Council Neglect of Public Parks is harming City Schools, People’s Health and Biodiversity

We are asking all lovers of nature and of community to join volunteers at 10am on this Saturday Dec 8th from the Quincentenary Bridge entrance to take part in a significant cleanup in Terryland Forest Park that we hope will highlight the unacceptable increased levels of anti-social behaviour occurring there over the last few months particularly in terms of litter and therefore the critical need for Galway City Council to follow the lead of other cities in appointing full-time parks’ grounds staff.
Working with community volunteers and implementing an ‘Adopt a Patch’ scheme with local residents and businesses that we will launch next month, we feel that this new suggested policy change by City Hall could have a major positive impact on reclaiming the park for the people of Galway in order to fulfil its official designation as the “People’s Park” and the “Lungs of the City” as well  as a urban wildlife sanctuary.  Terryland has the potential to become a major green regional hub linking the Connemara Greenway over a new pedestrian bridge along the old railway pillars, to the Corrib waterways and to a large untapped walking/cycling ‘boreen’ network on the north and east sides of the city.

Sadly years of council neglect due to a shrinking budget from government and other factors is destroying our city’s green spaces particularly in relation to Terryland Forest Park, a green facility that its founders in 1996 had hoped would become the equivalent of the Phoenix Park of Galway.
A dedicated team of volunteers from all walks of life have done so much over the last few years to successfully develop this natural heritage zone as an Outdoor Classroom for local schools; an Outdoor Laboratory for third level science research; a major ecological corridor and sanctuary for wildlife that research has shown contains at least 350 species; and a landscape for revitalising rural heritage skills and organic farming. But sadly the absence of on-the-ground park wardens and maintenance staff has led to an epidemic of litter and a surge in vandalism that is transforming Terryland and other public parks into ‘No Go Zones’ for the public as well as negatively impacting on the park’s biodiversity.
Sadly the visitor is now greeted with carcasses of blackened burnt tree trunks on abandoned night-time campfires; the wanton destruction of picnic benches; paint-peeled park seating; mounds of alcohol bottles/cans lying beside outdoor exercise equipment; overflowing uncollected ugly council blackbags beside every seat which are ripped open with their contents covering woodlands and killing wildlife in the process; the detritus of heroin drug use in the form of used needles and tin foil scattered across pathways; gates and boundary fences rotting away; a Terryland river that is being choked to death by nitrates and many large empty display boards deprived of their lovingly researched and artistically drawn biodiversity information signage that have been inexplicably kept for years in cold storage by the council.  This sorry state of affairs is destroying the morale of many of those who have given thousands of hours free of charge since March 2000 to plant tens of thousands of trees, to develop a network of wildflower bee haven meadows, to carve Celtic art into large stones in order to form a unique heritage trail and to install multiple bat boxes. Many veteran volunteers of all ages have understandingly recently given up collecting rubbish monthly when they see no reciprocal council system in place to ensure regular litter picking and bench/fence/seating maintenance. 
This is a nightmare scenario to the visionaries drawn from council staff, politicians, state agencies, academia, local communities, schools and the environmental movement who came together in the 1990s to designate 180 acres of fields to develop a wonderful mosaic of parklands, farmland, wetlands, waterways, and woods that would serve the leisure needs of Galwegians of all ages as well as providing a ‘wildlife corridor’ linking the Corrib waterways to the farmlands of east Galway via the city.  Even then they understood the importance of easy access to natural land/waterscapes for people’s physical and mental health as well in benefiting children’s learning experiences through contact with Nature. Since then the importance of forestry in combating Climate Change,  maintaining soil fertility and structure as well as filtering toxic car emissions out of the atmosphere has being scientifically proven.
So we have written to Mayor McNelis, a great friend of the Terryland Forest Park, for his help in re-establishing the great sense of unity of purpose that existed when the park opened on a Sunday in March 2000 as c3,500 people turned up to plant an entire urban woodland in the heart of the city. We have asked him to organise a meeting of community activists with the CEO, officials, and councillors of Galway city council around our key demands of the reconvening of the park’s multi-sectoral steering committee which was promised last February by CEO Brendan McGrath; to ring-fence the €50,000 allocated in last year’s council budget towards developing a Management Plan  or Terryland park/river that was supposed to happen in 2018 and has not; to appoint a city Biodiversity Officer as is the case in Dublin; to consider building ‘green bridges’ to connect the different parts of the park separated by  roads; and finally to appoint full time wardens and operative staff for this and other parks. The latter is crucial if we are to restore public confidence in Terryland. Not having park ground staff is ludicrous. For instance St Stephen’s Green and Phoenix Park would degenerate into a dangerous wasteland within weeks if Dublin City Council withdrew staff from its grounds.   
In February, doctors, teachers, students, scientists, resident associations, urban farmers, environmentalists, state agency representatives, politicians, artists and others will come together to launch the campaign for Galway to become Ireland’s first ‘National Park City’. We earnestly wish City Hall to be part of this initiative. Hence we hope their actions on Terryland Forest Park over the next month will make the council worthy partners in this project.

