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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Ccgk8PXz64

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


Woodquay

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 speediecelt@gmail.com

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 speediecelt@gmail.com

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.

‘Nettle’ Cake & Nature’s Pantry


For the first ever in my life, I enjoyed the delicious taste of Nettle Cake courtesy of Pól Mac Raghnaill, a true guardian and lover of Terryland Forest Park.
As well as nettles sourced from the forest, it contained potatoes, flour, milk, salt and pepper. Thanks Pol!

The tradition of ‘foraging’ is making a comeback.
I have happy memories of me and my childhood friends collecting basket-loads of highly nutritious hazel nuts, nettles and blackberries from hedgerows, meadows and woodlands to bring home to their moms to make cakes, soups, jellies and jams.
Harvesting the wild flowers, fruits, herbs, fungi, roots and leaves of the forests has been integral to the fabric of humanity since our species first appeared on the planet.
It is only over the last fifty years that as a result of technology ‘development’, in the form of refrigeration, mechanised transport, chemical fertilisers, intensive agriculture, urbanisation and the growth in supermarket shopping, we in our consumer society have lost an understanding of the seasonality of food, of the importance of sourcing food locally and of the natural edible resources that exist in our local woods, hedgerows, seashores, rivers and meadows.
Disconnect with Nature leads inevitably to habitat destruction and the extinction of species.
However, there has been over the last decade increased involvement by the general public in growing food locally and organically, precipitated by a growing awareness of the dangers being brought about by man-made Climate Chaos. During COVID-19, it is so lovely the surge in people setting up organic vegetable gardens at their homes. It is cool now to be a gardener!
Over the last few weeks I have also come across a number of people out harvesting nettles in the Terryland Forest Park. Many are originally from countries where foraging is still a living tradition. Collecting wild foods is good for both the mind and body as well as putting us back in touch with the sights, sounds and smells of Nature. 

However a few principles need to govern those harvesting wild food:
1. Be moderate in what you take home as the berries and nuts that you are collecting are the natural food sources for much of the birds, insects and animals of the countryside and our urban natural areas.
2. Do not remove the whole plant; take only the edible parts that you require such as the fruits and leaves whilst leaving the roots and some of fruits and leaves so that it can grow again. 
3. Many fungi and fruits are poisonous. So if you are unsure, take someone with you that is familiar with the culinary aspects of plants and fungi.

The Yellow Flowers of Spring: Cowslip (Irish = Bainne bó bleachtáin)


The Cowslip's Irish name tells you exactly what its association was with in rural Ireland in days gone by. "Bainne bó bleachtáin" means the "milk of the milking cow" and the flower was rubbed on a cow's udder on May Day to protect the milk.
Also known as St. Peter's Wort ('flower' in Anglo-Saxon) or St Peter's Keys, its connection with this most famous of Christian saints, who was given the keys to the kingdom of Heaven (symbolised in the official flag of the Vatican), is due to its pendulous shaped flower grouping on the plant.
The Cowslip was one of the native Irish wildflowers that was an early victim of modern intensive farming. But it is making a comeback on roadside verges and thanks to the efforts of volunteers in planting meadows. It is found across the grasslands and along the outer ring of the woodlands of Terryland Forest Park.

Bluebell Woods: Celebrating Terryland Forest Park 2000-2020.

The photograph shows a beautiful bluebell woods in Terryland Forest Park.
Along with the trees, these wildflowers were some of the thousands planted by many volunteers over many years in Ireland's largest community-local government urban forest initiative. As COVID-19 amply shows, the health of people and of the planet depends on Nature. Post-COVID, the natural world and the environment generally have to take centre stage in all policies and decision making, from international agreements to neighbourhood development.

