Community Garden to become major Environmental, Social, Health & Education Hub

After the winter break, the Ballinfoile Mór Community Garden will reopen this Saturday (February 18th) at 11am. 
We need as many people to volunteer on this day as is possible in order to start the process of making this great green community resource a success in 2018. 
The organising committee of the garden, which is located behind Lus Leana on the Headford Road in the Terryland Forest Park, have ambitious plans for the year ahead ranging from a children’s Scarecrow Festival in April, to crafts workshops in the summer to the turning of the soil by a horse-drawn plough in the autumn.  

We want to make this green neighbourhood resource 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 to 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 we are asking people to join us in continuing to develop this local community and outdoor educational centre.

St. Brigit's Day - a sign of the remarkable status of early Irish Celtic Women

February 1st 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 (5-7th 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.

Trump's Ban, Palestine & My Galway Workplace.

Recently my friend Ihab Salawdeh gave a highly illuminating talk on his homeland of Palestine as part of our institute’s “My Country” series. The idea is for staff/students working at the Insight Centre for Data Anlaytics to present informative but light-hearted overviews of their country to their colleagues. With over 30 nationalities represented at our university research centre, we have had some excellent insights into places far and near. 

The jovial Ihab introduced us to a Palestine that not too many outsiders are aware off; a land where, in spite of Israeli military occupation and colonial settlements, is rich in natural beauty, culture and history. The inhabitants of the Holy Land are proud of their ethnic cuisine, folk dances, vibrant musical heritage, traditional dress, scenic hillwalking routes, churches, mosques, synagogues as well as ancient Roman/Greek/Jewish and Byzantine ruins. Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem are great world centres of tourism and religious pilgrimage.
Thinking about Ihab’s talk and the ‘United Nations of Galway’ that is my research institute at NUI Galway, I have come to the conclusion that Trump’s decision to ban travel to the USA for refugees and people from seven countries that have majority Muslim populations will have enormous and immediate negative ramifications not just socially, economically and politically but also scientifically.
Some of the researchers at our university centre are respected scientists from Syria and Iran who often as part of their work attend research conferences in the USA and elsewhere. America is now off limits to them and the research community of Galway, Ireland, Europe and the world will suffer as a result.
Trump will I feel extend the ban to other countries with Palestine probably at the top of the list.
With Trump promoting his newly discovered Christianity (of the conservative strand) and his support of American business entrepreneuralism, I should remind him that Steve Job’s father was Syrian and that the family of Jesus Christ fled to Egypt as refugees to escape probable death at the hands of a despotic ruler.
Trump is bringing a coldness and darkness to a United States that has such a proud bright history of welcoming immigrants escaping religious, racial and cultural persecution.

No to Forest Road, Yes to Forest Classroom & Greenway

In advance of the public consultation (Jan 25th) on the proposed changes to the Kirwan Roundabout, we are asking the people of Galway to attend a public information event on Monday (Jan 23rd) on the Terryland Forest Park which will outline the health, educational, environmental and social benefits of Ireland’s largest community-driven urban forest park project.

It is important that the public are made fully aware before it is too late of the need for council investment, protection and promotion of what is known as the ‘Lungs of the City’ and the damage that a proposed road construction through the park will do to its status as an Ecological Corridor, as a major carbon sink in combating climate change, as an Outdoor Classroom for the benefit of schools and colleges, as a tourist amenity and as an Outdoor Gym and Greenway for the citizens Galway city.

At the meeting we will outline a programme of social, learning, crafts, health, gardening and environmental projects being organised for 2017 by teachers, heritage enthusiasts, scientists, gardeners, medical professionals and community volunteers in this urban forest. These activities include meadow-making, wildflower plantings, a traditional scything festival, bat walks, nature trails, walking/cycling tours, a scarecrow festival, bee keeping, organic gardening and citizen science events.

