'History of Home Computing' Exhibition in Galway City Museum

One of my ambitions came true recently when I helped launch the 'History of Home Computing' Exhibition in the Galway City Museum. The event was organised under the auspices of the eGalway group of the Galway City Development Board and will run until the end of January 2009.(L-R) Breandan O Heaghra (Galway City Museum), Mayor Padraic Conneely & Dr. Chris Coughlan (Hewlett-Packard)

A Christmas Experience in Galway City

Walking Down a Festooned-covered Shop Street

Coordinating (in my capacity as DERI Education Outreach Officer) the distribution of free laptop computers to the children of Scoil Bhríde in the village of Menlo
Photos below show DERI's Lukasz (elf) & Bill Mc Daniel (Santa) being the pupils best friends!
Enjoying the party to celebrate the launch of the Countdown Clock for the 'Volvo Ocean Race' in Galway's newest restaurant Pier 88 (Photo below shows Dr. Noirin Burke and my beautiful wife Cepta). The Round-the-World race will visit Galway in Summer 2009.____________
Acting as Santa's little helper at the Christmas Party for the children of the Eglinton Asylum Seeker's Accommodation Centre
(I am dressed in red on front right of the picture below!)

Attending the Adult Asylum Seekers Christmas Party at the Slovakian-owned KRCMA bar in Salthill which I co-launched with local Fianna Fáil TD Frank Fahey____________

Experiencing the joy of Carole Singing by candle light with hundreds of others in the famed & hallowed medieval church of St. Nicholas on Christmas Eve____________
Decorating the home for Christmas
Witnessing the excitement of my young son as he torn open his presents on Christmas morning
Watching in awe the hundreds of swimmers who participated in the Charity Swim on Christmas Day (I am going to participate next year!)

Social Time Bomb Looms in Galway City

(from article submitted to local newspaper)
As an experienced local community activist, I feel that there is a growing sense of disenchantment in neighbourhoods across the city towards a political system that seems to have deprived them of their future.
It was expected that the wealth generated by the Celtic Tiger would transform Ireland into a more benign inclusive nation. Unfortunately this phenomena spawned a developer-driven country that created a congested suffocating urban sprawl lacking any proper transport and amenity infrastructure to meet the needs of all ages and where building levies were not sufficiently re-invested back into neighbourhoods. In the process the community cohesion and values that were once the hallmark of Irish society are being seriously if not terminally eroded. Local and state government have to take full responsibility for this. The partnership Galway City Development Board Strategy 2002-2012 adopted in February 2002 was designed to tackle this gross oversight with its commitment to provide qualitative recreational and community facilities in tandem with all housing developments. Sadly years of intense campaigning before and since the adoption of this historic agreement by local residents groups has failed to see this strategy implemented in Knocknacarra, Ballinfoile, Doughiska and elsewhere. There is no doubt that individual politicians and officials have done their best to try to secure progress. But with little or no success. Particularly betrayed are our young people. For while the era of economic prosperity provided few indoor public leisure centres and a solitary GAF café in Galway city, government policy facilitated the opening of ‘off-licences’ everywhere with their sales of cheap alcohol leaving us with huge social problems that will be further exacerbated by the rising levels of unemployment now occurring. Communities feel increasingly powerless and disengaged from the decision-making process as they witness the recent curtailment of public services, a withdrawal of police from suburbs at weekends and little progress on securing meaningful NGO involvement in the management of parks.
The onus is on local and national politicians to re-double their efforts between now and the June elections to implement those policies that were signed off in good faith with the community sector and the other social partners. I sincerely hope that they rise to the challenge and work together to achieve progress. Otherwise their legacy to the nation will be social exclusion and ghettoisation on a huge scale.

