Newsflash! Extinct species discovered tonight in Terryland Forest Park!

 

A species that was believed to be extinct from Ireland, one of the first to fall victim to Climate Change, was discovered by two people out walking tonight in Terryland Forest Park.

Even more exciting was the fact that it was a breeding pair!
The species popularly referred to by its masculine name of 'Snowman' (Irish = 'Fear Sneachta' and its science name of 'Vir Nivis') was once common across the country during the winter months. Like certain species of birds such as the Barnacle Geese, the Whooper Swan, the Jack Snipe and the much rarer Bewick Swan, the Snowman or Snow People use to migrate annually from the different parts of the northern climes of Europe, Iceland, Greenland and Canada to spend winters in Ireland.
Snowmen used to be mostly found during the December to January period living in parks and home gardens. It was thought that this was due to people especially children feeding them with domestic foodstuffs and almost adopting them as outdoor pets. They had a particular fondness for carrots and apples. In fact the male of the species discovered tonight in Terryland actually had a carrot (see photo).
Reports are also coming in tonight of other Snow People been sighted all across the country. Scientists feel that they re-appeared in Ireland this evening for the first time in many years carried in by the unusually strong cold winds blowing in from Scandinavia. Which is interesting as in Irish folklore tales these snow people are often associated with mythological creatures from Lapland known as 'elves' whose great leader was portrayed as friendly and generous in spirit who, dressed in red and white, used to travel across the night skies in a sleigh pulled by reindeers. Or so the legend goes.
Unfortunately warming temperatures due to rising carbon levels in the atmosphere resulting from the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation made the climate of Ireland unsuitable to these gentle snow people. Their numbers started to dramatically decline from the 1980s onwards. Within a decade there were quite rare only seen in very small numbers. It was noticed by then that their bodies had become quite emaciated and they only spent a few days living in Ireland. The last sighting in the country was during a very short period in early 2018.

The Destroyers have Returned but there is now Hope for a Brighter Future for our Parks.

Sadly the destroyers of public property that caused so much damage to Terryland Forest Park returned yesterday to the same spot. Once again a group of 7-8 individuals ripped up parts of the perimeter fencing and used it as fuel for a large fire that they gathered around whilst they drank away, littering the place with alcohol cans and other materials in the process. Once again a concerned citizen contacted me and once again I had to go to the park encouraging the quite substantial numbers of visitors (which was lovely to witness) to avoid the specific path where the anti-people group where drinking.

But the response of the council parks staff was magnificent. These workers, though very few in number, are excellent public servants who go over and above the call of duty to safeguard our green heritage. Upon telling them of the anti-social activity and vandalism taking place, they immediately contacted An Garda Síochána. The latter were there quite quickly. However the culprits left minutes before the police arrived probably noticing the arrival of people in yellow vests. Two weeks ago, another group of drinkers in the second bad location for anti-social drinking in the park (99% of the park area is safe) were seen by a council staff member who rang the Garda. They arrived very soon after the call and issued a notice to the anti-social individuals, telling them to leave immediately and that if they returned they would be issued with on-the-spot fines.
It is good that there is now a working relationship being developed between the council parks personnel, An Garda, community volunteers, and social services (the latter when required). It is hoped that this will be formalised within the next few weeks.
However once again the destroyers caused hundreds of euros of damage to a public facility, once again leaving others to clean up their mess, and once again walking away without consequence.
At the very least they should be prosecuted and serve 'barring orders' from the public parks that they have vandalised.
Tranquil biodiversity-rich parks have shown their importance to human physical and mental health as well as planetary health during the COVID pandemic. The evidence is there for all to see. In the case of Terryland Forest Park, it has for twenty one years acted as a unique urban wildlife sanctuary, a major 'carbon sink' with its c100,000 trees and has more than earned its official title of being the ‘Lungs of the City. But we as citizens need to do more to protect it and other city parks. Galway City Council must now provide sufficient financial and human resources necessary to make our green zones safe and enjoyable for both humans and wildlife.
As I and others have stated so many times before, Galway city desperately needs full time parks rangers and maintenance/repair personnel as is the case with even the small suburban parks in Dublin City.
So I would encourage all city councillors to support the motion of Councillor
Imelda Byrne
that is on the agenda of next Monday’s council meeting. It calls for the council to agree on the need for full time on-the-grounds wardens seven days a week in the main city parks to ensure that they are safe and of high maintenance for the benefit of the public and of biodiversity, and this commitment will be part of the council’s contribution towards achieving the vision of Galway as a National Park City.
Well done Imelda for proposing this motion and thank you so much for your enthusiastic public support and active stance for city parks in response to the serious escalation in vandalism that occurred after Christmas in Terryland Forest Park.
My message to all councillors is to please rally behind Imelda. If passed, this motion could be a game-changer for our city.
Finally a big thank you to Ryan Crowell and others who, fully cognisant of COVID restrictions, have been so active looking after the park over the last few months. Hopefully they will be the core of a new unit of volunteer rangers in Terryland post-COVID if the council officials back this proposal.
p.s. The destroyers were briefly back this afternoon starting another fire in the exact same location using wooden fencing as fuel. Council staff and Garda were onsite very quickly.

Origami - A Beautiful Fusion of Arts & Engineering

Thanks Tom Cuffe so much for teaching my son Daire as a child the wonderful art of Origami. Over eleven years ago Tom introduced to the schools of Galway city and county the traditional Japanese skill of folding elaborately designed paper into a myriad of shapes of all sizes. I personally loved Origami as it combined Art, Engineering and an appreciation of Nature. For Tom encouraged his young pupils to use flora and fauna as subjects for their creations.
When my son Dáire was in primary school, he took to it like a fish to water.
Now he is 21 years old. But I still have a display in my attic (now my off-campus workplace since COVID!) of a number of his Origami creations (geometric shapes, birds and frogs) that he made when he was 10, 11 and 12 years of age.
Tom's Origami hands-on workshops at the annual Galway Science and Technology Festival Sunday Fair on the campus of NUI Galway were always a big visitor attraction. Lets hope that they return in November of this year at a post-COVID festival!

Reclaiming all of Terryland Forest Park for all of the people of Galway.