Tales from the Home Garden: 'Old Ways' have become the 'New Ways'


Tonight and a few other times over the last few weeks, I have managed to make some very nice (I’m bias!) desserts using fresh rhubarb from our own garden. We have been growing it for many years now. Combined with custard and topped with cream and laced with lots of sugar, there is nothing like its bitter sweet taste in the whole wide world!
It is a vegetable that my Dad always grew. From my childhood days living in inner city Dublin to my teenage years in Carrickmacross, he always maintained a garden packed also with cabbages, cauliflowers, spuds, carrots, onions as well as a few gooseberry (yuck!) bushes.
Mom used to send me out every autumn foraging for blackberries and raspberries in the hedgerows along the roadsides. We also picked damsons when we visited our farming cousins in Magheracloone. The end result was we enjoyed for many weeks jams served with lashes of butter on thick homemade bread that my granny lovingly made. One of the great outcomes from COVID-19 is that there has been a definite movement back to growing our own nutritious organic foods. Hopefully when the lockdown is over, we will maintain this new revival of old traditions and not revert to buying off-the-shelf cut-priced non-seasonal chemically-treated frozen foods imported from countries where its cultivation is damaging local peoples and their environments. Remember, ‘cheap food’ comes at a huge price to the health of both humans and the planet.

Tales from the Home Garden: My friend the Robin.


I am delighted to report that, in spite of the great lockdown, we have a constant stream of visitors calling to our home.
But they are mainly from the bird world. None more so than Ruadh the Robin. Every time I am digging or weeding amongst the vegetable plots, Ruadh swoops down from a tree to help himself to a worm or two. He often hangs around for a while, alighting on the handle of a spade or on top of a large stone.
Oftentimes, being a highly intelligent animal and cognizant of government COVID-19 guidelines of keeping clean and washing regularly, he enjoys having a good bath in our little water feature. 😁 In fact he is not the only feathered denizen that has done so- I have seen a thrush, a blackbird and a blue tit in its waters. Though I have to state that, observing social distancing protocol, they bathe singly! 😂
As the weather has been so dry lately, I would recommend people that have gardens to provide a water container of some sort for the birds. But be careful where you place it- you don't want to provide a handy meal for the local cats!

Council bans Citizens from taking part in Cleanups


Galway City Council has sent out a circular in the last hour informing the public that the Spring Clean initiative has been suspended and furthermore asking citizens not to go outdoors to clean up at this time and to stay at home. They mentioned that their staff are currently operating limited hours in order to manage litter bins and emergency issues only.
Unfortunately as there are no bins (council policy) in the city's forest parks and as there is only one (great!) council staff member presently working limited hours assigned to litter management in these parks, this I feel will lead to a huge increase in refuse across our beautiful woodlands and meadows impacting on biodiversity and the public. Only one part of multiple sectoral Terryland Forest Park has a COVID-19 closure sign on its entrance gates (which is ignored anyway).
I totally understand the importance of the restrictions imposed by lockdown.
But I am shocked that the work of dedicated volunteers, working singly and respecting social distancing of park users, and which is essential to park maintenance at this critical time are been asked to discontinue their much needed activities. Key staff have to work in shops, in health administration and in local authority services. Is not the work of these volunteers also critical at this time?
We will of course keep by this new requirement. But the parks need looking after now more than ever as they experience increased footfall, though by people observing social distancing. Unfortunately as we know only too well anti social elements will take advantage of the situation and cause damage to our precious green lungs particularly with littering.
I wonder what is the opinion of our councillors and TDs?
I have to be honest and say that I feel so sad and almost tearful on what may happen to our great woodlands and meadows in the absence of volunteers and with limited on-the-ground parks staffing during COVID-19.

An Irishman’s Journey across Africa: The Botswana Story, Part 1.


 
Thanks to the fantastic Africa Code Week (ACW) initiative I have, since May 2015, worked extensively across Africa, from Cairo in the north to Cape Town in the south. I have been in places and have meet peoples that have gone beyond my wildest dreams. I consider myself extremely lucky and blessed to have been granted these wonderful opportunities and have been humbled by the encounters and experiences gained.
In my latest short article on the continent that was the birthplace of our species, I throw the spotlight on a country that still vibrates with the pulse of pre-colonial Africa.

Botswana is a place like no other on Earth. With 35% of its territory designated national park and with a small population, there was until recently a strong peaceful cultural harmony between the nation and the rest of Nature. The country is ‘wild Africa at it best’ and is home to a third of the continent’s elephant population earning it the accolade of being the last refuge for this endangered and most iconic of all mammals. There is a saying that many travel to Botswana for its wildlife and stay for its people. In my case it was slightly different; I came to the country for its people (to teach coding) and wanted to remain not just for its remarkable wildlife, breathtakingly stunning primordial diverse landscapes, but also for the warm and gentle Batswana (the Tswana peoples). It is a peaceful society, has a high literary rate, a low level of corruption and a strong justice system. Unlike so many countries worldwide, there is little religious, social, racial or ethnic tensions nor the scar of urban ghettoisation.
In my bias opinion, I am the country’s No 1 fan! But I only found out since my last visit the real reason why Botswana has cast such a spell of enchantment over me. The answer will be given in my next posting on southern Africa!