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- my son Dáire & 'friend'!)

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.

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 King Arthur 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)

Michael D Higgins: Celtic Warrior Poet & Dragonslayer!

His life has been an epic struggle of defending the vulnerable and the oppressed against the dark forces of tyranny, oppression and the media lords .

Michael D Higgins (Mícheál Dónal Ó hUigínn) agus TG4.

"Rinne Michael D an gár is tábhachtaí don Ghaeilge nuair a bhunaigh sé TnaG nó TG4 mar a tugthar anois air. Tharraing an gníomh sin teanga na Gaeilge isteach sa nua aois agus thug seasamh agus stadas náisiúnta do ar fud na tíre agus go hidirnáisiúnta le cláir teilifíse den scoth a craoltar ar fud na cruinne agus a bhaineann gradam idirnáisiúnta amach as ucht ard chaighdeán craoltóireachta. Is ambasadóir den scoth é ní amháin do thír na hÉireann ach do teanga na tíre chomh maith. Inteallachtóir atá ann a thuigeann luach na rudaí tábhachtacha sa saol, duine atá mar eiseamlár don chuid is fearr den tír.
Déanaigí an rud ceart agus tabhair uimhir a haon do Michael D. ar an Aoine seo."
Mícheál Ó Meallaigh

Michael D. Higgins: Helped Restore Ireland’s Navigable Waterways

Over the course of the 20th century, Irish canals became increasingly ignored by the state as rail, road and air took over as the main arteries of transportation. Our canals and inland waterways fell into disuse, were abandoned and largely forgotten. A major achievement whilst Michael D. Higgins was Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht was to reverse this trend and allow Ireland’s inland waterways to become major opportunities for sustainable national and local tourism. He began connecting the waterways with the result that Ireland today has over 1000 kilometres of navigable waterways, providing employment and tourism in localities across the country.

Michael D. Higgins: Protector of Irish Wildlife & Irish Bogs.

Dáire standing in Monivea Bog surrounded by bog cotton
As Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Michael D. Higgins signed, on behalf of the Irish government in 1997, the EU Habitats Directive that requires member states to maintain or restore favourable conservation status for certain habitats and species.

Of particular importance were the Irish bogs which account for 10% of the world’s total. This Habitat Directive was and is vital to protect the small number of bogs that are classified as Natural Heritage Areas. Peatlands possess unique biodiversity as well as being important areas for flood prevention, water quality and as critical storage areas for carbon, up to 57,402 tonnes of carbon per year (EPA BOGLAND project).

Michael D became one of the few Irish government ministers ever to enact legislation to protect endangered wildlife and their habitats and to reverse the millennia old destruction and exploitation by mankind of the planet’s natural heritage.

As a former owner (i.e. guardian) of a bog and as a son of a man whose family lived and worked on the great Bog of Allen for generations, I was so proud of what Michael D as Minister did to protect some of the last remaining bogs of Ireland.