I found it difficult in some ways to write the article that appeared in this week's Galway Advertiser considering all of the beautiful habitats and great community volunteering initiatives in Terryland Forest Park. But we need to be honest about the problems that exist, expose them to public scrutiny so that we can come up with sustainable solutions that will benefit everyone and ensure that Ireland's largest urban native tree community park project fulfills the vision of its founders of the late 1990s to be the 'Lungs of the City' ('carbon sink'), a People's Park, a wildlife sanctuary, an ecological corridor, Arts in Nature space, an Outdoor Classroom....

Visitors safety, litter-free, dog poo free and alcohol-free environments should be prerequisite criteria for all public parks. Over the last few weeks in a section of Terryland Forest Park and in some areas of many other parks across the city, this has sadly not been the case. This is unacceptable and should not be tolerated.
Thankfully there was a very productive meeting today with city officials on key issues of the forest park that hopefully will ensure progress soon.
 
The article in the Galway Advertiser can be accessed here

Calling all Graduates of NUI Galway. Vote Mike Jennings in next week's elections for the university's Governing Authority.

 

Please consider voting for Mike Jennings in next week’s elections to the graduate panel of the NUI Galway Governing Body

I was honoured that Mike gave me the opportunity to officially nominate him as a candidate for this election.
 
Details on how to vote are below.
 
During his student days at what was then UCG and in his subsequent working career, Mike has always been a passionate campaigner for access to third level education for all, a defender of student rights and of academic freedom and an advocate for proper funding for higher education. He believed in and lived by a holistic approach to learning, in which involvement in college societies, sports, students unions, in reaching out to the wider communities outside college especially those that were disadvantaged, and in other extra-curricular activities were as important as the formal studies in helping develop a student’s life skills and in finding ways to contribute to the betterment of society.
His record at UCG exemplified these beliefs: President of UCG Students’ Union(photo), student representative on the university’s Governing Body, auditor of DramSoc, editor of two weekly student newspapers (“Unity” and “Student Forum) and an active participant in Lit & Deb events.
 
After leaving UCG, he continued in promoting equality and education throughout a long and distinguished career that took him from being an organiser for USI (Union of Students of Ireland) and first ever student representative on a VEC (Limerick City); a trade union official representing non-academic university staff, a representative of Local Authority Engineers and Professional Officers; and finally to becoming General Secretary of IFUT (2007-2017), which is the union for University Academics, Researchers, Librarians, and Senior Professional Staff.
 
Mike is currently European Treasurer / Vice President of ETUCE, the European Region of Education International; a member of the advisory group on International Co-operation established by the European Higher Education Area; and chair of the Board of TASC, a research and educational think-tank, engaged with the issues of equality, democracy and sustainability. 
 
As a graduate representative on the Governing Authority, Mike would be a strong voice for progressive change and will bring his wealth of valued knowledge and experiences to protecting academic freedom; improving working conditions for researchers and continuing to ensure that education contributes to reducing social inequality, in benefiting society and in promoting the life skills and all-round development of all its participants.
 
Election Details 
Elections for the Graduate constituency will take place online over a 27-hour window from 9am Monday January 11th to 12pm on Tuesday January 12th, 2021.
As a graduate you will receive your unique link to vote by email on January 11th at 9am.
You will be eligible to vote for nominees in the Graduate constituency only.
Eligible voters are graduates of the University whose contact details are registered with the Alumni Office.
Your link to vote is unique to you and will not work if shared with others so please avoid forwarding the voting link on.
For any queries on the upcoming Governing Authority elections, please contact govandacademicaffairs@nuigalway.ie

National Park City – A Game Changer for Galway

On October 29th, President Michael D. Higgins gave a powerful thought-provoking speech to an online (via Webex) meeting of people of all ages drawn from a wide strata of local society on why the movement towards transforming Galway into a National Park City  is so crucial at this particular time in human history due to unprecedented Climate Change, biodiversity loss and pandemics, and why it can be a template for other cities in Ireland to follow. His talk was followed by presentations from Dan Raven Ellison,  a visionary campaigner who led the successful drive to establish London as world's first National Park City; and from Kathryn Tierney, policy coordinator at the Directorate General Environment of the European Commission involved in the EU’s radical new growth strategy known as the ‘Green Deal’ with its key principles of circular economy, wildlife protection, zero pollution, clean energy, net greenhouse emissions by 2050 with funding being made available towards research, business innovation and community transition. So impressed are all three by what is happening in Galway that President Higgins agreed to become this new movement’s official patron; Dan to be its mentor; Kathryn to be its champion at EU level; whilst Duncan Stewart, Ireland’s most well-known environmentalist, is its national champion.

So what is meant by ‘Galway National Park City’ and why has it so excited these four luminaries?

 

The aim of this new pioneering initiative is to make our urban environment more healthier, sustainable, harmonious, beautiful, equitable with biodiversity-rich environments of quality green and blue spaces where people value, benefit from, and are strongly connected to the rest of Nature.

 

Over eighty (and more to follow) individuals and their respective organisations have started to come together over the last few weeks to help facilitate this process. They will form a steering committee representing the widest possible cross-section of backgrounds, professions and sectors of Galway society including education, community, health, medical, arts, environment, youth, engineering, corporate business, small business, crafts, residential neighbourhoods, scouting, direct provision, marine, waterways protection, renewable energies, makers/repairers, cycling advocacy, walking advocacy, life sciences, data science, social sciences, media, heritage, animal welfare, ecology, and urban farming. Each of these persons have in their own professional and volunteering fields been undertaking or coordinating incredible projects in their workplaces, schools, communities and neighbourhoods, sometimes over many years,  to enhance and care for the city’s unique natural heritage and to help others to benefit from it. Much of the activities of these local champions often takes place without the wider general public being aware of it. The National Park City initiative will help join up and promote their activities, provide a city-wide approach and inspire others from all of the different sectors to follow suit.

