The Conservative Party is a party of England & not of Britain.

The Scottish referendum has exposed how hated the Tories are outside the south of England. The party has only one MP out of 59 Scottish seats in Westminster; 8 out of 40 Welsh seats and is non-existent as a political presence in Northern Ireland. In the north of England, they have only 43 seats out of 158.

The Tories are a just a regional party, a group of Little Englanders. Hence it is hilarious watching David Cameroon visiting Scotland trying to convince Scots to accept Tory toff control over their country. 

Freedom for Scotland & an end to undemocratic Unionism

The Three Athenry Castles' Heritage Cycle Trail: Part 2

Hitching a Ride in Monivea
The Generous Heart of Rural Ireland Still Beats On
In spite of ongoing high emigration, the closure of village post offices, Garda Stations, court-houses, livestock marts and parish schools as well as the almost virtual disappearance of mixed farming and the once omnipotent family farm brought about by decades of disastrous government economic policies which have been totally bias in favour of supermarket chains and the big rancher, the recent experiences of those who participated in our Three Athenry Castles Looped Heritage Cycle Trail Tour (organised by Cumann na bhFear) showed that the generous Meitheal (Irish term for working together) spirit of rural Ireland still lives on though somewhat weaker than what it once was. Local communities and visionary individuals across Ireland still battle against the odds to  keep alive a flickering of the traditions, skills, stories, beliefs, biodiversity and neighbourliness generosity that have defined our island peoples for millennia.
Athenry Railway Station: Bikes & Riders
For the first stage of our journey we travelled by early morning train from Galway city (Ceannt) Station to Athenry. The special discount return rate of €15 for passenger and bike was very reasonable. Iarnroid Éireann staff were courteous and could not have done more in accommodating bikes and riders into the railway carriages.
Athenry Castle
Once in Athenry, we visited a number of the 13th century Norman sites such as the Dominican Abbey that makes this town one of the most important medieval locations in Ireland. We were then taken on a guided tour by Fiona Cannon of the impressive castle that has very well preserved and is an excellent example of medieval architecture and fortifications.

Then it was up on our bikes to travel at a leisurely pace through the fields and bogs of Bingarra and Newcastle.  We stopped off at Monivea Bog to look at the myriad of mosses, trees, shrubs and flowers that thrive in this unique raised bog that is defined as a Special Area of Conservation(SAC) under European Union habitat directives. Bogs consist of partially decayed vegetation known as Peat. When dried it is referred to as Turf, which has served as the fuel for Irish homes since time immemorial. The smell of burning turf reignites happy memories of childhood to many visiting Irish emigrants. 
Monivea Bog
But bogs such as that of Monivea act as carbon sinks storing vast amounts of greenhouse gases and as important flood plains soaking up huge amounts of water. Their wetland sponginess is what gives them their name as the word Bog comes from the Irish word for soft. 
Hence the confrontation that has developed between the government and some local bog owners who continue to cut turf in contravention of the ban. It must be pointed out though that the state has offered in return financial compenstation and alternative bog sites deemed less important for wildlife. We are one family that own land in the Monivea Bog that want to have it preservd for posterity, to do our bit to combat climate change and to provide a sanctuary for threatened wildlife.
Ffrench's Mausoleum
We continued our journey to the ancestral demesne of the Anglo-Irish Ffrench family now owned by Coillte where we cycled through the enchanted woodlands to reach a strange looking building that has the appearance of a miniature fairytale medieval castle. But it is in fact a mausoleum completed in 1900 to receive the body of Robert Ffrench, the last male landlord of Monivea and a member of the British diplomatic service. Robert had married Sophia de Kindiakoff whose aristocractic family owned large estates along the Volga river. Their only child Kathleen spent considerable sums of her Russian wealth to hire a renowned designer and international experts to built a structure made from Wicklow granite, Italian marble and German stained glass windows. Its architectural grandeur in many ways symbolized the imperial power of both Britain and Tsarist Russia. Yet within a few years of its completion, Ireland had fought for and won its independence from an empire that would soon be in terminal decline whilst Kathleen, as with many of the Russian nobility, was imprisoned by the Bolsheviks with all her estates confiscated by the new communist regime.

Next stop was the picturesque colonial village of Monivea (Irish = Muine Mheá, meaning Meadow of the mead). Its geometric design was typical of the plantation towns of the 18th century; the large green areas were formerly used for the drying of flax by the local weavers who were brought from east Ulster by the Ffrenchs to establish a local linen industry. The church that dominates one side of the street was built to serve the religious needs of the newly arrived settlers. Sadly it now lies in ruins and even sadder its former Protestant congregation are now almost totally extant from the locality.
Vintage Tractor
We arrived in the village on its busiest day of the year. Monivea Fair takes place on the last Sunday of August. 
Steam Power
Its origins go back to the great end-of-harvest fairs of times past when rural communities enjoy some fun and frolics after a busy year of ploughing, lambing, digging, sowing, cutting, collecting and threshing.  Once the hard work was done and the crops were in, the farmers and their families could sing, dance, play games, eat, drink and be merry on the village green. 
Food & Toy Stalls, Monivea Fair Day
On our visit, we found the fair full of cake and toy stalls, food vendors, a myriad of prize-winning geese, hens and sheep and exotic pigs on show: fairground attractions; vintage tractors and classic cars; potato picking races; martial arts displays and bouncing castles. 
Some of the cyclists took part in a competition to guess the weight of the sheep that they lifted! 
After all the fun of the fair, re-invigorated with food and drink, we remounted our bikes to continue our journey onto our next destination. 
Castle Ellen
By the time we reached Castle Ellen, the rain was coming down fast and furious. But for most of us this was part of the rural cycling experience. 