Michael D. Higgins: Campaigner against Apartheid in South Africa

Throughout his tenure as Senator and TD, Michael D Higgins campaigned tirelessly at home and abroad against the oppression of peoples, in defense of human rights and in securing justice for all.
It is notable that whilst most Irish parliamentarians over many decades unashamedly kept their mouths shut on human rights abuses particularly perpetuated by western governments and their allies, Michael D had the courage of his convictions not to allow himself to be coerced into silence. He did not distinguish between torture and coercion committed by the USA, China, Soviet Union or any other regime. Whenever the opportunity arose to defend the downtrodden and stand up to the powerful, he did so.
In recognition of this consistent, effective and proud record, he became the first recipient of the Seán MacBride Peace Prize awarded by the International Peace Bureau in 1992.
His international causes included highlighting abuses in countries such as Chile, Iraq, Western Sahara, Turkey, East Timor and Somalia, some of which he visited and some of which he was expelled from.
During the 1970s and beyond, Michael D was a supporter of the Anti-Apartheid movement as it sought to end the racial oppression of blacks in Southern Africa and introduce democracy.
I was with him in 1981 when we and thousands of others protested outside Lansdowne Road against the decision of the IRFU to tour apartheid South Africa and ignore the call for an international boycott of the regime.

The photo shows Michael D. and my dearly departed good friend and former Students Union colleague Maria O’Malley at a UCG Reunion in 2010 holding a poster that I kept from the late 1970s promoting a boycott of South African produce such as fruits that were being openly sold by Dunnes Store and other Irish retailers.

On February 11th 1990, I along with dozens of other peace activists was lucky enough to be with him in a packed Atlanta Hotel on Dominick Street Galway city, as we watched the release of Nelson Mandela from prison unfold live on television. Michael D and many people in Galway and across Ireland were part of the international people power movement that succeeded in finally forcing Western governments to end their support of the racist South African government.
Michael D was a good friend of Kader Asmal,who was founder of the Irish Anti-Apartheid movement, lecturer in law at Trinity College for (1973-1990), and became Minister of Water Affairs and Forestry in South Africa in 1994 in the first post apartheid government.

Since May 2015, I have visited South Africa many times, most recently to Johannesburg this month, primarily in my capacity as a course content creator and master instructor for the wonderful Africa Code Week initiative that is bringing technology skills education and hope to a generation of young Africans across the continent. The leaders of this programme- Claire, Sunil, Julie and Bernard are visionary people that Nelson Mandela would be proud off.

Michael D. Higgins: Life long Campaigner in Struggle to Free Irish Women from Servitude & Discrimination

In the early 1970s, women were treated in Ireland as second-class citizens by the state and as the servants to men by the Catholic Church.
Married women were barred from working in the Civil Service; divorce and the sale of contraceptives were illegal; women got paid less than men for doing the same job; children’s allowances were paid only to fathers; barring orders did not exist to protect wives from violent husbands; wives could not legally refuse to have sex with their partners; women had no legal rights to a share of the family home.

For young women in education and work, there were even problems trying to obtain bank loans. Unlike their male counterparts, the banks were hesitant about providing loans to female students as it was felt that soon after leaving college, they would get married and lose the ability to repay by becoming house-bound wives with no independent incomes.

Michael D Higgins was at the forefront of all the major campaigns to secure equality for women. He was one of the very few members of the Oireachtas that stood by these issues of women’s rights from the 1970s onwards. As with Noel Browne a few decades previously, he earned the wrath of conservative and religious mainstream society at the time, condemned as someone that wanted to undermine family values. This was particularly evident in the Divorce referendum campaigns of 1980s and 1990s. Yet he never backed down in spite of the verbal and written tirades hurled at him

Michael D. Higgins: 'Conscience of the Nation' Revisited

I have known and admired Michael D. Higgins since I came to Galway in September 1975 as a student at University College Galway (now NUI Galway). His activism, speeches and writings inspired me and countless others to follow his example of campaigning and speaking out against the vested selfish anti-patriotic interests in Ireland and across the world that are defined by their need on a daily basis to steal the hard work, dreams and lives of ordinary people.

