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 shows my son Dáire & 'friend' that was taken a good few years ago)

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custom of placing human skulls with candles at entrances to domestic dwellings in order to ward off evil spirits has been replaced by lights in hollowed-out pumpkins!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 Arthur (of the Celtic Britons) 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)

The people of Belarus have spoken- the dictator needs to be consigned to the history books

In spite of the brutality, threats and suppression, the women, men and now the youth still keep taken to the streets week after week demanding an end to Lukashenko’s autocratic regime. 
All over the world there are popular risings against corrupt power-crazed rulers who are using religion, racism, nationalism and violence to stay in control. In Belarus, China, Turkey, Israel, USA, Lebanon, Bulgaria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Brazil, Russia, Myanmar, seems that these rulers, most of whom are not surprisingly manmade Climate Change skeptics and misogynistic by nature, are winning the battle against the popular protest movement demanding justice, equality and liberty. These rulers are a threat not only to democracy but also to the planet.
But they cannot forever halt the popular will for change as more and more of us realise that Human Rights and Environmental Protection are intrinsically linked.

Tales from the Garden: Viking Night Raiders

"From the fury of the Northmen, O Lord deliver us" was the sorrowful prayer of Celtic monks at night times in centuries past. The traumatised denizens of our garden would if they could utter the same despairing plea today.

For nearly two months, our garden has been sporadically raided by Vikings who under the cover of darkness enter its hallow grounds to steal and to kill innocent residents.

Totally cannibalistic, they gorge on the snails, slugs, worms and caterpillars that live there. Wearing the most sophisticated body armour, these vicious raiders are more than a match for any local garden resident who dares to attack them.

Feared by mini-beasts but beloved by most humans, the savage creature is none other than the hedgehog.

This mammal first arrived to our sacred Emerald Isle on board Viking ships, brought here by Scandinavian warriors as a food source. Though an invasive species, nevertheless they have like many human invaders to our shores, become more Irish than the Irish themselves, adapting well to our climate, fitting nicely into most (though not all) local ecosystems and are an integral part of the countryside.

Unfortunately their numbers, based on anecdotal evidence, have declined dramatically in recent years due to intensive farming, use of pesticides, habitat loss and traffic. Until last year the only hedgehogs I have seen for many years were dead ones lying on roads, the victims of car traffic.

But this adorable mammal has benefited hugely, as with so much flora and fauna, from the development of Terryland Forest Park since 2000. Its woodlands, meadows, hedgerows, wetlands and connectivity to the Corrib waterways have provided a lifeline and sa anctuary for biodiversity to thrive. The hedgehogs that arrive in my garden at night come from the nearby Suan-Sandyvale sector of Terryland. As Dr. Colin Lawton has said, “Build (the forest) and they (the wildlife) will come.”

Dr Elaine O’Riordan of NUI Galway is presently coordinating a survey of Irish hedgehogs in association with Biodiversity Ireland to find out about the distribution and population status of hedgehogs across the island of Ireland. If you see this mammal (dead or alive) please register it at

Belarus 2020: A Female-led Revolution that the world desperately needs.


The protests against the dictator Alexander Lukashenko represent the most female-driven political revolution that I have ever witnessed.

Women are at the forefront of the rebellion against a patriarchal chauvinistic ruler whose misogyny can best be summarised in his comment that "Our society has not matured enough to vote for a woman opposition presidential candidate".
He gravely underestimated the power of women.
For it was a female (Svetlana Tikhanovskaya) that was the opposition candidate in the recent presidential election and her key campaign advisors were women. The response to police brutality and a rigged election was not stone throwing and smashed windows but flower-waving women dressed in white (symbol of hope) marching through the streets who, by their courage and leadership, became the rallying call for the rest of the Belarus nation to follow in what has been so far the most peaceful rebellion of the modern era.

A female-led revolution is what humanity needs now more than ever. When the Earth lies on the edge of the abyss due to the man-made Climate Crisis, the male leadership of Britain, China, India, Israel, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, USA, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are squandering the world's financial resources on a new machismo ("my missiles are bigger than your missiles") arms race instead of using these monies to tackle poverty, social inequality, pollution and biodiversity loss by dramatically increasing investments in health, education, renewable energies, reforestation and green sustainability technologies.
It is not surprising that the policies and comments of so many of these political leaders, as well as those of other countries including Brazil, Philippines and Somalia, are characterised by a lack of empathy and often open hostility towards women, religious/ethnic minorities and the environment. Bolsanaro, Erdogan, Trump, Putin, Mohammed bin Salman and Ayatollah Khomeini represent an arrogant macho culture that has nothing to offer the world but hate, division, aggression and greed.
It is no coincidence that so many of the countries that have coped best with the COVID-19 pandemic are led by women - Finland, Germany, Iceland, New Zealand, Norway and Taiwan.
It is also worth reminding ourselves that it was the caring nurturing skills of (super)ordinary doctors, carers, first responders, hospital back-up personnel, social workers, teachers and gardeners as well as benign musicians, cleaners, grocers and community volunteers amongst others that got us through the pandemic not the violence of a military, nor the get-rich quick profiteering of property speculators or the brash in-your-face lifestyles of self-centred opinionated celebrities.

