No to Forest Road, Yes to Forest Classroom & Greenway

In advance of the public consultation (Jan 25th) on the proposed changes to the Kirwan Roundabout, we are asking the people of Galway to attend a public information event on Monday (Jan 23rd) on the Terryland Forest Park which will outline the health, educational, environmental and social benefits of Ireland’s largest community-driven urban forest park project.

It is important that the public are made fully aware before it is too late of the need for council investment, protection and promotion of what is known as the ‘Lungs of the City’ and the damage that a proposed road construction through the park will do to its status as an Ecological Corridor, as a major carbon sink in combating climate change, as an Outdoor Classroom for the benefit of schools and colleges, as a tourist amenity and as an Outdoor Gym and Greenway for the citizens Galway city.

At the meeting we will outline a programme of social, learning, crafts, health, gardening and environmental projects being organised for 2017 by teachers, heritage enthusiasts, scientists, gardeners, medical professionals and community volunteers in this urban forest. These activities include meadow-making, wildflower plantings, a traditional scything festival, bat walks, nature trails, walking/cycling tours, a scarecrow festival, bee keeping, organic gardening and citizen science events.

The lack of opportunities for today’s urban youth generation in particular to enjoy woodlands and the wilderness is having serious negative learning and health repercussions. The need for children to experience the magic of forests and the wilderness is borne out by the latest scientific and medical research worldwide which shows the fundamental importance of integrating woodlands, trees and wetlands into the fabric of our cities. Building a road through the park would not only destroy wildlife as well as a tranquil greenway for walkers, it will directly damage people’s health by introducing high levels of pollution. For vehicle emissions are associated with rising levels of dementia, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses. The Environmental Protection Agencey (EPA) recently stated that 1,200 people die prematurely every year in Ireland due to air pollution with the World Health Organisation listing Galway as one of the worst offenders in Britain and Ireland for breaching air safety levels.

It is accepted that trees are the most cost effective way to tackle urban pollution, absorbing between 7% to 24% of atmospheric contaminates.

On a biodiversity level, Terryland was initiated as an ecological corridor for flora and fauna by providing a green link to connect the Corrib waterways to the farmlands of east Galway, a key development at a time when the status of over 60% of Ireland’s native species is precarious. 

We welcome the fact that two days after our meeting, engineers from Halcrow Barry Consultants will host a public consultation on the proposed changes to the Kirwan Roundabout in the new Ballinfoile Castlegar Neighbourhood Centre

But our fear is that the views of the engineers as well as of senior officials in City Hall fail to fully understand Terryland’s role in citizens’ health and biodiversity protection, a situation that seems unbelievable considering that Galway is the designated Green Leaf or Green Capital of Europe for 2017.  For at last week’s council meeting when plans were unveiled for the first time of the six design options on revamping the Kirwan Roundabout, not one of the engineers either in their written or oral presentations made reference to the ‘Terryland Forest Park’ by name.  This in spite of the fact that three of the options are based on dissecting the lands of this key recreational and ecological zone.  This negative stance was similar to City Hall’s recent bye-law recommendation to ban children from climbing trees in parks as well as when the council’s CEO in September introduced the forest road development via a Material Alterations to the Galway City Development Plan, where the construction was (under)stated as just a “link road between Bóthar na dTreabh (N6) and Liosbaun Estate. They are by this approach devaluing the fundamental importance of forests and other green spaces, treating them as land banks to be used for built development and expansion when they want.  

There is no doubt that the Kirwan Roundabout and access roads infrastructure needs to be revamped to support motorised and non-motorised vehicle users. But it is going against the trend of other European countries that the engineers are not being given the wider holistic remit to consider the installation of a proper pedestrian, cyclist and public transport infrastructure nor to review the synchronisation of the traffic lights which are presently leading to tailbacks on the Kirwan roundabout. Likewise as with other countries’ such as the United States, Netherlands and Britain, there is no consideration given of building Green (wildlife) Bridges to connect the different sections of Terryland Forest presently separated by Bóthar na dTreabh (N6) and the Quincentennial Bridge Road.

The Terryland Forest Park project was established as a partnership between City Hall and communities in 1999 and with its 100,000 native trees is officially recognised as the Lungs of the City. Such a proposed road construction punctures these lungs, goes against council’s own environmental policies and is a betrayal of the trust of the people of Galway who in their thousands have planted tens of thousands of trees and native wildflowers over the last two decades.

