With Fathers day approaching, here are our top five recommendations for gifts for Dad in 2020. But all these recommendations would make a nice gift at any time of year. There is nothing like the joy of giving a spontaneous gift too so here are some great gift ideas for all occasions and none !

1) Guinness Book of World Records 2020.
This will equip your dad with fun facts and interesting conversation topics for at least a year! This is one of the the most iconic book of all time and choc full of amazing, sometimes wacky and humorous feats of human endeavour. All the best of humanity is there and loads of amazing information to fire the imagination. The history of this iconic tome deserves a blog post in itself (and is on my to do list!) and this version is wonderfully up to date and exciting. It is our number one choice.

2) Blarney Woollen Mills Gansaí ( Irish sweater). Blarney Woollen Mills

Gansaí is the Irish for sweater and we are proud of our sweaters here in Ireland. We have a relatively inhospitable climate with cold, damp winters so have developed distinctive woollen sweaters that give great warmth and comfort. They have a beautiful, stylish design and ooze class and good taste. Blarney Woollen Mills have a history of producing luxury Irish goods and this is one of our favourites.

3) Frolk Whiskey Set
A beautiful whiskey set in a lovely pinewood box containing a gorgeous decanter, glasses and some lovely extras including whiskey stones, which are a great innovation for cooling whiskey without diluting the flavour with ice or water

4) Biddy Murphy Cheeseboard
A beautifully crafted cheeseboard or chopping board that will add to any gentleman’s kitchen. This is an ethical choice that offers a choice of ethically sourced timbers. ( incidentally it is bad luck in Ireland to give a knife as a gift, but a chopping board is fine)

4) A portable foot spa
Here at insidersguidetoireland we love to travel and enjoy the great outdoors and this is the perfect gift for a dad who likes either. Think of what a great thing this would be to pull out of the suitcase at the end of a busy day on the road. Maybe you will want one for yourself too !!
(could also doubles as a sink for washing food etc on a camping trip.)

5) A beautifully crafted cheeseboard or chopping board that will add to any gentleman’s kitchen. This is an ethical choice that offers a choice of ethically sourced timbers. ( incidentally it is bad luck in Ireland to give a knife as a gift, but a chopping board is fine)

Alan is a musician and Travel Director with Trafalgar Tours based in Ireland.


(This site contains affiliate links)


Usually as a Travel Director with Trafalgar tours I am based in Ireland visiting wonderful and special places there such as Glendalough, The Giants Causeway or The Cliffs of Moher. But I do occasionally guide in Britain and Europe.

This is a retrospective account of one of the highlights of a Real Britain trip I guided in the winter of  2018. With lockdown measures easing throughout Europe, hopefully we will be back travelling again soon but for now I must satisfy my traveling desires by looking back and remembering the wonderful places I have visited both as a travel director and in my own personal travels.

We visited Stonehenge towards the beginning of the trip on a grey, cloudy day. The approach to Stonehenge is decidely odd. It sits right next to a motorway and the juxtaposition of the motorway with the ancient ruins of Stonehenge is a little unsettling, But it is the modern world with its noise and hypermotion which appears as a stranger in the landscape, although happily there are plans to use a tunnel to remove the imposition of traffic on this wonderful heritage site.



There the ruins sit, minding their own business, an unlikely but definite echo of the past.

But what was that past like ? This is one of the many question that Stonehenge evokes. The question sits in the mind; an enjoyable, wallowing, wonderment as we allow our imagination to evoke for us what Stonehenge might have been all about in ages past.

Facts, myths and conjecture all roll into one very quickly here so I will separate them out and allow you to enjoy the mystery and  the sense of wonder that enthralls so many people on a visit here.


Stonehenge sits as part of a wider complex of (mostly buried) neolythic structures which include earthworks, burial mounds and wooden henges. The complex of structures was originally constructed over an approximate millennium dating from 2600 bc to 1600 bc.

The famous part of the site known as stonehenge is a ring of standing stones, capped in part by other large stones. The stones are up to 25 tons in weight and originate many miles away Wales although we don’t know how they arrived at their current location with theories ranging from land transportation, river transportation, sea transportation and even glacial flow to the vacinity of the site all hypothosized as potential  modes of transportation. In any event the erection and transportation of these stones is something of a mystery and points to impressive engineering and technological skills for the era.


Given the paucity of facts, myths relating to Stonehenge are as rich as the human imagination. The most well known fable relating to Stonehenge is that  the stones were transferred from Ireland by Merlin, the famous wizard of English folklore. Another myth held that they were constructed by invading Danes and yet another that it was constructed ( or at least used) by the Romans. More modern myths also attach to the landscape as a site of alien visitation.