The Galway Advertiser published my letter entitled 'Consience of the Nation' below in October 2011 during the last presidential election. I am proud to say that Michael D. lived up to the hopes I state in the last paragraph that "His presidency would rekindle our national spirit, making us proud to be Irish, and being able once again to offer something of worth to the wider global community." As someone that works across the continent of Africa, from Cairo to Capetown, and in countries across the Middle East, I know that his political track record and his tenure as presidency are held in high esteem outside Ireland. He has without doubt brought honour to our country.

Dear Editor,
In a period of public disillusionment with a governing system that has been exposed as too often serving vested interests, that sold off our country’s assets and the labour of generations not yet born to pay foreign moneylenders for the gambling debts of bankers, property speculators and their political lackeys, it is refreshing to know that there are still politicians whose actions and deeds mark them off as servants of the people rather than abusers of public office. None more so than Michael D Higgins whose career spanning six decades has been about implementing the ideals of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic “…that guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens…to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation…cherishing all the children of the nation equally…”.
His life has been a never-ending campaign against poverty and oppression and against the powerful elites of church and state both here and abroad who stood in the way of securing equality, justice and due recognition for women, children, gays, artists, minorities and the disabled. He has served as the conscience of the nation on so many occasions and on so many issues, sometimes giving voice to the voiceless, reminding us all, time and time again, of the core values and responsibilities that underpin citizenship, democracy and natural justice. Often this struggle has been a lonely one even within his own political party.
Over the years he has encountered many political setbacks and much personal vilification. But such obstacles never daunted him and today he burns with the same passion, intellect and idealism that he has always possessed. In the last Dáil, he was one of only eighteen TDs that voted against the catastrophic bank bailout.
Michael D sits amongst the pantheon of heroic government ministers that include Frank Aiken, Noel Browne, Seán Lemass and Donough O’Malley whose visionary actions have brought long-lasting benefits to the country. As the first Minster for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, he established TG4, re-invigorated the Irish film industry, gave legal protection to wildlife habitats, ended political censorship in public broadcasting and established a countrywide network of public museums, arts venues and theatres.
A lot of the fundamental rights that we take for granted today in areas such as divorce, access to contraceptives, female equality, status of children and the disabled were only won within the last few decades after long and hard fought campaigns by activists that always included Michael D. Sadly he was too often the lone member of the Oireachtas within their midst. 

Maria O'Malley with Michael D with an Anti-Apartheid poster from the late 1970s at a NUIG Reunion party
He portrays those traits of the Irish that have over the centuries earned us admiration across the world. Our respect for arts, culture, nature, folklore, heritage, sport, hard work, creativity, compassion, egalitarianism, spirituality and community is known in schools, theatres, concert arenas, churches, parliaments, village halls and stadia from Seoul to Berlin; our struggle for nationhood and republican principles has inspired generations of the downtrodden in the Americas, Australia, Africa and Asia; our traditional non-alignment stance has made us trusted by small nations and a popular choice as UN peacekeepers in areas of conflict. 

Michael D’s whole life personifies this positive image of Ireland. If he became president, he would help undo the harm caused at home and abroad by those few but prominent Irish who forgot their roots, were often anti-patriotic tax exiles and epitomised an arrogance and greed that damaged the nation. Michael’s campaign trips overseas were always in solidarity with those communities in need and not junkets or golf outings as was the case with some of his fellow parliamentarians.  His presidency would rekindle our national spirit, making us proud to be Irish, and being able once again to offer something of worth to the wider global community.

Is Mise, le meas,
Brendan Smith

Ploughing Championship 2018 Horses & Driver to participate in 'Old Style Farming' fest

We are pleased to announce that Joe Egan and his team of horses (photo) from Ballymahon county Longford will be raking a meadow at this unique traditional farming event in the heart of urban Galway. Regular participants in agricultural shows across the country, they appeared last week in the National Ploughing Championships in county Offaly.
So don't miss this very special rural fest that will also include the mowing of a field by a vintage tractor, skillet pot cooking, children's traditional field games, a demonstration of hand-held scything, and the seeding of a wildflower meadow.
Part of the ‘Loving Galway – celebrating our Green and Blue Spaces’ festival the event, taking place from 10am on this Saturday September 29th in the area of the Terryland Forest Park behind Sandyvale Lawn on the Headford Road, will be a wonderful opportunity for city dwellers to experience the delights of a farming way of life that was part of the fabric of Ireland up until a few decades ago.