The lack of opportunities for today’s urban youth generation in particular to enjoy woodlands and the wilderness is having serious negative learning and health repercussions. The need for children to experience the magic of forests and the wilderness is borne out by the latest scientific and medical research worldwide which shows the fundamental importance of integrating woodlands, trees and wetlands into the fabric of our cities. Building a road through the park would not only destroy wildlife as well as a tranquil greenway for walkers, it will directly damage people’s health by introducing high levels of pollution. For vehicle emissions are associated with rising levels of dementia, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses. The Environmental Protection Agencey (EPA) recently stated that 1,200 people die prematurely every year in Ireland due to air pollution with the World Health Organisation listing Galway as one of the worst offenders in Britain and Ireland for breaching air safety levels.

It is accepted that trees are the most cost effective way to tackle urban pollution, absorbing between 7% to 24% of atmospheric contaminates.

On a biodiversity level, Terryland was initiated as an ecological corridor for flora and fauna by providing a green link to connect the Corrib waterways to the farmlands of east Galway, a key development at a time when the status of over 60% of Ireland’s native species is precarious. 

We welcome the fact that two days after our meeting, engineers from Halcrow Barry Consultants will host a public consultation on the proposed changes to the Kirwan Roundabout in the new Ballinfoile Castlegar Neighbourhood Centre

But our fear is that the views of the engineers as well as of senior officials in City Hall fail to fully understand Terryland’s role in citizens’ health and biodiversity protection, a situation that seems unbelievable considering that Galway is the designated Green Leaf or Green Capital of Europe for 2017.  For at last week’s council meeting when plans were unveiled for the first time of the six design options on revamping the Kirwan Roundabout, not one of the engineers either in their written or oral presentations made reference to the ‘Terryland Forest Park’ by name.  This in spite of the fact that three of the options are based on dissecting the lands of this key recreational and ecological zone.  This negative stance was similar to City Hall’s recent bye-law recommendation to ban children from climbing trees in parks as well as when the council’s CEO in September introduced the forest road development via a Material Alterations to the Galway City Development Plan, where the construction was (under)stated as just a “link road between Bóthar na dTreabh (N6) and Liosbaun Estate. They are by this approach devaluing the fundamental importance of forests and other green spaces, treating them as land banks to be used for built development and expansion when they want.  

There is no doubt that the Kirwan Roundabout and access roads infrastructure needs to be revamped to support motorised and non-motorised vehicle users. But it is going against the trend of other European countries that the engineers are not being given the wider holistic remit to consider the installation of a proper pedestrian, cyclist and public transport infrastructure nor to review the synchronisation of the traffic lights which are presently leading to tailbacks on the Kirwan roundabout. Likewise as with other countries’ such as the United States, Netherlands and Britain, there is no consideration given of building Green (wildlife) Bridges to connect the different sections of Terryland Forest presently separated by Bóthar na dTreabh (N6) and the Quincentennial Bridge Road.

The Terryland Forest Park project was established as a partnership between City Hall and communities in 1999 and with its 100,000 native trees is officially recognised as the Lungs of the City. Such a proposed road construction punctures these lungs, goes against council’s own environmental policies and is a betrayal of the trust of the people of Galway who in their thousands have planted tens of thousands of trees and native wildflowers over the last two decades.

We want the citizens to reclaim their forests and do what the council signage says at the main entrance to the park, “Citizens of Galway, This is Your Park, Take Ownership of our City’s Cultural Woodland”. The council have no right to renege on their written promises and to steal what was planted and nurtured by the ordinary citizens of all ages. We need investment not destruction.

Terryland Forest Park selected as Galway’s "Get Involved" project!

Galway City Tribune newspaper two page spread
Terryland Forest Park has been selected as the Galway City candidate for the Get Involved Sustainable Communities initiative 2016/17. Organised by 51 local Irish newspapers and sponsored by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, Get Involved selects those projects that promote local volunteerism, biodiversity, local food growing, ecotourism and developing markets for recyclables and renewable energies. 