We want the citizens to reclaim their forests and do what the council signage says at the main entrance to the park, “Citizens of Galway, This is Your Park, Take Ownership of our City’s Cultural Woodland”. The council have no right to renege on their written promises and to steal what was planted and nurtured by the ordinary citizens of all ages. We need investment not destruction.

Terryland Forest Park selected as Galway’s "Get Involved" project!

Galway City Tribune newspaper two page spread
Terryland Forest Park has been selected as the Galway City candidate for the Get Involved Sustainable Communities initiative 2016/17. Organised by 51 local Irish newspapers and sponsored by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, Get Involved selects those projects that promote local volunteerism, biodiversity, local food growing, ecotourism and developing markets for recyclables and renewable energies. 

The community and environmental projects organised through the Terryland Forest Park in 2016 were many and varied including wildflower planting, traditional hand-held scythe mowing of a meadow, scarecrow making, mapping out online walking trails, drystone wall restoration, castle heritage cycle trails,  organic gardening, food preservation courses, neighbourhood harvest festival, traditional crafts demonstrations, litter picking, bat walks, science surveys and production of a series of onsite biodiversity educational signage.

We sincerely thank the Galway City Tribune for choosing us and for the great two page piece that appears in the current edition of the newspaper which includes photos of Cumann na bhFhear members forging and an image of the  Seven Galway Castles trail (art by Helen Caird). 

Such a prestigious accolade has come at a most opportune time just as activists have commenced battle to save the forest park from a road construction that will destroy its development as a key Ecological Corridor for wildlife and as an Outdoor Classroom for local schools and colleges.

This recognition has resulted from the dozens of hardworking visionary community, educational and environmental volunteers who are regularly involved through a series of ambitious programmes within the park that are transforming this green urban network of habitats into a learning and cultural environment for the children, students, scientists and communities of Galway city. 

These groups include Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden, Cumann na bhFear, Conservation Volunteers, Galway Bat Group, Ballinfoile Mór Walking group, School of Science GMIT, Zoology Martin Ryan Institute NUI Galway, the Centre for Environmental Science NUI Galway, GMIT Science, the Galway Field Studies Centre and the overall coordinator-the Terryland Forest Park Alliance.

Aleppo: Lessons from Beirut.

The two photographs above are not some of those being shown a lot recently of Aleppo past (beautiful) and present (ruins). Rather they show Beirut as it is now (top) and as it was (bottom).

The horrors being endured by the peoples of the Middle East seems to be only getting worse. In the last days of 2016 and the first days of 2017, bombings of civilian areas, massacres of unarmed men. women and children as well as forced population movements continue unabated.  Yemen, Iraq and Syria are turning into wastelands. The scenes on our television screens of Aleppo showing miles and miles of streetscapes lying in ruins are reminiscent of Berlin, Hamburg and Dresden at the end of World War Two. We have all seen the photographs of Aleppo then (glorious) and now (desolation). These images could also come from other Syrian cities – Homs, Deir ez-Zor, Daraa…
Promises of a better future and a return to the normality before the men with their guns, tanks and bombs came seem to be an impossible dream.
But there is hope that this nightmare will end.

Only ten years ago, Beirut was synonymous with death and destruction. Once known as the Paris of the East, civil wars and military invasions from 1975 onwards reduced the Lebanese capital to rubble. Armed militias, military checkpoints, air bombings, kidnappings, sectarian killings, religious conflicts and foreign occupations transformed the city and countryside into a nightmare world reminiscent of scenes from the film Mad Max
A few months ago, I travelled to Lebanon to teach coding to Palestinian and Syrian  refugee teachers as well as to students in Lebanese schools.  In a country of only 4+ million citizens, there are over 2 million refugees mainly from Syria. This is a putting a huge strain on an already fragile Lebanese society. A national political deadlock of 29 months was only ended in November when the post of Presidency was finally filled. Mounds of waste were highly visible on inter city roadsides and in front of major buildings as a result of what many Lebanese say is due to endemic political corruption. The garbage crisis is so bad that there is a fear that it could contaminate the whole of the Mediterranean Sea.
Yet is spite of the past and present problems, Lebanon still inspires me and fills me with grounds for optimism.
The capital city is being rebuilt. Hotels are welcoming foreign tourists. Couples kiss, hold hands and share romantic moments together in public places. Families cycle along the seafront. Unaccompanied women drive cars, walk the streets, socialise together. The cafes and bars are full of young people. The streets around the American university are awash with students of both sexes and of different cultures. Mosques and churches exist in relative proximity. Public museums, galleries and hotels welcome visitors. No other country has done more to welcome refugees than Lebanon.
All of this takes places in what was until very recently a brutal urban battleground. Of course this is not to ignore the serious social problems that still exist. Women complain of experiencing sexual harassment on the streets; the refugees often live in cramped poor neighbourhoods; corruption and political patronage are talked about openly; and the urban geography is based along religious and ethnic lines.
But the most important thing is that Druze, Christian, Shia, Sunni, atheist, Armenian are living and mingling in the same city with lines slowly blurring as time moves on.
In spite of the fragility of Beirut society, it offers a possibility of a return to the past for the Middle East. For this region that was the cradle of civilisation never belonged to one faith, one people or one ideology. For thousands of years its cities were always mixed, always cosmopolitan.
I sincerely hope to be given the opportunity to once again work in Lebanon as part of the ambitious and highly beneficial 'Refugee Code Week' learning initiative.