While exploring and enjoying myths is fun and informative, it is also intriguing to explore imaginative conjecture in relation to Stonehenge and use the facts, historical context and indeed myths to gain an imaginative insight into Stonehenge.

While their place in the English landscape has remained unchanged, their place in the English folk imagination has shifted with the centuries, reflecting the times.

There are many competing theories about the original purpose of Stonehenge and it has drawn curious visitors since the advent of recorded times, including the Romans who may have used it also for ceremonial purposes

Many experts believe it was primarily created as a burial place while others believe it was a place of spiritual or ritualistic ceremony. It famously alligns with both sunrise on the summer solstice and sunset in the winter solstice so it may have been a site of celestial observation leading others to posit that it served as a sort of primitive scientific observation point with probable strong superstitious and ceremonial overtones.

It is also believed by some experts that it was a place of pilgrimage with the purpose of healing, a sort of prehistoric Lourdes, drawing pilgrims in search of healing throughout the mellenia.

When we consider that it took over a thousand years to construct the site and that it has stood there for over three thousand years, we must also consider that it served many of these different purposes over time.

Stonehenge is often considered a “Celtic” monument but for reasons that merit  another blog post(and will be covered shortly), the term Celtic is a misleading term loaded with too much political and cultural weight too have any meaning here. It is more accurate to say that Stonehenge grew from a neolythic ( late Stone Age) civilisation native to North West Europe including Britain, Ireland, and parts of France and Spain.  It has many similarities with other neolythic sites in Ireland such as Newgrange and Knowth and sits in a landscape rich in the mycellium circles which are known as “fairy rings” or “fairy forts” that are so rich in mystical and mythological associations throughout Northern Europe, Britain and especially Ireland right to this day.

That it still stands is a minor miracle and that it acts as a stimulus to think deeply about our past is enough to draw us into an imaginative contemplation of our future. The motorway sits as a sort of absurdist comment on our high velocity present. But the question remains to be wallowed in and enjoyed, where are we going? To me, stonehenge asks this question.

If you visit bring your imagination !

Alan is a Travel Director with Trafalgar tours based in Ireland.

A day trip to Charlesfort




Ordinarily at this time of year I am busy guiding with Trafalgar Tours and bringing guests to all parts of the country but I am blessed to have many beautiful and indeed historic spots close to home also. One such spot is Charlesfort, an ancient coastal fortification situated adjacent to the little village of Summercove in the kinsale hinterland.

We are still pretty restricted in our movements here but the weather is beautiful and the coast is always a big draw for locals in the nice weather. It was great to see so many kids and teenagers cycling around and enjoying the great outdoors. I hope that they will have many happy memories of this strange interlude in all our lives.

Charlesfort was built during the reign of Charles ii, between 1677 and 1682, and sits across the harbour from Jamesfort, an older fortification dating from the early years of the 17th century ( built 1602-07). It was essentially built to cement the rule of British rule in Ireland. Spanish troops had occupied Kinsale in 1601 prior to the Battle of Kinsale and Ireland’s coast was seen as especially vulnerable to attack by either French or Spanish forces who the Catholic Irish felt much affinity with. Indeed the French did send troops to Kinsale in 1689 in support of the Catholic claimant on the British crown, James ii –  ultimately defeated by William of orange at the battle of the Boyne in 1690. Subsequent to this, the city of Cork and then Charlesfort, home to defeated Jacobite troops, were successfully besieged by the Williamite forces. The defeated Jacobite troops were ultimately given safe passage to Limerick and then on to Europe but as we say in Irish – sin sceal eile ( thats another story ).

It was designed by William Robinson and contains elements of a star fortification and was built as a fortification against sea invasion. The star fortification gave greater protection from cannon and the position at the mouth of the harbour gave control of the harbour. It was, however, vulnerable to attack from the land as proved by the Williamite forces in 1690. The walls are hugely impressive and up to six meters thick in places and would have been constantly patrolled. It is nice to visit Charlesfort as the imagination can really fill in the blanks and bring you back in time to the 17th century.

The fort remained a military installation under British control until the Irish war of independence in 1921 and was then burned in 1922 during the Irish civil war. Another sceal eile !

But the dramatic history of Charlesfort has yet another colourful and dramatic when it briefly became home to a hippie community in the 1960’s which prompted the state to become more involved in the managing of the heritage site and bringing it under the management of the office of public works who manage a visitor centre on-site as a tourist attraction. Of course it is closed at present but it is still a wonderful place to visit affording beautiful views of the ocean, a nice swimming spot at high tide and a lovely walkway off to the left of the fort. For access to the swim spot and the walk, simply park your car and navigate around to the left of the fort down to the sea. You couldn’t miss it !

Here are some photo’s from around the fort.

Alan is a travel director with Trafalgar Tours based in Ireland.