‘Cash-for-Cans' Suspension: an attack on Civic Volunteerism & Environment!


Yesterday I took two bags of beverage cans to Galway City Council's recycling depot. As I normally do, I had separated their contents out from the contents of five full bags of mixed rubbish (see photo) that our volunteer group had collected last weekend in Terryland Forest Park.
But when I arrived at the depot, I was shocked to see a big notice on display stating that the ‘cash-for-cans’ scheme was suspended until further notice. I asked the three staff members on duty why was this the case and when would the suspension be lifted. They told me that they did not know and stated that an official from City Hall had come to the depot to put up the notice and did not give any explanation on why this course of action was undertaken.
As a community representative (Galway City Community Forum) I had originally proposed such a scheme in 2008 and had lobbied the government to implement it nationwide. In spite of years of making submissions and holding meetings with the Minister of the Environment and his staff, we failed sadly to get government to adopt such a policy. We then decided to concentrate on getting it introduced locally. Thanks to proactive Galway councillors, particularly Catherine Connolly (who was fantastic), and the support of local council officials, a cash-for-cans scheme was adopted by Galway City Council in summer 2011. As a result, Galway became the first local authority in the country to do so (and today it is probably the only one operating such a municipal service). But such a pro-recycling service is nothing new to this country. As a child, I grew up in an Ireland where pubs and other commercial outlets gave money for each individual beverage container returned. The latter were primarily glass bottles and were cleaned and reused by Irish-based bottling companies. I used the money that I collected from returning bottles to buy comics and toys!

Though City Hall never really developed the scheme after 2011 and subsequently reduced the money given for each bag of cans (from €3 to €2) as well as curtailing the amount of bags that each person could bring(max of 3), nevertheless it was/is a very positive pro-environmental service that incentivised people to collect rubbish from public parks, woodlands and shorelines.
The scheme was also an outstanding example of City Hall listening to the community sector and working together for the greater benefit of society.
Now when large scale voluntary cleanups are becoming more frequent thanks to the great efforts of voluntary groups such as Clean Coast Ireland, Galway Atlantaquaria, Serve the City Galway, Friends of Merlin Woods, Terryland Forest Park Alliance, Conservation Volunteers and resident associations, as well as civic-minded individuals such as Sharon Shannon, this action by Galway City Council sends out the wrong message.

On so many levels this council sadly (in spite of the great work of some very good councilors) is undermining the quality of our natural environment and devaluing the activities undertaken by volunteers week-in, week-out. So it is now time once again for concerned citizens to take action to get council to change policy that is damaging our quality of life, harming biodiversity and is the antithesis of sustainability.
Hence there will be a protest once again outside City Hall at the next meeting of Galway City Council on April 8th over the failure to appoint park warders and related issues. Details to follow tomorrow.

St. Patrick's Day & the 'Greening' of Connemara!


It was a joy to help, as a committee member, organise and to take part in the 'Connemara Greenway' presence in the St. Patrick's Day Parade in the village of Moycullen.
We had two large populated colourful floats (thanks Gary, Brian & John!) with a moving mass of volunteer cyclists and walkers of all ages, representing the largest presence in the parade. All along the route, we were greeted with smiles, cheers and clapping from onlookers! Rousing calls from the parade MCs that no more delays in the building of the Greenway would be tolerated was answered by applause from the crowd! It was obvious to all present that the floodgates had opened and the popular support for the Greenway was there for all to see.

Thanks to the herculean efforts of an enthusiastic committee that includes Tiarnan (the founder!), John, Fiona, Brian, Gary, Dick, Terry, and Pat, the campaign for a Greenway along the old disused railway line from Galway city to Clifden has come a long way since we formed two years ago.
Council officials have done really great preparatory work and are working with many of the landowners; most of the local politicians are now actively onboard promoting the facility. The first 5km stretch near Ballinafad opened last summer. But there is another c73km to go! In spite of stories to the contrary, the people of Connemara showed on Sunday that they are overwhelmingly in favour of a Greenway that will go through some of the most picturesque landscapes in Ireland and indeed Europe. This green resource will revitalise many of the towns and villages along the route, and bring social, educational, health and economic benefits. Sustainable eco tourism will be given a much needed shot in the arm. But this Greenway will not only be used by tourists but also by local people as a commuter and social connection.
The people have spoken! No more excuses! No more delays! They want the full route from Galway city to Clifden opened as speedily as possible. Candidates in the forthcoming local elections, please note!!

p.s. In spite of the fact that I have in the photo a tobacco pipe in my mouth, I don’t smoke. It is purely a prop- honest!