The community and environmental projects organised through the Terryland Forest Park in 2016 were many and varied including wildflower planting, traditional hand-held scythe mowing of a meadow, scarecrow making, mapping out online walking trails, drystone wall restoration, castle heritage cycle trails,  organic gardening, food preservation courses, neighbourhood harvest festival, traditional crafts demonstrations, litter picking, bat walks, science surveys and production of a series of onsite biodiversity educational signage.

We sincerely thank the Galway City Tribune for choosing us and for the great two page piece that appears in the current edition of the newspaper which includes photos of Cumann na bhFhear members forging and an image of the  Seven Galway Castles trail (art by Helen Caird). 

Such a prestigious accolade has come at a most opportune time just as activists have commenced battle to save the forest park from a road construction that will destroy its development as a key Ecological Corridor for wildlife and as an Outdoor Classroom for local schools and colleges.

This recognition has resulted from the dozens of hardworking visionary community, educational and environmental volunteers who are regularly involved through a series of ambitious programmes within the park that are transforming this green urban network of habitats into a learning and cultural environment for the children, students, scientists and communities of Galway city. 

These groups include Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden, Cumann na bhFear, Conservation Volunteers, Galway Bat Group, Ballinfoile Mór Walking group, School of Science GMIT, Zoology Martin Ryan Institute NUI Galway, the Centre for Environmental Science NUI Galway, GMIT Science, the Galway Field Studies Centre and the overall coordinator-the Terryland Forest Park Alliance.

Aleppo: Lessons from Beirut.

The two photographs above are not some of those being shown a lot recently of Aleppo past (beautiful) and present (ruins). Rather they show Beirut as it is now (top) and as it was (bottom).

The horrors being endured by the peoples of the Middle East seems to be only getting worse. In the last days of 2016 and the first days of 2017, bombings of civilian areas, massacres of unarmed men. women and children as well as forced population movements continue unabated.  Yemen, Iraq and Syria are turning into wastelands. The scenes on our television screens of Aleppo showing miles and miles of streetscapes lying in ruins are reminiscent of Berlin, Hamburg and Dresden at the end of World War Two. We have all seen the photographs of Aleppo then (glorious) and now (desolation). These images could also come from other Syrian cities – Homs, Deir ez-Zor, Daraa…
Promises of a better future and a return to the normality before the men with their guns, tanks and bombs came seem to be an impossible dream.
But there is hope that this nightmare will end.

Only ten years ago, Beirut was synonymous with death and destruction. Once known as the Paris of the East, civil wars and military invasions from 1975 onwards reduced the Lebanese capital to rubble. Armed militias, military checkpoints, air bombings, kidnappings, sectarian killings, religious conflicts and foreign occupations transformed the city and countryside into a nightmare world reminiscent of scenes from the film Mad Max
A few months ago, I travelled to Lebanon to teach coding to Palestinian and Syrian  refugee teachers as well as to students in Lebanese schools.  In a country of only 4+ million citizens, there are over 2 million refugees mainly from Syria. This is a putting a huge strain on an already fragile Lebanese society. A national political deadlock of 29 months was only ended in November when the post of Presidency was finally filled. Mounds of waste were highly visible on inter city roadsides and in front of major buildings as a result of what many Lebanese say is due to endemic political corruption. The garbage crisis is so bad that there is a fear that it could contaminate the whole of the Mediterranean Sea.
Yet is spite of the past and present problems, Lebanon still inspires me and fills me with grounds for optimism.
The capital city is being rebuilt. Hotels are welcoming foreign tourists. Couples kiss, hold hands and share romantic moments together in public places. Families cycle along the seafront. Unaccompanied women drive cars, walk the streets, socialise together. The cafes and bars are full of young people. The streets around the American university are awash with students of both sexes and of different cultures. Mosques and churches exist in relative proximity. Public museums, galleries and hotels welcome visitors. No other country has done more to welcome refugees than Lebanon.
All of this takes places in what was until very recently a brutal urban battleground. Of course this is not to ignore the serious social problems that still exist. Women complain of experiencing sexual harassment on the streets; the refugees often live in cramped poor neighbourhoods; corruption and political patronage are talked about openly; and the urban geography is based along religious and ethnic lines.
But the most important thing is that Druze, Christian, Shia, Sunni, atheist, Armenian are living and mingling in the same city with lines slowly blurring as time moves on.
In spite of the fragility of Beirut society, it offers a possibility of a return to the past for the Middle East. For this region that was the cradle of civilisation never belonged to one faith, one people or one ideology. For thousands of years its cities were always mixed, always cosmopolitan.
I sincerely hope to be given the opportunity to once again work in Lebanon as part of the ambitious and highly beneficial 'Refugee Code Week' learning initiative.