Ugliest Business Buildings In Galway. Part 1 - Advanced Pitstop

Certain property developers and business owners in Galway city have been allowed by City Hall for far too long to let buildings fall in an advanced state of disrepair thus undermining the physical look of the city. Hence I congratulate one City Councillor -Mary Leahy - for putting forward a motion demanding an inventory of all derelict properties and their owners as a first step in securing prosecutions.
However I am baffled as to why this was not done years ago by Galway City Council. For local authorities have the power under the 1990 Derelict Sites Act to presecute owners and in fact take over their properties if they fail to comply with the regulations.
Yet it is not only abandoned buildings that need immediate attention for the sake of beautifying our city. The Celtic Tiger stimulated a massive upsurge in the sale of rented accommodation. Many of these absentee owners saw their new properties purely as investment opportunities, as a source of rental revenue and cared little for their upkeep. One of thousands of badly maintained rented houses in Galway City

The inevitable result was that there are thousands of rented houses in Galway housing estates with badly maintained exteriors contributing to serious lowering of community moral amongst local residents. For why cut your lawn and paint your wooden fence when the house next door has a pampas-like front garden and woodwork that is rotting away!
This situation will get worse as so thousands of rented accommodation lie empty as the downturn in the economy leads to an return of Eastern Europe workers (i.e. former tenants) to their homelands
But even prominent city centre commercial properties can have a dirty, grimy, derelict look.
One example is Advance Pitstop on the Headford Road adjacent to Aldi and Lidl.
The owner lets his perimeter wall crumble, the pathetic looking puny shrubbery is almost permanently covered with discarded bottles and cans. and the rusty railings have not seen a a coat of fresh paint for years.
I am going to start a community campaign in early 2009 to get City Hall to introduce bye-laws to secure a minimum standard of upkeep on all commercial premises and rented properties.
It is critical that developers are not allowed to undermine the attractiveness of the city for tourist and resident alike.
Photo shows the rusty railings, broken wall and litter covered shrubbery that forms the front of Advance Pitstop
on the Headford Road
Galway City

Remembering College Days & Disco Nights as a Galway Student

Last weekend, circa 220 formers students turned up to a fun-packed Reunion at University College Galway.
It was an emotional experience for many of us as we re-kindled deep friendships that suddenly evaporated as we went our separate ways in life with our paths never again crossing. For myself (and others), it was also an opportunity to put out the hand of friendship to one or two people that one parted with on bad terms often over the silliest and pettiest of issues.

Click here to get a sense of student life in UCG in the late seventies and early eighties- a time of disco dancing, toga house parties, romance, fun, games, coffee shop discussions, passionate political debates, student protests, condom controversy, gay rights, women's rights.... the list is endless!!!!

Famous Irish Quotes & Sayings - Part 11

"The great appear great because we are on our knees. Let us rise!"

Attributed to both James Connolly
(Irish socialist revolutionary executed by the British in 1916)

& 'Big Jim' - James Larkin (Irish socialist agitator whose statue stands on O'Connell Street in Dublin)

'Tis the End of the Party. But Passing of the Progressive Democrats is to be Welcomed

This weekend's decision of the members of the Progressive Democrats(PDs) to cease to exist as a political party was good news. While the PDs came into existence in 1985 with noble aspirations to expose state and political corruption as well as to secure progress on liberal social issues such as divorce and contraceptive, they soon took on the mantle of promoting free market Thatcherite economic policies which became the hallmark of successive governments over the last few decades. Whilst this led to the Celtic Tiger phenomena that gave Ireland unprecedented levels of growth and wealth, the monies gained have been wasted on over-development, property speculation. privisation and in creating a dehumanising urban sprawl of concrete jungles and puny but sterile greens spaces. 'Progress' has created an immoral 'Me-Feinism' that puts the rights of the individual before the rights of society and spawned a new Irish identity that is characterised by greed, arrogance and naked capitalism. Our political establishment has embraced a pro-Bush stance on foreign policy that has undermined our moral leadership abroad.

Whilst I personally got on quite well with local PD TD Noel Grealish, particularly for his anti-incineration stance, and with Galway PD councillors O'Flaherty, Lyons and O'Donnell on a number of local issues, nevertheless the party's departure is a blessing that hopefully will help to the re-emergence of respect and support for a 'community' ethos in the Irish body politic.