A fruit (apple, pears) trees pruning workshop mentored by Padráig Keirns will take place at 11am tomorrow (Saturday March 9th) in the Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden, Galway city.
The garden in located in Terryland Forest Park.

All are welcome and the workshop is free!


'Pruning' is the selective removal of certain parts of a plant such as branches, buds or roots. With fruit trees, it relates to removing dead, damaged and diseased branches in order to help prevent decay organisms from entering the tree and reducing dense canopies to increase air and sunlight. The process benefits the health of the tree and increases crop yields.

Yellow is the Colour of Springtime



Ever notice how many of the flowers that bloom in Spring are yellow in colour?
The photo shows celandine flowers covering the floor of a woodland in Terryland Forest Park, a nature reserve that is also populated in this season with yellow gorse, primroses, dandelions, daffodils and cowslips.
With 125 million years of experimenting and engineering with flowers Nature has come up with some amazing ways to ensure the survival of all of its species of flora. With a natural background foliage of green, bright colours such as yellow are easily spotted by the small number of pollinators that are flying around in the cooler weather of early Springtime.
The colour yellow also soaks up the warmth from a weaker sun during winter and early spring better than the foliage and the darker coloured flowers that generally bloom in late spring and summer. This allows these plants to develop better even in colder temperatures.

The Remarkable Power of Celtic Women

February 1st has been one of the most important days of the year in Ireland since time immemorial. In the Irish Celtic calendar it is the first day of Spring, the season of birth and re-birth that follows the harsh cold barren months of Winter. In Ireland, it is known as Fhéile Bríde as it is dedicated to a female, St. Brigit (or Bridget, Brigid, Bride), the country's most famous native born saint. Children in schools across the country mark the occasion by making a distinctive traditional four armed cross woven out of reeds that is named after the saint. Her name also has a strong affinity with a Celtic deity associated with fertility and symbolised by 'fire', the element that offered humankind protection from the natural deadly forces of winter.

Brigit is second only in the Irish saints' calendar to St. Patrick who was born in Roman Britain.
The fact that Brigit was female is quite significant as the early Celtic Church in Ireland was unique in contemporary Christian Europe in giving considerable recognition to the role of women. Irish society was not as patriarchal as their Roman, Greek or Germanic neighbours. According to the historian Dáibhí Ó Cróinín in his book 'Early Medieval Ireland', a woman could divorce her husband for a variety of reasons (including if he failed to satisfy her sexual needs!), could own and inherit property and was treated as an individual in her own right with inherent protections under Celtic law. Women fought on the battlefield as warriors until this was banned by the church.

Celtic female influence extended as far as Iceland....

Even outside Ireland, the influence of Irish women at this time (5th-7th century) was felt- St. Ives in Cornwall is called after an Irish female saint (a.k.a. Eva or Aoife), St.Grimonia & St. Proba lived in France (Gaul) in the 4th century, St. Dardaloch in Pavia, Itay (c.300ad) and the nunnery in Austria made famous in the film and musical 'The Sound of Music' was probably founded by an Irish female missionary (Erintrude). In Iceland the hero of one of the great Icelandic Sagas is the Irish female slave Melkorka, a stong willed woman who refused to be coerced by humiliation, rape and brutality. In fact it has been noted by some that the status of women in Iceland (where I lived for a number of years), which was higher than in contemporary Scandinavian societies, possibly owed its origins to the impact exerted by the high number of Irish women living amongst the country's early Viking settlements- they were brought to the country as slaves and wives from the Viking towns of Ireland. It has been said that it was their influence that persuaded many of their pagan husbands to vote in favour of the country's adoption of Christianity at the famous 'Althingi' (parliament) of 1000AD.

This independent-minded spirit must have left a lasting legacy as Icelandic women were amongst the most successful in securing equal rights for women's during the course of the 20th century.