Christmas in Galway: The School Concert

One of the highlights for many people in rural communities and urban neighbourhoods across Ireland is the hosting of the annual Christmas concert in the local school.
It is when the children become the stars of their locality as they sing, dance, do comedy and tell stories to an audience comprising their parents, grandparents, cousins, friends and neighbours. 

Due to globalisation, mechanisation of farming, a drop off in regular attendance at traditional Irish places of worships and the ongoing population drift to the big cities, the local school is the only glue that binds many rural communities together. These learning institutions are the living active embodiment and repository of all the knowledge, experiences, ballads, poems, literature, arts, culture and history of a local community. If they close the lifeblood and heritage of a locality going back generations can be lost for ever.
The small country and neighbourhood school provides all too rare opportunities for local people to come together and to be involved in their local area.
The Christmas concert is a great example of collective community volunteerism in action. Usually a small army of parents support the teachers by preparing/serving food, selling tickets, securing spot prizes and constructing stage props.
But it is the teachers that are the unsung heroes of such events as weeks of rehearsals with their pupils teaching them to act, to play musical instruments and to sing finally pays off.
I attended the Christmas concert this year in St Theresa's National School in Cashel Connemara where I watched the children perform in the Nativity play and in lots more beside. So well done to the principal Cepta Stephens the teachers, the parents and particularly the boys and girls for a most enjoyable experience.

The Drystone Walls of the Forest.

What is now the Terryland Forest Park was once a mosaic of small fields divided by drystone walls.
In the mid 1990s our local residents' associations campaigned on and ensured that this area near to the centre of Galway city was transformed into a woodland park rather than being covered with a series of housing estates.
For we wanted a 'Green Lungs' for the citizens of Galway.
Though the trees were planted and the pathways laid out, many of the boundary walls remained. Some gradually fell into disrepair, became covered with ivy and got largely ignored.
But over the last year council staff supported by volunteers have began work on restoring some of these walls in Terryland Forest Park to their former glory (see photo).

Drystone walls have been a feature of the Irish landscape for 5,000 years. Most though were built after the Great Famine (An Gorta Mór) of the mid 19th century when the open system of farming was replaced as the Anglo-Irish landed estates were redistributed to the former tenantry resulting in a patchwork of small farms across Ireland.
With no mortar holding the stones together, skilled craftsmen carefully select stones that will balance and sit into the wall.
The gaps between the stones helps stability by allowing the wind currents to pass through, representing fine examples of millennia old engineering.

They also provide habitats for a variety of birds, mammals and insects. The stone surfaces support mosses, lichens and plants.
So these drystone walls that are so characteristic of the West of Ireland are more than just part of our built heritage, they are a vast network of ecological corridors, providing green highways for flora and fauna.
However with the decline of the small working family farm, mechanisation, urbanisation and road development, the small field and accompanying drystone wall boundaries are disappearing quickly from the Irish countryside. The replacement perimeter wooden, concrete, cemented stone and wire fencing offer nothing to wildlife.
So Terryland volunteers are doing their bit to protect our natural and built heritage.
Commenting on the restoration of the drystone wall in Terryland Forest Park, Dr. Colin Lawton of the Zoology in NUI Galway said, "These stone walls are really important for our small mammals such as mice, voles, shrews and stoats. The rodents hate to move across open spaces so dart along linear features such as walls and fallen logs. Shrews like the feeding opportunities all the little nooks and crannies provide and stoats just like holes to explore and features to mark. The switch to wire fencing has had a major impact in the countryside. This is a great worthwhile project."