Galway Cyclists Becoming an Endangered Species

The Loneliness of a Galway Cyclist
I was intrigued at an article in last week's edition of the Galway Independent where the majority of the local councillors from government parties reacted negatively to the new budgetary scheme that gives tax incentives to companies who provide bicycles to their workforce and who made clear their intention not to cycle to work in City Hall.
I too have reservations on the impact that these proposals will have in encouraging people to switch from cars to bikes and I am of the opinion that alternative initiatives could have been adopted to substantially increase cycling and reduce car dependency in order to help solve our traffic crisis and ensure that Galway lives up to its increasingly dubious international status as Ireland’s only ‘Healthy City’.
I can empathise somewhat with Councillor Michael Crowe when he says that the scheme “…is daft...and…is pie in the sky...” He is certainly spot-on when he says that Galway is not cycle friendly.
But surely this sorry state of affairs is due to the councillors’ collective failure to implement their own policies agreed after months and years of public consultation?
For according to the ‘Galway City Development Strategy’ adopted in 2002, Galway is supposed to be a ‘cycle-friendly’ city by 2012 with the development of a 'safe city-wide pedestrian-friendly, cyclist-friendly and child-friendly infrastructure’. In the ‘Galway City Development Plan 2005-2011’, the council agreed to promote cycling as a safe, sustainable and healthy means of transport; commence work immediately on an Integrated Transport Management Plan that would include a city-wide cycling network providing safe routes to places of employment, schools, city-centre and other facilities; facilitate safe and convenient cycle access via the existing road system; overcome the serious difficulties faced by cyclists at roundabouts; and provide a network of city-wide recreational walking and cycling Greenways.Bumper-to-Bumper Traffic on Car-Free Day in Galway City!

As chairperson of the two local authority and multi-sectoral committees responsible for transport infrastructure in Galway, the onus is on Councillor Crowe to ensure that these policies become realities. Sadly few if any of these objectives have been implemented making the city more anti-cycling than it was when the present council came into office in summer 2004.
Why is a Cycle Lane Not a Cycle Lane? When it is in Galway
Under the watch of this council, what passed as tarmacadam cycle lanes in many parts of the city (inadequate though they may be) arbitrarily lost their cycling identity, often being reduced in size, dug up and covered in metal fencing with no corresponding expansion of the roads to accommodate cyclists .
So rather than derisively ignore the new government scheme councillors, in the few months that they have left in office, should create the roads infrastructure necessary to make the proposals work.

An Irish Celtic Exhibition in Galway by a Slovak!

I am presently organising a Celtic-themed exhibition of the wood carvings of a Slovak friend of mine in the Galway City Museum. On Saturday November 1st, the Sacred Animals of Celtic Ireland by Radoslav Benka will be officially launched by another friend of mine, Michael D. Higgins TD-Ireland’s first Minister of Culture .
I have a strong affinity of Irish Celtic culture and have promoted it over many years both here and abroad in its many different guises- from music, drama, art, dance to story telling.

Radoslav Benka hails from picturesque Bardejov in eastern Slovakia famed for its wooden churches and traditional crafts. His love of wildlife was inspired by the diverse fauna of the vast forests and rugged mountains that cover much of his homeland. One day while he was a young child playing in the woods, he came across the skull of a deer. Intrigued, he brought it home and carved its likeness into blocks of discarded wood.

Like many of his countrymen and women, Radoslav came to Ireland a few years back to earn more money and ended up working in the kitchen of the Eglinton Asylum Seekers Accommodation Centre in Galway. Whilst I was helping out there in establishing and teaching in inhouse Internet Cafe, I got into conversation with Rado.
He showed me some sculpting of animal figures that he had carved. So impressed was I by his works, I secured him some valuable commissions and convinced him to organise an exhibition based on the animals associated with the mythological tales of ancient Celtic Ireland.

The 'Drill Baby Drill' Lady

In many ways it is great to see a young(ish) feisty female running for one of the top jobs in the world, namely the office of the President of the United States of America.
And about time too!
For I recognise women as the great unsung heroes of human history. Whilst 'Man the Hunter' killed the occasional animal, it was his female companion that did the hard work of transforming the carcass into a range of clothes, medicines, shelter and food whilst continuing her daily routine of cleaning, nursing, child-minding, man-minding, fire-minding, food collection and preparation from dawn 'til dusk.
Yet it is only in the last fifty years that women have became leaders of society based on their own merits rather than due to their fact that they were husbands or daughters of powerful men.
So I would normally welcome a woman becoming a leader of political, business or community establishments.