Female Celtic Warriors
Celtic mythology provides ample evidence of the power of women in pre-Christian Ireland. The country itself -Éire ('Ire(land)' in English)- is named after a goddess; the names of most of the great rivers with their life-giving waters are associated with nymphs, goddesses and female animals; the Celtic God of War (Morrigan)- the most masculine of activities- is female. Some of the most powerful Celtic rulers were women such as Queen Maeve and Queen Boadicea(Bó = Cow in Irish) 
The fiercest and most macho hero in Celtic mythology is 'Cuchulainn'. Yet he was actually totally female-dominated(!):
  • trained in martial arts and weaponry by Scathach
  • first defeated in battle by Aoife
  • protected by the War Goddess Morrigan
  • kept on the 'straight and narrow' (most of the time!) by his strong-willed wifeEmer
  • nursed back to health from near fatal battle wounds by his mistress Niamh
  • and killed by the army of Queen Maeve.
High Status of Brigit in Celtic Church & pagan associations 
Brigit was also a powerful Celtic goddess of fertility associated with the birth of animals and symbolised by fire. Hence her links with one of the four great pagan festivals of the seasons- the Spring Festival of 'Imbolc' which occurs in February and the time of 'lambing'.It is therefore quite possible that St. Brigit was originally a high priestess of the pagan goddess Brigit who converted along with her female followers to Christianity during the time of St. Patrick.


According to legend St. Brigit was the daughter of Dubhthach, an Irish chief, and one of his 'Picttish' (from modern Scotland) slaves. She was made a bishop by St. Mel (whom the actor Mel Gibson was named after) and founded one of the most famous Irish monasteries beside an Oak tree on the plains of Magh Liffe thereafter known as 'Cill Dara' or Kildare- 'the Church of the Oak Tree'.In the Celtic pagan religion, trees were considered sacred, none more so than oak trees which were prime locations for spiritual worship.The monastery also was the repository of a 'holy flame', another clue to its possible pagan origins as a temple of Druid priestesses in a sacred woodland. It also has striking similarities to the story of the 'Vestal Virgins' of Ancient Rome whose primary task was to maintain the sacred fire of Vesta, the goddess of the 'hearth'.Under Bridget's leadership as Abbess and bishop, Cill Dara became a great place of spiritual learning and of the arts/crafts particularly metal work and illumination. For centuries thereafter, each succeeding Abbess of Kildare took the name of 'Brigit' and was regarded as a person of immense stature thoughout Ireland with the monastery being second only to Armagh in its ecclesiastical importance.

Rape of Brigit & decline in the status of Women in Irish society 

But over time, the importance of women in society was reduced as Viking raids, wars and the growing influence of the patrician 'male only' Vatican took its toll. The death knell came in 1132 when it seems troops of the King of Leinster Dermot MacMurrough sacked the monastery, raped the abbess Brigit, carried her off and forcibly had her married to one of his followers. As is the case throughout the history of humanity, 'rape' is used as the ultimate weapon against female independence and the physical symbol of man's power over womankind. McMurrough is the same man who invited the British Normans to Ireland to aid him in his wars; they of course soon decided to conquer the country for themselves staying in the process for over 800 years.

Hidden Histories of Women in Technology'

My colleague Myriam Leggieri and myself created a few years ago an exhibition entitled the 'Hidden Histories of Women in Technology' which we used to provide inspirational Role Models for Irish post-primary female students.
Many of the women portrayed were pioneers in their scientific areas but sadly they were never until recently given the due recognition that they deserved and were in some cases airbrushed out of the history books. Thankfully their names and their stories are now been told and celebrated.
The article below was based on that exhibition.


Science and Technology, as with so much in societies past and present, was/is dominated by men who used educational, religious and cultural barriers to deny women equal access and respect.

In the 20th century, women were denied entry to many professions, were only granted academic degrees at Oxford and Cambridge in the 1920s and secured the right to vote in Switzerland as late as 1971. In Ireland, there were only 91 women at university in 1901, only 5% of married women had jobs outside the home in 1966; and only in 1973 was the ban on married women working in the Irish public service lifted.Even today in the Western world, there are low numbers of women involved in innovation, high level scientific research management, the corporate boardrooms and political governance.

Yet in the past some brave females still managed to overcome these obstacles to make significant contributions to advances in computing and communications technology.