Christmas in Galway: The School Concert

One of the highlights for many people in rural communities and urban neighbourhoods across Ireland is the hosting of the annual Christmas concert in the local school.
It is when the children become the stars of their locality as they sing, dance, do comedy and tell stories to an audience comprising their parents, grandparents, cousins, friends and neighbours. 

Due to globalisation, mechanisation of farming, a drop off in regular attendance at traditional Irish places of worships and the ongoing population drift to the big cities, the local school is the only glue that binds many rural communities together. These learning institutions are the living active embodiment and repository of all the knowledge, experiences, ballads, poems, literature, arts, culture and history of a local community. If they close the lifeblood and heritage of a locality going back generations can be lost for ever.
The small country and neighbourhood school provides all too rare opportunities for local people to come together and to be involved in their local area.
The Christmas concert is a great example of collective community volunteerism in action. Usually a small army of parents support the teachers by preparing/serving food, selling tickets, securing spot prizes and constructing stage props.
But it is the teachers that are the unsung heroes of such events as weeks of rehearsals with their pupils teaching them to act, to play musical instruments and to sing finally pays off.
I attended the Christmas concert this year in St Theresa's National School in Cashel Connemara where I watched the children perform in the Nativity play and in lots more beside. So well done to the principal Cepta Stephens the teachers, the parents and particularly the boys and girls for a most enjoyable experience.

The Drystone Walls of the Forest.

What is now the Terryland Forest Park was once a mosaic of small fields divided by drystone walls.
In the mid 1990s our local residents' associations campaigned on and ensured that this area near to the centre of Galway city was transformed into a woodland park rather than being covered with a series of housing estates.
For we wanted a 'Green Lungs' for the citizens of Galway.
Though the trees were planted and the pathways laid out, many of the boundary walls remained. Some gradually fell into disrepair, became covered with ivy and got largely ignored.
But over the last year council staff supported by volunteers have began work on restoring some of these walls in Terryland Forest Park to their former glory (see photo).

Drystone walls have been a feature of the Irish landscape for 5,000 years. Most though were built after the Great Famine (An Gorta Mór) of the mid 19th century when the open system of farming was replaced as the Anglo-Irish landed estates were redistributed to the former tenantry resulting in a patchwork of small farms across Ireland.
With no mortar holding the stones together, skilled craftsmen carefully select stones that will balance and sit into the wall.
The gaps between the stones helps stability by allowing the wind currents to pass through, representing fine examples of millennia old engineering.

They also provide habitats for a variety of birds, mammals and insects. The stone surfaces support mosses, lichens and plants.
So these drystone walls that are so characteristic of the West of Ireland are more than just part of our built heritage, they are a vast network of ecological corridors, providing green highways for flora and fauna.
However with the decline of the small working family farm, mechanisation, urbanisation and road development, the small field and accompanying drystone wall boundaries are disappearing quickly from the Irish countryside. The replacement perimeter wooden, concrete, cemented stone and wire fencing offer nothing to wildlife.
So Terryland volunteers are doing their bit to protect our natural and built heritage.
Commenting on the restoration of the drystone wall in Terryland Forest Park, Dr. Colin Lawton of the Zoology in NUI Galway said, "These stone walls are really important for our small mammals such as mice, voles, shrews and stoats. The rodents hate to move across open spaces so dart along linear features such as walls and fallen logs. Shrews like the feeding opportunities all the little nooks and crannies provide and stoats just like holes to explore and features to mark. The switch to wire fencing has had a major impact in the countryside. This is a great worthwhile project."