For most of the history of humanity, women were society's leaders and worshipped as the 'givers of life'.
But with the capability to smelt metal and create weapons of war from the Bronze Age onwards, it was the male warrior as the 'taker of life' that came to dominate religion and governance.
A patriarchal culture has been but a brief intermission in the over 200,000 years of hominid existence. It is time for it to finally end and to liberate women from all forms of servitude and rediscover a sense of connection and respect with the rest of Nature (Mother Earth) before it is too late.
All power to the brave women of Belarus for showing us all the way forward. Let the men of the police, army and government departments of their country have the awareness and common sense to now stand beside their daughters, sisters, wives, partners, girlfriends, mothers and grandmothers in the common struggle to end oppression.

Beirut- another tragedy for this Phoenix-like city to overcome

My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Beirut and Lebanon after the catastrophic chemical explosions in the city's port that killed and injured so many and destroyed whole neighbourhoods and the homes of over 200,000.
I have a special affinity with Beirut where I have worked on a number of occasions. I have found it to be the most diverse modern cosmopolitan city in the Middle East. It has been positioned at the crossroads of the world for thousands of years, serving as home to ancient Christian and Muslim communities and has for over 100 years provided sanctuary to Armenian, Palestinian and Syrian refugees escaping from oppression and death
I have seen the two sides of this very special city. For I have worked in its overcrowded Palestinian refugee camps where I witnessed goodness overcoming adversity, whilst I've often walked along Beirut's wide beautiful seafront promenade and enjoyed its cafe culture with male and female work colleagues.
Though the city has long suffered from wars, invasions, ethnic/religious violence and corruption, nevertheless it has always Phoenix-like rose up from the ashes to begin anew.
Over the last few years I have admired how young female and male Lebanese campaigners from both Christian and Muslim traditions have together taken to its city streets in their tens of thousands demanding an end to corruption, mismanagement and nepotism.
Due to these endemic problems, the destruction yesterday means the country is facing a huge humanitarian crisis. We need to send support immediately. Hopefully we can find out soon the NGOs that we can send funds too. Probably the Lebanese Red Cross and Lebanese Red Crescent would be recommended.

I am returning to Africa in 2020!

This year though my presence on this remarkably diverse continent will be 'virtual' by way of mentoring online training workshops to teachers/mentors and by providing new learning content that will complement national educational curricula covering topics such as geometry, arithmetic, environmental science and geography.

Working with a hardworking visionary team of men and women drawn from three continents led by the great Claire Gillissen and supported by Camden Educational Trust, I am happy to have just completed a ‘Scratch in the Classroom’ teachers’ manual for the Africa Code Week initiative which this year is planning to bring coding tuition to schools in every country across the African continent.
In 2019, over 3.85 million African youth were engaged with 47% being girls; 39,000 teachers were mobilised and 37 countries were involved.

But in all honesty I am very sad that, after 5 enjoyable years, I will not have the opportunity this year to be immersed in the sights, sounds and friendships of Africa. From the townships of Capetown to the streets of Cairo and so much in between, I have learnt so much from the rich diverse ancient and new cultures of this continent.
It is where our human species began, it is where many of my heroes and role models are from, it is where great tracts of land are still wild and populated with rich unsurpassed flora and fauna. Every time I go there I feel that in some way I am rekindling some old long lost connection.

Until we meet again in 2021, I salute all the teachers, mentors, students, children, NGOs and governments involved in Africa Code Week, which is helping to upskill and empower a whole generation of young people

‘Back to BASIC’- workshops on the coding language that helped democratise computing 50+ years ago

As part of this year’s Galway Science and Technology Festival, the computer and communications museum, in conjunction with the Data Science Institute, will host a series of coding workshops using the original programming language on the very computers by some of the same mentors that provided such teaching in schools, colleges and computer clubs in the city during the early 1980s!

The workshops will take place at the Data Science Institute subject to COVID-19 restrictions then current. If this cannot happen, we will host online workshops using virtual console simulators and reschedule the ones using the vintage computers to a suitable time in 2021.

