Our Team Score Big at Croke Park!

 


As a child, I was once an unused substitute on our school’s junior Gaelic football team when we played at Croke Park. It was sadly a once-off and the opportunity to play a sport on its hallowed ground never came my way again. 
 
But this week, after waiting a lifetime, I did manage to ‘perform’ at our country’s most famous stadium.
I co-presented, along with the fantastic Deirdre McHugh at the Ahead Conference hosted at Croke Park, a talk on the Crowd4Access footpath mapping initiative run by the Insight Centre and the Access Centre which is about improving the accessibility for all users of the University of Galway campus. The theme of the conference was on ‘How Staff and Learner Communities Drive Inclusion in Tertiary Education', and particularly in supporting equity/inclusion of people with disabilities in further/higher education.
It was so inspiring and I learnt so much about the great work being undertaken by so many people across Ireland’s universities in developing programmes to integrate those with intellectual and physical disabilities into mainstream university education and then how those that participated as a result have contributed greatly to ensuring cultural and systemic change that benefited all.
Amongst these wonderful pioneers of change are the staff of the University of Galway’s Access Centre who attended the Ahead conference, namely its visionary director Imelda Byrne, Campus Accessibility Project Coordinator Deirdre McHugh, and Mature Student Officer Kathleen Hartigan. We were proud to be at Croke Park as a team of four!
Crowd4Access is a partnership between citizens and professional technology researchers to map the accessibility of footpaths of Irish cities initiated by my fellow Insight colleagues Bianca Pereira and Venkatesh Gurram Munirathnam.
Everyone has challenges when navigating the footpaths of a city, or a university campus. The wheelchair user and the parent pushing a buggy may need access ramps, the runner may need an even surface, the user of crutches may need shorter street crossings, the person with low eyesight may need a good contrast between footpath and the street, whereas the blind may need tactile pavement. Led by the Access Centre, University of Galway staff and student volunteers met for a series of online workshops (given by myself) and on-site mapping sessions to learn about how different people use footpaths in different ways and how to capture and share data on footpath accessibility. Our university community is the first to map a campus and one of a number of local communities nationwide that are through collaborative action mapping accessibility in their localities, and in making this information publicly available using free open-sourced software. 
 
Croke Park -once the Preserve of the Young Abled Bodied Male.
Whilst I was attending the conference, I was struck by the fact of how the ethos and culture of the Gaelic Football Association (GAA) and the wider Irish society has over the last few decades dramatically changed for the better.
The GAA has since its inception been a powerful force for good within Ireland and the wider Irish diaspora. It was a key part of the struggle against colonialism, of overcoming a sense of backwardness and inferiority promoted by imperial racist British values, and of helping to imbue the Irish people with a strong sense of pride in their rich heritage of language, mythology, music, poetry, and of course sport.
It also helped foster and nurture in local communities across Ireland devastated by famine, poverty and emigration a strong sense of place, togetherness and purpose.
However the GAA also promoted a conservative patriarchy where leadership was almost exclusively the preserve of men and where sport belonged to young able bodied males. There was no place for those that were physically disabled on the playing field, nor of those that were LGBT nor of the ‘foreigner’, most GAA sports were not open to women, and over time it became strongly associated with the Catholic Church. But that has fundamentally changed over the last few decades and today portraits of female players populate the halls of Croke Park which has become a venue for conferences such as the one I attended this week promoting inclusivity, diversity and equality.
Thank you GAA.

My Mother was Brigid.

 


My Mother was Brigid.
Today is the first time a public holiday to celebrate a woman takes place in Ireland. St Brigid's Day honours the name of the renowned and powerful 5th century Christian female leader known as Bríd (Brigid/Bridget) as well as the ancient goddess of Celtic mythology. The former was associated with fertility, peace, intellect and farming and the latter with healing, fire and of poetry.
Women in ancient Celtic Ireland had strong influential and leadership rolea that we are only now recognising.
Check out my blog article on this hidden history of Ireland from 2010:
 
In an era when we have pioneering women all over the world taking up positions of leadership in so many sectors as well as courageous females successfully campaigning against sexual abuse, cultural/religious discrimination and misogyny in the USA, UK, South Africa, India and Mexico and as the patriarchal establishments in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkey, Iran, Belarus and Russia use violence and 'tradition' to undo the gains of feminism, we need to have more days like today to recognise, rediscover and expose the often suppressed role of half of the world's population.
It is time to end male-only control of civil and religious governance. Such a state of affairs has only led to never-ending wars, and has through the climate/biodiversity crises brought the world to the edge of global catastrophe.
Like so many of her generation, my dearly departed and much loved mother was given the name of the popular Irish saint at her birth.
Both the Christian female leader and pagan goddess would have been proud that Bridget Agnew, popularly known as 'Bridie', took on many of their legendary traits. She was a farmer in her youth growing up with dairy cows, sheep, vegetables, fruits and flowers on the small family farm in Monaghan and later in Louth. As a young woman she managed the family's grocery shop in Dublin's city centre.
Like the Brigits of ancient times, Mom suffered but overcame male violence and the threat of societal stigma to ensure that her family got on in life. She followed in the footsteps of other great women that also experienced severe hardship to support family and country. Her mother (my grandmother) Mary Ward was the only sister to seven brothers who had to look after all their needs and keep the small family farm solvent when most of them were 'on the run' as IRA volunteers during the Irish War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War. Mom's own grandmother (my great-grandmother) Elizia Eccles spent years as a prisoner of the British Crown in the infamous female jail in Armagh as a result of her involvement in the 'Land Wars'. As a young mother Eliza refused to accept eviction and destruction of her family home by the local absentee Anglo-Irish landlord and being forced to live on the side of the road. She joined others in standing up against state brutality and unjust laws.
They and so many others like them were typical of ordinary poor women in the 19th and 20th century Ireland but their names and stories hardly ever appear in any history book.
In spite of the fact that, though their status in state and religion was as the property of their husbands and fathers, they were the ones that were the birth givers, nurturers, educators, peace-makers, home-makers, clothes-makers and food producers without whom human society would never have existed. They suffered more discrimination and violence than the men of their class in Ireland but it only now being finally recognised that they too stood with their menfolk on the frontlines as fighters, logistic personnel, community organisers and civil rights campaigners against the forces of oppression during the British period and after Independence.
Today is a day my mom would be proud of.