But Botswana though is not an earthly paradise. Like elsewhere, it has serious economic, social and environmental problems. In a country that is comprised of circa 70% desert, drought and desertification are issues of growing concern exacerbated by Climate Change and huge increases in commercial livestock herding. It has a high incidence of HIV/AIDS particularly amongst the young (15-24 age group) who account for c50% of new cases; and it is where the so-call ‘blesser’ culture still exists in which older rich men use money and expensive gifts to entice young girls into male controlled sexual relationships. There has been controversy too over the handling of the land rights of the indigenous ‘San’ hunter-gatherers. From traditional low levels of elephant poaching, the last year has seen a significant rise.
Youth employment is very high in the country. Whilst it is large at 19% for the total population, it is 34% amongst the younger age group.
The latter is the reason why I have worked in the country on four separate occasions since 2016 and hopefully will do so again in the future. As part of the African Code Week initiative (involving 37 countries), we deliver teacher and mentor training in computer coding, supporting its introduction into primary/secondary school curricula in order to provide its young people with key digital skills for the 21st century. Over the years, this programme has been organised in partnership with local NGOs (Ngwana Enterprises, The Clicking Generation, Techno Kids Center, People-Powered Generation), the country’s mining corporation(Debswana)) and the government of Botswana. There is an enthusiastic appetite for technology and digital innovation amongst students and teachers, and science is being giving increased recognition in the educational system. Young entrepreneurs are setting up their own high tech companies to take advantage of the global web. State policy is to expand the national economic base and its ICT infrastructure in order to provide the jobs that its highly intelligent youth urgently require.
Diamonds and tourism are the country’s two primary sources of revenue. Botswana is one of world’s top diamond producers with the state owning 50% of the mining company responsible, and thankfully not having the associated violence, illegal extraction, criminality and corruption that many other mining countries have suffered from. I have worked in the closed mining town of Orapa, which was an amazing experience. Mining is now complemented by the add-on value of a diamond cutting and polishing industry based in the capital.
In the case of tourism, there is a movement towards diversification. The Okavango Delta is one of the most famed natural habitats in the world and is renowned for its high quality eco-tourism and low ecological footprint. The government wants to bring the Okavango sustainable model, that is characterised by collaboration with indigenous communities, environmental protection and sustainability, to other regions across Botswana. There are proposals to develop a cross-border bilateral approach to tourism such as linking in with Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls. ‘Conference tourism’ in its two cities, namely Francestown and Gaberone, is a new area of development.
I have enjoyed my time working with its young ACW ambassadors. So I extend my heartfelt thanks and appreciation to Phatsimo, Mooketsi, Tebogo, Agang, Monk and Kesego for their professionalism and friendship in this most beautiful of countries. Until we meet again, I say to all of you keep safe and healthy.

The Yellow Flowers of Spring: Gorse


Gorse, Whin or Furze (Irish = Aiteann) is a very common bush characterised by sharp green spines and yellow flowers with a very strong fragrance that normally bloom in April and May.
It is most often found on low quality grounds and thrives along the rough ground on the River Corrib side of Terryland Forest Park. My friend Maírtin O'Ceidigh reminded me of the old saying, "Lovers will stop kissing when the gorse goes out of bloom. Because it grows on poor soils and can survive droughts that means never!
It was in former times extensively used as food, bedding and shelter for livestock during the autumn and winter. Gorse flowers are edible and can be used in salads as well as to produce an alcoholic beverage.
In Ireland the bush served as the traditional fuel for the bonfires of Oíche Bealtaine or May Eve (April 30). In the Celtic calendar, May 1st was the first day of summer and was celebrated as the festival of Lá Bealtaine (Beltane) and marks the midway point between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. In the Irish language, the word Bealtaine translates as the month of May.
Gorse was also placed around milk, butter and beds to ward off fairies.