Back to the Future - the 1980s revisited

Today so many good-minded tech savvy educators are working really hard to promote computer coding amongst our young people through coding clubs such as Coderdojo and by campaigning to have it accepted as a curriculum subject in schools. We see it as our mission to transform our kids from being passive Computer Users to active Computer Creators. Coding is a skill set that is increasingly beneficial in so many professions and will be even more so as the century rolls by.
But in some ways it can be seen as a ‘Back to the Future’ saga. For during the 1970s up until the mid 1980s,  using a computer was synonymous with knowing how to code one. It was a programming language called BASIC that introduced personal computing. In a time when few people ever saw a computer let alone use one, John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz of Dartmouth College USA designed a language in 1964 that allowed everyday people to have computers carry out many different tasks from writing letters, undertaking research, solving problems and playing games. The language was known as BASIC (Beginner’s All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) and had commands with easy-to-relate to English words that related to their functionality (Print, Goto, If___Then, and later Input). Programming had lost its elitism (for mathematicians only) and could be understood and programmed by ordinary people. But what truly made it accessible to all was the invention of the microprocessor, which formed the basis of the first fully-assembled personal (table top) computers that started to appeared from 1977.  The Commodore Pet, RadioShack Tandy TRS-80 and the Apple 11 that were launched that year were off-the-shelf low cost computers aimed at the ordinary consumer and schools. All three came bundled with BASIC. Within a few years the standard version of the language on most computers was Microsoft Basic invented by Bill Allen and Bill Gates.
Schools all over the world started to teach programming. By 1983, most secondary schools in Galway had computer labs populated with computer equipment donated by Ballybrit-based Digital Equipment Corporation(DEC) where students learnt to code. The demise of BASIC and indeed programming in general across educational establishments happened with the rise of application software or what we know call apps from the late 1980s.

No Trees were Cut Down in the making of these Wooden Products!

My cap, reusable beverage cup, wallet, watch, face mask along with a number of my other personal items are made from wood. The source is cork, a species of oak indigenous to the Iberian peninsula and the Mediterranean region. It is one of the few trees that can be harvested without having to cut it down.
A few days ago I received a face mask made from cork. Thanks so much Sónia Almeida Santos for this lovely reusable nature-friendly gift which I will always treasure. I met Sonia last September in Mozambique where she is the national organiser for Africa Code Week and where I went to teach coding to staff/student mentors from Maputo’s main university and to school teachers.
I have been fortunate to have visited the world’s main cork forests located in Portugal. They are spectacular and are truly a unique renewable natural resource. Local farmers carefully cut off the bark with small axes ensuring that the trees are not damaged. Once the bark is taken off, numbers in big print are painted onto the trunks signifying the specific year of harvest. These trees are then left alone for another nine to twelve years.
With no logging involved and no mechanisation, these primeval woodlands support a rich diverse ancient fauna that is of European and global significance, including the endangered Iberian lynx, the Spanish imperial eagle and the Bonelli's eagle. Some of the trees can be over 200 years old.They are also an important stopover for migratory birds travelling between northern Europe and Africa as these intrepid avian travellers use them for a bit of rest and recuperation before continuing on their epic journeys.
Only a few decades ago, cork was the only material used to cap wine bottles. Unfortunately the switch to plastic stoppers and screw tops represents a serious threat to the future of the cork oak forests, their rural communities and their biodiversity. The local farmers who practice mixed farming of cereal cultivation, livestock grazing and tree harvesting would be forced to convert the woodlands to other uses in order to survive. In fact the truth is that these ancient habitats and the sustainable industry that they support should be a template to the world on how human societies and the rest of nature can be mutually beneficial.
Thankfully the Portuguese have made great strides in recent years in diversifying the range of products made from cork and tens of thousands of people work in the industry.
So we as individuals can play our part in supporting the forests and their inhabitants. Buy when possible only wine with cork stoppers as well as purchasing all the other fantastic new products that are now available. Many of these items are now on sale in Galway.

P.S. Some more info on the Cork face masks- According to one reliable source, 'cork' does not absorb dust and prevents the appearance of mites and, therefore, contributes to protection against allergies.

Jack Charlton: Ireland’s favourite Englishman, RIP

Photo shows some of the memorabilia that I still have of Big Jack, both during his time with Leeds United (my childhood collection of ‘Shoot’ and ‘Goal’ magazines) and with Ireland (a “Put ‘em Under Pressure” disc record featuring musicians such as Máire Ní Bhraonáin and  Davy Spillane, produced by Larry Mullen of U2.- best sports anthem ever!- check out ). As a kid I was a fan of Don Revie’s legendary Leeds ('Peacocks'), a team of ‘Sniffer’ Clarke, ‘Hot Shot’ Lorimer, Norman ‘Bites Your Legs’ Hunter, ‘Top Cat’ Cooper,  Johnny ‘The General’ Giles, ‘Big Jack’ Charlton... Later on,  as with the whole nation, I became a loyal follower of Jack’s boys- Packie Bonner, Ronnie Whelan, Mick McCarthy, Paul McGrath, John Aldridge, Ray Houghton…