The early 2000s XBox Game Parties are back!

Thanks to the wonderful generousity of Philip Burke, last night we brought a whole new and exciting dimension to the museum's Retro Gaming Zone by putting in place an Offline Multiplayer Gaming Network from 2002 based on the original Xbox console.

Before Broadband became available to most homes, the capabilities and architecture of the first Xbox generation facilitated young people gathering together over twenty years ago in one location with their own consoles and screens to play the same games using a 'local area network' (LAN).
Known as the Xbox 'System Link', it allowed up to 16 players to share the same game.

Our good chippie friend Brendan Walsh made a very long table unit that accommodates four large screens with four of Microsoft's first home video game console. Two of the screens were donated by Diarmuid Keaney and two by Philip Burke who also provided the Xboxes.

Based on the feedback from last night's young participants who gave the system a trial run, the Xbox LAN is going to be one of the most popular interactive exhibits that the museum will have on offer to visitors.

 The World has lost an Angel. Rest in Peace Carole Raftery

Carole was a special one, a person with a kind and generous nature who devoted the last twenty years of her life to working with asylum seekers in Galway. On a one-to-one level, she has done more for people staying in direct provision in Ireland than anyone else and as a result is loved by all of the thousands of people of dozens of nationalities that she assisted in their times of difficulty and transition.

Sadly she passed away on Thursday night.

In the summer of 2004 I called into the Eglinton Direct Provision Centre Salthill in my capacity as Education and Public Engagement Officer with DERI institute of NUI Galway to ask if I could provide computer training workshops to the residents. I did not know what to expect- it was an old hotel in need of major renovations and it had become home to a community of people that were new to Ireland and with whom I had never dealt with before. 
 
I was met at the reception by a lady with an enchanting smile and an infectious laugh that just radiated warmth and friendliness. I knew then that I would be staying for a very long time. 
 
In the summer of 2004 I called into the Eglinton Direct Provision Centre Salthill in my capacity as Education and Public Engagement Officer with the DERI institute of NUI Galway to ask if I could provide computer training workshops to the residents. I did not know what to expect- it was an old hotel in need of major renovations and it had become home to a community of people that were new to Ireland and with whom I had never dealt with before.
I was met at the reception by a lady with a gregarious smile and an infectious laugh that just radiated 
warmth and friendliness. I knew then that I would be staying for a very long time.
 
Carole, supported by the centre’s general manager Patrick McGovern, could not have been more helpful. I first provided courses off site. But within a year we had set up an inhouse computer room (an ‘Internet Café’ as it was called in those days!) populated with reconditioned computers sourced via DERI where residents could be trained in on software applications, communicate with loved ones in their homelands (early days of Skype), undertake online certified educational courses and finally be a location for us to provide weekly coding courses for both adults and children.
 
Then together working with the HSE (Brid and Maeve), the Galway City Partnership (Suzanne McNena and later Fiona Blaney), state agencies, the residents and others we set up the first ever weekly residents-management-external organisations liaison committee in such a centre, a library, created a residents’ managed website, organised a series of offsite events (fashion shows, children’s’ trips, sports activities) as well as in-house Christmas parties and receptions with mayors, TDs and government ministers…
So much happened due to Carole- she was the engine that kept things happening and moving along. Then in 2014 we secured and established a community garden for residents on old wasteland at the back of the centre with residents led by Lyudvig, with funding secured by Nollaig McGuinness(GCP) and with ongoing horticultural expertise from Kay Synott. The Eglinton front line staff of Patrick, Anne, Noel (RIP), Iva, Murdo, Lubo, Radoslav, Milada, Kevin, Sean… were always there to help out Carole and the rest of us.

Carole’s caring friendly disposition meant that she was looked on by most of the Eglinton residents in a very affectionate way. She was family. She was a listener. She was an advisor. Adults daily came to her for advice, and the kids called her ‘auntie’ such was her kindness and familiarity with them. On a weekly basis she chaired the Friday residents-management liaison meetings and ensured that the concerns of residents went to the appropriate authorities and were acted upon.