Still it was nice to arrive at the Georgian mansion to be greeted at the entrance and to be ushered inside by the owner Michael Keaney (Micheál Ó Cionnaith), his son Diarmuid, manager Annette Flanagan, a walking talking human tree flanked by two knights in shining armour, before being serenaded by a trio of musical troubadours, followed soon after by hot beverages, cakes and sandwiches.
Michael McDonnell working at the Blacksmith forge
We then took a stroll through the old Victorian farmyard and its outbuildings many of which are in different stages of renovation. 
Woodturning, Castle Ellen
As the grounds of Castle Ellen were open to the public as part of National Heritage Week we were joined by hundreds of other visitors who were treated to demonstrations of wood turning and blacksmithing (the latter by my fellow Cumann na bhFear members), an art exhibition, multiple collections of historical artifacts. The evening ended for us with a wonderful musical session by Jerome and friends in the main dining room.  
Art Expo, Castle Ellen
Michael Keaney is a man of vision who hopes that his country estate becomes a hostel for walkers, cyclists and those that want to experience an alternative but authentic countryside. I sincerely hope that this comes to pass and I will do my bit to make it so by organizing regular cycle tours to this beautiful but almost unknown jewel in the Irish landscape.   
None of our group wanted to leave this magical place which was the highlight of an excursion that had so much to offer. But time was moving on. So we once again mounted our bikes to take the road to Athenry.
The weather at this stage had turned nasty. After repairing a flat tyre, we made it back to the quaint little 19th century railway station to catch a night train back to Galway City.
Guard Dog, Athenry Railway Station
See my previous article on the inaugural Three Athenry Castles tour

Night of the Robots: Computer Museum, Culture Night Galway

As part of national Culture Night on September 19th, a selection of vintage and modern robots will be on show at the Computer and Communications Museum of Ireland  located in the Insight Centre for Data Analytics at NUI Galway.
According to Brendan Smith, curator of the museum, “Robots, which can be defined as programmable electro-mechanical machines capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically and oftentimes autonomously, have been part of popular science fiction since the early 1920s when the term ‘Robots’ was first coined by writer Karel Čapek  from the Czech word for ‘serf’. 
 These devices have been used since the 1970s to perform repetitive and heavy duty tasks in manufacturing industry particularly in vehicle assembly. We will have on display a large robotic arm controlled by a Galway-made DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) computer that was used in the British aeronautics industry during this period. 

Volunteers at the museum will also demonstrate the workings of low-cost easily assembled robots that can be programmed and operated by children from small computers.  We are honoured to have present Diarmuid Keaney who as a young boy in 1985 made his own and probably Galway’s first computer controlled robot. He will show us the original Commodore Vic 20 home computer and BASIC language programme that he used to operate the device.
There will also be an exhibition of rare science fiction comics and literature on the themes of robots dating from the 1920s onwards.  
But pride of place will go to a delightful machine called HERO 1, a R2-D2 lookalike from Star Wars, which took part in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade of Galway city in 1984! Manufactured by the American Heathkit company, it was the world’s first mass-produced affordable robot capable of interacting with the environment.  Its built-in programmable sensors allowed it to detect light, sound, motion, and obstructions. It had a computerized voice, could sing, could move and pick up objects. Frank McCurry and Tom Frawley then staff members of the local Regional Technical College (RTC) now known as GMIT, entered HERO into the March 17th parade. It had been used in the Galway college as a device to teach students about robotics and represented what many thought at the time would be the dawn of the new Age of the Robot.”

Thanks to current advances in sensor technologies, a new generation of robots could physically look like humans, display intelligence in their responses and gestures to their surrounding environment and take on the role of companions to people.  This is already happening. ASIMO from the Japanese corporation Honda is able to recognise and respond to individual sounds, faces and moving objects; to interact with people and to give a handshake or courtesy to a person that he is facing towards.

Killer Robots

However there are genuine concerns over the technology of automation that allows an electronic device to work by itself with little or no direct human control particularly in the area of lethal autonomous weapons systems known as killer robots. Though not yet in existence fears expressed by many at such possibilities has led to the United Nations recently discussing the issue of banning outright research into such weaponry.
I for one am in favour of a complete ban of development of such weaponry.