A series of local speakers from diverse backgrounds outlined at the launch some of the current environmental and sustainability activities that they are involved in. SAP staff have transformed, with support from Friends of Merlin Woods, a large sterile green lawn into a lush wildflower meadow at their HQ in Parkmore, the first such conversion within a business park in the region; NUI Galway is implementing a campus wide all-embracing consultative Sustainability Strategy; residents and management at the Eglinton Direct Provision Centre have implemented organic gardening and upcycling programmes; students and staff at Galway Community College have planted a woodland, and developed compost, reuse and recycling projects; Claire Lillis, R&D manager at Aerogen, showcased a video on the Connemara Greenway that demonstrated its economic, social and environmental benefits; John O’Sullivan introduced ‘EcoEd4All’, a new Galway-piloted conservation course for Transition Year students that is being rolled out to schools nationwide; Anne Murray explained how the 2019 Galway Science and Technology Festival was the largest ever event held in Ireland on Climate Change involving businesses, NGOs, schools and colleges;  Ríonach Uí Néill guided participants through the ‘Drowned Galway’ outdoor arts mural trail; and Conor Ruane gave an overview of the Galway-Roscommon Local Authority Community Waters programme.

 

The fact that this important gathering took place online demonstrates why a united approach is needed to transform Galway to meet the challenges that now face us in a rapidly changing world. A virus, an entity smaller than a human cell, had in a matter of a few weeks brought the most powerful species on the planet to its knees.  The coronavirus pandemic is just another symptom(one of many) of humanity’s abuse of nature that is increasingly coming back to haunt us. As President Higgins said at the meeting, mankind stands at a precipice and needs to combine its individual/sectoral talents, and work together like never before in a unity of purpose to come up with solutions to the catastrophic that we have put ourselves in.

This may seem too overwhelming a task for a few thousand citizens of a small city on the western edge of Europe. But we should not underestimate ourselves. For if we combine ingenuity with a common sense practical approach by ‘thinking Global and acting Local’, we can make a significant contribution to positive change. This is what the National Park City Galway is all about.

Over last few months, the natural world came to our aid and gave us clues to what is required to turn things around.  In our time of crisis, when we were confined to our homes and locality, the parks on our doorstep that many of us never actually visited before, characterised by the sights and sounds of bees and birds that we never noticed or heard before, became our place of refuge and our outdoor gym providing a ‘green prescription’ for our physical and mental health. Galwegians in unprecedented numbers took to walking, cycling, and growing organic vegetables, herbs and fruits as well as in helping neighbours through a renewed spirit of ‘Meitheal’. We also began to repair home appliances and recycle materials that we may have previously thrown out. Some of us gave a whole new lease of life to old laptops by installing new free open-source software, so that they could be used by school students who desperately required them for the new online education that was suddenly thrust upon them.

Without realising it, we were answering the call from the higher echelons of the  United Nations and the European Union to transition from a linear (take, make and waste) economy to a circular economy.

 

Galway is strategically placed both in human and natural resources to become a world leader in sustainability and environmental repair. Surrounded by ocean, rivers, lakes, mountains, bogs and green landscapes, we can be a global centre for renewable energies, organic farming, green tourism, restoration of natural habitats and carbon retention. But we are also blessed with a creative arts and crafts sector; a vibrant community and environmental sector; a location for some of the world’s leading biomedical corporations whose products are saving lives, and IT companies whose digital technologies are bringing us all closer together; a hub for leading edge life-enhancing scientific, medical and engineering research; a centre for indigenous business innovation; a high level of volunteerism; and a flagship for schools and colleges integrating the Outdoor Classroom and Outdoor Lab into educational studies. The political life of Galway should also be praised, after all it gave Ireland a president that is respected throughout the world for his vision, sense of justice and intellect.

 

A few weeks ago, a presentation was given on the Galway National Park City initiative to a Special Policy Committee (SPC) of Galway City Council where it received unanimous support from the officials and councillors present. The proposal now goes to a full meeting of the council for discussion. We hope that City Hall enthusiastically becomes a fully-fledged leading active partner in this exciting endeavour to create a city for the future that is ‘Green’ as well as ‘Smart’.

We have serious problems locally including traffic congestion, urban sprawl, housing shortage, pollution and an absence of rangers in our parks. But the council should be praised for making positive strides on key environmental issues over the last few months including adopting the All Ireland Pollinator Plan, appointing a Biodiversity Officer, and putting forward proposals for public consultation on increasing the zones of attractive pedestrianisation within the city centre. 

However we as citizens should be more ambitious. A safe city-wide access-for-all cycling, walking and public transport infrastructure is long overdue. The main urban parks and waterways must be connected via a network of ‘ecological corridors’, and wildlife sanctuaries should be established. Planning regulations should encourage the development of ‘urban villages’ and green features such as the use of renewable energies, rooftop/vertical gardens, rainwater collection systems, community green space and native planting areas.

The boreens (country lanes) in the rural areas of the city such as Castlegar, Ballinfoile and Menlo should be protected and promoted as walking routes. The Dyke Road has the unique potential to be an inspiring green/blue hub out of which radiates the Connemara Greenway (by constructing a bridge over the old railway pillars), the Terryland Forest Park, a boreen network emanating out to the rural hinterland towards Coolough, Carrowbrowne and beyond; and a Corrib waterways that stretches to Mayo. 

In the past when City Hall came together in a partnership approach with the wider community, extraordinary unprecedented measures were achieved that placed Galway at the forefront of sustainability and environmental care within Ireland. These included the establishment of the country’s first pro-recycling 3 bin domestic waste collection system; the Cash-for-Cans scheme and Ireland’s largest community urban woodlands project (Terryland Forest Park).

In 2020, a united vision and a spirit of togetherness in Galway can help us be part of creating a new more caring post-Covid world where we work with the rest of Nature and not against it.

 

Brendan Smith, interim convenor, Galway National Park City

Destruction of 20 year old community Woodland planted in Terryland Forest Park.