But Sarah Palin is different.
Behind the facade of beauty and femininity, she is an extremely right wing gun-toting Christian fundamentalist conservative who has helped turn Alaska into a glorified oil company where dividends are paid to its small-time shareholders (citizens) as profits are made at the expense of the environment.

Her attitude is that 'what is good for the oil companies is good for the USA and is good for the rest of the world'. The opinions of the latter matter not one iota.

Alaska is one of the last great wildernesses left in the world. But man-made global warming is melting the ice at an alarming rate and rapidly destroying the habitats of some of the planet's most precious creatures. The solitary Polar Bear is one of the great symbol's of global environmentalists. As Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin disagrees with the concept of human-influenced climate change and has led the opposition to the US Interior Department decision to declare polar bears threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
The same is true of the Beluga Whales of Alaska's Cook Inlet. Sarah did not want them protected contradicting the scientific evidence that they are declining dramatically. In 1995, they were 653. in 2008, they are only 375 belugas left.

She is proud of portraying herself as gun-loving hunter, preferring to kill God's creatures rather than protect them.
As a Christian evangelical creationist, Sarah anyway gives little credence to Science or scientific evidence.
Thankfully, she has recently lost both battles against the US government in relation to the protection of polar bears and belugas habitats who can breath a sigh of relief tonight.

But let us not forget that Sarah's political drive is primarily fueled by the demands and greed of the oil companies who want to increase offshore oil drilling in the state's waters as well as in the protected Alaska National Park. "Drill Baby Drill!" has become the catchphrase of the crowds that attend her election rallies.

On an international front, her views are those of Bush- 'gung-ho' unilateralist, pro-Israeli and anti-environment.
Like the Islamist fundamentalists, the American Christian right and their Zionist allies believe that a vengeful God is on their side, that the 'ends justifies the means' as they use whatever force is necessary to defeat those whom they consider evil. Which is basically everyone that is not of them.

Introduce Park Wardens & A Refundable Drinks Cans Levy to Clean Up Our Forests & Green Spaces

On a miserable rainswept windy Monday night, around fifty ‘Friends of the Forest’ supporters joined our protest outside a meeting of Galway City Council to highlight the need for increased protection of local parks and natural heritage areas.
As no vote has yet been taken on the proposed road through the Terryland Forest Park, we adopted a 'softly softly' approach towards the city councillors, most of whom came out to meet and discuss the issues with us in a friendly and courteous manner.
We asked them to lobby the government to introduce a refundable levy on all drink cans and bottles purchased at off-licences and other retails outlets. Discarded drink cans and bottles are probably the number one cause of litter in Ireland. Hence a refundable levy on drink cans and bottles would have an enormous positive impact on our environment by providing an economic incentive for people to keep our Irish parks, roads, waterways and public spaces clean.
Such a monetary pay-back scheme existed in Ireland until a few decades ago and is very successful today in other parts of the globe.
Considerable savings in litter management would be immediately made by the state that could then be used to reduce anti-social behaviour by encouraging greater public use of wonderful green spaces such as Terryland Forest Park by funding the provision new departments of park wardens, regular outdoor family activities and park facilities such as picnic areas, community gardens and eco-learning centres.
In the interim, there is no reason why the council could not now implement a year-long public events programmes for our parks and woodlands or encourage the setting up of a unit of voluntary community park support wardens.

Famous Irish Sayings & Quotes - Part 11

"All Great Truths Begin as Blasphemies"
George Bernard Shaw

A very wise observation.

The beliefs of history's greatest political, religious and social progressives were always condemned by the authorities of their times as dangerous and evil lies. Of course it had nothing to do with the truth and everything to do with the fact that their teachings were judged to be a threat to the powers of the ruling elite.