Rediscovering the lost rural Tracks ‘n’ Trails of Galway city


With strong community campaigns being undertaken in Connemara, Tuam and Athenry to convert old disused railway lines into Greenways, there is now a corresponding grassroots movement in Galway city who want to transform an almost forgotten series of old country lanes or boreens into a network of safe walking and sometimes cycling routes that supporters believe will bring enormous health, educational, environmental, biodiversity, social, economic and tourist benefits.
To increase public awareness and use of these ancient trails, they are asking people of all ages to join them on a ‘Walk of the Boreens’ that will start at the ‘Plots’ sport pitch on the Woodquay end of Dyke Road at 9am on Sunday September 30th as part of National Walking Day and ‘Loving Galway – celebrating our Green and Blue Spaces’ festival. It is being co-organised with the ‘Healthy Ireland at your Library’ initiative.

The route will primarily be along laneways and riverbanks stretching from Terryland via Coolough to Menlo.
According to spokesperson Brendan Smith, “With the increasing urbanisation of the world as populations move in ever-expanding numbers into cities, there is now a growing realisation by the medical, teaching and scientific professions as well by policy makers and local communities that humanity’s growing disconnect with the rest of Nature is causing serious long-term damage to individuals and to societies.
“Supported by Mayor Sadiq Khan and an umbrella movement comprising politicians of all hues, teachers, scientists, environmentalists, businesses and communities, London has led the way in ‘bringing the jungle’ back into the lives of city dwellers by working towards achieving ‘National Park City’ status. Through a combination of nature reserves, parks, woodlands, gardens, wetlands, waterways and roadside verges it is now recognised that approximately 49.8% of the English capital can be defined as ‘green’ and ‘blue’. With a human population of over 8 millions, there is also an estimated 15,000 species of flora and fauna living in this huge built metropolis.
We want Galway to follow the lead of London and work to lay the groundwork for a  ‘National Park City’ status as part of Galway City of Culture 2020. Mayor Neil McNelis expressed broad support for our campaign when he recently met with our delegation that included Daniel Raven Ellison, who initiated the London proposal in 2015. Investment is of course required from City Hall and from government if this goal is to be achieved. But the benefits are huge at so many levels. We also have the added advantage that Galway has one of the most traditional rural landscapes of any city in Europe, something that most citizens are not aware off.
So we want people of all ages to join us on Sunday September 30th as we undertake an exciting city journey along country lanes that pass by or through the wetlands of the River Corrib, the woods of Terryland Forest Park, the karst limestone outcrops of Crestwood, the hedgerows of Coolough, the waterways of Menlo and the farmlands of Castlegar.
Participants should wear suitable weather/ramblers clothing/footware and bring along packed lunch and water
For further information contact Brendan Smith at


10,000 demand a Connemara Greenway!

Shouldn't everyone be able to experience the beautiful Connemara landscape of this photograph in safety, at a leisurely pace, with family, friends or by oneself, away from the noise and traffic of motorised vehicles?
In the last four weeks, nearly 6,500 people agree with these sentiments and have signed our petition requesting that a Connemara Greenway be built along the old railway line from Galway city to Clifden. 
The landscapes and waterscapes of this area of Ireland are world famous and are celebrated in song and verse. But the enjoyment factor for tourists are severely curtailed due to a lack of a safe walking and cycling infrastructure. Such an facility would benefit not only visitors but also the people of Connemara, offering them a commuter facility to and from Galway city as well as providing sustainable jobs. The educational, health, social, environmental and economic benefits are huge.
The government recently launched a national Greenway strategy with €53 million being made available to local authorities to invest in developing the networks in the 2019-2021 period. Galway County Council now has to submit a proposal by late November requesting funding for the Connemara Greenway which is planned to link into a Galway city - Dublin Greenway and hopefully onto the existing Mayo Greenway and a proposed Sligo Greenway (that my good friend Martin J Brennan is leading the campaign for). 
So we need to get our petition completed within the next few weeks and hand it into the county council in order to ensure that they apply for funding for the whole route. Can we get 20,000 names before we submit? It would be wonderful if we could! So please support this noble cause and sign the petition if you have not already do so at Please encourage your family, friends and work colleagues to do likewise.