I was emotionally shattered to see this morning the destruction of the first woodland lovingly and proudly planted by thousands of Galwegians of all ages, assisted by dozens of council staff, in Terryland Forest Park on March 11th 2000.
Multiple tents have sprung up over the last few days in the woods and paths of this area near the Quincentennary Bridge. Trees and life buoy holders have been ripped up to make fire wood. Cans, bottles and other rubbish along with remains of nighttime fires cover the forest floor and pathways. Whilst I was there, one fire was still lit and being fueled by a person with branches being broken off trees. I worry how many more trees and their wildlife are going to disappear over the next few days. In all my years enthusiastically volunteering in Terryland, never have I witnessed such extensive damage. It is a trail of destruction.
I was contacted by one park enthusiast who lives locally and daily visits this area who told me that he was accosted by a group of very drunk tent dwellers and was lucky to flee. He reported the incident to Mill Street Garda Station. He was informed by other locals that they were harassed over the last few days. This particular area has now suddenly become a 'no go' zone. I am heartbroken.
Terryland Forest Park has seen a huge upsurge in numbers of people using it since the Lockdown began in March. It was/is a park created by the people of Galway for the people and wildlife of the city.
This recent anti social behaviour could destroy this progress.
No one has a right to destroy public property, or precious urban wildlife habitats or wipe out the herculean efforts of thousands of volunteers of all ages who planted this woodland twenty years ago.
I have informed the Garda and the council including Mayor Mike Cubbard
I had already agreed a meeting for next week with parks officials to go through the details for establishing a group of volunteer rangers to assist full time staff, something that I have been requesting City Hall to set up for many years but which was thrown out of sync earlier this year due to the Lockdown and subsequent COVID restrictions. I was so looking forward to working with council on this initiative. But the Garda have to be part of this process. We need to ensure that the people of Galway have a right to enjoy public parks without fear of intimidation or of being physically attacked.
COVID has shown the vital importance of green and blue spaces to our health and the planet. We need to protect them now more than ever.

The 'Iron Church' - the most beautiful church in Ireland?

Not far from my parental home town of Carrickmacross in county Monaghan is the little village of Laragh which I visited this week with my brother Michael. Famous for its industrial heritage and the birthplace of General Eoin O'Duffy, its most striking feature is the Anglican church of St. Peters. Situated on the summit of a high rock (hence its name 'Peter' = 'rock' in Greek), in a wooded gorge with a river of cascading waters at its base, its architecture of a tall slender tower, a weathercock-topped spire, and fish scale roofs, gives the impression that one is in an Alpine village rather than amongst the drumlins of south Ulster.
But what is even more unusual, and which is unique in Ireland, is that this ecclesiastical building is made from corrugated galvanised iron. Such churches, known as 'Tin Tabernacles', were built in 19th century Britain during the industrial revolution to cater for the huge increase in urban populations caused by the demand for workers in the new factories. These buildings could be quickly erected from factory-made prefabricated metal sheets. They were Industrial Churches for an Industrial Age to serve an Industrial Congregation.
The church was deconsecrated in 1962 and fell into dereliction until an ambitious programme of restoration was begun in 2012 by the recently formed Laragh Heritage Group.
As it was Christmas, I wanted to ensure that I visited a church and I was always enthralled by the beauty of St. Peters.

It was built by the owner of the nearby Laragh Mills, which was the first mechanised spinning mill in Ulster providing employment for c300 labourers, spinners and weavers.
However relations between the owner James McKean and his predominately Catholic workforce was never good. A man of strict temperance and with a strong Protestant religious conviction, he would complain about the drinking excesses of the local people. In the winter of 1884, the workers went on strike for better pay and working conditions as well as time off for the observation of Holy Days of Obligation. McKean refused and locked out the strikers. The Lockout continued until the spring of 1885 with McKean trying to entice Protestant workers from his other mill in Rockcurry to take the place of the Catholic rebels. It might explain why he had St. Peters built- a Protestant place of worship that was constructed within a year due to it being made largely from prefabricated metal sheets.

As aforementioned, Laragh is also the birthplace of General Eoin O'Duffy, leader of the Monaghan Brigade of the Irish Republican Army (IRA)who became its Chief of Staff in 1922. He is most famous though as the leader of the short-lived (1932-33) Irish fascist movement known as the Blueshirts

UCG Science Dress Dance 1979- The Boys of 80 Hazel Park!

(L-R) John D. Sheridan, Paul Hickey (front), Brendan 'Speedie Smith', Mike Murphy and Tommy Sheridan

My housemates from my UCG student days at the Science Dress Dance 1979, occupants of the best party house in Galway in its day!

Before the Balls (we were regulars at the annual Arts & Science dress dances!) were over, we use to quietly tell our friends that the party would continue at our place, then dash off in the first taxis available to 80 Hazel Park. Taxis packed with students would soon after be prowling the city looking for the late night house parties. But we cleverly would have the curtains pulled tight and leave all the house lights off whilst the rooms were filled with dozens of our friends happily chatting in the darkness. Then exactly one hour after the dress dance had ended everything would be switched on, the disco flashing lights and deck would start with the legendary DJ Gerry Sexton playing the music from Saturday Night Fever, Abba, Mud, T Rex, Beatles, Stranglers, Meatloaf, Sweet...... and many of us would dance the night way until the wee small hours of the morning.
We had No. 80 internally 'zoned' for parties- the front room painted orange was the Disco; the back dining room painted pink became the 'snog room' and the kitchen painted blue was where all the political and social problems of the world were fervently discussed and argued upon. The upstairs bedrooms were a no party zone (as much as was possible!) Luckily for us, our immediate neighbours were all students, nurses, young factory workers and couples, most of whom were our regular guests!
The day after the party, myself and the lads would clean everything up from ceiling to floor including washing the walls down! Then as if my magic, the house was transformed back to normality, until the next party night!
It was all good clean fun! No drugs. Just dancing & a few beers (remember 'draught' Guinness in a bottle!) However we were raided by the forces of the law every so often (on non-party nights only!) Why? That is a (political!) story for another day!
I really feel sad for youth and students at this present time. Not being able to socialise together and have a bit of fun due to COVID restrictions. It is so tough on them and they are generally taken it so well, so disciplined. 
 
p.s. Mike Murphy has two fingers raised in the photo in front of my face! Nothing nasty- he is just giving the 'rabbit's ears' to Paul

COVID at Christmas was personal.

Birthdays and Christmas are times when families, friends and neighbours in Ireland and elsewhere traditionally gather together for celebrations.

