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Further Afield's Journal

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.


Saint Patrick’s Day

Entry By: 
Joe Fahy

It’s 432 AD. No ordinary visitor this time, he’s been here before.


Ireland is a pagan country. Rituals, Druids, worshiping the Sun, Fire Festivals, Raiding and Pillaging. A country not for the faint hearted. Slavery was the social system. Life expectancy was short, more often than not with a brutal ending.
While the Roman Empire had spread throughout Europe and into Britain up to the border of England and Scotland, (Hadrian’s Wall). They never did make it to Ireland. The Empire came under pressure at the end of the 300s. Rome was recalling their Legions back home, to defend the heart of the Empire. The barbarism that had attacked Southern Europe overran England and Wales. They had been left exposed. 
On numerous attacks on Wales, the Irish raiding parties had taken slaves back to Ireland with them. A particular trip included a boy aged 14/15 whose very existence was to change Irish history. His apprenticeship was herding sheep and pigs. Not a great outlook for the future. His pedigree, however, was different than normal. His family were of Roman origin. Higher up in the chain, educated, therefore could read and write. This was Patrick. Lonely and alone, Patrick turned to prayer. His mother was Christian. Concentration on prayer or a stroke of luck, Patrick dreamed of a boat that waited for him on a river. He escapes, arrives back in Wales. Years of absence have changed home, the country was in disarray. 
He is able to get a schooling studying for the priesthood and in the teaching of Christianity he decides to return to Ireland to preach to these pagans that he had lived among for years. Patrick would have had a group of followers with him. 
Quiver in the story. Back to 432 AD.
Patrick knows the schedules of these people. The rituals and feasts. The major Fire festival is after the spring Equinox, in modern times celebrated as Easter. In the Christian calendar the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox 21st March is Easter Sunday. This was determined by a Synod of bishops of Rome in the 700s, but celebrated as one of the Fire Festivals for thousands of years before then by a pagan race of people.
The High King of Tara, at this time is King Laoghaire, he would light the festival fire at Tara. Patrick, who had a few followers with him, went to the hill of Slane, north of Tara and built an enormous pile of firewood and anything else that was combustible. Igniting the pile! Sparks and flames consume the night skies. This did not impress the King or the Druids. Patrick is escorted back to Tara to explain his actions. Introducing the ideas of Christianity, the pagan King listened and was rather intrigued by this man’s beliefs. Days went by as the festival went on. Questions were asked and answered. When it came to explaining about ‘God’ Patrick picked up a ‘Shamrock’. “Look here” he said addressing King Laoghaire, “we have a stem with three leaves, the same as we have three persons, The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit, in the one God. A mystery yes but believable.
King Laoghaire, listening attentively, welcomed Patrick and his beliefs to the festival then sent him on his way with an escort of men to aid his journey through the lands.
Why would a pagan King want to be dictated to by a mere Christian, a former slave? Slavery is the bottom of the social ladder. Patrick knew this. Spending time, mulling over the whys and wherefores of Christianity, the topic came to education, reading and writing. Writing means contracts. Contracts means a bond. Continuing on from here we have courts, rules and regulations. A winner for the established rulers of each region.
Patrick was not the first person to arrive in Ireland preaching Christianity but he certainly was the most influential. Churches, Abbeys, Monasteries and Bishoprics grew up all over the Island. Pagan beliefs and festivals were adapted into Christianity. Both communities continued to live in harmony for hundreds of years without any battles or wars deciding the outcome.
The 17th March is believed to mark the death of Patrick. In the 7th, 8th and 9th centuries Ireland was known as The Island Of Saints and Scholars. Why? Europe was in a shambles after the Fall of the Roman Empire, social order and discipline had long since ceased. 
Missionaries left Ireland to spread the Gospel. Places such as the island of Iona off the coast of Scotland, St. Andrew’s, Lindisfarne and others. In France Luxeuil, Bobbio and Lucca in Italy and St. Gallen in Switzerland. Patrick would have risen to Sainthood when the Pope of Rome realized his value and worth to the expansion of the Catholic religion.
Read “How the Irish saved Civilization”.
When I was a younger man, St. Patrick’s day was a Catholic Church holiday. The Day began on a farm for example, with the tasks that had to be done. Workers in factories, warehouses, offices, schools had a day off work with pay. Attending mass one would wear a bunch of Shamrock on the lapel of their jackets, men had it on their hats, women on their bonnets. Afterwards dinner would be enjoyed in the middle of the day, then off to a football or hurling game. End of celebration.
Today the festival goes on for 4/5 days in our capital city Dublin. In countries and cities all over the world no other day has the recognition that this particular date has for a celebration. From Sydney, Hong Kong, All of Europe, The USA and Canada, South America, not to mention Ireland, every village, town and city have parades to mark the day. 
We have the final of our native Gaelic Athletic Association club games. College Rugby finals. It marks the end of the National Hunt Horse Racing season in Ireland. A week or so afterwards the clocks go forward an hour. In Ireland Saint Patrick’s day marks the beginning of the tourist season. From now until the end of October more than 8 million visitors will come to Ireland. During the off period we will process another multitude of visitors. 
Not only have we a Saint who has taken Ireland to the attention of the world, we also have a destination recognized the world over. A people that are welcoming and welcomed, associated with a uniquely favoured island. 
“Here’s to your health of mind and body for Saint Patrick’s day.
May all your troubles be little ones.
May your joys be fourfold.
And may you be in Heaven half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead”.
Joe Fahy.

