enemy gunfire and tanks but also by the elements of nature, wind, rain and sun add to the difficulty of getting ashore or landing small planes. Rough seas and three metres swells makes docking small ships or boats next to impossible. On June 5th even as an unforgiving storm lashed Britain and Europe Roosevelt and Churchill decided to launch the invasion the following day.

Figures from that date show that 156,115 troops from the U.S. Britain and Canada took part, 6,939 ships and landing vessels, 2,395 aircraft and 867 gliders that delivered airborne troops.

Germany had anticipated an invasion from England. Field Marshal Rommel was in charge of building the Atlantic Wall, 2,400 miles of bunkers, land mines and beach and water obstacles. 4 million land mines approximately were placed along the Normandy beaches. Hitler was positive that the landing would come in at Calais, the shortest distance from England to France. He insisted that the biggest concentration of the defence should be there. In fact there was a mock invasion at Dover in England observed by German Generals on the French side to occupy the enemy. The commander General Patten was in charge of the operation at Dover.

For the invasion to happen the U.S shipped 7 million tons of supplies to the staging area including 450,000 tons of ammunition. Prefabricated corrugated steel landing platforms were needed to get tanks, jeeps, trucks with supplies, ambulances, soldiers, medical personnel, tents, field hospitals etc. onto the beaches.

Bad weather, rough seas, thunder and lightning had grounded the Nazi planes. The invasion began in the pre-dawn hours with thousands of paratroopers landing on the Utah and Sword beaches. American troops suffered heavy casualties at Utah. The British and Canadian troops had met somewhat less resistance at Sword beach. Taking out key bridges made for an advance inland possible. At Juno beach, Canadian soldiers suffered terrible casualties. However they pushed inland capturing towns and territories. Surrendering German soldiers was another item that had to be dealt with. Omaha and Gold beaches had an astounding number of casualties but the number of soldiers that got through were far in excess. 

Five days after D-Day, troops immediately began to install massive temporary harbours that had taken six months to construct in England. 2.5 million troops, 500,000 vehicles and 4 million tons of supplies were unloaded there over the remainder of the war. 

Eleven months after D-Day on 7th May 1945 Germany signed an unconditional surrender.

After fierce fighting and lives lost Japan surrendered on 2nd September 1945 following the Nuclear attack on Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, by US air strikes.


Suggested Tour:





Comhaltas Ceoltóiri Éireann

Entry By: 
Joe Fahy

Society of Musicians of Ireland. This is an international organization founded in Ireland in 1951 to preserve Traditional Irish Music and Culture. They are responsible for the production of the largest festival of music in Ireland, Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann, (The Irish Festival of Music) where musicians, singers, and dancers compete to achieve the recognition of being All-Ireland Champions.

The festival is held each year in the month of August for 10 days. Towns can apply for the opportunity of hosting the event. It’s a wonderful stage for the chosen venue as nowadays there are in the region of 500,000 people in attendance, over the 10 days. This year the town of Mullingar, Co. Westmeath has been chosen to host 2023 for the ‘Fleadh’.

There are various stages in the competition leading up to this final festival. In Ireland there are county and provincial events. Overseas, in Britain, USA, Canada, Europe and Australia competitors must also qualify. The organization have judges at the locations for each of the performances.

In the town chosen for the competitions to be held, proper venues have to exist and so this town will need to have these facilities in place. Renting marquess, converting existing buildings, the use of schools as it’s summer holiday time. These premises are where people’s dreams come true. An All-Ireland medal and certificate to prove that your years of practice have paid off. Admission tickets permits individuals access to these venues. The different fields of entertainment are, (1) dancing, solo and age groups under 12 years, 12-15 years, 15-18 years and Senior. (2) Vocal, also different age groups. (3) instrumental music, solo and groups of various ages. (4) Newly composed Songs in the Irish and English language. (5) Bands; Marching bands or Set dancing i.e groups of 4 or 8.

The entertainment is free on the streets. Families, individuals, lovers of music, or lovers in love, can breathe in the ecstasy of that fulfillment of joy, as music overwhelmingly embraces them.

This is your opportunity to immerse yourself in Ireland’s musical heritage. The beauty of the ‘Fleadh’ is for people to stroll the streets and soak up the atmosphere of music being performed by solo, duets, trios and groups. Be they young, old, or middle aged, of championship standard or someone out for the craic to entertain others and meet others.