COVID changed all that. So many of us have had to curtail our festivities and reunions.
My own family situation was probably typical of these changing circumstances.
This month was when my youngest son Dáire became 21 and when my lovely wife Cepta reached a milestone birthday. We had originally hoped to mark these very special occasions in one's life with very special hostings. But the COVID restrictions meant Dáire could only celebrate with his student house mates and Cepta received gifts as a substitute for the big (surprise!) party.
My fantastic brother Michael lives with his family in our ancestral home in Carrickmacross. Being ill at present means that he cannot, under totally understandable COVID protective guidelines, receive visitors. So my traditional meet up with him, the wider family members and our mutual friends for social drinks in Monaghan that I look forward too so much at Christmas sadly could not happen. So my visit yesterday on St. Stephen's Day was very muted. Michael and his fine young sons Ethan and Pierce (photo) could really only chat and drink tea with me from a distant.
Neighbours, friends and family have passed away since the Lockdown in March. It has been tough not being able to take part in the traditional gatherings in order to give respect to people that we knew, admired and loved.
Hopefully we will collectively as a society soon take the necessary actions to eliminate the causes of pandemics and the other problems that we are increasingly encountering on a global scale (Climate Change, soil infertility, pollution..) by rebuilding the natural world. Time is running out

Significant Irish Contributions to World Culture - No. 7641 - Halloween


Halloween's Pagan Celtic Roots
Today Halloween is joyously celebrated by children across the Western world.
There is a popular misconception though that Halloween is a modern American invention. Not so. Though our American cousins have to be congratulated for making this very special festival a fantastic children-centric occasion nevertheless, as with so many other things that have brought great happiness and joy to humanity for millennia, its roots lay firmly in the culture of the Irish Celts!
(Photo shows my son Dáire & 'friend' that was taken a good few years ago)

Yet in the modern repackaging of this ancient pagan festival, many of the fine traditions that were once such an integral part of the festivities have disappeared. For instance our Celtic custom of placing human skulls with candles at entrances to domestic dwellings in order to ward off evil spirits has been replaced by lights in hollowed-out pumpkins! Likewise the visits of children dressed up in ghoulish and macabre fancy dress going door-to-door looking for gifts of sweets and fruits is a poor substitute for the former visits of the ghosts of our ancestors who used to drop in once a year on October 31st for a nice meal with their living relatives (we would prepare a place for them at the dinner table).
It was said too that live captives were placed in wicker cages above huge bonfires and burnt alive (as portrayed in the classic British 1970s cult film “The Wicker Man”). But such horror stories were originally spun by those nasty Romans when they were at war with the Celts. So it was probably nothing more than malicious enemy propaganda. After all, what do you take us Celts for? Barbarians?!!

As with so many other annual family festivals, Halloween has become so commercialised by 'Americanised' popular culture that its true origins and religious aspects have long since being forgotten.
So here is the true story of 'Féile na Marbh' (Festival of the Dead'):

Christianisation of 'Samhain'
Yet modern-day Americans were not the first people to re-brand the festival. In the middle ages the Catholic Church created the Christian festival of 'All Hallows Eve' or 'All Souls Day' when people were asked to remember and pray for their dead family members.
This event was superimposed onto the ancient pagan Celtic festival of 'Samhain' which marked the end of the summer season characterised by heat & light and the coming of the dark cold barren winter months.

Celtic Festivals
Typical of many agricultural societies, the Celts had four major annual festivals based on the cyclical differences experienced in the changing seasons of nature and their corresponding weather patterns. The other three were 'Imbolc' (spring) 'Bealtane' (summer), 'Lugnasa' (autumn). The latter was associated with harvest time.

Bon(e)Fires
Samhain was a time when food was hoarded as people prepared for the cold season when no plants grew. While many domestic animals such as cattle were brought indoors for the winter, others were slaughtered and most of their meat salted for storage whilst the remainder was cooked for the big feast. As with all Irish festivals, communal bonfires were lit as people gathered together at warm fires to socialise and to give thanks to the deities. Bones of the slaughtered animals were thrown into the fire as symbolic gifts to the gods, an action which give rise to the term ' bone fires' or 'bonfires'. Embers from this sacred fire were taken by local people to their households to light their own domestic fires.

Antecedents to the Pumpkin & 'Trick or Treat'
But Samhain was also a time when creatures from the supernatural world could enter into the world of mortals. 'Fairies' (Irish='Sidhe' as in ‘Banshee’/‘female fairy’) and the spirits of the dead would walk the earth. Many of these beings were benevolent and the spirits of dead ancestors; so families laid out extra food and set aside a table space for their ghostly visitors. This metaphorised into the custom of today's children dressing up as demons and witches & calling to the neighbours' houses to receive presents.
But there were spirits that came on the night of Samhain that were malevolent. Candles were placed in skulls at the entrance to dwellings as light was feared by these dark foreboding creatures. This protection against evil became transformed in modern times into the positioning of hollowed-out turnips and later pumpkins with carved out faces and internal candles at windows and doorways.
Centuries-old party games of trying to eat an apple lying in a basin of water ('bobbing') or dangling on a string tied to a ceiling ('snapping') are still popular festive past-times with Irish children.

The apple is probably the most common edible fruit in Ireland. It was also strongly associated with the spirit world and the fairies (sidhe). In the Arthurian legends, the mystical island of Avalon is where Arthur (of the Celtic Britons) obtains his magical sword Excalibur and where he is taken at the end of his life by the Lady of the Lake and her female fairy companions (banshee). Avalon comes from the Welsh word afal or Irish aball.

Fortune Telling at Halloween
Central to the Irish Halloween is the eating of a fruit bread known as 'Barmbrack' from the Gaelic term 'Báirín Breac' (speckled or spotted top). It is still a popular festive food today.
Various symbolic pieces were placed in the dough before it was baked such as a ring, a pea and a stick. When an item was found in the slice when it was being eaten, it told of the future that awaited the recipient. For instance, the 'ring' signified marriage within a year; a 'stick' represented a bad or violent marriage; the 'coin', wealth and a 'pea', a long wait before marriage.

Irish Export Halloween to North America
The Irish emigrants of the nineteenth century introduced Halloween and its rituals to America. Within a few decades, the festival was transformed into the fun and games event of today.

Significant Irish Contributions to World Culture:
No. 7642- 'Dracula'

Considering our national passion of asking the dead to resurrect themselves & drop into the house for a late night meal & party, it should come as no surprise that the world's most well known vampire Count Dracula was the creation of an Irishman, the novelist Bram Stoker in 1887.
His inspiration though was Carmilla, a book about a lesbian vampire created naturally enough(!) by another well known Irish writer, Sheridan Le Fanu.