Ireland becomes a worldwide phenomenon- thanks to an Englishman!
Jack rightly deserves demi-god status in Ireland. A down-to-earth honest-to-goodness working class Geordie lad with no airs and graces, we adopted him as one of our own as he helped reinvigorate our pride in the nation. Not surprising in one sense as Geordie/Northumberland has a strong ancient cultural and ethnic affinity with Ireland going back to the influences of St Aidan and Lindisfarne, the nearby Gaels of Strathclyde and even further into prehistory. As manager of the national soccer team, he brought not just Irish soccer onto a global stage but also helped foster a new sense of Irishness that had not been seen before. Getting Ireland into two World Cups and one Euro Cup were magnificent achievements in their own right. But it was what happened around the soccer team that left behind a benign legacy towards Ireland that still resonates today. Jack the Englishman was the unofficial commander-in-chief of a legendary ‘Green Army’ whose male and female ‘troops’, armed with nothing more than emerald football jerseys, tricolour flags and Irish rebel songs, successfully breached international borders by chartered flight, ferry boat and Volkswagen van to swiftly overcome all resistance, capturing in the process the hearts and minds of the local populations. These friendly Irish invaders, with their craic and beguiling nature, charmed the world for many years thereafter. In the 1990s, it was ‘cool’ to be Irish. In the 1960s Bealtlemania took hold. Three decades later it was an 'Irishmania' that erupted globally particularly in the field of entertainment with musicians (Sinead O’Connor, Chieftains, U2, Clannad, Cranberries, Boyzone, Corrs and Eurovision winners), actors (Liam Neeson, Pierce Brosnan, Brendan Gleeson, Colm Meaney), Irish themed films (Michael Collins, In the Name of the Father, Devil’s Own, The Field, The Committments), comedy (Father Ted, Ballykissangel, Graham Norton), and of course with the dance, rhythms and costumes of Riverdance. As a direct result of the Green Army travels, the ‘Irish pub’ phenomena took root in nearly every large city across every continent. Unlike many of the Irish bars of old that existed in Irish diaspora neighbourhoods in Britain and USA, these new hostelries were bright and attractive places, full of young Irish and non-Irish alike, happily mixing together, enjoying tasty Irish food and drink in an environment decorated with Celtic memorabilia, where the strains of both live traditional Irish and Irish rock music had the crowds dancing and singing until the small hours of the morning. Exports of Guinness, whiskeys, cream liquors and Munster butter quickly skyrocketed, having a positive impact on the home economy. Huge numbers of young people left Ireland to build, decorate, manage, serve and play music in these new establishments. I was one of those very fortunate people that was part of this new wave of Irish emigration during the early-mid 1990s. After establishing Monroes as Galway’s first seven day music venue and a popular hostelry, I spent an exciting few years managing in the pub trade overseas. Thanks to Jack, I had some great adventures, made lifelong friends and went through some strange experiences during this chapter of my life. To mention one of many- on a dark snowbound winter night in Reykjavik, I had a surreal but most enjoyable rendezvous in an Irish pub filled with very friendly Englishman swapping stories about their fellow Geordie, Jack Charlton. Nothing strange there until one realises that they were all British Army squaddies (soldiers) from the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers Regiment dressed in full desert military fatigues. What!?- hot desert military maneuverers in ice-covered Iceland!? -Strange but true! But that is another tale for another day.
Thanks Jack for the memories. You will always be Ireland’s favourite Englishman. Rest in Peace- Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Sadly the dream inspired by Jack soon began to turn stale as greed, arrogance, gombeen men and ‘plastic paddywackery’ reared their ugly heads. The subsequent so-called ‘Celtic Tiger’ allowed the worst excesses of Irishness to come to the fore, influenced by an Old Boys ‘me-féin’ elite of overpaid bankers, a particular corp of politicians, top sports executives, property speculators (I would never honour them with the label of ‘developers’) and their small town imitators who travelled the world flaunting their wealth, staying at the best hotels, and appearing at all the Irish soccer games. FAI lost the run of itself by appointing the billionaire Denis O’Brien (who had undermined parliamentary democracy for his own ends) as its President for Life and allowing John Delaney to indulge himself with the coffers. Irish drug gang lords with their ‘bling’ culture began to be seen and loudly heard in the Spanish holiday resorts and elsewhere frequenting and sometimes sponsoring sporting events. Too many of the hastily built global Irish pubs of the 2000s degenerated into tackiness characterised by garish shamrock/leprechaun signage, never ending ‘Happy Hour’ cheap drink promotions and foul-mouthed binge drinking Irish tourists distorting the true meaning of the rebel songs that they belted out. I am hoping that the stains of these elements from the post-Jack era are rapidly disappearing.

Tales from the Home Garden: Inspired by Simon & Garfunkel

Photos show parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme growing in my repaired (using recycled washing line waterproof felt) raised herbal and strawberry bed.
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel would be so proud that I was inspired to do so whilst I was in the garden humming the lyrics of 'Scarborough Fair', the beautiful old English folk song that they rejuvenated in the 1960s.
Check out their legendary version at