The Irish language is very much associated with Irish music, so why not avail of some of the workshops that are there and ‘Abair Cúpla Focal’ (say a few words). If you have an interest in particular musical instruments, there are other workshops to take part in at your leisure. The country is dotted with Comhaltas facilities, why not visit some.

The cost of running an event such as the ‘Fleadh’ adds up to a sizeable sum. The figure of 2 million Euro has been quoted. It’s easy to see where it goes. Volunteers may be seen as free labour, they still have to eat and their travel has to be provided. Policing, Order of Malta, Civil Defence, Permits have to be in place, the courts provides these. The most costly of all is Insurance, inviting people to compete and others to pay an entrance fee has got to be covered by insurance. The performance venues and marquess all have to be rented out erected and removed afterwards. Security personnel have to be paid. Stewards are needed and judges to evaluate performers. Lightning and amplification systems and the list goes on and on.

Nevertheless, the town that is awarded the privilege of hosting the event realizes full well what they were doing when they first placed their proposal. It takes belief and trust, a dedicated workforce, and an elected personnel at the forefront that won’t take no for an answer.

Comhaltas Ceoltóiri Eireann is an organization that’s linked to the semi-state department of The Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht (Irish language). Government Grants are provided to such organizations that are deemed necessary to the everlasting culture of Ireland and for its endeavours to promote traditional Irish music.

If we just study this for a moment, we the older generation of today cherish how the Irish language, music, song and dance have been revived over the past number of years. The Irish language suffered an astronomical decline in the mid 1800s. Mass immigration during and after the potato famine of that time saw people arriving in North America and Canada with virtually no knowledge of the English language. The Irish language was seen as a language of the poor and the ignorant. It’s now taught as a respected language, with more of an emphasis on the spoken word. Yes, one has got to learn the language to speak it but think of all the people throughout the world who can speak different languages and never could read or write. I admire the broadcasters on radio and television, male and female who have such a great command of the Irish language. The Gaelscoileanna (Irish schools) in Ireland are doing tremendous work in this area educating children through the medium of Irish and with the confidence to converse in their native tongue.

The towns that are chosen to host the festival such as Mullingar, Co. Westmeath will have a turnover in the local economy of about 30 million Euro. The entire community gets behind this endeavour with sponsorship, volunteers, tidy towns people, sport clubs, schools and churches. All for the good of their locality and people.

Sponsorship: Tourism Ireland, The major Banks, Insurance Companies, Oil and fuel suppliers, Farming Co-operatives, Hotels and restaurants, bars, supermarkets and general stores. With 500,000 people expected to go through in 10 days everybody has to chip in.

A catch phrase for the Summer in Ireland. “Are yea going to the Fleadh”?

Joe Fahy.



St. Stephen's Day in Ireland

Entry By: 
Joe Fahy
December 26th is known in most parts of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth as Boxing Day. Why? There are various reasons given. Some give credit to Queen Victoria; it's said that during her reign wealthy families would box up gifts for the poor. Servants of aristocrats had to work on Christmas Day.

Another theory is that at Christmas, Alms boxes were placed in churches and on December 26th the clergy would distribute these funds to the poor in honour of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr.