Carole devoted her life to others. With her big heart, kind nature and gentle soul, she was the fairy godmother and angel that will never be forgotten by all those who have had the privilege of knowing her and benefiting from her goodness. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam.
Then together working with the HSE (Brid and Maeve), the Galway City Partnership (Suzanne McNena and later Fiona Blaney), state agencies, the residents and others we set up the first ever weekly residents-management-external organisations liaison committee in such a centre, a library, created a residents’ managed website, organised a series of offsite events (fashion shows, children’s’ trips, sports activities) as well as in-house Christmas parties and receptions with mayors, TDs and government ministers…
 
So much happened due to Carole- she was the engine that kept things happening and moving along. Then in 2014 we secured and established a community garden for residents on old wasteland at the back of the centre with residents led by Lyudvig, with funding secured by Nollaig McGuinness(GCP) and with ongoing horticultural expertise from Kay Synott. The Eglinton front line staff of Patrick, Anne, Noel (RIP), Iva, Murdo, Lubo, Radoslav, Kevin, Sean… were always there to help out Carole and the rest of us.
 
Carole’s caring friendly disposition meant that she was looked on by most of the Eglinton residents in a very affectionate way. She was family. She was a listener. She was an advisor. Adults daily came to her for advice, and the kids called her ‘auntie’ such was her kindness and familiarity with them. On a weekly basis she chaired the Friday residents-management liaison meetings and ensured that the concerns of residents went to the appropriate authorities and were acted upon. 
 
Carole devoted her life to others. With her big heart, kind nature and gentle soul, she was the fairy godmother and angel that will never be forgotten by all those who have had the privilege of knowing her and benefiting from her goodness. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam

Christmas 2022: The offspring of Santa Claus's favourite tree takes root in the soils of Terryland Forest Park!

 

A green Christmas gift to the people of Galway: Connecting Galway's past to Galway's future.
Thanks to the genoursity and foresight of Tuatha volunteer Ruan Kelly and his mom, we now have in Terryland Forest Park a sapling grown from a seed of the elm tree which has stood proudly for decades at the front of Galway city's oldest church that dates back to 1320.
Ruan's family for years had a lovely popular food stall at the St. Nicholas Market serving the most beautiful vegetarian dishes. Thankfully for us they managed to obtain some wind blown seed and then nurtured it in their home garden for many years.
Tuatha volunteers Andreas Almqvist, Victor Whitmarsh and myself recently planted this heritage sapling at a prime location in the grounds of Terryland Forest Park.
The church of Saint Nicholas (aka Santa Claus) now has a direct connection to the community-driven public park which serves as a key wildlife sanctuary and 'carbon sink' in the heart of the city leading the way in urban reforestation and in reversing biodiversity loss.
Hopefully the tree of St. Nicholas will bring some much needed heavenly protection to the Green Lungs of the city in the years ahead

An Irishman in New York City – The Big Apple is going Green!

New York City (NYC) is very special to me. As a city that I worked in during my student days at the height of the disco era it holds exciting memories of good times- for instance I saw the Bees Gees on stage in Madison Square Gardens during their Saturday Night Fever phase!

As a family we travelled to the Big Apple annually over the last few years except 2021 due to the pandemic. We were back this April and it was wonderful to see that, a place that had a reputation pre-2020 as “a city that never sleeps” finally, like so much of the rest of the world, woke up after its enforced COVID slumber.

Of course New York has serious social and economic issues which are well documented and highlighted by its own new breed of progressive radical politicians. But what fascinates me most with New York in the present era is its brilliant pioneering eco-projects. That is why I visit. Manhattan, whose streets were only a few years ago dominated by cars, is very quickly being immersed with a pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. The Gung-ho ethos in action. There is a greening of the city that is only made possible by grassroots NGOs, big business, large institutions and municipal government working towards a common goal of urban sustainability. If NYC can go green, blue and smart, then any city worldwide can. Shame on our Galway City Council for still promoting outdated and discredited transport strategies whilst failing to adequately protect and invest sufficiently in our public parks- the green lungs of the city.

More on the greening of the Big Red Apple in future postings.

But I also love visiting the USA to meet my American cousins. None more so than Ed Eccles, a true and honourable gentleman. New York suffered horribly during COVID with over 43,000 deaths. But Ed kept working throughout the crisis, travelling by train from New Jersey into the city on an almost daily basis working in maintenance at the New York University in downtown Manhattan helping to keep its systems operational.  Thanks Ed.


An Irish Christmas, Past and Present

 
Was Christmas more exciting for children and more satisfying for adults in days gone by? In my humble opinion, the answer at so many levels is an emphatic “No”. But it was different.

Part 1 – Present Day Christmas, A Time of Giving, A Time of Partying
Today people across the world of all religions and none joyously celebrate a secular Santa Claus rather than a religious Jesus Christ. It has become a season of lights, of work parties and most importantly it is the season of the child. The gregarious Santa the bearer of gifts, worshipped worldwide by pre-teens of all religions and none, becomes king of the festive season and the cold dark winter nights magically transform into bright multicolour light shows (though less so this year due to the energy crisis exacerbated by Putin’s brutal destructive invasion of Ukraine).

The spirit of caring and helping is symptomatic of a modern day Christmas with tens of millions of euros being collected for good causes every December in modern day Ireland. There is a wonderful emphasis on volunteering and taking part in fund-raising events to support those who are disadvantaged both at home and abroad. Inclusivity and diversity takes centre stage with children of special needs, disabilities, different ethnicity and faiths being given respect and prominence in the media such as on the Late Late Toy Show and other festive television delights. In Ireland the renowned generosity and openness of our people is there for all to see.