'Save Our Trees' Rally for City Hall

The NGO group that I am chairperson of- the ‘Friends of the Forest’- has decided to maintain the political pressure on Galway City Council to save our local urban Forest by organising a public pro-Tree rally outside City Hall at 6.30pm on Monday October 6th while our local political representatives hold their monthly meeting inside.
We see this rally as pro-Galway City Council and pro-city. We simply want our local authority to activate its existing but dormant policies to provide outdoor leisure facilities for all ages, an annual programme of family events in all our main urban parks and the preservation of our increasingly threatened wildlife habitats. We need more plantings not less to transform barren ugly urbanscapes into picturesque leafy suburbs and tree-lined boulevards. Our wonderful natural heritage areas along the Corrib and in places such as Castlegar, Dyke road, Merlin, Menlo and Ballindooley require improved protection from built development if they are to serve for instance as outdoor classrooms for our school children. Just a few years ago the people of Galway were encouraged in their thousands to come out and plant trees to ‘green’ our city. Sadly what we now hear from the corridors of power is a bitter diatribe from one of our public representatives that he is sick of trees all across the city and even more proposals from officialdom to construct more roads through our scarce urban woodlands.
These words and actions should concern us all. Though many councillors and TDs have confirmed their support for our demands, nevertheless, we must maintain the pressure until a decision is reached on the Road and when we see the council's ecological policies being finally implemented. So we need to remind our politicians that over 10,000 people signed a petition last spring to demand an end to a new road through the Terryland Forest while requesting instead the implementation of existing council proposals that include the provision of a forestry learning centre, tree nurseries and an arts amphitheatre as well as the reinstatement of community tree ‘Plantathons’ in an effort to encourage people to regularly use our parks, reduce our carbon footprint and beautify our concrete-based city. Cutting down trees will not reduce anti-social behaviour, clean up our environment nor help solve our traffic crisis. But what could help are park wardens, a litter policy that includes a refundable charge on all drink cans and bottles and a city-wide pedestrian, cycling and public transport infrastructure.Dumping in the Terryland River that is not just an eyesore but is destroying the habitats of our wildlife

But we still have a fight on our hands. Last Sunday , City Council held a public ecological nature walk through the Forest as part of Irish Mobility Week (looking at alternatives to car transport). The Parks Staff did a great job informing the participants on biodiversity, individual native Irish trees etc. But there were only 17 people on the walk, most of whom were activists in the 'Friends of the Forest' group. For the Council made no mention of the event in the media or in any of the ample literature that was specifically published for Mobility Week!!! Nor have they tried to involved members of the multi-sectoral steering committee which has been largely ignored by City Hall over the last four years.People lined up in their thousands at our stand in Shop Street to sign the petition to save Terryland Forest Park from road development.The girl in the photo was the first person to plant a tree in the Park during the first 'Planathon' in March 2000 attended by circa 3,500 people

Image above shows location of proposed road through the Terryland Forest Park. Traffic Lights will be located across the Quincenntennial Bridge road where it mets the new road. The development will also include a major widening of the existing Dyke Road transforming it from a relatively quiet backwater road with low vehicle capacity into a heavily populated transport artery. This oldest area of the Terryland Forest Park, first planted in March 2000, with its adjoining wetland area will become nothing more than a glorified 'green' island surrounded by a busy network of roads.

here to view the Friends of the Forest website and find out more on Ireland's first urban Commuinty woodland.

Pot Calling the Kettle Black?

In a recent edition of the Galway Advertiser newspaper, local councillor Michael Crowe called on those who portrayed him as a “Redneck, Idiot and Cromwell” for his anti-tree comments to “…leave personal insults out of it. Just because you disagree with someone does not necessitate you resorting to name calling…”.
Fair enough. But is this not the same honourable gentleman who a few months ago referred to local anti-war activists as “lunatics”, a “…rent-a-crowd brigade… who if they don’t like which way the sun comes up stick up a few posters…(and)…go out protesting…”?