Muslim & Christian Places of Worship side by side in the Holy Land (Jordan)

Photograph is a composite of two images that I took whilst working in Jordan a few months ago. It shows the Al Bishara Christian Coptic Church and the King Abdullah 1 Mosque which lie adjacent to each other on Abdali Street in central Amman. It represents physical proof, in a time of almost unprecedented levels of human suffering, ethnic cleansing and religious conflict in the Middle East, that Christians, Muslims, Jews and other faiths can co-exist peacefully in this region. The Holy Land (Jordan, Israel, Palestine) , the Levant and Mesopotamia belong to all its inhabitants no matter what their faith, culture or social class are.

I was given the opportunity this year to take on the role of a master mentor in an ambitious coding educational initiative known as Refugee Code Week(RCW). Led by the German software company SAP, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) and our very own Galway Education Centre(GEC), this ambitious programme aims to help play a role in overcoming the unemployment, despair, loss of education, forced mass emigration and social/economic/nation meltdown that has accompanied the refugee crisis in the Middle East by starting the process of equipping participants in refugee camps as well as in the schools and colleges of hosted countries with much needed coding learning skills. RCW will continue in 2017 and beyond.
My work has allowed me to teach in Syrian and Palestinian refugee camps as well as in schools, universities, community centres across Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey.

I have witnessed at first hand the best of humanity- the UNHCR workers, the refugee camp residents volunteer, the SAP/GEC team and the Syrians, Palestinians, Lebanese, Egyptians, Ethiopians, Jordanians and other nationalities who give so much to help others. These ordinary everyday people are the unsung heroes of our time.
I have walked with many of my newfound Middle Eastern friends through the streets of Amman, Beirut, Sidon, Istanbul, Cairo and Nabatieh
My earnest wish is to witness the dismantling of the refugee camps that I work in as its residents return home and to some day walk together with the same people through the streets of Aleppo, Dara'a, Palmyra, Raqqa, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Mosul.
May I extend my best wishes to these friends during Christmas, a time associated with a message of a future peace and good will to all men and women.

The 'Holy' Tree of Christmas

The approximate100,000 trees in the community-initiated man-made Terryland Forest Park are native Irish species such as ash, alder and oak. Not only do they provide rich havens to a wonderful diversity of wildlife, these trees have special religious and mythological associations with our Celtic pagan and Christian religious traditions.

Of special significance at this time of the year is the 'Holly' (Cuileann in Irish) tree. In Christian folklore it is associated with being a 'Holy' plant. Irish homes in times past were decorated with its branches at Christmas as the prickly leaves symbolized Christ’s crown of thorns and its bright red winter berries the drops of blood that he shed during his crucifixion. 

My parents told me that as children they never saw a Christmas 'pine' Tree in their homes. Instead the walls were decked with boughs (branches) of holly, nailed to wooden beams or hung over picture frames. I continue this family tradition in my own house with branches cut from trees from our own garden as well as one solitary branch taken from Terryland Forest Park. I always make sure that I leave loads of berries on the trees for the benefit of the birds.

In the pagan Celtic period, this tree was identified with warrior prowess, the sun god Lugh and the harvest festival.

Community & Environmental Campaigners Agree to Support Green Leaf City status for Galway City


In spite of the decision of Galway city council last week to sanction a road through Terryland Forest Park and to allow building construction on a meadow in Merlin Park Woods, local environmental and community campaigners have agreed to work with City Hall on developing a series of eco-initiatives under the banner of its status as the European Green Leaf City for 2017.