Trans Canada Highway

  • Trans Canada Highway Overpass
Entry By: 
Joe Fahy

On a land mass basis after Russia, Canada is the 2nd largest country in the world. Stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean and north to the Arctic Ocean. A country with six time zones. Hundreds of thousands of people arrived into Canada in the late 1800s and early 1900s. There was a need to have the country populated and in turn developed. 


The Canadian Pacific Railway, CPR, company had been incorporated in 1881, mainly to transport goods and people throughout the country. The result of this endeavour was an extension of the CPR company into other sectors of industry such as shipping, tourism, agriculture and trade. The CPR, shipping line had the contract for example of transporting mail from Hong Kong, Japan and China to the United Kingdom and from Manila in the Philippines. Liverpool was the port of call. With regular crossings Europeans and Asians were able to cross to North America and Canada. When the railways were been built the largest number of employees were Chinese, others were Italians, Irish, Polish and Czechoslovakians.

Towns and cities grew. Tourism was growing. The railway hotels like the Fairmont in Banff under the stewardship of Sir William Van Horne was the place to be seen. The nation expanded, British Columbia on the west coast and Labrador and the Maritime provinces on the east all became part of Canada.

In the 1950s a government proposal was passed to build a highway coast to coast. Looking at most of Canada the county is relatively flat, until you are heading west. The idea was that each province would take care of the upkeep of the highway, post the initial cost of the construction which was funded mainly by the Canadian government. The project took over 20 years to complete which was quite an accomplishment considering its distance of 7,820 Km or 4,860 miles. A causeway had to be built to Newfoundland plus the other Maritime provinces. The highest point is Kicking Horse Pass at 5,340 feet above sea level in the Rocky Mountains. It's considered the longest highway in the world, Highway 1.

The highway goes through Banff National Park in Alberta. The oldest national park in Canada and the third oldest in the world. Being established in 1885 from very meagre beginnings after three employees of the CPR company on a day off discovered the ‘Hot Springs’. Located in what is known today as ‘Sulphur Mountain’. Trouble started immediately as to whom had the rights to these ‘springs’. The Canadian government established a national reserve, to quell the problem. This was later to become the Banff National Park. With a annual turnover of 3 million visitors, it is treasure trove for all travellers and tourists alike. 

Carbon dating has shown that there have been people living here for 11,000 years. These indigenous people traded in furs, hides, fresh meat and fish when the first Europeans began to transverse this wilderness in the 17th, 18th, 19th centuries. In the 1880s when the surveyors and engineers came to plan a route for the railway the indigenous trackers were contracted as guides for the CPR company. 