My Sons Have Grown Up

My youngest son Dáire got his Leaving Certificate results last week and his CAO letter for a third level college placement on Monday. My visit last Wednesday with Cepta and our son to the Jes (Coláiste Iognáid) to collect his examinations letter ended a family involvement with Galway schools going back twenty two years.
So I am happy to report that this chapter in our lives ended on a high note: Dáire got the examination marks he needed in order to met the requirements for bio-medical science.

Cepta and myself count ourselves privileged and exceptionally lucky that Dáire and Shane have done us and themselves proud. Throughout their childhood they worked hard in their studies, were fortunate to have a few really good loyal friends, had some interesting hobbies, played their preferred sports, and maintained good morals along the way in the sense of never deliberately hurting friend, family member or others. As with all parents we have had our ups and downs in family life and suffered a few hard knocks on the journey. But nothing that most parents do not face. The two boys have their own independence of spirit with their own beliefs, politics and views that do not always correspond to that of mine(!). But this is as it should be- sons and daughters are not clones of their parents, and all of us are shaped by our own experiences.

The Photos
Photo 1 is of Dáire and Shane from August 2004- it was Dáire’s first day at primary school (Scoil San Phroinsias) and Shane’s first day in secondary school (St. Mary’s College).
Photo 2 was taken a few months ago of the family (including the lovely Cepta!) at Dáire’s graduation in May.
Finally, as a chapter in my own life closes, I have to take this opportunity to give a sincere thanks and appreciation to all those teachers in Scoil San Phroinsias, St. Mary’s College and the Jes who did so much for the boys. In all my years involved in school life going back to the age of five (and I myself qualified as a second level teacher) I have only rarely encountered a really bad teacher. They do indeed exist-a few taught me (& Cepta, Shane and Daire). But the vast majority of teachers represent the unsung heroes of Ireland. In order to do their job well, they have to take on so many diverse roles as they nurture generations of children into adulthood, serving as educationalists, sports coaches, musical instructors, career guidance officers, psychologists, social workers….
So a big ‘bualadh bos’ to the ‘múinteorí’!!

Blackberries- a Trip down Memory (Country) Lane

All across Ireland-along hedgerows, wasteland, roadside verges and woodlands (& Terryland Forest Park is no exception)-the lovely red and black fruits of the blackberry bush are starting to appear.
'Tis a sight to gladden the heart of many of my generation. For very soon it will be time to go a-gathering the berries!
I have many happy childhood memories of collecting fruits from these brambly bushes along ancient lanes and parklands. Covered in smudges of purple-black juices (couldn't resist eating a few!) and with the sores from thorns along my arms and legs, I would merrily return home to hand over to my gran a few baskets full of berries. She would take these delicate little fruits and magically transform them into a wonderful array of delicious foodstuffs- from crumbly apple & blackberry tarts to jams to desserts (with ice-cream!).
The blackberry bush is also a dear friend of the bee. Its pink white flower is loved by pollinators and provides nectar from June until September.

Celtic & Latino- What a lovely combination!

After travels in Africa and continental Europe I returned to Ireland in order to be present at the wedding of Bianca Pereira and Emir Munoz, my very dear friends and work colleagues.
It was a beautiful magical Celtic experience. Officiated by the druid Dara Ó Maoildhia(see photo) it took place in the grounds of Brigit's Garden, a wonderfully unique sanctuary in Connemara that pulsates with the essence of the natural world and of Celtic mythologies. 

The ancient Celts were so advanced in terms of their understanding of the Earth-they clearly saw the value and sacredness of all living things, and the deep connections that exist between humankind and the rest of Nature. In a time of destructive man-made climate change, this is something that modern science is only now clearly showing us- hopefully it is not too late for society to undo the harm that we have done to the planet particularly over the last 150 years.