Muslim & Christian Places of Worship side by side in the Holy Land (Jordan)

Photograph is a composite of two images that I took whilst working in Jordan a few months ago. It shows the Al Bishara Christian Coptic Church and the King Abdullah 1 Mosque which lie adjacent to each other on Abdali Street in central Amman. It represents physical proof, in a time of almost unprecedented levels of human suffering, ethnic cleansing and religious conflict in the Middle East, that Christians, Muslims, Jews and other faiths can co-exist peacefully in this region. The Holy Land (Jordan, Israel, Palestine) , the Levant and Mesopotamia belong to all its inhabitants no matter what their faith, culture or social class are.

I was given the opportunity this year to take on the role of a master mentor in an ambitious coding educational initiative known as Refugee Code Week(RCW). Led by the German software company SAP, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) and our very own Galway Education Centre(GEC), this ambitious programme aims to help play a role in overcoming the unemployment, despair, loss of education, forced mass emigration and social/economic/nation meltdown that has accompanied the refugee crisis in the Middle East by starting the process of equipping participants in refugee camps as well as in the schools and colleges of hosted countries with much needed coding learning skills. RCW will continue in 2017 and beyond.
My work has allowed me to teach in Syrian and Palestinian refugee camps as well as in schools, universities, community centres across Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey.

I have witnessed at first hand the best of humanity- the UNHCR workers, the refugee camp residents volunteer, the SAP/GEC team and the Syrians, Palestinians, Lebanese, Egyptians, Ethiopians, Jordanians and other nationalities who give so much to help others. These ordinary everyday people are the unsung heroes of our time.
I have walked with many of my newfound Middle Eastern friends through the streets of Amman, Beirut, Sidon, Istanbul, Cairo and Nabatieh
My earnest wish is to witness the dismantling of the refugee camps that I work in as its residents return home and to some day walk together with the same people through the streets of Aleppo, Dara'a, Palmyra, Raqqa, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Mosul.
May I extend my best wishes to these friends during Christmas, a time associated with a message of a future peace and good will to all men and women.

The 'Holy' Tree of Christmas

The approximate100,000 trees in the community-initiated man-made Terryland Forest Park are native Irish species such as ash, alder and oak. Not only do they provide rich havens to a wonderful diversity of wildlife, these trees have special religious and mythological associations with our Celtic pagan and Christian religious traditions.

Of special significance at this time of the year is the 'Holly' (Cuileann in Irish) tree. In Christian folklore it is associated with being a 'Holy' plant. Irish homes in times past were decorated with its branches at Christmas as the prickly leaves symbolized Christ’s crown of thorns and its bright red winter berries the drops of blood that he shed during his crucifixion. 

My parents told me that as children they never saw a Christmas 'pine' Tree in their homes. Instead the walls were decked with boughs (branches) of holly, nailed to wooden beams or hung over picture frames. I continue this family tradition in my own house with branches cut from trees from our own garden as well as one solitary branch taken from Terryland Forest Park. I always make sure that I leave loads of berries on the trees for the benefit of the birds.

In the pagan Celtic period, this tree was identified with warrior prowess, the sun god Lugh and the harvest festival.

Community & Environmental Campaigners Agree to Support Green Leaf City status for Galway City


In spite of the decision of Galway city council last week to sanction a road through Terryland Forest Park and to allow building construction on a meadow in Merlin Park Woods, local environmental and community campaigners have agreed to work with City Hall on developing a series of eco-initiatives under the banner of its status as the European Green Leaf City for 2017.

According to Brendan Smith of the Terryland Forest Park Alliance, “At the annual plenary meeting this week of the Galway City Community Network which represents over one hundred community and volunteers organisations, there was a deep sense of anger and betrayal expressed by many speakers over last week’s decisions by Galway City Council to ignore their own long standing environmental, social and health polices as contained in previous and current development plans as well as the advice of its own consultants’ report in order to sanction road and building construction in such sensitive green areas as Terryland Forest Park.  It was a slap on the faces of the thousands of volunteers who have given their time and energies free of charge since 2000 to create woods, meadows, nature trails and other wildlife habitats. Combined with confirmation at a meeting in City Hall a few days ago that officials have, for what they call budgetary constraints, pulled the plug on the multi-sectoral Terryland steering committee that includes representatives from the HSE, GMIT, NUI Galway and schools, last week was a dark week for the local environmental and community movement.  Our vision of creating a network of linked forests and natural heritage areas that would make Galway the envy of the rest of Ireland was dealt a mortal blow from those we considered our partners. 