According to Brendan Smith of the Terryland Forest Park Alliance, “At the annual plenary meeting this week of the Galway City Community Network which represents over one hundred community and volunteers organisations, there was a deep sense of anger and betrayal expressed by many speakers over last week’s decisions by Galway City Council to ignore their own long standing environmental, social and health polices as contained in previous and current development plans as well as the advice of its own consultants’ report in order to sanction road and building construction in such sensitive green areas as Terryland Forest Park.  It was a slap on the faces of the thousands of volunteers who have given their time and energies free of charge since 2000 to create woods, meadows, nature trails and other wildlife habitats. Combined with confirmation at a meeting in City Hall a few days ago that officials have, for what they call budgetary constraints, pulled the plug on the multi-sectoral Terryland steering committee that includes representatives from the HSE, GMIT, NUI Galway and schools, last week was a dark week for the local environmental and community movement.  Our vision of creating a network of linked forests and natural heritage areas that would make Galway the envy of the rest of Ireland was dealt a mortal blow from those we considered our partners. 

Yet it was unanimously agreed to warmly welcome the long overdue appointment of a coordinator for the Green Leaf City 2017. Sharon Carroll, who will take up her appointment full time on January 1st, is very well respected amongst the city’s community, schools and environmental sectors especially for her work in a previous role as the city's Environmental Education Officer.
For the sake of the health of present and future generations and to enhance biodiversity in our city, we intend to actively collaborate with Sharon on developing an ambitious eco-programme that we hope will include the Outdoor Classroom, the Outdoor Laboratory, neighbourhood organic gardens, nature walking trails, a proper collection facility for hazardous waste, greater public access to and staffing of local authority parks as well as securing significant citizens’ involvement in the management and planning of our urban green spaces.

However we will continue our campaigns to reverse the recent decisions of City Hall to pass death sentences on some of the city’s major woodlands. In the case of Terryland we are considering bringing the issue to the European Commission as we feel that the proposed road construction is in contravention of the terms that the EU funding was granted for this park in the late 1990s."  

Democratic Party's Role in Trump's Victory.

Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election to a racist, misogynist, lecherous, gun-loving, militaristic, anti-environmentalist, tax-avoidance, former bankrupt billionaire. Why? Because, as exposed by WikiLeaks, she is funded by a Wall Street, right-wing Israeli (as opposed to its ordinary citizens) and Saudi elite who shape her policies and favour a world order based on a triumphal globalisation of deregulation that has led to the destruction of indigenous American manufacturing industries and the loss of millions of jobs as their unpatriotic owners transferred their operations to countries where labour is cheap. 
The Democratic establishment secretively undermined the campaign of Bernie Sanders, one of their own presidential candidates, an honest progressive socialist who represented the only true alternative to Trump. Unlike Obama, he was prepared to mobilise the poor and middle classes, properly regulate the financial institutions, tax the wealthy, implement free health and higher education student funding, build infrastructure and dismantle free trade agreements such as NAFTA. 
Obama did some great things in office. But his failure to honour his populist “Yes We Can” motto by mobilising the nation to stand up to the banks and reform the economic system after the crash of 2008 led to his alienation from the impoverished masses. 
Trump filled the vacuum that the Democratic Party hierarchy helped create. But he represents a lie. In the area of economics for instance, real sustainable jobs lie partly in renewable manufacturing, renewable energies, non industrialised organic farming, IoT technologies and not in bringing back coal and increasing other fossil fuels extraction. Trump will start destroying the hard won global consensus on combatting climate change. Life in all its forms on the planet will suffer as a consequence.