Nature in COVID-19: You Were Never Lovelier!


With humankind's hand and footprint so much reduced on the surface of the planet due to COVID-19, the rest of Nature is making a comeback.
The air is dramatically cleaner over China, the dolphins are reappearing in the canals of Venice, the cougars are walking the streets of Santiago and in Galway city, due to the absence of traffic noise pollution, we can actually hear the beautiful melodic sounds of the birds!
And Terryland River (photo) in Terryland Forest Park has never looked so pretty!
So post Covid-19, let's ensure that we learn the correct lessons from this pandemic and not adopt a 'Business as Usual' attitude with all of the mistakes that such a way of life was characterised by

New York: Art of the Subway


 

Unbeknownst to many, the New York City transit subway system is one of the greatest public art museums in the world, with its stations and carriages featuring an amazing collection of visual art done primarily on ceramic tile but also on stained glass, metal, stone and poster that reflects connections with sites, neighbourhoods and people.
The subway system has been wonderfully transformed from when I worked as a student in the ‘Big Apple’ during the Age of Disco. 

A New York Subway carriage in 1979
At that time the underground world, starved of public funding, was too often filthy, decaying and dangerous with the trains covered in spray-can graffiti some of which was indeed attractive ‘urban street art’ but most was aggressive, ugly and sometimes gang-related.
In 1985 an Arts and Design unit was established by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to aesthetically improve the network as part of a massive new capital investment programme undertaken to reverse years of decline. 

The arts is now an integral part of the ongoing enhancements and rebuilding projects. There is live music and inscriptions of poetry on display (‘poetry in motion’) but it is the visual mural arts that takes precedence. 
This includes the rehabilitation and preservation of original materials and artworks. For the founders of the subway system, which opened in 1904, cared passionately about making the stations attractive places for commuters as well as ensuring only the best of materials and craftmanship were used. They wanted the passengers’ journeys to be delightful travel experiences. 
Today the transit system is a showcase for local and internationally renowned contemporary artists (see Yoko Ono’s murals at 72nd street subway station) and a memorial to the vision of the original architects and the skills of the early crafts artisans.

There is also an interesting hidden side to the subways. A few of the early stations and underground commuter routes have been closed off for decades leading to the original art being beautifully preserved in what can only be described as ‘time tunnels’. Guided tours by the New York Transit Museum are offered of the Old City Hall stop at Centre Street in lower Manhattan where its breath-taking domed ceilings covered in mosaic tiles, ornate chandeliers, and stunning glass skylights seem to be frozen in time.

P.S. I only returned to Ireland from New York City on March 4th. So I delayed my original intention to post up a series of articles on the ‘Big Apple’ online. I considered it inappropriate to do so due to the sickness and death arising out of COVID-19 that it has endured since my departure. My brave cousin Ed Eccles is working every day in New York during this critical time (more on Ed in my next posting) But now on reflection, I feel that I have a duty to remind us all of what a great cosmopolitan urban hub it is and how much it means to people everywhere across the global. It recovered from the devastation of September 11th 2001. It will do so again.

The Yellow Flowers of Spring: Primrose


Growing in woodland clearings of Terryland Forest Park, there are many examples of the flower that symbolises the beauty of fairies and female Christian saints.
The Primrose (Sabhaircín in Irish) is a native perennial plant that also favours damp soils in hedgerows, meadows and roadsides. It normally blooms in February to May with beautifully scented flowers. In some sheltered locations though it can bloom as early at December. Its early bloom probably explains its name ('primus' = 'first' in Latin). Stalks grow to 15cm.
Like so many other native Irish wildflowers of spring such as lesser celandine, daisy and daffodils, the primrose's colour gives a wonderful yellow hue that contrasts sharply with the green of its leaves and the background of grasses and woodland floor.
In February it was used to decorate churches in honour of St. Bridget and in May to populate alters dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It was also made into 'posies' by children to decorate houses, to ward off evil spirits and, in the process, fill homes with its beautiful aromatic scent

Multi-tasking: Just like a Woman!