Yet it was unanimously agreed to warmly welcome the long overdue appointment of a coordinator for the Green Leaf City 2017. Sharon Carroll, who will take up her appointment full time on January 1st, is very well respected amongst the city’s community, schools and environmental sectors especially for her work in a previous role as the city's Environmental Education Officer.
For the sake of the health of present and future generations and to enhance biodiversity in our city, we intend to actively collaborate with Sharon on developing an ambitious eco-programme that we hope will include the Outdoor Classroom, the Outdoor Laboratory, neighbourhood organic gardens, nature walking trails, a proper collection facility for hazardous waste, greater public access to and staffing of local authority parks as well as securing significant citizens’ involvement in the management and planning of our urban green spaces.

However we will continue our campaigns to reverse the recent decisions of City Hall to pass death sentences on some of the city’s major woodlands. In the case of Terryland we are considering bringing the issue to the European Commission as we feel that the proposed road construction is in contravention of the terms that the EU funding was granted for this park in the late 1990s."  

Democratic Party's Role in Trump's Victory.

Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election to a racist, misogynist, lecherous, gun-loving, militaristic, anti-environmentalist, tax-avoidance, former bankrupt billionaire. Why? Because, as exposed by WikiLeaks, she is funded by a Wall Street, right-wing Israeli (as opposed to its ordinary citizens) and Saudi elite who shape her policies and favour a world order based on a triumphal globalisation of deregulation that has led to the destruction of indigenous American manufacturing industries and the loss of millions of jobs as their unpatriotic owners transferred their operations to countries where labour is cheap. 
The Democratic establishment secretively undermined the campaign of Bernie Sanders, one of their own presidential candidates, an honest progressive socialist who represented the only true alternative to Trump. Unlike Obama, he was prepared to mobilise the poor and middle classes, properly regulate the financial institutions, tax the wealthy, implement free health and higher education student funding, build infrastructure and dismantle free trade agreements such as NAFTA. 
Obama did some great things in office. But his failure to honour his populist “Yes We Can” motto by mobilising the nation to stand up to the banks and reform the economic system after the crash of 2008 led to his alienation from the impoverished masses. 
Trump filled the vacuum that the Democratic Party hierarchy helped create. But he represents a lie. In the area of economics for instance, real sustainable jobs lie partly in renewable manufacturing, renewable energies, non industrialised organic farming, IoT technologies and not in bringing back coal and increasing other fossil fuels extraction. Trump will start destroying the hard won global consensus on combatting climate change. Life in all its forms on the planet will suffer as a consequence.

Ireland's Longest Running Residents' Campaign finally to achieve success

Image may contain: 12 people , people smiling , crowd and outdoor

This photograph appeared this weekend in a very special pioneering edition of the Galway City Tribune that was provided free of charge to all households in the Ballinfoile-Castlegar locality of Galway city.
It shows a residents' protest in the summer of 1989 outside a meeting of city councillors in City Hall. They were demanding recreational and social facilities in a neighbourhood devoid of such essential community infrastructure even though each household had been levied £500-1000+ to pay for such.
This protest was a finale of a two year campaign that I helped organise. I was then still in my twenties. That evening we secured a series of outdoor sports and leisure facilities including playing fields, a playground, tennis courts, changing rooms and a parkland. We were overjoyed. But sadly it took another 27 years before we finally benefited from an indoor equivalent. It is a state-of-the-art complex comprising, foyer, multi-purpose rooms, Olympic size basketball court, catering area, changing rooms, carpark eetc located in the geographical heart of the locality. It will be publicly owned and managed by the local community in conjunction with the social service enterprise company known as SCCUL. This is great news and we welcome all who made it possible including the community activists, the present Council, council staff including Liam Hanrahan and Shraon Carroll and of course the ex Mayor Frank Fahy on whose watch the complex was completed.
But no community should have had to witness generations of their children being denied leisure facilities. Many of the kids that appear in the photo now have their own children. Some of the adults are no longer alive. So they never saw their hopes and dreams come true.
Since the coming of modern Ireland in the early 1970s and the corresponding growth in urban areas, it was the politically well-connected property speculators, builders and the developers who were allowed to make fortunes out of creating mile after mile of housing estates and streets devoid of community facilities for all ages. They created a soulless urban sprawl rather that resident-centred 'urban villages'.
In countries such as Austria, schools, parks, social centres, public transport and cycle networks are put in place before the people move in. Why not Ireland? People should come before the profit of a small coterie number of speculators.
Finally a big 'Bualadh Bos' to the present hard working team of fellow volunteer hardworking, dedicated, visionary and generous activists who finally secured success including Róisín Ní Fhearrachair, Tímea Becsák, Noelle Donnellan, Mags Douglas, Thomas Cox, Claudiu Baranyai Milagrosa Urroz, Sabrina Commins, Tom Hanley, Paul Hayes, Justine Delaney Michele Chiperi, Una O’Connell and those who were with us until recently including stalwart Michael McDonnell, Helen Caird, Jamie McLaughlin, Laurence Daly, Valerie Pointer, Sheila Mangan, Keith McDonogh, Michael Tiernan. Caitriona Nic Mhuiris Suzanne McNena, Johanna Downes, Tom Costello, Frank Fahy, Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh. Catherine Connolly TD. and those who helped initiate it all those years ago including Nevin Breen, Peter Rowland, Daibhi O'Cronin, Irene Duffy, Irene Hynes and Paul Tannian.
It was a pleasure to have worked with ye all. Now I can happily move on to other campaigns that hopefully won't take so long to conclude. For I don't have another 27 years left in me!!
Ballinfoile Mor/Castlegar Community Updates