Below are a few of this truly great people


The Aristocrat - World’s First Computer Programmer
Augusta Ada King Countess of Lovelace, daughter of the British Romantic poet Lord Byron, is recognised as the world’s first computer programmer. In 1842 she wrote the first ever algorithm for processing numbers on Charles Bannage’s early mechanical general purpose computer or analytical engine who, so impressed by her mathematical skills, referred to her as ‘ The Enchantress of Numbers”. The computer language ADA was named after her.
24 March is commemorated as Ada Lovelace Day, a day to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science

The Hollywood Goddess - Military Inventor

Austrian-born Hedy Lamarr, née Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, one of the legendary stars of Hollywood’s ‘Golden Age’, famed for her roles in such films as AlgiersSamson and Delilah and White Cargo, co-designed in 1941 a radio guided torpedo system based on ‘frequency hopping’ (changing) which became known as spectrum spread, a key element later used in the anti-jamming devices used by US military satellite communications systems and later still in digital mobile phone wireless technology.  

--> 


The All-Female Programming team

ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer), launched in 1946, was probably the world’s first general-purpose electronic digital computer. Eniac’s key 6 member programming team were all women, including Kathleen (Kay) Rita McNulty who was born in the Donegal Gaeltacht Ireland in 1921. Her family later emigrated to the USA and she qualified with a Mathematics degree in 1942. In 1946 she married John Mauchly, the co-inventor of Eniac, and worked on the software design of his later computers including the BINIAC and UNIVAC.

Ladymarine - The Naval Commander & Mathematician
Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (Mother of Cobol) is one of America’s most famous pioneers in computer science. In 1944, she was one of the first programmers of the Marvard Mark 1 electro-mechanical computer, and developed in 1952 the first compiler for a computer programmer language. She conceptualized the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which led to the development of COBOL, one of the first modern programming languages. She is also credited with popularizing the term “debugging" for fixing computer glitches (motivated by an actual moth removed from the computer).


Lady Operator - World’s First Mini-Computer Operating System
Mary Allen Wilkes was a key member of the MIT Lincoln Center in Massachusetts from 1958-1963 where she was the designer of an operating system for the LINC, the world’s first minicomputer. In 1965, she used a LINC computer in her private house, which could be considered the world’s first ‘home’ computer.


The Macintosh Girl - 'Iconic' Trendsetter
Susan Kare was a member of the team that designed the pioneering Macintosh computer in the early 1980s, creating many of its user interface icons (Paint Bucket, Happy Macintosh) and fonts (New York & Geneva). She later designed icons for Microsoft Windows 3.0.



The Ladybell - Inventor of Computerised Phone System
Erna Hoover created a computerized telephone switching system whilst working at Bell Laboratories New Jersey. She designed the stored programme control that monitored incoming calls, prioritized incoming phone traffic and eliminated overloading problems which had previously led to switchboards freezing up.


The Language Lady - First Popular Programming Language
Jean E. Sammet graduated with an MA in Mathematics in 1949. In 1961, she became manager of IBM’s Programming Center in Boston and oversaw the development of FORMAC (FORmula MAnipulation Compiler), the first widely used general language and the first to manipulate symbolic algebraic expressions.



'Star Trek' Communications Officer- A Real Role Model for Women & African Americans

The  character, Lieutenant Nyoto Uhura who was Chief Communications Officer on the USS Enterprise in the science fiction series Star Trek  which first appeared on television in 1966. Though not a real character, nevertheless her appearance in this very popular  series during the 1960s broke important sexual and racial barriers, showing women of the future as proficient in engineering with positions of responsibility and command involving high technology. Uhura became an important role model for Black Afro-American women in particular.
For instance the well known American actress Whoopi Goldberg, who appeared in the later series Star Trek the Next Generation, stated that Uhura was a role model for her from the time she first saw her in Star Trek in the mid 1960s. She remembers as a young girl running into her mom, excitedly shouting out, "I just saw a black woman on television, and she ain't no maid!"
Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura, was used by NASA in a campaign to encourage African Americans to join the service. Dr Mae Jemison. the first black American to fly aboard the Space Shuttle. said that Star Trek was a major influence in her decision to join NASA.
The name 'Uhura' comes from the Swahili word 'Uhuru' meaning 'Freedom'.