Colourful pop-up Xmas markets are hosted in every city enticing the visitor with amongst other things, live entertainment, an array of Irish handmade produce, fair trade gifts, mouth-watering craft beverages and tasty homegrown organic foods. Post-Ukrainian invasion, Irish towns and villages across the country are still decorated with colourful sparkling bunting and lights, and the gardens and buildings of some private houses look like Las Vegas at night-time.

Over the last few years, the Irish people have been encouraged to Buy Irish, Buy Local, Buy Sustainable, Buy Organic and support jobs and innovation in Ireland.
Thanks to online shopping and special festive product releases, the selection of toys for children as well as electronic gadgetry, clothes, toiletries and jewellery for adults has never been more wide ranging. A guilt-free happy consumerism ‘for good causes’ (family, friends, country, the economically disadvantaged and oneself) takes centre stage.

Post COVID, all age groups thankfully are once again celebrating at Christmas with their peers, from work parties for adults, to school concerts for children and parents, and clubbing/pubbing for the youth (& young at heart!). I myself enjoy organising a very special annual alcohol-free end-of-year multicultural party at my research institute paying homage to the rich culinary and other homeland traditions of our members. The cinemas, streaming and online media libraries such as Netflix as well as music services explode with much anticipated seasonal movies and music blockbusters. Though truth be told, the almost complete absence now of nightclubs in a Galway city famed for its ents is hard to believe.
Children happily write cards to Santa and more likely than not in Ireland he delivers their requested and oftentimes very expensive gifts. Boys and girls wake up early on Christmas morning to rush down to the tree to be overwhelmed with an array of toys. Thank you Santa!

But the most welcome characteristic of Christmas 2022 is the reappearance of the extended family coming together for Christmas. For the first time since 2019, parents, children, uncles and aunts are returning home from distant lands to spend the festive season with mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, sons and daughters. In our case, our own youngest son Dáire came home to Ireland from Barcelona where he is studying medical science and in a few days I will travelling to the home of my youth in Carrickmacross to spend a few days with my brother Michael and to hopefully met a few friends from school days.

In times past.
Christmas during my childhood was more frugal, more serious, more religious, less bright and less festive than that of the 21st century. But it was nevertheless magical and wondrous for children then as it is for today’s young generation. But in a different way. In our household we try as with many other Irish families try to keep in 2022 some of these often millennia old traditions alive which have almost evaporated in the last few decades or where their true meaning has been for forgotten.
Part 2 to follow.
Part 2 to follow.

When We Were Young- the university campus of my Student Days


 In the 2022 Cois Coiribe Magazine out this week, there is an interview with me about life on the university campus during my student days. 
 
What an exciting time it was to be young! Ireland and the world were changing so fast and so many of us wanted to change it for the better.
We were the first in our families to go to third level college, to experience traveling across the European continent (by Interrail), to work summers in the USA (J1 visa programme), to get involved in international campaigns, to live in a city where young people were in the majority…
Lots of students of that era contributed so much good at so many levels to society- in the arts, sciences, business, education, politics, community…
Lots of great friends in the photo with Grainne McMorrow and myself leading a student ‘Education is a Right not a Privilege’ protest.
(p.s notice all the bikes!)
Hope you enjoy the read here.

Mr Origami- A Veteran Star of the Galway Science & Technology Festival’s Sunday Fair

After being absent since 2019 due to COVID, the Galway Science and Technology Festival Fair made a welcome return to the University of Galway campus. Approximately 22,000 visited this major event in the Galway calendar, showing the appetite that people of all ages have for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths (STEAM) in Galway city and county. This was probably our largest attendance ever!

Thanks to all involved- student volunteers, stand exhibitors, grounds staff...all working in unison with manager Anne Murray and the organising committee at the helm.
One person at the Sunday Fair who encapsulates all five elements of STEAM is Tom Cuffe, a true gentleman and Galway's master practitioner of the Japanese art of Origami.
For so many years his one-man stand to the right of the main entrance of Áras na Mac Léinn is one of the most popular stop-off points for visitors wanting an enjoyable hands-on experience. His display of a wide range of intricate paper sculptures is simply breathtaking.
Using folding techniques, and without the use of glue, markers or cuts, Tom helps people to transform simple flat square sheets of paper into birds, geometric shapes and so much more.
Photo shows Tom in a stunningly beautiful waistcoat standing beside my stunningly beautiful wife Cepta.

What can Galway Learn from Belfast?

 


Let's learn from the positive transformational Experiences of other Cities across the globe in how to make Galway a more livable, attractive, sustainable and biodiversity-rich city.

We in Galway can learn from the experiences and practices of other cities in Ireland, Europe and beyond in how to integrate Greenways and Waterways into urban infrastructure and in promoting sustainability.
 
All are welcome to attend (online or in person) the 'Urban Blueways & Greenways' seminar/webinar that will take place in the Data Science Institute (DSI) at the University of Galway at 11.30am (90min) on Wednesday November 23 when one of the speakers will be Michele Bryans will talk about the Connswater Greenway project and the effect it has had specifically on the east side of Belfast, and generally for the city. 
 
Michele Bryans is Chief Executive of East Side Partnership, where she has overall responsibility for management and strategic development.
 