The Bohemian Duke "Good King Wenceslas" also gets a mention. The Carol tells the tale of him seeing a poor man gathering wood on a snowy Christmas day. So moved was he by the sigh that he brought gifts and food to the man's house. 
Boxing Day has nothing to do with the sport of boxing but it certainly is celebrated nowadays with horse racing, soccer games, shopping, visiting friends and family, relaxing and of course the challenge of that swim for charities or just for the fun of it. Don't forget the overindulgence in the leftovers, sometimes more enjoyable than the dinner the day before. 
In Ireland, December 26th is known as St. Stephen's Day. On this day crowds of people take to the roads in various parts of the country, wearing masks and custom dress, playing music, singing and dancing at houses and bars that they stop at. A collection box will be passed around for whatever charity they may be fund raising for. 
The day is celebrating the Wren, or the Wran as it's pronounced with that Irish brogue. The Wrenboys, Strawboys or Mummers as they are called have their best parade in Dingle, Co. Kerry. Here it's a a hobby horse that's at the start of the parade, a wooden head, with the jaws snapping, as people encourage the participants from the sidewalks. The horse would have great importance for social and military reasons in Ireland. The horse would have great importance for social and military reasons in Ireland. The horse can be both lucky or unlucky, with associations to rights of kingship and with fertility. The straw suites worn also have historical resonance. In the 18th and 19th centuries the suits were worn as disguises by the whiteboys during the agrarian wars. 
In Irish mythology birds have a great prominence. They were seen as intermediaries in pre-Christian times between this world and the next. The flight pattern of birds, like the wren, were used as an omen by the Druids. The Gaelic word for wren is dreoilin it derives from two words draoi ean or the Druid bird. 
In Irish legend the story goes that the birds held a parliamentary meeting to decide who should be their ruler. The challenge was that whichever of them could fly the highest would be crowned the ruler. The contest started, some of the smaller birds stopped early, as those who remained had now more room to spread out and get better wing movements. The eagle soared higher and higher in the lead, as it began to get tired this little wren that had hidden in its tail feathers emerged and climbing far above any of the others it was declared the winner. To this day birds keep a safe distance from the wren, 'devious'.
As the Strawboys, Wrenboys or Mummers celebrate St. Stephen’s Day they sing.
The Wren, the Wren, the king of all birds,
St. Stephen’s Day he was caught in the furze.
Although he was little his honour was great,
Jump up me lads and give him a treat.


Up with the kettle and down with the pan,
Will you give me a penny to bury the Wran.
If you haven’t a penny a ha’penny will do,
If you haven’t a ha’penny, God bless you.
The wren has a reputation for treachery, reputed to have betrayed Irish soldiers fighting the Norsemen (Viking). It gets bad press for also betraying St. Stephen. The Catholic Church would not be great supporters of the Wrenboys. Well you know Druidism/Paganism. The money collected following the wren would go towards holding a party in a pub or a house dance where naturally alcohol was involved. The church saw such get togethers with traditional music and dancing as an "occasion of sin". The 'Wrenboys' celebration had almost all but died out with the advent of television and live music in lounge bars through the 70/80/90s but with the revival in places like the West of Ireland and indeed throughout other parts of the island there is a bright future for this and many other Irish pageants.



Entry By: 
Joe Fahy

What I love most of all are the people. People that have survived through struggle and strife. Dedicated people, devoted to purpose and loyalty.

A clan tradition, (clan meaning close-knit interrelated families). Not a legal right, if you want to belong you can. Belonging is a start. Clan members are justly proud of their heritage and want to display their allegiance. An official structure, regulated by Scottish heraldry and coats of arms. Each year over 50,000 people from around the world meet in Edinburgh for the annual gathering of the Clans, parading down the Royal Mile.

Scottish history, from 10,000 BC there’s things to talk about. The Caledonians and the Picts drove the Roman’s out in the 2nd century resulting in Hadrian's Wall being erected, 60 km of a stone wall dividing Scotland and England. The Vikings from Norway and Denmark arrive in the 800’s. In 1040 Macbeth is King, any of you that studied Shakespeare might remember. William Wallace and Robert de Bruce and the struggle for Independence. Mary Queen of Scots, 6 days old when her father is killed in battle and she becomes Queen. Her son only 13 months when he succeeded to the throne. No! Mother is still alive. In 1603 he becomes King of England and Scotland, very complicated. More history with the Act of Union 1707, bringing England and Scotland together. The Battle of Culloden. The last battle fought on British soil.

The Highland Clearance.

The Age of Enlightenment. Philosophers, Scientists and Scholars that had an influence on shaping the modern world.

1800 Scotland is changing from rural to urban. Cities are developing, coal, iron mining, shipbuilding and textile industries are influencing Scotland's economy.

Sir Walter Scott, Robbie Burn’s are writing books and poetry. Today look at the global success J.K. Rowling in Edinburgh has had with Harry Potter. 

Parliament has returned to Edinburgh after almost 300 years. 

Music, Highland Games, education, employment and sport. 


Journey with us to Scotland, where the natural beauty simply dazzles, the echo of bagpipes can be heard across the glens and history uncovered in every turn. Discover new places together! Limited to 24 Guests.