Save Our Frogs- Help Volunteers Build a Wildlife Pond


Help us tomorrow build a natural habitat that is in serious decline in Ireland and elsewhere. The large scale disappearance of ponds is leading to a huge decline in the Ireland's rare amphibian species that include frogs and newts. Drainage, land reclamation and pollution-associated with intensive arable land use (nitrate/phosphate nutrients as well as pesticides) or affected by urban runoff (oils, litter)- are the primary causes.
Due to their small sizes, isolation and the low volume of water available to dilute pollutants, ponds are one of the most vulnerable of all our threatened habitats.

The exciting project being undertaken in the Ballinfoile Community Organic Garden involves the construction of a pond that will have a lovely waterfall powered by wind!

So make a difference to Ireland’s wildlife by taking part in our exciting biodiversity regeneration initiative.
We need lots of volunteers at 10am in the morning to help in the digging out of the space for this big pond.
Furthermore, we will also be starting the construction of Galway city’s first community tree nursery tomorrow! 

Join the Protest for Park Wardens for Galway city


Support for our campaign, to secure the establishment of a permanent Park Warden unit for Galway's public parks, is gaining increasing support amongst our elected city councillors, who will finally vote on this issue on Monday evening.
The public representatives who have responded positively to our demands are: Mayor Niall McNelis, Billy Cameron, Cathal Ó Conchúir, Michael Crowe, Ollie Crowe, Mike Cubbard, Frank Fahy, Mairead Farrell, Noel Larkin and Peter Keane.

But concerned citizens must help in the campaign to keep our public parks, including Terryland Forest Park and Merlin Woods, clean and safe by maintaining the pressure on Galway City Council to follow the example of many other Irish and European cities in establishing a full-time Park Warden unit.


 


Councillor Mark Lohan's original motion was an important first step and positive political response to our demands in reclaiming the public green spaces for the people of Galway, and in protecting these very important rare urban habitats for our precious but increasingly threatened native mammals, birds, insects, trees, flowers and other living things.
We want our public woods, wetlands, parks, meadows and waterways to be 'Carbon Sinks' to tackle Climate Change, Outdoor Classrooms for our schools, Outdoor Labs for our second and third level students, Outdoor Gyms for physical exercise enthusiasts, Nature Playgrounds for our children, Nature Trails for walkers, Zones of Tranquility and passive Leisure for people of all ages, Rural landscapes for revitalising nature-friendly farming, and Sanctuaries for our endangered native flora and fauna. 


So we are calling on concerned citizens to show their determination that such a policy is implemented by turning up in outside City Hall at 2.30pm on Monday. So once again we ask you to join us and to bring along your friends, neighbours and family members. Together We Can (as we done so many times before) Make a Difference!

Let's Make Scenes of Park Vandalism History- Join the Protest at 1.40pm Tomorrow (Mon) to Demand Park Wardens for Galway city's public parks

Bench in Terryland Forest Park that has lain broken & un-repaired for 2 years
Help keep our public parks including Terryland Forest Park and Merlin Woods clean and safe by maintaining the pressure on Galway City Council to follow the example of many other Irish and European cities in establishing a full-time Park Warden unit.
We were promised at last month's protest outside the council January meeting that the deferred motion from Councillor Mark Lohan, to set up a permanent on-the-ground parks staff crew, would be voted on at the next council meeting on Monday February 4th.
We thank Niall McNelis Mayor of Galway City for this commitment- he is someone that has long being an activist promoting a Clean Galway through his involvement in mass litter pickups and the Tidy Towns competition.
Getting the motion passed is a first step in reclaiming the public green spaces for the people of Galway, and in protecting these very important rare urban habitats for our precious but increasingly threatened native mammals, birds, insects, trees, flowers and other living things.
We want our public woods, wetlands, parks, meadows and waterways to be 'Carbon Sinks' to tackle Climate Change, Outdoor Classrooms for our schools, Outdoor Labs for our second and third level students, Outdoor Gyms for physical exercise enthusiasts, Nature Playgrounds for our children, Nature Trails for walkers, Zones of Tranquility and passive Leisure for people of all ages, Rural landscapes for revitalising nature-friendly farming, and Sanctuaries for our endangered native flora and fauna.
Many of our elected public representatives have already declared their support for a Park Wardens unit for Galway city including Mayor Niall McNelis, Billy Cameron, Cathal Ó ConchúirMike CubbardCllr Frank FahyMairéad Farrell and Michael Crowe. So in advance of tomorrow's we have declarations of solidarity from councillors of all political parties and from the independent councillor Mike Cubbard. That is great news! In advance of the meeting, we have lobbied all the other councilors on the issue.
But it is important that the people of Galway city show their determination that such a policy is implemented by turning up outside City Hall at 1.40pm on that day. Of course increased investment in infrastructure is also needed. But the establishment of a park wardens unit is an important first step.
So we ask you to join us and to bring along your friends, neighbours and family members. Together We Can (as we done so many times before) Make a Difference!
p.s. the  Shame!