MIKE MULQUEEN RIP - DEC Galway's first employee

"Those who worked in the computer industry in Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s were greatly saddened by the recent death of Mike Mulqueen, the first Irish employee of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). Mike wasn’t a tech guru but nevertheless his contribution to the growth of the Hi-Tech sector in Ireland was immense.
Mike, a native of Co. Limerick, came to Galway in 1971 as Personnel Manager for DEC which had just announced that it was establishing its European Manufacturing base in Galway. He was joined by a start-up team from the US and within three months he had recruited the first production workers. By Christmas staff numbers had grown to 140. More importantly Mike, as Personnel Manager, had started to establish the values and ethics of company president Ken Olsen, which had already permeated the young Digital in the US. He did that superbly well and helped create the work environment which so many of those who worked for the company in Ireland look back on with great pride and great fondness.
Digital was a fairly small player in the computer sector in 1971 but it went to become number 2 to IBM on a global basis. At the same time, with Mike still in charge of HR, the Galway plant had advanced from being a low-tech core memory manufacturer to a state of art hi-tech operation producing complex hardware and software for the EMEA region. It had become a centre for R&D.
The success of the Galway plant was used by IDA Ireland to demonstrate to the Apples, Intels and Microsofts of this world that Ireland should be their location of choice when opening up in Europe. They duly arrived and have gone on to prosper. Their presence in Ireland later attracted companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Paypal, LinkedIn and many others.
Mike treasured the many friends he made in Digital and travelled from his home in Limerick on a number of occasions to be with former colleagues, at the First Thursday coffee mornings in the Huntsman.
Members of the board of the Computer and Communications Museum of Ireland would like to offer their sympathy to Mike’s sons, Billy and Michael, his grandchildren and the extended Mulqueen family."
-Liam Ferrie

Photograph shows Mike (right) signing into the Computer and Communications Museum of Ireland for the DEC night in 2011 accompanied by the late Des McKane (centre) and the late Chris Coughlan (left) who was then Chairperson of the museum. All three gentlemen were employees of Digital Galway.

Graduation Day in a Little School on a Hill in Connemara

A few days ago, I completed my official involvement with St. Theresa's National School, Cashel, Connemara. In my capacity as chair of the board of management (to Dec 1 2019), I gave a speech of thanks and best wishes to the graduation class of 2020 at their online (Zoom) conferring.

With only a few dozen pupils in this fine learning establishment. Andrew and Arnold were the entire graduation class of 2020. But if it is a small school, it is one with a very big heart as wide as the Atlantic Ocean whose waters almost lap against its gates.
As with many little rural schools across Ireland, it is the heart beat of the local community giving meaning, purpose and identify to its people.
Thanks to the force of nature that is its principal Cepta Stephens, the graduation celebration of last Tuesday, though taking place online in the strange surreal environment that is COVID 19, was the living embodiment of all that is good and beautiful in our people and in our countryside.
All the children and parents of the school took part in the ceremony. There were excellent live music performances and literary renditions from many of the children; the showing of thematic videos; a presentation in story and in imagery of the history of the two graduates during their school days, from infant to senior class; tributes from the parish priest, music mentor, parents' representative, board of management, and from all of their fellow classroom pupils (3rd, 4th & 5th classes). Uachtarán na hÉireann/President Michael D. Higgins even ‘turned up’, starring in a short film that he made for the benefit of all the primary school graduates of 2020 (It surprised and impressed Andrew and Arnold as I am sure that it did for all graduates). The two hour ceremony was so enchanting, so emotional, so friendly.
I am a big fan of all the schools of Ireland. But I have a special affinity for the small rural school which, in a world of impersonalised fast-moving globalisation, is in many cases the key custodian and embodiment of local identity. When such an institution is forced to close its doors, then a sense of community can soon disappear.
The principals in these little country schools have one of the toughest 24/7 (but most rewarding) jobs in the country- having to be teacher, administrator, parents’ liaison, sports manager, musician, friend, doctor...the list is endless!
In mid 2016, Cepta asked me to consider becoming chairperson of this school located in the heart of southern Connemara. Having long being an admirer of her visionary principalship and holistic teaching, it did not take me long to say ‘yes’.
But my involvement goes back to 2005. Over the years, I have mentored heritage, medical, scientific, Internet Safety and coding programmes in the senior of the two classrooms. I hope that this continues on into the distant future as I see a school that provides top class education to its pupils and one is strongly supported by the local community.
Finally as I said in previous postings written during the Great Lockdown, I also see a bright future for all of rural Ireland if green, smart and community-centric sustainable policies are implemented.

Celebrating Terryland Forest Park 2000-2020: Presentation on Woodquay & Circle of Life parks


On Monday at 7pm we will host our second online (Zoom) meeting of supporters of the Terryland Forest Park.

It was so wonderful to have in attendance at our last meeting supporters living in proximity to the park and those from further afield, who are willing to get involved in bringing Ireland's largest urban forest park project to a new level of ambition by getting it recognised, not only as a wildlife sanctuary and a People's Park with recreational facilities for all age groups, but also as part of a unique Blue and Green hub of international importance that comprises the Corrib waterways stretching into the heartlands of Mayo; a network of ancient walking trails ('boreens') embracing Menlo, Castlegar and Carrowbrowne; a wonderful heritage cycling route (Seven Galway Castles' Heritage Cycle Trail/ Slí na gCaisleán) and a terminus for the Connemara Greenway when the construction of a bridge on top of the old railway pillars gets the green light.

With a new generation of volunteers now coming onboard, we can over the next six months work on developing a new website; secure increase information signage; plan out, with the agreement of city council additional wildflower meadows and new seating; as well as hopefully set up a volunteer park rangers unit.