Save Galway City's Green Spaces from the Bulldozer

A leading community activist has condemned as ‘environmental and health vandalism’ the proposals by Galway city council to advocate the construction of buildings and a road through the main urban parks as a betrayal of the hundreds of dedicated residents, scientists, teachers and youth who regularly give their time, energies and ideas to developing and maintaining the local authority’s woods, parks and green spaces for the benefit of the general public.  

According to Brendan Smith of the Terryland Forest Alliance, “There is a deep sense of shock and a feeling of betrayal amongst Galway’s army of environmental volunteers as we witness council officials undertaking a complete U-turn on long standing environmental policies, which will have serious negative consequences on people’s health, on air quality, on the education of our children, on the county’s commitment to combat global climate change and which will led to the destruction of sensitive wildlife corridors that have taken decades to nurture. We are calling on citizens and their elected representatives to save our city from what can only be described as institutional environmental and health vandalism and are hosting a public meeting on this issue at 7.30pm on Thursday November 24th in the Maldron Hotel near the Kirwan Roundabout on the Headford Road.”

Community made wildflower meadow in Terryland Forest Park, Summer 2916
In the last few weeks, we have been informed by City Hall that the Terryland Forest Park multi-sectoral steering committee that includes NUI Galway, GMIT, An Taisce, HSE, schools and communities can no longer met due to budgetary restrictions; that a road will be built through the same forest park; that an ancient meadow in Merlin Woods will be bulldozed to make way for a hospice in spite of suitable alterative sites existing nearby; that the council propose to make it illegal for children to climb trees and that the number of workers in park maintenance are being reduced. 

2008: 10,000+ people sign petition which successfully stopped a road being built through Terryland Forest Park
It is only a few years ago that a petition signed by over 10,000 Galwegians stopped a road being built through Terryland Forest Park, a park referred too as the “People’s Park” as most of its 100,000 trees were planted by the people of the city from March 2000 onwards. The council are ignoring the reasons why people did so. For the latest scientific research shows the fundamental importance of trees and nature to people’s well being, which is why the next generation of cities across the world are integrating parks, food gardens and forests into their urban infrastructures. Ireland has the highest rate of obesity and weight excess in Europe whilst over 20% of our young people suffer from some form of mental health disorder, much of which can stem from what is known as Nature Deficit Disorder(NDD).  Experiencing the clean air as well as the calming and stimulation effect of the ‘Great Outdoors’ is now being promoted by the medical profession worldwide as an alternative to the costly drugs and pill culture.

Hence for the sake of our citizens, our future generations and our planet the council’s retrograde steps to design out biodiversity must be halted.

These brutal actions make a mockery of the city being declared a green capital of Europe as the EU Green Leaf City 2017. Projects involving community volunteers played a key role in securing this international accolade. Activists were therefore hoping that the city’s new found international eco-status would led to significant investment and progress being made in promoting greater public access to parks; in overcoming anti-social activity such as illegal dumping and bush drinking in bogs, parks and woodlands; in finally moving forward on the Galway city-Clifden Greenway and in supporting park-based nature learning initiatives for children.  
The Outdoor Classroom
Over the last year, scientists, technologists, teachers, health experts and environmentalists have begun working together to commence the process of transforming Terryland into a huge Outdoor Classroom and Outdoor Laboratory for our educational institutions that could also provide major tourist benefit. 
Traditional Mowing of widlflower meadow in Terryland Forest Park
Heritage enthusiasts have started to use it as a learning hub for traditional rural skills and crafts including the creation of native wildflower meadows where the grass is mowed by using hand held scythes, scarecrow-making events for children, and the introduction of horse drawn ploughing into the park’s organic garden.