Help a Community Organic Garden awaken after its Winter Sleep


As today is officially the first day of Spring, we are asking for people interested in the Great Outdoors and in growing their own healthy biodiversity-friendly food to come along at 10am tomorrow (Sat Feb 2nd) for a friendly chat, a tea/coffee/biscuit and to take part in the ongoing development of an neighbourhood organic garden.

Location: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1tq6M-E9N_0yUvhhGfa64r9Ju1w8&usp=sharing

The aim of the garden volunteers is to endeavour to make this green neighbourhood resource located in Terryland Forest Park a wonderful friendly outdoor venue where people can socialise, grow organic fruits and vegetables as well as to learn the traditional eco-skills from composting to pruning that our grandparents possessed. The garden will continue to develop as a social, health, learning and environmental hub for the neighbourhood of Castlegar and Ballinfoile and indeed for the whole of Galway.
The latest medical scientific research is showing the mental and physical health benefits to people of all ages that comes from spending time surrounded by plants and trees. It is what doctors are now referring to as the ‘Green Prescription’.
By working with others in amongst our fruit trees, vegetable plots and herbal beds as well as by participating in our educational courses, volunteers in our community garden will be encouraged to bring this knowledge back home so that they can grow tasty safe foods in their own gardens to be served on the kitchen plate for the enjoyment of the whole family.
Growing food organically enriches the soil, reduces our carbon footprint, does not pollute the environment, helps the local economy, reduces a household’s food bill and improves personal nutrition. Just as important a well-maintained organic garden is by nature a diverse place, filled not only with food crops, but flowers, birds, insects, bees, butterflies and birds. It is a sanctuary for wildlife at a time when 25% of Ireland’s native species are under threat.
So please visit our garden & forest this Saturday to view our garden/forest community and outdoor educational centre.

The Last Christmas Party (for 2018) with Galway’s Forgotten Heroes

-->
Recently I was invited to attend the Christmas Party of the staff of the Eglinton Direct Provision Accommodation Centre.

What used to be referred too as Asylum Seekers’ Accommodation Centres have got a bad press for many years. This is perfectly understandable when one realises that family members of all ages can live in a single room in an old hotel/hostel building, often occupied by one hundred to two hundred people from many different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, over a long period of time. There can be a loss of personal dignity and a feeling of being downgraded as a human being for the occupants of such a dwelling.  Quite a few of these adults and children have encountered war, death and persecution in their homelands and come to Ireland hoping to start a new and better life as quickly as possible.
Hence to find themselves living in such surroundings for a number of years can seriously impact on their wellbeing and on their relationships with others.
So it takes a very special type of person, that is endowed with a heightened awareness and sensitivity towards others, to work with people who may be fragile and vulnerable.
I can honestly say that the Eglinton staff have these qualities in abundance.
I started to work as a volunteer in this centre in 2004. Over the subsequent years, I have helped in setting up a well-equipped Computer Room, an onsite community organic garden, a residents’ committee, a library, a residents’ website and regular offsite recreational/educational activities for all ages.  I have also witnessed the establishment of a crèche, a games zone, the hosting of regular festive parties and excursions, and the active encouragement of involvement by bona fides external organisations and volunteers. None of these developments would have been possible without the generousity of spirit, the genuine sense of caring and concern displayed by the management and staff towards the residents who they treat as equals and indeed as friends.  It says everything when the Eglinton children refer to Anne, Carole and others on the front desk as ‘Auntie’.  For there is a genuine warmth and affection between most staff and residents that very few in the world outside would have ever thought possible in such surroundings.
In my professional capacity as a Science Education and Public Engagement Officer at NUI Galway, I have worked in many other Direct Provision Centres across Ireland. But I have never ever experienced the humanity displayed by the Eglinton staff who time and time again go over and above the call of duty in helping others.
So, as they at long last got to enjoy a late great Christmas Party, I was honoured to be with them in enjoying a night of food, drink and good cheer.
Finally, I join with the staff and residents in extending best wishes to the Eglinton general manager, the hardworking and benign Patrick McGovern, as we eagerly look forward to his return.