At next week’s meeting we will have presentations from Feargal Timon on the proposal for an ambitious Mary Reynolds-designed Woodquay Park situated in an historical urban locality that is the commencement of the Terryland Forest Park-Dyke Road blue and green network; and from Denis Goggin on the very beautiful national organ donor commemorative garden and stone themed ‘Circle of Life’ Park in Salthill. Both Feargal and Denis are veteran supporters of the forest park and have contributed much to its enhancement over the last few years..

What the Great Lockdown has cleary shown is that local public parks such as Woodquay and Circle of Life have taken on a new significance for local people and communities. The launch of the National Park City for Galway initiative in early July will clearly show this.

If you are a supporter of the officially designated Green Lungs of the City (Terryland) you are welcomed with open arms to attend Monday's meeting. Should you wish to take part, please email me at

Finally, photo shows the river Corrib from the front of Woodquay Park.

Experiences of COVID-19: Falling in Love & Discovering Superheroes living amongst us

I was asked to contribute to a new column in the Galway Advertiser on a Post-COVID Galway.
Below is my contribution which appeared in last week's edition.

The greatest global disruption since World War Two has brought humanity to a crossroads. This pandemic has caused massive job losses, financial meltdown, suffering and death. In a post COVID-19 world, we as a country can understandably decide to take what looks like the easier route in quickly making up for what was lost by going full steam ahead to stimulate job creation via the traditional consumer economic model. But this option, with its interrelated symptoms of Climate Chaos, oceanic pollution, biodiversity loss and pandemics, will in my opinion mean travelling at speed down a cul-de-sac leading finally to a crash of unprecedented global catastrophe.
Or we can reflect on what has happened over the last few months and decide to take a different route that, with hard graft and ingenuity, promises a better quality of life and a better future for the planet.
Galway city is uniquely positioned to be a flagship for a more sustainable equitable world. It is surrounded by picturesque natural landscapes that can, through a network of greenways, help revitalise areas such as Connemara and east Galway. The city is renowned for its arts but also as a world class hub for benign biomedical, computing, marine and renewable energy technology research and production that can be developed even further. It has an environmental volunteer movement that is promoting innovative ‘Outdoor Classroom’ education and ‘Health through Nature’ programmes, and a small but growing organic farming sector involved in revitalising food models of beekeeping, fresh vegetable and preservative production.
One of the unexpected windfalls of the lockdown was the wonderful ways that Galwegians came together in local and online communities to reach out to those in need, from providing reconditioned laptops for Leaving Cert students to making vegetable boxes for people living in isolation to setting up online neighbourhood newsletters to producing quirky collaborative musical videos.  We finally paid homage to those everyday people who lived amongst us but whom we now recognised as the super heroes that they always were- nurses, doctors, carers, cleaners, scientists, Garda, outdoor council personnel, shop workers, garden centre staff and those working in local life-saving medical companies. The message of campaigners pushing for a walking, cycling and park infrastructure started to appeal to us.
Post-COVID, let us not lose this sense of community solidarity and respect for others.
But many of us also found ourselves falling madly in love with an intensity that we never thought possible. Nature became our passionate lover. We could not stop ourselves getting excited by the sights and sounds of birds in our garden, the beauty of wildflowers in a field, the movement of a bee or butterfly in flight, or the leaves unfolding in our new vegetable plot that we hastily dug out in March. Our rendezvous with our new love was often in the local park, a place that we never really visited before.
We discovered too that cooking, eating, sharing stories and undertaking home repairs together with family began to give us a new perspective on what really mattered in life.
Next month, the ‘National Park City for Galway’ initiative will be unveiled. Supported by all sectors of local society and with President Michael D. Higgins as patron, it is about integrating the rest of Nature into the fabric of our urban environment, something that we have found, through the experience of the Great Lockdown, is fundamental to our wellbeing and, as we will soon learn, can provide us with amazing new economic and societal models.

'Black Lives Matter Day': Online Garden Meeting with the residents of the Eglinton Direct Provision Centre.

I was disappointed that I was not at the 'Black Lives Matter' protest yesterday afternoon in Eyre Square as I thought, based on media reporting, that it was called off.
But anyway yesterday morning I was facilitating the first online (Zoom) meeting between garden volunteer residents of the Eglinton Direct Provision Centre in Salthill, garden supremo Kay Synott and artist extraordinaire Monica de Bath.
This has been our first get-together since the beginning of the Great Lockdown and it was so wonderful to finally met up once again 'face-to-face' with my Eglinton friends.
Eight residents were in attendance- Georgina, Jihad, Pretty, Beltar, Elizabeth, Innocent, Thom and Stanley.
A few others were unfortunately missing due to sickness including our good friend and the queen of hearts herself, namely Carole Raftery, a key member of the staff of the Eglinton.
The attendees agreed today on a set of guidelines and a roster to help build on the work that has been done over the last few months under the chairperson of Georgina. Kay has been brilliant during that period in ensuring the delivery of seeds and plants to the Eglinton whilst Monica has kept the spirit of 'art in nature' alive amongst the children of the Eglinton.
I have a special affinity with the residents, management and staff of this direct provision centre since I started volunteering there in 2004. Over the years I have seen so many hard-working people in the Eglinton get Irish residency, and contribute positively to the greater good of their new homeland. Today that tradition continues as the present garden chairperson Georgina will be leaving the centre tomorrow to start a new life elsewhere in Galway. I wish her the very best.
In my time there, I have made many life long friendships amongst residents and staff.