Yet we are now faced with the extraordinary situation that the council has decided that Galway’s communities can no longer be involved in developing a park that they actually founded. This decision is the antithesis of civic engagement, a cornerstone of the city’s development strategy. 
Community Tree Planting

Hence there is a genuine fear that the Green Leaf award could become nothing more than mere window dressing, a title without substance, a Greenwash. The council authorities are it seems treating forests and parks as a reserve land bank to be chipped away when land is needed to be cemented and tarmaced over. Not for nothing is Terryland officially recognised as the ‘Lungs of the City’; its nearly 100,000 trees that were mostly planted by the people of Galway since 2000 provide the oxygen needs of up to 400,000 people, absorb over a decade 3,800 metric tons of the carbon dioxide gas that is contributing to global warming and provide  €4.64 billion worth of air pollution control over 50 years. This park, stretching from the wetlands of the Corrib along the Dyke Road to the farmlands of Castlegar, has the potential to be even important to Galway than the Phoenix Park is to Dublin. But it is been denied the public resources that it so urgently needs whilst funds and support from steering committee members are being ignored.

We as concerned citizens see ourselves as the defenders of the council’s own recreational, health, community and environmental policies. We are not going to let officialdom destroy our precious life-giving wildlife habitats and green spaces. 

The community and environmental sector should once again be viewed as equal partners whose actions over the years have brought many benefits to the quality of life in the city, including stopping the construction of a giant municipal incinerator and its replacement by the first three bin waste recycling system in Ireland as well as the introduction of the country’s first cash-for-cans scheme.”

Preparing the Garden for the Horse & Plough

 Volunteers are needed this Saturday (Nov 12) from 11am in the Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden to help prepare this neighbourhood facility for a very special vistor on the following Saturday. In a sight not seen for many decades, a horse and plough on November 19th will work the ground of this organic garden located in the Terryland Forest Park.

This is a significant environmental event for Galway and hopefully signals the start of one of the key processes in protecting the soils of the city. Soil, water and air are the basic ingredients of life on the planet. Over the last 50 years, Irish agricultural soils have been seriously degraded by the intensification of farming characterised by the use of large machinery, heavier castle breeds, overgrazing, pesticides and herbicides. Soils have been denied organic materials which is one of its key components; has been contaminated with chemicals and become compacted. This compression of the soils has resulted in flooding as water cannot filter down.
Science tells us that the answer to enriching the soils once again is a combination of farming organically and in using animals such as the horse to plough and to harrow the land. Horses don’t need petrol. Feed them on the hay grown in the lands and their manure can be used to fertilise the soils.

In anticipation of the historic return of a horse and plough to urban Galway, we are asking for as many volunteers as possible to join us this Saturday (Nov 12th) from 11am in order to help in preparing our organic garden with a myriad of exciting tasks such as mowing the ground using hand-held scythes, laying down paths for visitors and in clipping/pruning trees and bushes.

Cyberbullying, Internet Safety & Female Objectification.

Over the last few weeks I have spent considerable time visiting primary, post primary and special needs schools talking to children, youth, teachers and parents in counties Clare and Galway on Cyberbullying and Internet Safety.
My work coincided with the lead-up to Mental Health Week.
Thankfully I have so far got very good feedback from the schools that I have visited (see comments below).

Due to a growing disconnect with Nature, too much time spent indoors, an over-reliance on smart devices, peer pressure to conform, body image, exam pressures, stress, lack of job security, isolation, easy access to drugs and cheap alcohol, 20% of our young people in Ireland are suffering from mental health issues. in 2013, circa 7,000 young people harmed themselves.
I always promote the importance of fostering a sense of community, of place, of self-esteem and of belonging; and that we have to look out for each other. In an increasingly disconnected urban sprawl environment, we need to bring the interdependence 'Meitheal' spirit of old rural Ireland into the 21st century city.
Most crucial is that we should always talk to some one we trust if we are experiencing pain including that of being bullied. Never keep a problem to oneself. We should come to each other's aid rather than ignore the humiliation of some one else out of fear of being picked on.

Whilst all ages and sexes are suffering, it is teenagers and particularly teenage girls that are increasingly becoming victims of abuse and harassment. In Iraq and elsewhere, ISIS and similar extremists are forcing captive women into sex slavery. In the West, young women are being disproportionately targetted on the Internet and forced to endure crass sexual comments and threats. Much more so than men, it is women that have been the prime victims of the World Wide Web since its early years. Teenage girls are the biggest prisoners of online porn.