A geographic look at Canada shows from east to west in the southern provinces an undulation of the countryside on the east, a multitude of lakes and rivers including the five Great Lakes, which forms part of the border of Canada and the USA. Canada has 20% of the fresh water on Earth. Moving west through Manitoba and Saskatchewan we have the Great Plains, the breadbasket of Canada, with the agricultural growing of wheat, canola, barley and soybeans. Coming into view in the distance are the Rocky Mountains. A range of mountains that stretch through Canada, and the USA down to New Mexico. On the Alberta and British Columbia border is the Great Divide, the Bow river that disperses its contents of water east for the Atlantic Ocean, west for the Pacific or north for the Arctic. It has no say in the matter at 5,340 ft, the highest peak, Kicking Horse Pass, the elements decide. 

So driving through Banff National Park, I am confronted by this bridge. Did I miss something. No there’s another and another. Beautiful bridges, Two tunnels on either side of the highway, an arc in semi-circles that end bluntly on the pavement below. 

What an ingenious solution to a serious problem. Canadians are passionate about nature, be it wild life, forests, fish or your domestic pet. This highway built through a national park was causing a catastrophe for wild life, large and small. Their territory had disappeared, they were imprisoned by a massive barrier that they could not cross without risking life or limbs.

Conservationists and environmentalists were becoming aware of the amount of animals that were being injured and killed on the highway. Drivers and passengers were killed or seriously injured in these collisions.

A solution to the problem had to be found. Canada’s National Park’s division came up with the solution. Overpasses and underpasses on the highway, a fence on the park side of the highway 180Km both sides, stitched into the ground to prevent borrowings and also to guide the animals for their escape route through these passes. Larger animals want a clear view of where they are going they will use the overpasses or bridges. It’s remarkable how effective this experiment has been. It is now twenty years since this project started. Monitoring devices have shown the amount of crossings that happen. The amount of collisions have reduced significantly. Looking at the bridges it’s amazing how much vegetation that has grown on them, pine trees, shrubs, plants and flowers. Camouflage in itself for the animals. There are 6 overpasses and 38 underpasses. Animals using the passes range from Grizzly and Black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars, moose, elk, deer, bighorn sheep and lynx.

As a result of this success other countries have taken note and have now built passes for wildlife to use. Accidents are prevented. Human lives are saved. Nature and wildlife can exist in harmony with economic progress. 

To visit and see what can be done to protect the environment is a experience in itself. It’s there for you to witness in so many places, why not go and enjoy it.



Entry By: 

Nollaig na MBan, also known as Women's Little Christmas, a unique non-religious tradition. Historically, Irish women gathered on January 6 to enjoy a break from household chores while men stayed home and took on the cooking and cleaning of the home. Women would gather together in their homes and relax in each other's company while some may head to the pubs, places that usually catered to men.

Christmas fun doesn't need to end on December 25th. It comes to a close on January 6th, the Feast of Epiphany, a major Christian celebration. Historically the Feast of epiphany observed three significant events in Christianity: the birth of Jesus, God's appearance when at the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, and Jesus changing water into wine at a wedding in Cana. When the Georgian calendar was adopted, Jesus' birthday became December 25. The Nativity was no longer celebrated on the Feast of Epiphany. Instead, January 6th marked the day three Magi, also known as the three wise men or three kings that visited baby Jesus. While Christians in the Eastern World still celebrate the birth of Jesus on January 6, the period between December 25th and January 6th is known as the Twelve Days of Christmas. Spain refers to the Epiphany as Three King's Day, England references this as Twelfth Night and Ireland commemorates the day as 'Little Christmas' or 'Women's Christmas.

The tradition of Women's Little Christmas has been handed down orally from generation to generation. While gifts are exchanged on Christmas morning, children may also give tokens to their mothers and grandmothers on Little Christmas. Today's Women's Little Christmas is a day to get together and celebrate their lives and achievements and to honour sisters and friends in the community of women. It's not necessarily a day to escape work. 

Little Christmas marks the end of a busy Christmas season for the Irish. Christmas decorations are taken down on this day. (It's considered bad luck to take down before January 6). Sprigs of holly used as decorations are tossed into the fireplace to burn and commemorate the official end of Christmas. A reflection of Ireland's culture and tradition. The day is celebrated not only for religious reasons, but also for the strength and sisterhood of women. You don't have to be Irish or live in Ireland to celebrate Women's Little Christmas. A festive way to say goodbye to the holidays and enjoy a women-centred event. 




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