(Photos from Macnas Halloween youth parade in Ballinfoile, Galway City)

The people of Belarus have spoken- the dictator needs to be consigned to the history books

In spite of the brutality, threats and suppression, the women, men and now the youth still keep taken to the streets week after week demanding an end to Lukashenko’s autocratic regime. 
All over the world there are popular risings against corrupt power-crazed rulers who are using religion, racism, nationalism and violence to stay in control. In Belarus, China, Turkey, Israel, USA, Lebanon, Bulgaria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Brazil, Russia, Myanmar, Thailand...it seems that these rulers, most of whom are not surprisingly manmade Climate Change skeptics and misogynistic by nature, are winning the battle against the popular protest movement demanding justice, equality and liberty. These rulers are a threat not only to democracy but also to the planet.
But they cannot forever halt the popular will for change as more and more of us realise that Human Rights and Environmental Protection are intrinsically linked.

Tales from the Garden: Viking Night Raiders

"From the fury of the Northmen, O Lord deliver us" was the sorrowful prayer of Celtic monks at night times in centuries past. The traumatised denizens of our garden would if they could utter the same despairing plea today.

For nearly two months, our garden has been sporadically raided by Vikings who under the cover of darkness enter its hallow grounds to steal and to kill innocent residents.

Totally cannibalistic, they gorge on the snails, slugs, worms and caterpillars that live there. Wearing the most sophisticated body armour, these vicious raiders are more than a match for any local garden resident who dares to attack them.

Feared by mini-beasts but beloved by most humans, the savage creature is none other than the hedgehog.

This mammal first arrived to our sacred Emerald Isle on board Viking ships, brought here by Scandinavian warriors as a food source. Though an invasive species, nevertheless they have like many human invaders to our shores, become more Irish than the Irish themselves, adapting well to our climate, fitting nicely into most (though not all) local ecosystems and are an integral part of the countryside.

Unfortunately their numbers, based on anecdotal evidence, have declined dramatically in recent years due to intensive farming, use of pesticides, habitat loss and traffic. Until last year the only hedgehogs I have seen for many years were dead ones lying on roads, the victims of car traffic.

But this adorable mammal has benefited hugely, as with so much flora and fauna, from the development of Terryland Forest Park since 2000. Its woodlands, meadows, hedgerows, wetlands and connectivity to the Corrib waterways have provided a lifeline and sa anctuary for biodiversity to thrive. The hedgehogs that arrive in my garden at night come from the nearby Suan-Sandyvale sector of Terryland. As Dr. Colin Lawton has said, “Build (the forest) and they (the wildlife) will come.”

Dr Elaine O’Riordan of NUI Galway is presently coordinating a survey of Irish hedgehogs in association with Biodiversity Ireland to find out about the distribution and population status of hedgehogs across the island of Ireland. If you see this mammal (dead or alive) please register it at https://bit.ly/38TMo2q



Belarus 2020: A Female-led Revolution that the world desperately needs.

 

The protests against the dictator Alexander Lukashenko represent the most female-driven political revolution that I have ever witnessed.

Women are at the forefront of the rebellion against a patriarchal chauvinistic ruler whose misogyny can best be summarised in his comment that "Our society has not matured enough to vote for a woman opposition presidential candidate".
He gravely underestimated the power of women.
For it was a female (Svetlana Tikhanovskaya) that was the opposition candidate in the recent presidential election and her key campaign advisors were women. The response to police brutality and a rigged election was not stone throwing and smashed windows but flower-waving women dressed in white (symbol of hope) marching through the streets who, by their courage and leadership, became the rallying call for the rest of the Belarus nation to follow in what has been so far the most peaceful rebellion of the modern era.

A female-led revolution is what humanity needs now more than ever. When the Earth lies on the edge of the abyss due to the man-made Climate Crisis, the male leadership of Britain, China, India, Israel, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, USA, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are squandering the world's financial resources on a new machismo ("my missiles are bigger than your missiles") arms race instead of using these monies to tackle poverty, social inequality, pollution and biodiversity loss by dramatically increasing investments in health, education, renewable energies, reforestation and green sustainability technologies.
It is not surprising that the policies and comments of so many of these political leaders, as well as those of other countries including Brazil, Philippines and Somalia, are characterised by a lack of empathy and often open hostility towards women, religious/ethnic minorities and the environment. Bolsanaro, Erdogan, Trump, Putin, Mohammed bin Salman and Ayatollah Khomeini represent an arrogant macho culture that has nothing to offer the world but hate, division, aggression and greed.
It is no coincidence that so many of the countries that have coped best with the COVID-19 pandemic are led by women - Finland, Germany, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway and Taiwan.
It is also worth reminding ourselves that it was the caring nurturing skills of (super)ordinary doctors, carers, first responders, hospital back-up personnel, social workers, teachers and gardeners as well as benign musicians, cleaners, grocers and community volunteers amongst others that got us through the pandemic not the violence of a military, nor the get-rich quick profiteering of property speculators or the brash in-your-face lifestyles of self-centred opinionated celebrities.

For most of the history of humanity, women were society's leaders and worshipped as the 'givers of life'.
But with the capability to smelt metal and create weapons of war from the Bronze Age onwards, it was the male warrior as the 'taker of life' that came to dominate religion and governance.
A patriarchal culture has been but a brief intermission in the over 200,000 years of hominid existence. It is time for it to finally end and to liberate women from all forms of servitude and rediscover a sense of connection and respect with the rest of Nature (Mother Earth) before it is too late.
All power to the brave women of Belarus for showing us all the way forward. Let the men of the police, army and government departments of their country have the awareness and common sense to now stand beside their daughters, sisters, wives, partners, girlfriends, mothers and grandmothers in the common struggle to end oppression.