Join Monday Protest to demand Park Wardens for Galway city Parks


Public parks, woods and other green spaces are more and more recognised as essential to the health of people and to the wellbeing of the planet.
Sadly Galway city’s public parks are increasingly suffering from anti-social behaviour that is undermining all of the great work that has been undertaken over so many decades by volunteers of all ages. Issues such as litter, dumping, destruction of seating/tables and tree felling are undermining not only citizens’ enjoyment of our valuable green spaces but are also impacting negatively on wildlife species.
It is well past time that Galway city follows the centuries-old example of Dublin and Belfast in having dedicated full time park wardens. Such on-the-ground staff could regularly carry out essential maintenance, act as tour guides, dramatically decrease acts of vandalism and in the process restore public confidence and usage of a rich diverse range of meadows, forests, wetlands and parks that would be the envy of most other European cities.
 A motion from Councillor Mark Lohan in requesting such a full-time parks crew is on the agenda of the first meeting of Galway City Council in 2019, that starts at 2pm on next Monday (January 14th).
So we are asking all lovers of our urban green amenities to join us at 1.40pm outside the front door of City Hall and demand that all councillors support this critical motion that could make our parks and natural heritage areas as popular as St. Stephens’ Green or Phoenix Park in Dublin, Hampstead Heath in London or Central Park in New York.
Lets make a positive start to the New Year by having our publicly elected local politicians implement a policy that will positively transform our parks and natural heritage areas

Denizens of a Winter Wonderland: the Magical Hazel Tree.


I took this photo on the evening of St. Stephen's Day in Terryland Forest Park. It captures somewhat the mythical nature of the Hazel tree, with its catkins almost luminescent in the rising darkness.
The Hazel in Celtic mythology is associated with magic, wisdom and poetry. Its fruit- the hazel nut- was a great source of nourishment in ancient times and is still collected by local families in the autumn. Its wood was used for making furniture, fencing and wickerwork. In our community garden we have used it in conjunction with willow branches to make fences.
Druid wands were made from hazel. Because the tree grew near water, it also has strong connections with fertility. It was believed too that the source of Ireland's most scared rivers, Shannon and Boyne, were to be found at wells guarded by hazel trees whose nuts would impart great knowledge and magical prowess to those that eat them. Its twigs were used by diviners to locate water underground.

Keeping Alive best of Irish Xmas traditions


Cepta and myself have fond memories of our childhood Christmases and the stories that our parents told us of their own youthful days at this very special time of the year.  We did indeed experience many of the characteristics of today’s Christmas such as Santa Claus, a Christmas tree in the living room and special programmes on the TV station. Nevertheless it was then first and foremost a deeply religious festival of Christian thanksgiving which our parents expected us to respect and to observe.