In the 1990s the first well-known victim of the Web was Monica Lewinsky, who had an affair with President Bill Clinton. Whilst he was lauded by many as a 'boyo', Monica was publicly lambasted as a slut, a slag, a bitch, a whore...

Little has changed if we view the 'laddish' behaviour of American presidential candidate Donald Trump.
But it is up to all of us to tackle misogyny in all its forms, racism, sectarianism and give comfort to those that are humiliated. Stand up for each other.

Feedback from schools:

Silvia Griffin Lakeview School
"I really want to thank you for an excellent presentation yesterday evening to the parents association, they found it very informative. As I said I enjoyed your style, a mixture of technology  and humanistic  approach to your professional life.... Parents have already expressed huge  interest, in attending your  workshop...".

Glenamaddy Community College, 3rd year students
"I found this talk really interesting and I'm now aware of it (cyber bullying) in my life."

"I thought the talk was good in that everything was included to know about cyber bullying. It was sad near the end but it was valuable information that we can use for life."

"It was very helpful and I learned a lot from it. It was very interesting."

"I found the talk very interesting. I learned a lot from this talk and not to ever bully anyone."  

Senior cycle student, county Galway
"I really enjoyed your presentation today as it was the first time I had seen an adult discuss with teens the (sometimes violent) sexualization of teenage girls on the internet and in the porn industry. You were non-judgmental, and made sure to highlight the long term effects on the victims, without any victim-blaming. I think that it is a very important subject to talk about with young people and you handled it brilliantly..."

'Galway Goes Live’ in Istanbul

Over the last few months I have taught volunteer mentors across the Middle East, as part of the Refugee Code Week (RCW) initiative, without leaving Galway. For thanks to the power of SAP Webinar, I now give live workshops and lectures to people all over the world from my own city. As a result of this state-of-the art video conferencing software, I was actually lecturing (in a virtual sense) in Brazil during the Rio Olympics!

In spite of its misuse by so many of our fellow man, modern technology can be a wonderful force for good, bringing joy and positive benefits to the world. None more so that ‘webinars’.

Over the weekend. I provided two training workshops to the students of ISIK University in Istanbul in advance of them mentoring to Syrian refugee children living in Turkey. There are over 2.5 million Syrians in this country, victims of a war that is becoming ever more brutal.
Photograph shows students in Istanbul watching the screen which I am controlling from Galway.
I have to thank most sincerely Professor Rabia Karakaya Polat for encouraging her students to support this learn-to-code project, to Elie Laurence Karam and Frank Falvey of SAP for facilitating the webinars and to Claire Gillissen, Batoul Husseini, Ibrahim Khafagy and Bernard Kirk for setting up and maintaining RCW.
As you know, I also work 'on the ground' in countries such as Turkey and Jordan. Which is of course my favourite method of teaching!

Plans for a Festival of Scarecrows in Galway

Thanks to the enthusiastic efforts of the children of Scoil San Phroinsias Tirellan Heights and the Sunny Meadows preschool as well as local teenagers from housing estates such as Lus Leana, dozens of colourful scarecrows of all shapes and sizes populated the vegetable beds of the Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden as part of last Sunday’s Celebration of Local Community event.

 In spite of the initial heavy rainfall, hundreds of local residents still came attracted not just by the army of scarecrows but also the horse shoes being fired at the blacksmithy forge by members of Cumann na bhFear (Men’s Shed) the giant outdoor clay oven that provided free pizzas to the attendees; the face-painting, the wooden toys workshop; the Smoothies stall and the home-made foods such as apple tarts created from the fruit and vegetable produce of the community garden.

Gabriel Henry with his granddaughter Amy Henry with the scarecrow that she and her class made
The children who visited Sunday’s outdoor community event were so excited to see the scarecrows that they created positioned in the vegetable beds, an enthusiasm that spilled over to their accompanying parents and grandparents. The experience was for them so magical as if each of the scarecrows seemed to have its own personality as well as its unique physical shape. 

So we have decided to discuss with local schools and youth groups the hosting of an annual festival of scarecrows commencing next spring, the season when up until a few decades ago these human-like structures made from old clothes and wood were positioned in fields to discourage birds from feeding on recently planted seeds and growing crops. This garden activity will form part of a revival of rural skills taking place in the locality which has also seen educational classes in blacksmithing and wood turning taking place at the Cumann na bhFear (Men’s Shed Ballinfoile) and the mowing of a wildflower meadow using scythes in the Terryland Forest Park.