Ireland's Longest Running Residents' Campaign finally to achieve success

Image may contain: 12 people , people smiling , crowd and outdoor

This photograph appeared this weekend in a very special pioneering edition of the Galway City Tribune that was provided free of charge to all households in the Ballinfoile-Castlegar locality of Galway city.
It shows a residents' protest in the summer of 1989 outside a meeting of city councillors in City Hall. They were demanding recreational and social facilities in a neighbourhood devoid of such essential community infrastructure even though each household had been levied £500-1000+ to pay for such.
This protest was a finale of a two year campaign that I helped organise. I was then still in my twenties. That evening we secured a series of outdoor sports and leisure facilities including playing fields, a playground, tennis courts, changing rooms and a parkland. We were overjoyed. But sadly it took another 27 years before we finally benefited from an indoor equivalent. It is a state-of-the-art complex comprising, foyer, multi-purpose rooms, Olympic size basketball court, catering area, changing rooms, carpark eetc located in the geographical heart of the locality. It will be publicly owned and managed by the local community in conjunction with the social service enterprise company known as SCCUL. This is great news and we welcome all who made it possible including the community activists, the present Council, council staff including Liam Hanrahan and Shraon Carroll and of course the ex Mayor Frank Fahy on whose watch the complex was completed.
But no community should have had to witness generations of their children being denied leisure facilities. Many of the kids that appear in the photo now have their own children. Some of the adults are no longer alive. So they never saw their hopes and dreams come true.
Since the coming of modern Ireland in the early 1970s and the corresponding growth in urban areas, it was the politically well-connected property speculators, builders and the developers who were allowed to make fortunes out of creating mile after mile of housing estates and streets devoid of community facilities for all ages. They created a soulless urban sprawl rather that resident-centred 'urban villages'.
In countries such as Austria, schools, parks, social centres, public transport and cycle networks are put in place before the people move in. Why not Ireland? People should come before the profit of a small coterie number of speculators.
Finally a big 'Bualadh Bos' to the present hard working team of fellow volunteer hardworking, dedicated, visionary and generous activists who finally secured success including Róisín Ní Fhearrachair, Tímea Becsák, Noelle Donnellan, Mags Douglas, Thomas Cox, Claudiu Baranyai Milagrosa Urroz, Sabrina Commins, Tom Hanley, Paul Hayes, Justine Delaney Michele Chiperi, Una O’Connell and those who were with us until recently including stalwart Michael McDonnell, Helen Caird, Jamie McLaughlin, Laurence Daly, Valerie Pointer, Sheila Mangan, Keith McDonogh, Michael Tiernan. Caitriona Nic Mhuiris Suzanne McNena, Johanna Downes, Tom Costello, Frank Fahy, Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh. Catherine Connolly TD. and those who helped initiate it all those years ago including Nevin Breen, Peter Rowland, Daibhi O'Cronin, Irene Duffy, Irene Hynes and Paul Tannian.
It was a pleasure to have worked with ye all. Now I can happily move on to other campaigns that hopefully won't take so long to conclude. For I don't have another 27 years left in me!!
Ballinfoile Mor/Castlegar Community Updates

Save Galway City's Green Spaces from the Bulldozer

A leading community activist has condemned as ‘environmental and health vandalism’ the proposals by Galway city council to advocate the construction of buildings and a road through the main urban parks as a betrayal of the hundreds of dedicated residents, scientists, teachers and youth who regularly give their time, energies and ideas to developing and maintaining the local authority’s woods, parks and green spaces for the benefit of the general public.  

According to Brendan Smith of the Terryland Forest Alliance, “There is a deep sense of shock and a feeling of betrayal amongst Galway’s army of environmental volunteers as we witness council officials undertaking a complete U-turn on long standing environmental policies, which will have serious negative consequences on people’s health, on air quality, on the education of our children, on the county’s commitment to combat global climate change and which will led to the destruction of sensitive wildlife corridors that have taken decades to nurture. We are calling on citizens and their elected representatives to save our city from what can only be described as institutional environmental and health vandalism and are hosting a public meeting on this issue at 7.30pm on Thursday November 24th in the Maldron Hotel near the Kirwan Roundabout on the Headford Road.”