It was really lovely to see today also that the legacy of former residents such as Lyudvig Chadrjyan in putting so much effort in helping to start the community garden over five years ago is still bearing fruit (& vegetables!)

Celebrating Terryland Forest Park 2000-2020: a unique Green & Blue Hub for Galway city and environs.

Last week we held the first online (Zoom) meeting of supporters of the Terryland Forest Park from surrounding areas and beyond. It was so beneficial to have residents from areas such as Dyke Road, Coolough, Castlegar, Gleann na Trá, Castlelawn, Ros na Shee(Sidhe), Sandyvale, Skellig Ard, Carraig Bán and Riverside who want to get involved in bringing Ireland's largest urban forest park to a new level of ambition by getting it recognised not only as a wildlife sanctuary and a People's Park with recreational facilities for all age groups, but also as a unique Blue and Green hub of international importance.
With a new generation of volunteers now coming onboard, we can over the next six months work on developing a new website; secure increase information signage; plan out, with the agreement of city council additional wildflower meadows and new seating; as well as hopefully set up a volunteer park rangers unit.
But it is envisaged also that the Terryland Forest Park and the Dyke Road could well become a hub for the Corrib waterways stretching into the heartlands of Mayo; the terminus for the Connemara Greenway with the construction of a bridge on top of the old railway pillars; and, working with local communities, a starting point for a network of walking and cycling trails along the 'boreens' of Menlo, Castlegar and Carrowbrowne. The pioneering Seven Galway Castles' Heritage Cycle Trail/ Slí na gCaisleán that begins and ends at Terryland Castle (see photo with Helen Caird's lovely drawings!) is now twelve years old.
Note: a huge poster of Slí na gCaisleán is on permanent display beside Terryland Castle.
Every large park must have a central multi-purpose building that serves as meeting point and so much more. We must now seriously look at converting the abandoned 19th century waterworks into a forestry/river interpretative centre with café, gallery, heritage museum, toilets and cycle rental/repair shop.
Details of the speakers and themes for this month's Zoom meet-up will be posted on this blog on Thursday. More volunteers and supporters welcomed!

Tales from the Home Garden: Apple Blossom Time becomes the Darling Buds of May

In early May, the apple trees in our garden were covered in the most beautiful blossom, a mass of white flowers. By the end of the month, the flowers had disappeared to be replaced by buds that will in the autumn become Ireland's most famous fruit, loved since time immemorial.
In my childhood, all the wealthy houses in our area had orchards of apple (& some pear) trees. It was almost a rite of passage that, as children, we had to undertake our Arthurian quest and steal the most sacred of all fruits that had led Eve astray in the Garden of Eden and changed the course of human history. There were of course obstacles that had to be overcome in order to fulfill our sacred mission. As well as angry owners and vicious dogs to be avoided, there were the chunks of broken glass cemented on the tops of walls surrounding the orchards! But with nimble feet and a lot of luck one could land in the inner garden without cutting oneself. Children of our generation lived dangerously!

March 2000: They entered a field and left behind a Forest.

On Sunday March 11th 2000, nearly 3000 people turned up in what previously was pasture inhabited by a few grazing cattle adjacent to the Quincentenary Bridge. Over the course of a few hours, these volunteers planted thousands of native Irish trees in the first phase of a development new to Ireland, namely an urban forest park. We called it Terryland Forest Park, a zoned green area of 180 acres lying within the boundaries of Galway city.

It was an inspiring sight to behold. Months of hard work and lobbying by members of the park’s multi-sectoral steering committee (that included my good friends Lol Hardiman and Niall O Brolchain) led by Stephen Walsh, who had been appointed in the previous year to the new position of ‘Superintendent of Parks’ of what was then Galway Corporation, came to fruition. We watched joyously as groups of trainee Garda Síochána, scouts, girl guides, pupils from different schools, company staff as well as families, politicians and senior council officials arrived in the park over the course of the morning, afternoon and early evening armed with shovels, spades and forks to be part of what was and still remains Ireland’s largest community-local government partnered urban forestry project. There was a true sense of togetherness that day, a feeling amongst many that we were creating something special, something that we hoped would make the city a better place to live in for present and future generations as well as become a unique urban sanctuary for wildlife. Many of those dreams have indeed come true. Today it contains nearly 100,000 trees, wetlands, meadows, riverways, pathways, community garden, sculpture trails, farmland...But there are still other aspirations that have yet to occur that should reinforce its legacy.