In my father’s (& mother’s) time…
On winter evenings around the fireside, mom, dad and particularly my grandparents, would tell stories of their own harsh poverty-stricken Christmas in a rural Ireland before the era of plastic trees, glittering baubles, twinkling electric lights, expensive gifts and sumptuous festive dinners. In those bygone days they would get up early and gather branches from Holly (holy) trees in the hedgerows to decorate their homes. For them the thorns and red berries symbolised the bloodied crown of thorns of the crucified Jesus. But the sacredness of this native Irish tree goes back thousands of years earlier, when it was recognised as a protector of Nature, with its red berries providing a rare source of food to the birds in the depths of darkest winter, and a reminder too of the resurrection of life during the coming Spring.  Lots of families made their own wooden figures for Nativity scenes that were placed prominently in the kitchen and which was a microcosm of the larger crib in the local parish church (a custom introduced by Francis of Assisi during the European Middle Ages).
Morning mass, where they happily engaged with all the cousins and neighbours, was followed in the late afternoon by a family meal comprising exotic foodstuffs not consumed at any other time of the year. Before refrigeration, a key element was the Christmas pudding (kept in a recycled metal biscuit tin), comprising fruits that had been dried out and stored from the autumn harvest with a generous lashing of home distilled whiskey (poitín) even though my parents throughout their lives hardly ever drank alcohol (Dad was a lifelong ‘pioneer’).  As in the modern era, the main delicacy was poultry. But rather than the American-originated turkey, they usually had the luxury of enjoying one of their own geese. 
But in the lives of ordinary people, meat was then a rarity. It was only normally consumed on Sundays (the ‘Sunday roast’) and on important religious/seasonal festivals.
This celebratory meal was primarily a gathering for the extended family, when those bothers and sisters who had gone to work in Dublin or had emigrated to nearby Britain would, at least before they got married, try to travel home for the most important day in the Christian calendar.
As was the custom at the beginning of every mealtime in Irish Christian homes in times past, a prayer was recited in thanks for the food that was about to be served.
On Christmas night, a simple wax candle was lit and placed in the window. It represented the ‘Star of Bethlehem’ that guided the ‘wise men (possibly Zoroastrian magi from the land of or modern day Iraq or Iran), with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, to the livestock barn where the newborn baby lay.
In the days before rural electrification, it must have been an awe-inspiring sight for children to look across a darkened Irish countryside vibrating with small flickering candle-lights emanating from isolated farmers’ cottages. It was as if the heavenly night sky had become one with the Earth.

So in honour of our parents for this and all Christmases, our family (as with so many other families) continue to observe some of the best of the old Irish Christian traditions. We decorate the walls with holly, make a Star of Bethlehem backdrop for an internal Nativity scene, place candles on the windows and doorways with some family members attending the local church and then enjoying a festive meal together.
Whilst I have many disagreements with the Catholic Church stretching back to my teens, nevertheless I have always being an avid follower of the great inspirational progressive, radical, pacifist, non-sectarian, communal feminist figure known as Jesus Christ.
So to all my atheist, pagan, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim, Christian and Hindi friends may I wish you all a peaceful and joyful Christmas and New Year. 

Denizens of a Winter Wonderland: Velvet Shank mushroom


The Velvet Shank mushrooms are found through the Terryland Forest Park at this time of year. With their glistening slippery orange copper surface they bring a lovely magical beauty to a largely bare woodland in winter especially when surrounded by a carpet of lush green mosses.
But what is most striking and wonderful about such lifeforms is that they makes their homes and takes their nutrients from the stumps of dead trees and other deadwood.
In Nature, there is no such thing as 'waste'- everything is recycled and upcycled.
Humanity is out-of-sync with the rest of Nature where a 'circular (economy) system' is the foundation of all life.

The Urban Farmers of Christmas 2018 - our Message: “Is feidir linn!”


A dedicated volunteers of the Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden in the Terryland Forest Park spent Saturday completing the green facility for a period of hibernation.
Whilst Spring is the season for the first signs of growth for much of the garden's vegetable and fruit species, and late autumn represents the end of their life cycles, we have noticed that some plant-life now remain active during the traditional winter period.
Sadly this is a sign of Global Warming that is impacting negatively on the whole interconnecting biosphere. With flowers blooming earlier in the year, pollinating insects and birds such as migratory swallows suffer as their life cycles become out-of-sync within their eco-systems. This is one of the reasons for the increasingly serious decline in the numbers of flora and fauna over the last few decades.
The same problem continues onto the winter which is suppose to be a time when soil needs to replenish and much of the wildlife world needs to sleep.
Still we urban gardeners extend the traditional Irish seasonal greeting of "Nollaig Shona agus Áthbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh" and look forward to working with like-minded people across Galway and beyond during 2019 in protecting the rest of Nature from the devastating influences of humanity caused by a relentless drive for a progress that is becoming a Road to Hell.
Remember though, that in spite of the serious local, national and global problems that we face, to be positive. For together we can and will make a difference. "Is feidir linn" (Irish = “Yes We Can!”).