Operation 'Bláthanna' Continues: Please Join Us on Saturday for Planting of 'Primrose' Flowers in Terryland Forest Park

The campaign to populate the Terryland Forest Park with tens of thousands of native wildflowers continues this Saturday when the Conservation Volunteers Terryland Forest Park (CVTFP) branch, under the supervision of flora enthusiast Padraig Kerrins, will replant hundreds of native Primrose flowers in a designated section of Ireland's largest community-driven urban forest.

In May/June, volunteers planted over 500 Oxe Eye Daisies, St. Patrick's Cabbages, Comfreys, Sanicles and other native flora in the grasslands, woods and verges of the Terryland Forest Park.

Over two weekends in July, thousands of Bluebells and Wild Garlic seeds were collected by volunteers from mature forests across Galway and dispersed across the woods of Terryland.
The plants that will be worked on this Saturday were given to volunteers last May to nurture in their home gardens.

The aim of 'Operation Bláthanna'(Irish = Flowers) is to plant the wildflowers that will dramatically increase the biodiversity of this great natural resource.

Rendezvous: 11.30am next Saturday (Sept 6) at the carpark in front of Galway Bay FM radio station on Sandy Road.
Bring along small spades if you have them.

The Community That Eats Together Stays Together

What a joy it was to work last Saturday in  the Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden. 
We decided to give this year's Harvest Festival a 'Slow Food' theme and provide an array of dishes made from the vegetables, fruits and herbs grown in our garden whilst encouraging people to eat and to chat together.
Picking Plums in the garden

Much work was done in advance by volunteers picking, collecting, cooking and baking the harvest produce.
Cepta picking berries from a hedgerow for tarts
Myriam & Sohiela harvesting Sloe Berries
It was a great success as hundreds of people turned up! 
Blackberry & Apple Tart
The tarts, cakes, salads, jams and soups made in advance were particularly popular as where the baked potatoes made onsite in our outdoor oven. Michael Tiernan, Michael McDonnell and Jack O'Connor from Cumann na bhFear (Men's Shed) installed a traditional open fire hearth complete with vintage black metal kettles and pots as they brought people back into time to an Ireland of 100 years ago as they served up mouth-watering bacon and cabbage, bread and tea (loose tea leaves). 
Times Past: Boiling Cabbage & Spuds on a traditional open fire

Baking Potatoes in the Garden Oven
Deasún Ó Seanain and Frances Brady gave us some lovely traditional Irish music seisiún, and Helen Caird had a sample of her lovely art work on display. 
Mayor Donal Lyons with Anh & Hung from Vietnam
Mayor Donal Lyons made a lovely supportive speech and we were visited by other politicians including councillors Anna Marley, Mairéad Farrell and Terry Flaherty (below).
Councillor Terry O'Flaherty has been a regular visitor to the garden over the years
Community Food Gatherings
Locally grown organic food using old and new recipes to make mouth watering dishes, salads, soups, desserts, tarts, jams, cakes and breads that were presented in a communal neighbourhood gathering is a gel that bring a community together. 

Wildlife Food: Small Tortoise Butterfly enjoys an Oxide Daisy FLower in the Garden
The event also allowed attendees to learn and to appreciate the importance of the importance of biodiversity and of how we need to nurture wildlife especially in an urbanised environment. 
Last Saturday's event will be the first of many. 

So thanks to the great team of garden volunteers (below) that made it all happen

A group of visitors from Sandyvale Lawn

Visitors from the Insight Research Centre at NUI Galway

Happy Hay Girls!  Johanna & Bernie from Crestwood

A Neighbourhood Eating Together in Galway city

The Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden in Galway city is hosting this Saturday (August 30th) from 12.00-2.00pm a very special Neighbourhood Food Together event entitled Le Chéile Agus Bia Sláinte

For the fourth annual harvest festival of a community garden located in the Terryland Forest Park, there will be a focus on promoting the concept of residents getting to known each other better by the simple approach of sitting down together to enjoy fresh food produce grown in the community organic garden. Tarts, jams. salads, baked potatoes and pizzas will be on offer, local musicians will be playing and all attendees are asked to make a small donation towards the project’s overheads and a special local charity. 

The garden project promotes access to fresh locally-grown healthy food; environmental awareness; biodiversity protection; teaching and learning of Irish heritage and traditional rural skills; social interaction and a healthy lifestyle. 
As Ireland experienced unprecedented economic and social change over a few short decades changing from being a rural society to that of an urbanised environment, alienation has become a huge problem in our country. A housing estate or any suburban development can often be a lonely place for an individual even though he/she is surrounded by hundreds even thousands of people. We have to reverse this trend and start turning 'urban sprawl' into 'urban villages' by amongst other things promoting the hosting of local neighbourhood events in order to give residents a ‘sense of place’ and a feeling of ‘community’.
The Neighbourhood Food Together and Harvest Festival in our community garden is part of this movement of change. 
We are asking people to come along and experience a wonderful neighbourhood facility that inclues an orchard, vegetable plots, herbal garden, outdoor stage, polytunnel, clay oven, drystone walls and fairy garden developed over the last four years by local volunteers.