Beirut- another tragedy for this Phoenix-like city to overcome


My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Beirut and Lebanon after the catastrophic chemical explosions in the city's port that killed and injured so many and destroyed whole neighbourhoods and the homes of over 200,000.
I have a special affinity with Beirut where I have worked on a number of occasions. I have found it to be the most diverse modern cosmopolitan city in the Middle East. It has been positioned at the crossroads of the world for thousands of years, serving as home to ancient Christian and Muslim communities and has for over 100 years provided sanctuary to Armenian, Palestinian and Syrian refugees escaping from oppression and death
I have seen the two sides of this very special city. For I have worked in its overcrowded Palestinian refugee camps where I witnessed goodness overcoming adversity, whilst I've often walked along Beirut's wide beautiful seafront promenade and enjoyed its cafe culture with male and female work colleagues.
Though the city has long suffered from wars, invasions, ethnic/religious violence and corruption, nevertheless it has always Phoenix-like rose up from the ashes to begin anew.
Over the last few years I have admired how young female and male Lebanese campaigners from both Christian and Muslim traditions have together taken to its city streets in their tens of thousands demanding an end to corruption, mismanagement and nepotism.
Due to these endemic problems, the destruction yesterday means the country is facing a huge humanitarian crisis. We need to send support immediately. Hopefully we can find out soon the NGOs that we can send funds too. Probably the Lebanese Red Cross and Lebanese Red Crescent would be recommended.

I am returning to Africa in 2020!



This year though my presence on this remarkably diverse continent will be 'virtual' by way of mentoring online training workshops to teachers/mentors and by providing new learning content that will complement national educational curricula covering topics such as geometry, arithmetic, environmental science and geography.

Working with a hardworking visionary team of men and women drawn from three continents led by the great Claire Gillissen and supported by Camden Educational Trust, I am happy to have just completed a ‘Scratch in the Classroom’ teachers’ manual for the Africa Code Week initiative which this year is planning to bring coding tuition to schools in every country across the African continent.
In 2019, over 3.85 million African youth were engaged with 47% being girls; 39,000 teachers were mobilised and 37 countries were involved.

But in all honesty I am very sad that, after 5 enjoyable years, I will not have the opportunity this year to be immersed in the sights, sounds and friendships of Africa. From the townships of Capetown to the streets of Cairo and so much in between, I have learnt so much from the rich diverse ancient and new cultures of this continent.
It is where our human species began, it is where many of my heroes and role models are from, it is where great tracts of land are still wild and populated with rich unsurpassed flora and fauna. Every time I go there I feel that in some way I am rekindling some old long lost connection.

Until we meet again in 2021, I salute all the teachers, mentors, students, children, NGOs and governments involved in Africa Code Week, which is helping to upskill and empower a whole generation of young people

‘Back to BASIC’- workshops on the coding language that helped democratise computing 50+ years ago

As part of this year’s Galway Science and Technology Festival, the computer and communications museum, in conjunction with the Data Science Institute, will host a series of coding workshops using the original programming language on the very computers by some of the same mentors that provided such teaching in schools, colleges and computer clubs in the city during the early 1980s!

The workshops will take place at the Data Science Institute subject to COVID-19 restrictions then current. If this cannot happen, we will host online workshops using virtual console simulators and reschedule the ones using the vintage computers to a suitable time in 2021.


Back to the Future - the 1980s revisited

Today so many good-minded tech savvy educators are working really hard to promote computer coding amongst our young people through coding clubs such as Coderdojo and by campaigning to have it accepted as a curriculum subject in schools. We see it as our mission to transform our kids from being passive Computer Users to active Computer Creators. Coding is a skill set that is increasingly beneficial in so many professions and will be even more so as the century rolls by.
But in some ways it can be seen as a ‘Back to the Future’ saga. For during the 1970s up until the mid 1980s,  using a computer was synonymous with knowing how to code one. It was a programming language called BASIC that introduced personal computing. In a time when few people ever saw a computer let alone use one, John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz of Dartmouth College USA designed a language in 1964 that allowed everyday people to have computers carry out many different tasks from writing letters, undertaking research, solving problems and playing games. The language was known as BASIC (Beginner’s All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) and had commands with easy-to-relate to English words that related to their functionality (Print, Goto, If___Then, and later Input). Programming had lost its elitism (for mathematicians only) and could be understood and programmed by ordinary people. But what truly made it accessible to all was the invention of the microprocessor, which formed the basis of the first fully-assembled personal (table top) computers that started to appeared from 1977.  The Commodore Pet, RadioShack Tandy TRS-80 and the Apple 11 that were launched that year were off-the-shelf low cost computers aimed at the ordinary consumer and schools. All three came bundled with BASIC. Within a few years the standard version of the language on most computers was Microsoft Basic invented by Bill Allen and Bill Gates.
Schools all over the world started to teach programming. By 1983, most secondary schools in Galway had computer labs populated with computer equipment donated by Ballybrit-based Digital Equipment Corporation(DEC) where students learnt to code. The demise of BASIC and indeed programming in general across educational establishments happened with the rise of application software or what we know call apps from the late 1980s.

No Trees were Cut Down in the making of these Wooden Products!


My cap, reusable beverage cup, wallet, watch, face mask along with a number of my other personal items are made from wood. The source is cork, a species of oak indigenous to the Iberian peninsula and the Mediterranean region. It is one of the few trees that can be harvested without having to cut it down.
A few days ago I received a face mask made from cork. Thanks so much Sónia Almeida Santos for this lovely reusable nature-friendly gift which I will always treasure. I met Sonia last September in Mozambique where she is the national organiser for Africa Code Week and where I went to teach coding to staff/student mentors from Maputo’s main university and to school teachers.
I have been fortunate to have visited the world’s main cork forests located in Portugal. They are spectacular and are truly a unique renewable natural resource. Local farmers carefully cut off the bark with small axes ensuring that the trees are not damaged. Once the bark is taken off, numbers in big print are painted onto the trunks signifying the specific year of harvest. These trees are then left alone for another nine to twelve years.
With no logging involved and no mechanisation, these primeval woodlands support a rich diverse ancient fauna that is of European and global significance, including the endangered Iberian lynx, the Spanish imperial eagle and the Bonelli's eagle. Some of the trees can be over 200 years old.They are also an important stopover for migratory birds travelling between northern Europe and Africa as these intrepid avian travellers use them for a bit of rest and recuperation before continuing on their epic journeys.
Only a few decades ago, cork was the only material used to cap wine bottles. Unfortunately the switch to plastic stoppers and screw tops represents a serious threat to the future of the cork oak forests, their rural communities and their biodiversity. The local farmers who practice mixed farming of cereal cultivation, livestock grazing and tree harvesting would be forced to convert the woodlands to other uses in order to survive. In fact the truth is that these ancient habitats and the sustainable industry that they support should be a template to the world on how human societies and the rest of nature can be mutually beneficial.
Thankfully the Portuguese have made great strides in recent years in diversifying the range of products made from cork and tens of thousands of people work in the industry.
So we as individuals can play our part in supporting the forests and their inhabitants. Buy when possible only wine with cork stoppers as well as purchasing all the other fantastic new products that are now available. Many of these items are now on sale in Galway.