Bianca hails from Brazil and Emir Muñoz from Chile. A young charming warm couple, they are passionate about Ireland's heritage and landscapes. They have on their own and in the company of others walked for many years along the ‘boreens’, tracks and trails of rural Ireland. The story about how the spark of love between them was lit whilst climbing Croagh Patrick, the country's most sacred mountain, has now passed into legend amongst their work colleagues and friends.
I am deeply impressed about how they, like many a visitor to our native shores over the last millennia, have become 'more Irish than the Irish themselves'.

So I was indeed honoured that Bianca had asked me earlier this year to be her witness at the wedding and to introduce her character to all present.
May they live a long, happy, prosperous life together and may they continue by their presence to make our country a better place.

Mowing a Meadow-the traditional way

For the third year in succession volunteers are asked to participate in the mowing of a wildflower meadow using traditional hand-held implements. 

As part of the Galway Fringe Festival, starting at 10am on Sunday July 15th volunteers led by members of Cumann na bhFear(Men’s Shed Galway city) will use scythes to cut the long grass in a grassland of Terryland Forest Park near the Quincentenary Bridge. 

Since 2015, volunteers have planted thousands of the type of native Irish wildflowers that once light up the Irish countryside in a mosaic of colours in three former sterile lawns in Terryland Forest Park. Planting yellow cowslip, red poppy, purple clover, pink ragged robin and other plants has created what are known as 'meadows', which were in former times fields set aside by farmers for the growing of long grass which was cut during the late summer and autumn months to produce one or two crops of hay to serve as winter food for livestock. Because no chemical fertilizers were used, these meadows became important habitats for an array of colourful native wildflowers and would be alive with the sights and sounds of many varieties of bees, moths, butterflies and other pollinators. Our aim is to re-introduce meadows back unto the city and provide nectar-rich feeding havens for bees in particular which are in a serious decline worldwide due to industrialised monoculture farming, pesticides, habitat loss, pollution and climate change. Bees and other pollinators are essential to the survival of humanity as the plants that they help to reproduce are responsible for one-third of all foods and beverages that we consume. 
Scientific research in Britain is also showing that animals which graze on meadows of herbs, wild grasses and flowers eat far more minerals, amino acids and proteins are therefore a lot healthier. With their meat more nutritious, the benefits to consumers are obvious.

We hope that our actions will encourage other local community groups and schools nationwide to start re-establishing the meadows as a key part of Ireland’s countryside and natural heritage. 
Cumann na bhFear is also committed to preserving and re-educating the public in traditional Irish rural skills and crafts that still have an essential role to play in today’s farming because of their social, health, economic and environmental aspects.
So we are asking people to come along on Sunday next to take part in this ancient rural hay-cutting in action and to take part in planting nearly a thousand more wildflowers. Light refreshments will be provided to all volunteers.

Help Create a Bluebell Woods in Terryland Forest Park

The campaign to populate the Terryland Forest Park with tens of thousands of native wildflowers continues this Saturday when Conservation Volunteers Galway and Conservation Volunteers Terryland Forest Park, under the tutelage of Padraig Keirns, will plant thousands of native bluebells in the Sandyvale Lawn section of Ireland's largest community-initiated urban forest.
The aim of 'Operation Bláthanna' is to plant the wildflowers that will dramatically increase the biodiversity of this great natural resource.

Rediscovering the lost Green Tourism & Rural Trails of Galway city

What was promoted as a major tourist attraction for Galway city over 60 years ago and which campaigners hope could become a key legacy of Galway 2020 and a vital element in securing international ‘National City Park’ status, will be re-launched at 10am this Sunday (July 8th) when the public are asked to take part in a guided walk of a fascinating network of largely forgotten country lanes that stretches from Terryland via Coolough to Menlo. The starting point will be the “Plots” sports’ pitches at the Woodquay end of the Dyke Road.