Community made wildflower meadow in Terryland Forest Park, Summer 2916
In the last few weeks, we have been informed by City Hall that the Terryland Forest Park multi-sectoral steering committee that includes NUI Galway, GMIT, An Taisce, HSE, schools and communities can no longer met due to budgetary restrictions; that a road will be built through the same forest park; that an ancient meadow in Merlin Woods will be bulldozed to make way for a hospice in spite of suitable alterative sites existing nearby; that the council propose to make it illegal for children to climb trees and that the number of workers in park maintenance are being reduced. 

2008: 10,000+ people sign petition which successfully stopped a road being built through Terryland Forest Park
It is only a few years ago that a petition signed by over 10,000 Galwegians stopped a road being built through Terryland Forest Park, a park referred too as the “People’s Park” as most of its 100,000 trees were planted by the people of the city from March 2000 onwards. The council are ignoring the reasons why people did so. For the latest scientific research shows the fundamental importance of trees and nature to people’s well being, which is why the next generation of cities across the world are integrating parks, food gardens and forests into their urban infrastructures. Ireland has the highest rate of obesity and weight excess in Europe whilst over 20% of our young people suffer from some form of mental health disorder, much of which can stem from what is known as Nature Deficit Disorder(NDD).  Experiencing the clean air as well as the calming and stimulation effect of the ‘Great Outdoors’ is now being promoted by the medical profession worldwide as an alternative to the costly drugs and pill culture.

Hence for the sake of our citizens, our future generations and our planet the council’s retrograde steps to design out biodiversity must be halted.

These brutal actions make a mockery of the city being declared a green capital of Europe as the EU Green Leaf City 2017. Projects involving community volunteers played a key role in securing this international accolade. Activists were therefore hoping that the city’s new found international eco-status would led to significant investment and progress being made in promoting greater public access to parks; in overcoming anti-social activity such as illegal dumping and bush drinking in bogs, parks and woodlands; in finally moving forward on the Galway city-Clifden Greenway and in supporting park-based nature learning initiatives for children.  
The Outdoor Classroom
Over the last year, scientists, technologists, teachers, health experts and environmentalists have begun working together to commence the process of transforming Terryland into a huge Outdoor Classroom and Outdoor Laboratory for our educational institutions that could also provide major tourist benefit. 
Traditional Mowing of widlflower meadow in Terryland Forest Park
Heritage enthusiasts have started to use it as a learning hub for traditional rural skills and crafts including the creation of native wildflower meadows where the grass is mowed by using hand held scythes, scarecrow-making events for children, and the introduction of horse drawn ploughing into the park’s organic garden.

Yet we are now faced with the extraordinary situation that the council has decided that Galway’s communities can no longer be involved in developing a park that they actually founded. This decision is the antithesis of civic engagement, a cornerstone of the city’s development strategy. 
Community Tree Planting

Hence there is a genuine fear that the Green Leaf award could become nothing more than mere window dressing, a title without substance, a Greenwash. The council authorities are it seems treating forests and parks as a reserve land bank to be chipped away when land is needed to be cemented and tarmaced over. Not for nothing is Terryland officially recognised as the ‘Lungs of the City’; its nearly 100,000 trees that were mostly planted by the people of Galway since 2000 provide the oxygen needs of up to 400,000 people, absorb over a decade 3,800 metric tons of the carbon dioxide gas that is contributing to global warming and provide  €4.64 billion worth of air pollution control over 50 years. This park, stretching from the wetlands of the Corrib along the Dyke Road to the farmlands of Castlegar, has the potential to be even important to Galway than the Phoenix Park is to Dublin. But it is been denied the public resources that it so urgently needs whilst funds and support from steering committee members are being ignored.

We as concerned citizens see ourselves as the defenders of the council’s own recreational, health, community and environmental policies. We are not going to let officialdom destroy our precious life-giving wildlife habitats and green spaces. 

The community and environmental sector should once again be viewed as equal partners whose actions over the years have brought many benefits to the quality of life in the city, including stopping the construction of a giant municipal incinerator and its replacement by the first three bin waste recycling system in Ireland as well as the introduction of the country’s first cash-for-cans scheme.”