The event is organised by the Galway National Park City initiative as part of the fantastic Galway Science & Technology Festival

Goodbye dear Friend

With the passing of Michael Tiernan, Galway has lost one of its truest gentlemen and I have lost a dear friend.

Michael was full of wit and charm, was kind and considerate, helpful to all, a lover of Nature, a strong advocate of community, had a grá(love) for the Irish language, and was a true custodian and teacher of traditional Irish heritage skills and crafts. 
 
For many years, Michael Tiarnan, Michael McDonnell and myself aided by Caitriona Nic Mhuiris of the Galway City Partnership worked closely together to rejuvenate the heritage of our area of Ballinfoile Mor, which was until a few decades ago a rural parish but was now an urbanised suburb of Galway city. We established Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden in 2010 followed soon after by setting up Cumann na bhFear (Men's Shed), the latter being a training centre for metal work, beekeeping, woodturning and other hands-on traditions.
 
We also worked closely together in the regular planting of trees and wildflowers in the ongoing transformation of pasture land into what is now Terryland Forest Park. Whenever there was a woodland clean-up, a group walk along the boreens(country lanes), a 7 Galway Castles Heritage Cycle tour, a removal of litter from woods, a sowing of vegetable seeds, or a mass planting of trees and wildflowers, the ever-smiling Michael Tiernan was one of the first to arrive and to offer his services.
 
Dearest Michael, mo chara, you will always be in our hearts and your legacy to your city and locality will last for decades to come

Graduation Day- The End of an Era for our son, for his university and for his parents


Cepta and myself were very proud parents when we stood beside our youngest son Dáire a few days ago as he graduated from his university.
 
He was one of the final class of students to graduate from the National University of Ireland Galway (NUI Galway). From yesterday it will be known as the University of Galway/Ollscoil na Gaillimhe.
 
His graduation represents the end of an era for Dáire as he leaves Ireland in a few weeks to commence a postgraduate degree in bio medicine (human biology) in Barcelona. Like his older brother, he has been a gift from heaven to Cepta and myself over the last twenty two years. A cycling, field sports and travel enthusiast; a keep-fit advocate; a lover of aquatic life (thanks to Galway Atlantaquaria); a conscientious student; a kind person who surrounded himself at university by a group of very loyal good friends whom he has known from his early days in Coláiste Iognáid. We earnestly hope and pray that he will soon enter a new and exciting phase of his life by starting a long and successful career in hands-on bio science, a sector that will allow him to work with others to use new technologies to improve the health of people everywhere. 
 
It seems like only yesterday that Dáire was starting his first day in primary school (Scoil San Phroinsias). It was the same month that our oldest son Shane finished up in the same school to start his secondary education at St. Mary’s College. But it was 2004. How time flies!
 
For Cepta and myself his graduation brings to an end our involvement as parents in Irish education which began 26 years ago. 
 
So the day was one of great happiness but also tinged with a little sadness and a few tears.
 
I could not let the day pass though without taking a photo of Dáire sitting one last time in a Galway university lecture hall (and one in which I also sat as a student fadó fadó!); a photo of him using his student card to enter the campus library one final time and a photo of him joyously throwing into the air his graduation hat in the oldest part of our esteemed campus which dates back to the 1840s. Appropriately it was in the same decade that our university first opened as Queens Collage Galway that my maternal great grandfather Thomas Agnew became the only member of his family to survive the Irish Famine (An Gorta Mór). The rest of his brothers, sisters and parents it seems died from starvation and execution. He alone survived. As with many other Irish families, hunger, eviction and imprisonment at the hands of absentee landlords, the British judiciary and military is part of our history. But that is a tale for another day. Suffice to say that Dáire’s graduation is in my mind a thank you and a tribute to so many of our ancestors who experienced so much pain, death and destruction so that future generations of Irish men and women of all creeds and none could have a better life, one based on dignity, respect, justice and hope.
Finally I have to compliment Dáire for celebrating his graduation by taking part in a 80km charity cycle to the Electric Picnic.

A Crazy Irishman in Havana

 

Cuba has the best cigars, the best rum and the best operational vintage cars in the world.
But I don’t smoke, I don’t drink spirits or have any interest in driving flashy classic cars.
So what the hell am I doing on this Caribbean island? 😄😀

1990s- Condoms, Gay Rights, Big Bands & the Guildford Four.

 

This RTE video clip from 1992 has been doing the rounds over the last few weeks. I have been contacted innumerable times about it due to the fact that I am interviewed in it (wow- I was kinda handsome once!) So I think it is well past time that I made a reference to the film and to what I was doing in Galway at the time.

Ireland in the early 1990s was a different country from today. No divorce, same-sex sexual activity was a criminal offence, condoms were banned, censorship in media existed, and the Troubles in the North continued unabated with state shoot-to-kill operations taking place.
 