Over the last few weeks I, like many others, have rediscovered the use of skills that long ago I stopped using. The COVID-19 lockdown has been a wake-up call to so many of us about what really matters in life and in Nature. The consumer society that we live in has lulled us into a false sense of security and encouraged us to contract out to others what we should be doing ourselves. It meant in the process we became disempowered not being able in some cases to do simple things like change an electric plug or repair a bike puncture.
So during the lockdown, I have baked apple tarts, prepared and cooked vegetable soups, painted and given a new lease of life to old furnture and fittings, made celebration cards, fixed fences, cleaned up (not just in Terryland Forest Park but in my home!), and dug up and planted a new vegetable garden. I am doing the things that my wife Cepta does every day. I have become a multi-tasker -just like her!
Okay they may be not the best soups or tarts or cards- but I am trying!
Next week, I intend to be even more useful to family and society! For I will do some car mechanics, bake bread, sew, darn....This is a new me!!!

The Yellow Flowers of Spring: the Dandelion


(Irish = Caisearbhán)
The name comes from French 'dent de lion, meaning "tooth of the lion", referring to the coarsely toothed leaves.
The flower is found all across the meadows and along the edges of the pathways of Terryland Forest Park.
A member of the daisy family, the dandelion has distinctive large golden flower-heads which are also clusters of tiny flowers and toothed leaves. In Ireland it was a flower that symbolised the beginning of Spring and once more associated with St. Brigit/Brigid, Ireland's first female saint (women were very powerful in the early Celtic Christian church), and with the pagan goddess of the same name.
The dandelion was recognised as a very important herbal food plant up until a few decade ago. In earlier times, the dandelion was recognised as a very important herbal and food plant. Containing vitamins A, B, C, and D, as well as minerals such as iron, potassium, and zinc, it was used as a cleansing agent for the body and for a variety of ailments including liver complaints, upset stomach, bowels, gall stones, hemorrhoids as well as for jaundice (root) and warts (sap).
The flowers can be made into dandelion wine, which has a reputation as an excellent tonic, and the dried roots, when roasted and ground, make an effective natural substitute for coffee.



COVID-19: Growing Your Own Organic Food at Home


The COVID-19 crisis is an opportunity for us to reevaluate our economy, our relationship with people and with the rest of Nature. Hopefully if we learn the right lessons we can build a better future based on a circular economy using local resources as much as possible.
We can become more skillful, more respectful towards others, and more aware of biodiversity.
At present, many of us are learning to cook, to bake, to paint, to repair, to grow fruits and vegetables as well as to value the key things in life such as family, friends, the birds and the bees.
In order to help people during this crisis, as mentioned previously, I compiled last week an easy-to-follow guide on how to set up and maintain one's very own home organic food garden.
Check out https://bit.ly/39pTFWd

Yesterday I completed Phase 1 of my new extended vegetable garden. Over an extended weekend, I had dug up part of my back lawn; marked off out three sections for annual crop rotation; fertilised the soil; then planted seed potatoes, onion sets and lettuce; and finally surrounded the area with fencing (to keep the cats and dogs out).
Nothing went to waste. The top layer of grass turf that I took up was used in repairing the front lawn that had been badly damaged by our very energetic dog (he was trying to recreate a WW1 battlefield!); the stones from the soils were used to reinforce the base of some decking. The water I used for the plants comes from our rainwater harvesting barrel.
Tomorrow I will harvest the rhubarb that we already had in the back garden and use it to make a fruit tart. Good to see that the buds on the Apple trees are starting to open!

The Yellow Flowers of Spring: the Daffodil


Ever notice how so many of the flowers that bloom in Spring are yellow in colour?
The photo shows daffodils in the Dún na Coiribe section of Terryland Forest Park. These and thousands of other daffodils were planted one Sunday in October 2003 by the children of Educate Together School in Newcastle.
Terryland Forest is also home at present to a myriad of other yellow flowering plants including gorse, primrose, dandelion and celandine.
With 125 million years of experimenting and engineering with flowers Nature has come up with some amazing ways to ensure the survival of all of its species of flora. With a natural background foliage of green, bright colours such as yellow are easily spotted by the small number of pollinators that are flying around in the cooler weather of early Springtime.
The colour yellow also soaks up the warmth from a weaker sun during winter and early spring better than the foliage and the darker coloured flowers that generally bloom in late spring and summer. This allows these plants to develop better even in colder temperatures