P.S. Some more info on the Cork face masks- According to one reliable source, 'cork' does not absorb dust and prevents the appearance of mites and, therefore, contributes to protection against allergies.

Jack Charlton: Ireland’s favourite Englishman, RIP


Photo shows some of the memorabilia that I still have of Big Jack, both during his time with Leeds United (my childhood collection of ‘Shoot’ and ‘Goal’ magazines) and with Ireland (a “Put ‘em Under Pressure” disc record featuring musicians such as Máire Ní Bhraonáin and  Davy Spillane, produced by Larry Mullen of U2.- best sports anthem ever!- check out https://bit.ly/2CwmQw6 ). As a kid I was a fan of Don Revie’s legendary Leeds ('Peacocks'), a team of ‘Sniffer’ Clarke, ‘Hot Shot’ Lorimer, Norman ‘Bites Your Legs’ Hunter, ‘Top Cat’ Cooper,  Johnny ‘The General’ Giles, ‘Big Jack’ Charlton... Later on,  as with the whole nation, I became a loyal follower of Jack’s boys- Packie Bonner, Ronnie Whelan, Mick McCarthy, Paul McGrath, John Aldridge, Ray Houghton…

Ireland becomes a worldwide phenomenon- thanks to an Englishman!
Jack rightly deserves demi-god status in Ireland. A down-to-earth honest-to-goodness working class Geordie lad with no airs and graces, we adopted him as one of our own as he helped reinvigorate our pride in the nation. Not surprising in one sense as Geordie/Northumberland has a strong ancient cultural and ethnic affinity with Ireland going back to the influences of St Aidan and Lindisfarne, the nearby Gaels of Strathclyde and even further into prehistory. As manager of the national soccer team, he brought not just Irish soccer onto a global stage but also helped foster a new sense of Irishness that had not been seen before. Getting Ireland into two World Cups and one Euro Cup were magnificent achievements in their own right. But it was what happened around the soccer team that left behind a benign legacy towards Ireland that still resonates today. Jack the Englishman was the unofficial commander-in-chief of a legendary ‘Green Army’ whose male and female ‘troops’, armed with nothing more than emerald football jerseys, tricolour flags and Irish rebel songs, successfully breached international borders by chartered flight, ferry boat and Volkswagen van to swiftly overcome all resistance, capturing in the process the hearts and minds of the local populations. These friendly Irish invaders, with their craic and beguiling nature, charmed the world for many years thereafter. In the 1990s, it was ‘cool’ to be Irish. In the 1960s Bealtlemania took hold. Three decades later it was an 'Irishmania' that erupted globally particularly in the field of entertainment with musicians (Sinead O’Connor, Chieftains, U2, Clannad, Cranberries, Boyzone, Corrs and Eurovision winners), actors (Liam Neeson, Pierce Brosnan, Brendan Gleeson, Colm Meaney), Irish themed films (Michael Collins, In the Name of the Father, Devil’s Own, The Field, The Committments), comedy (Father Ted, Ballykissangel, Graham Norton), and of course with the dance, rhythms and costumes of Riverdance. As a direct result of the Green Army travels, the ‘Irish pub’ phenomena took root in nearly every large city across every continent. Unlike many of the Irish bars of old that existed in Irish diaspora neighbourhoods in Britain and USA, these new hostelries were bright and attractive places, full of young Irish and non-Irish alike, happily mixing together, enjoying tasty Irish food and drink in an environment decorated with Celtic memorabilia, where the strains of both live traditional Irish and Irish rock music had the crowds dancing and singing until the small hours of the morning. Exports of Guinness, whiskeys, cream liquors and Munster butter quickly skyrocketed, having a positive impact on the home economy. Huge numbers of young people left Ireland to build, decorate, manage, serve and play music in these new establishments. I was one of those very fortunate people that was part of this new wave of Irish emigration during the early-mid 1990s. After establishing Monroes as Galway’s first seven day music venue and a popular hostelry, I spent an exciting few years managing in the pub trade overseas. Thanks to Jack, I had some great adventures, made lifelong friends and went through some strange experiences during this chapter of my life. To mention one of many- on a dark snowbound winter night in Reykjavik, I had a surreal but most enjoyable rendezvous in an Irish pub filled with very friendly Englishman swapping stories about their fellow Geordie, Jack Charlton. Nothing strange there until one realises that they were all British Army squaddies (soldiers) from the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers Regiment dressed in full desert military fatigues. What!?- hot desert military maneuverers in ice-covered Iceland!? -Strange but true! But that is another tale for another day.
Thanks Jack for the memories. You will always be Ireland’s favourite Englishman. Rest in Peace- Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Epilogue
Sadly the dream inspired by Jack soon began to turn stale as greed, arrogance, gombeen men and ‘plastic paddywackery’ reared their ugly heads. The subsequent so-called ‘Celtic Tiger’ allowed the worst excesses of Irishness to come to the fore, influenced by an Old Boys ‘me-féin’ elite of overpaid bankers, a particular corp of politicians, top sports executives, property speculators (I would never honour them with the label of ‘developers’) and their small town imitators who travelled the world flaunting their wealth, staying at the best hotels, and appearing at all the Irish soccer games. FAI lost the run of itself by appointing the billionaire Denis O’Brien (who had undermined parliamentary democracy for his own ends) as its President for Life and allowing John Delaney to indulge himself with the coffers. Irish drug gang lords with their ‘bling’ culture began to be seen and loudly heard in the Spanish holiday resorts and elsewhere frequenting and sometimes sponsoring sporting events. Too many of the hastily built global Irish pubs of the 2000s degenerated into tackiness characterised by garish shamrock/leprechaun signage, never ending ‘Happy Hour’ cheap drink promotions and foul-mouthed binge drinking Irish tourists distorting the true meaning of the rebel songs that they belted out. I am hoping that the stains of these elements from the post-Jack era are rapidly disappearing.