But Galway in this era was full of energetic people who wanted to change the world and the country for the better. Local politicians such as Michael D. were supporting nationwide campaigns for justice
In September 1990, I left a successful career in the computer industry to take a co-lease on a quiet pub (Monroes) in a relatively quiet part of Galway and transformed it with great support into the city's first 7 day live music venue ('Club Rapparees' was the music side of the pub). Each night had a different genre- Mondays (Irish Trad), Tuesdays (Irish Set Dancing) Wednesdays (World/ethnic Music), Thursdays (Rock & providing opportunities for young bands such as the Real Men to play in front of a live audience in a popular venue), Fridays (evenings- trad sessions with Mary Shannon & friends; nights-alternating between Blues -Blues Connection & Appalachian- Higglers Jug Band), Saturdays (visiting groups incl Mamín Cajun Band, Miss Brown to You etc), and Sundays (mornings- Ephraim Reid's Big music Breakfast; early evenings- Sean Tyrrell & guests; nights- singer songwriters.
We made it into a very progressive venue- the first to install baby changing facilities in both toilets; the first to employ openly gay staff; the first to employ lots of non-Irish staff; the first hospitality employer to be committed towards employing single unmarried parents; the first to regularly host world/ethnic music (Russian, Middle Eastern, Arabian, West African etc).... We also ensured to have multiple Irish speaking staff for the Tuesday set dancing nights with a series of big signs over the counter translating appropriate English sentences into Irish e.g. "How Much?", "Where are the toilets?" "Can I have two pints of Guinness please."
I was fortunate that before I took the lease two legendary pubs were already developing great reputations in the locality - Waterfront (due to brilliant work by Jimmy Brick & Liam Stenson) and Taylors (so many awesome management & staff there).
Over a year later I was convinced against my better judgement by some others to take a lease on a club in Salthill and made it into a late night music venue (I called it 'Setantas') with bands such as Something Happens, Emotional Fish, Frank & Walters, Forget Me Nots, Wolfe Tones, Toasted Heretic and so many other great musicians performing there. We also hosted thematic disco nights such as Ruby Tuesdays (1960s-1970s Revisited)
On St Valentine's Day 1992, I happily took an active part in the 'CondomSense' campaign led in Galway by the fantastic Pete Smyth and Angela Savage to legalise the sale of condoms in pubs, the only Galway city publican do so. As a result I was harangued, threatened, received lots of hate mail, was condemned by the Bishop of Galway through a episcopal letter read out at Sunday masses in all diocesan churches and was regularly raided by the Garda with the condoms on sale being confiscated. I refused to stop selling condoms (recognising it as a human particularly women's right to have them), was prosecuted, appeared in court in March and was getting a jail sentence. We appealed and my case was to come before the courts in June with my imprisonment in jail being the likely outcome. But in May, the Irish media reported that Galway Bishop Eamon Casey had a teenage son from an affair in the 1970s with an young American Annie Murphy. The government reacted almost immediately to the backlash over the Church's stance on contraceptives now exposed as hypocritical and within weeks legalised the sale of condoms in pubs. The Director of Public Prosecutions dropped the charges against me.
I was interviewed on BBC Newsnight on the issue but refused to condemn Bishop Casey as I admired him for his previous work with the homeless Irish in Britain, his defense of the popular struggles against the right wing regimes in Central America and for supporting us in 1984 when we activists (including Michael D Higgins) protested against US President Ronald Reagan getting an honourary law degree from UCG (now NUIG) at a time when he was breaking international law in Nicaragua. Like me, he was I think an advocate of Christian Liberation Theology.
(ps we also protested against the Soviet presence in Afghanistan and eastern Europe).
I was also involved at the time in many human rights/community campaigns such as Free the Guildford Four/Birmingham Six/Maguire Seven/Winchester Three, the Spirit of 1916 (1991 was the 75th anniversary of the Easter Rising), Women's Rights, Establishing a Register of Absentee Landlords, Constructing Parks and Leisure Facilities in all neighbourhoods(up until then local sports areas comprised football pitches for young males and green areas either side of roads), and zoning an area for an ambitious Terryland River Valley (later Forest) Park. For the only time in my life I ran for political office, as an independent community activist (Community Action) to the local council (Galway Corporation now known as Galway City Council) but lost out for the last two seats to two national politicians (one was a TD- at that time TDs and Senators could also serve as local councillors)
I made lots of friends and worked with lots of inspiring people both in community/environmental/social campaigns and in the cultural/nightclub/pub/technology sectors during this period of my life. The early 1990s and indeed the 1980s in Galway were interesting times when change on so many fronts was happening due to so many idealistic people in the arts, communities, business, technology, educational, political, sexual and social spheres. However challenging a conservative system was tough and oftentimes came at a severe cost to the people involved.
But it makes me feel good to know and see so many people from that era still doing great and wonderful things today in Galway and beyond- I meet them so often and their enthusiasm has never waned. 
 
This article is but a short summary and only gives a taste of that time. I have so much more to tell!
 
Beir bua!

Racism, Sectarianism, Hatred, Imperial Triumpalism & Misogyny are Alive & Well in Northern Ireland

Unionists in the North have every right to express their cultural identity every year on July 12 with marching bands, bonfires and child friendly parties. 
 
But whilst sectarian triumphalist marches through Catholic neighbourhoods are mostly banned these last few years, sadly too many Loyalist bonfires in Northern Ireland are opportunities for open celebrations of an apartheid colonial past where Irish Catholics and nationalists were treated as a despised indigenous people with a low intelligence practicing a primitive form of religion led by an anti-Christ.
 
I thought that, as the years passed, such beliefs and expressions of pure evil would be consigned to the history books. 
 