What many people may not be aware of is that Galway has probably the most traditional rural landscape of any city in Europe. This is particularly true of the Dyke Road – Menlo catchment area that connects the wetlands of the River Corrib to the Terryland Forest Park as well as to the farmlands of Menlo and Castlegar by a way of a network of old rural tracks known as ‘boreens’ that formerly served as the transport arteries for the once largely farming population of the district up until the middle of the 20th century.
Living in such a large expanding urbanised built environment, Galwegians are extremely fortunate to still possess a wonderful diverse mix of natural landscapes with a mosaic of rural tracks and trails located within walking distance of the city centre.

“Modern medical science is increasingly showing the fundamental importance of wilderness to the physical and mental wellbeing of individuals and of societies. Urban planners across the world are now endeavouring to reconnect people with the rest of Nature by developing greenways, forests and waterways. Cities are also highlighting their ‘Green’ credentials in order to promote inward investment and tourism.

Yet promoting the ‘Green’ attractions of Galway to overseas visitors is not a new strategy. It was an approach that was there at the dawn of the city’s tourism sector. In 1952, capitalising on the worldwide success of the ‘Quiet Man’ film which provided opportunities for Connemara and the West of Ireland to become part of an international tourism market just recovering from the ravages of World War Two but which now offered cheap mass air travel for the American and European public, the city’s businesses mounted a very modern marketing drive. During this decade a regular newspaper called the ‘Western Tourist’, which was published by the Connacht Tribune, prominently featured the merits of walking from Terryland to Menlo. It stated “…The walk up by the Corrib through Terryland and onto the…Irish speaking village of Menlo is one of the loveliest and most interesting of all. Not only is the scenery most entrancing but every step of the road is paved with local history and folklore…” Sixty six years after it was first written this description is still valid.  As well as castles, farms, religious sites, pre-famine settlements and other built heritage assets, its boreen, meadow, woodland and riverine habitats have an abundant biodiversity that comprises thousands of wildlife species from native wildflowers such as the marsh woundwort to raptor birds such as kestrel, mammals such as the red squirrel, fresh water creatures such as shrimps and to small pollinators such as the white-tailed bee. 

Working with local residents and schools supported by environmental, heritage, community, health, scientific and educational organisations including NUI Galway, the HSE and the Galway City Partnership, we want to ensure that the rural landscape inherited from the past becomes a vibrant health and ecological resource for present and future generations. As well as the hub for this ambitious boreen trails network, the Dyke Road could become the starting point for the Connemara Greenway by rebuilding the bridge on top of the old railway pillars; the Corrib could become an ecological corridor of international importance for wildlife; the abandoned Waterworks could become a Forestry/Waterways interpretative centre complete with café, gallery, bike hire shop and Men’s Shed crafts workshop; and the Terryland Forest Park could be transformed into an Outdoor Classroom for schools of all levels. We are hoping that this becomes a legacy for City of Culture 2020.

City Mayor to launch Children's Scarecrow Garden Festival in Ballinfoile Community Organic Garden

Mayor of Galway City, Councillor Neil McNeilis will tomorrow (Sat June 30th) officially launch of the Children’s Scarecrow Festival in the Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden.
It promises to be something special! There to greet visitors on arrival will be a small army of scarecrows spread out across the vegetable beds of this fantastic outdoor community facility. 

Coming in all shapes, sizes and colours, these wonderfully crafted works of art were made from old clothes, straw and wood by the pupils of Scoil Bhríde Menlo, Scoil Cholmcille Naofa Castlegar and Scoil San Phroinsias Tirellan. Scarecrows were used up until a few decades ago as a wildlife-friendly safe way of protecting seeds and shoots, so unlike the chemical pesticides of today’s commercial farming which degrade the soil as well as kill the bees, butterflies and other forms of wildlife.
The event will also be an opportunity to showcase the recent heritage and biodiversity additions to the garden – a recycled wood fired giant mud oven, a field of barley and oats, an apple and pear orchard, wildflower meadows, living Willow Tree Tunnels and our new Green Leaf-funded Children’s ‘Fairyland’ Learning Zone complete with giant Toadstools, Bug Hotel and ‘What Lies Beneath’ Discovery tank. 

The aim of local volunteers is to make this community garden became an important Outdoor Classroom and social meeting place for the residents in the Ballinfoile and Castlegar neighbourhood.