Twenty years later, we are once again calling on the people of Galway to help bring this mighty forest park to a new level. We need volunteers soon and in the years ahead to plant, to create wildflower meadows, to act as tour guides, to litter-pick, to monitor and survey biodiversity, to map trails, to use old traditional rustic skills such as repairing drystone walls and an array of other tasks including becoming committee members...

If you are interested in being part of another generation of volunteers helping to make Terryland Forest Park an important hub in a new Green and Blue Galway, why not join an online (Zoom) get-together at 7pm on Wednesday? To register, send an email to me at

Note: The first photo shows Terryland Forest Park on March 11th 2000. The second photo was taken in the same spot in May 2020.

Pacman- Happy 40th Birthday!

One of the greatest video games of all time, Pacman is 40 years old this month and yet remains as popular as ever.
Created by Toru Iwatani and a team at the Japanese game company Namco, it was released on May 22nd 1980. It was the first game written to appeal to a female audience. Iwatani saw that the whole video games industry catered only for men and concentrated on sport and violent war themes. Only boys seem to populate the arcade machine halls. So he decided to develop a game with cute, happy looking bright coloured characters based around colourful foods such as deserts and sweets. One of the inspirations for the Pacman image was a pizza with a slice removed. The ghosts in the game were inspired by the television series Casper the Friendly Ghost.

Tales from the Home Garden: The Return of the ‘Irish Famine' Potato!

The photo shows a rare and some would say infamous variety of potato growing quite nicely in containers at my home. It is known as the ‘Lumper’ and I planted a number of these heritage vegetables in my garden during mid-March at the beginning of the great lockdown, though I kept them separate from my main crop of spuds.
The Lumper is not very attractive ('lumpy'- hence the name!) and some would say not very tasty. But its infamy arises from the fact that it was the variety of potato that was grown extensively in Ireland until the Great Famine ('An Gorta Mór' = 'The Big Hunger') of the 1840s. Over one million people in Ireland died due to the failure of their primary food source caused by a potato blight that originated in Mexico.
During this period of Irish history, the vast majority of the Irish lived in extreme poverty as they had being dispossessed of their clan(tribal) lands in successive waves of plantations over many centuries by British colonialists. The great forests were cut down and the native Irish were driven off the fertile lands to make way for tillage and increasingly during the 19th century for livestock farming (shades of today's Amazonia).
The potato though is a wonder food crop, is highly nutritious and can grow on very poor soils in large enough quantities on very small patches of ground which was all most Irish families then possessed.
Once the blight destroyed their only food crop, large sections of Irish society starved to death with approximately 1.5 million driven into exile, primarily to North America. Yet in spite of the mass deaths, the colonial landlords continued to export huge amounts of food to Britain and beyond. In fact the export of grain and livestock from Ireland increased during the famine years! Ireland was then the granary for the British homeland providing grain as well as meat and vegetables to the growing urban working population of England's industrial revolution. The establishment were not going to allow death and starvation in British Empire's oldest colony to interfere with their profits and free trade policies. The famine also provided a golden opportunity for some of the Anglo-Irish gentry to clear even more lands of their native tenantry to make way for livestock. To facilitate this exodus, they paid them the cost of traveling by ship to the Americas.
My own maternal ancestors suffered terribly during the Famine. They were evicted from their squalid hovel of a home, most starved to death with the surviving members of the family ending up in the dreaded workhouse in Carrickmacross in county Monaghan. Only one survived. If he did not, I would not be writing this post.

Trees of Terryland Forest Park: Hawthorn (Irish = 'Sceach Gheal'). ‘The Fairy Tree’- Symbol of Magic and of Summer.

May is the month of the white blossom when hedgerows and field boundaries across rural Ireland are dotted with trees covered with what from a distance looks like snow but is instead the beautiful white flowers of the Hawthorn tree. Associated with the fairies, the hawthorn or whitethorn was oftentimes feared by Irish people and in many parts of the country was never brought inside a house. People of my generation were the last generation to truly believe in its connection with the Sí (sidhe) and my own wife for this reason stopped me planting hawthorns in our garden when we first got married!
The remains of prehistoric dwellings known as ‘fairy forts’ dot the Irish landscape and are usually evident by the presence of clumps of hawthorn bushes. Solitary hawthorn trees can also be seen in many farmed fields in rural Ireland. In both instances, local people in my time would never cut them down lest bad luck would befall them. This fear may also have something to do with the scent of the hawthorn flower. It is the chemical compound triethylamine, which is one of the first chemicals produced when a human body starts to decompose.
But triethylamine is also found in human semen and vaginal secretions. So no wonder the tree with its white blossom symbolised the lusty month of May, the arrival of summer as the season of fertility and growth. It was when a hawthorn branch on a tree would be decorated with ribbons, pieces of cloth and flowers requesting a good harvest. As with the ash, it was also associated with holy wells which were also linked to female fertility. By September, the pollinated flowers become lush red fruits known as haws. The April leaves were used as a green salad in sandwiches. Jelly was made from the red berries.