Unionist Sectarian mural in Northern Ireland
 
Sadly this is not the case. There are still those people of all ages across the Six Counties who sing songs and scream words of racial and religious bigotry around neighbourhood bonfires where they openly burn effigies of their political opponents (Sinn Féin, SDLP & Alliance) and jerseys of Glasgow Celtic, call Irish republican female leaders 'sluts' and have signs emblazoned with the word 'KAT' ("Kill All Taigs"). 'Taig' is a derogatory term for Catholics and Irish nationalists.
The hatred with which they burn the flag of the Irish republic blinds them to the reality of what this historical tricolour represents, namely the hope for a peaceful inclusive future Ireland where Catholics (green) and Protestants (orange) live in peace and harmony(white). They forget too that Irish republicanism was founded by Irish Protestants such as Wolfe Tone who were inspired by the French Revolution's motto of 'Liberty, Equality and Fraternity', slogans which are as important today as they were in the days of revolutionary France.

Community, Health & Environmental Success at 'Pride of Place' Awards.

 

 

The win by the Tuatha of Terryland Forest Park in the all-Ireland 'Pride of Place' awards in Killarney this week is dedicated to the tens of thousands of volunteers in Galway City of all ages and backgrounds who have over many many decades understood the critical importance of Nature for the health of the planet and the health of people, and that the battle to save the rainforests of Amazonia, the Congo and Indonesia will be fought and won in the cities of the world.

These great people planted trees and flowers, cleaned up rivers, streets and parks, organised nature studies and nature walks/cycles, implemented the green prescription, nurtured and restored species in an sometimes hostile unsympathetic built urban environment. 
 
Our cities need homes, schools, sports/community centres and workplaces but they also need an infrastructure of safe pedestrian/cycling/public transport networks, inter-connected parks, greenways, and wildlife sanctuaries. In the case of the latter, we have to realise that we share our urban habitat with other species and that we need to provide space for the rest of Nature to thrive and by doing so it will provide us with oxygen, lower greenhouse gas emissions, filter out toxic gases, provide flood defenses, give us food, beautify our city and be a tonic to our minds, bodies and souls.
 
We started the idea of a people's and wildlife park along the Terryland River in my house at Christmas in the year of COP 1 (1995) and it became a reality in 2000.
 
Over the last 27 years, we have achieved a lot but we have so much more to do. Our green spaces need significantly more investment and they should be clean and safe for all. Boosted by a new generation of young enthusiastic volunteers (supported of course by many older enthusiastic veterans who have not gone away!), I am optimistic that the next few years will see progress in integrating the rest of Nature into our beloved city through the 'Galway National Park City' designation which is about making our city Greener, Bluer, Wilder, Healthier, Smarter, Sustainable and more Beautiful.
 
Finally, a big Bualadh Bos to Claddagh Watch who do so well at the Awards final in recognition in their great efforts to make our waterways safe and in protecting people's lives as well as to our county friends in the Headford Lace Project and Killannin Development Committee.
Community resiliance is alive and well in Galway!
 

 

Little Schools are the Heartbeat of Rural Ireland & the Foundations for its Revitalisation

 
COVID cut me off from what is one of the most enjoyable blessful elements of my work at the Insight Centre for Data Analytics NUI Galway, namely the opportunity to travel to every corner of Galway county and city in order to teach different aspects of technology in the schools that function as the heartbeat of their local communities.

This is particularly true of the little schools of rural Galway, which serve as the vibrant hub of their villages and parishes. The photo shows Creggs, one of these great primary schools located in the idyllic village that gives it its name and in which I spent a most enjoyable day last week teaching coding to the senior classes (being teaching there since 2006!).

In this period of rural decline it has been these learning institutions that have kept alive local traditions, such as making St. Bridget Crosses on February 1st; decorations and floats for St. Patrick’s Day; planting trees for Tree Week; painting festive eggs at Easter; and playing the songs and reciting the myths and legends of the locality in times past. As Irish people have abandoned farming (for work in the big city) and the great social gatherings that was the weekly Sunday only a few decades ago, it is the school that maintains a sense of ‘community spirit’ by bringing together the grannies, parents, cousins and neighbours of the pupils to enjoy concerts at Christmas, fancy dress parties at Samhain/Halloween, heritage nights, charity fundraising and group cycles. It is also the children of the school that are the life blood of the parish sports and youth clubs.

But these schools have been suffering for many decades due to creeping urbanisation. Fifty years ago Ireland's social and economic life revolved around an agricultural system based on the small family farm and rural towns were vibrant places serving their farming hinterland. Today too many of these country towns look like ghost towns with lines of abandoned and boarded up premises; the small family farm has lost its national economic centrality and the mosaic of fields of colourful wildflower meadows, barley, rye, oats, potatoes, cabbages and apple/damson/pear/orchards have all but disappeared from the landscape.
Depopulation in rural Ireland has led to many school closures including some that I worked in such as Corgary, Carnageehy and Woodlawn in east Galway. The car-based transport infrastructure assists this trend as it encourages some parents living in an increasingly suburban-orientated Irish countryside to understandably take children to schools near where they work in the big towns and cities.

But I now see the seeds for a resurgence in rural Ireland based on the principles of the Circular Economy characterised by mixed organic farming; the return of grain, vegetable and fruit growing in fields surrounded by hedgerows or drystone walls; a revitalisation of indigenous crafts and arts, the establishment of wildlife sanctuaries which includes deciduous forests, a network of interlinked greenways, an increased state committment towards public transport, an increased emphasis on renewable energies (wind, water, biomass), and a hospitality trade focused on sourcing locally grown foodstuffs.

The COVID lockdown has opened our eyes to the endless opportunities available with a proper broadband infrastructure allowing many to work long distance be if from homes or from the shared space of small town innovative digital hubs (some are set up already in what was until recently boarded up shops and pubs). Climate Change and Biodiversity Loss as well as the consequences of the destructive Russian invasion of Ukraine have shown us the crucial need to use local solutions to solve global crises. Sustainable jobs exist in nature guardianship, Outdoor Learning, Outdoor leisure (hiking, rowing, cycling etc), energy production, farming at so many levels, electronic repair/recycling/upcycling, biomedical manufacturing, education, crafts, arts, culture, scientific/technology research and green tourism. 3D printing, using safe recyclable materials, will mean the return of the 'cottage industry' to rural Ireland.

So it is crucial that the little country schools are now nurtured and kept open during this period of transition.

I have happily worked in these schools (and their second level ‘big brothers’) since 2002 teaching a range of science and technology courses (coding, film production, photo editing/enhancing, heritage, environmental science, data science, Citizen Science and Internet Safety) as well as offering teachers and children the opportunity to attend sessions at my university workplace to learn from my younger research colleagues, to visit my beloved computer museum as well as to exhibit at the annual Galway Science and Technology Festival Fair.

Hopefully soon I will have re-established the school circuit that I had in the years before COVID not only in the city but in so many villages and parishes in the county stretching from Inishbofin off the coast of Connemara to Tiernascragh near the River Shanno

Planting a Ukrainian woods with an African connection and roots back to ancient Ireland within Terryland Forest Park.


 The Tuatha volunteers have since mid March quietly planted a small woodland in Terryland Forest Park dedicated to the brave people of Ukraine who are suffering so much as they bravely resist Putin's brutal invasion.Only trees native to both countries were planted, namely oak, birch and alder.

The first trees were planted by our good friend Duncan Stewart from Eco-Eye.
We will this week write to Gerasko Larysa, the Ukrainian ambassador to Ireland, requesting her to visit Galway late this year to plant a tree in a woods that symbolizes the strong support that Ukraine has amongst the Irish people.
The Tuatha volunteers involved though came not just from Ireland but also from many other countries including Sweden, Vietnam and USA.
Today's Tuatha volunteers continue an inclusivity and diversity tradition that has been part of the ethos of Terryland Forest Park since its foundation. For instance in 2006, under the banner of 'Putting Roots in Irish Soil' asylum seekers from Iraq, Russia, Belarus, Nigeria, Kenya and many other countries took part in the planting of a Celtic-themed 3 ring maze near Terryland Castle, initiated by the fantastic Stephen Walsh, the first and present Superintendent of Parks at City Hall.
Many of the trees for the Ukrainian woods were provided by the inspirational EasyTreesie who are doing so much to help local communities in reforesting Ireland. we thanked them for that.
 
The African Connection
We also had trees donated from the wonderful Self-Help Africa programme thanks to the generousity of Ronan Scully--, one of the great heroes of modern Ireland, whose work spanning two continents is based on implementing sustainability, environmental protection and community empowerment, combatting social exclusion and overcoming systemic poverty. The Self-Help Africa programme connects the planting of trees by schools in Ireland with reforestation in Africa. Ronan is also a worthy champion of the Galway National Park initiative. Thank you Ronan for all that you have been doing over many decades.
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Oak Trees from the primeval forests of ancient Ireland.
But of special heritage value are the oak tree saplings donated by Denise Garvey. These native Irish oaks come from Coollattin Woods in Wicklow, one of the final remnants of the great primeval forests that covered Ireland until the great clearances of the plantation period from the early 17th century onwards.
Much of the woods in Coollattin were actually though cleared during the 1970s and 1980s with its trees exported as high quality vineer. It took the first large scale eco campaign in Ireland of the modern era lasting nearly 20 year to save the last of its ancient trees in the locality of Tomnafinnogue following the direct intervention by the then Taoiseach Charles Haughey
UK businessman and Wicklow resident Brian Kingham took over Coollattin in 2016 and has undertaken an ambitious reforestation of the estate.
So we are so proud that the community-council driven Terryland Forest Park now has a direct connection not only in symbolism with Ukraine and Africa but also with the birth of the Irish environmental movement and the great forests of ancient Ireland. Thank you Denise Garvey.

A Cycling & Walking Journey across the rural landscapes of Galway city & environs

 
Thank you to all those who joined us last Sunday for the 7 Galway Castles Heritage Cycle Trip held as part of Bike Week 2022.

The event was fully booked out days in advance.
In spite of the heavy rainfall for the first few hours, we got to see and experience a breathtakingly beautiful countryside of boreens (country lanes), ancient woods, abandoned villages, bogs, wetlands, pasture, burren-type rockscapes, castles, rivers and so much more.
We are eternally grateful to Galway City Council for providing Bike Week grant funding and to Cunningham Marine & Civil for sponsoring the lunch at McHughs Bar and Restaurant.
Our next cycle will be the 3 Athenry-Monivea Castles Heritage tour in late June and another 7 Galway Castles Heritage Cycle in July.