Councillor Crowe is the politician who a few weeks ago made headlines with his "...I am sick of trees all over the city..." -See my article in the 'Friends of the Terryland Forest Park', the campaign website set up to stop the destruction of a vital ecological corridor by the proposal of council officials to build a road through the grounds of an urban forest park

Gran Canaria, Spain: Where even the Cliffs are being covered in Concrete

I really enjoy the pleasures of a tropical holiday. Sand, seas, sunshine, eating out every night, experimenting with native cuisine and new wines or beers, travelling into idyllic countryside, enjoying all the fun of a family leisure park with my children represents my idea of a perfect break from everyday life in Ireland.
Due to the fact that my wife Cepta has a sister living in Gran Canaria, we tend to book an apartment there once every 2 years.
The island has a lot going for it.
Fantastic beaches; sandy dunes straight out of some Sahara setting, stunning volcanic landscapes, mountain lakes and grand canyons. There are significant wildlife sanctuaries in the hinterland, a strong emphasis on maintaining cultural heritage by the preservation of old-style architecture in the villages of the interior that include traditional streetscapes and the finest of small baroque churches. There are also unique clusters of cave house dwellings carved into the sides of mountains where people still happily live. Within the modern holiday resorts there is an excellent safe cycling and pedestrian infrastructure and a myriad of family theme parks, the most noteworthy being Aqualand.
Paradise Lost
However the island is increasingly degenerating into one of the worst examples of the ‘Spanish disease’ as the authorities systematically destroy the land and seascapes with tasteless over-development. Everywhere you look there is non-stop construction of massive complexes of bland uniform apartment blocks and hotels. Once stunning cliff faces and picturesque little fishing villages are being covered over with urban concrete jungles. The developments now stretch along great swathes of the southern and eastern coastlines. Even further inland beyond Telde so many table top mountains and valleys are victims of urban sprawl. The majestic canyons south of Mogan are now dotted with housing and are almost unrecognisable from the panoramic landscapes that appeared in the 1960’s Spaghetti Westerns starring Clint Eastwood. What land is not now being built on is oftentimes characterised by great swathes of horrible plastic marking locations for industrial market gardening.
The end result is that one is faced with miles and miles of ugly high-rise tourist developments and rows of often cheap tacky plastic-coated shops, bars and restaurants that have all but obliterated Canarian culture.
The Canarians are killing the goose that lays the golden egg.

Irish Centre: 'Tacky'
I have to give a special mention to the so-called 'Irish Centre' in Maspolomas which consists of a series of Irish-themed pubs, nightclubs, shops and a number of boarded up businesses. It looks outdated, bland and seems very short of clientele. The loud music from one bar eats into the environment of its neighbour leading to an ever-competing ever-losing battle of sound between the different venues to the ultimate detriment of any sober patrons present. A mix of ear-shattering dance music, burgers and chips, never-ending drinks promotions, pool tables and large tv screens is not my idea of the best way to promote Irish culture. Sadly there is little here these days to attract anyone truly interested in Celtic music or dance.

As a person interested in observing wildlife, I always take advantage of journeying to Los Palmitos Zoo Park. Though one can be disappointed to find that the park’s birds and fish life are largely caged and not native to the island. Yet the setting in the interior of the island is wonderful and the park is also populated with hordes of wild geckos and the famed indigenous Gran Canaria lizard.

Endangering DolphinsBut an excursion from Puerto Rico to view dolphins can as a bit of a shock. We did came across a large pod of dolphins. But what was upsetting was the decision of the skipper to drive the boat right into the area where the animals were obviously feeding. The sound of the boat’s motors must have been very distressing to these sea mammals and would have totally distorted their sonar mechanism. I recently wrote to the government offices at Las Palmas with photographic evidence of this activity and requesting the authorities to do more to protect marine life by introducing stringent new rules to govern boat-owners in their marine excursions

On a separate note...
Gran Canaria: A Connection with Ancient Ireland & India
In my excursions inland, I was amazed to discover a district known as Tara. I was told that it was pre-Spanish in origins and was the name given by the Guanches, the first known inhabitants of the Canary islands, to the Mother Goddess. Wow!
In Ireland, Tara is the most sacred of pre-Christian Celtic sites. But its history goes back to the mythical Tuatha Danann or the people of the Mother Goddess Dana. Both ‘Dana’ and ‘Tara’ appear as powerful fertility goddesses in ancient Hindi dating back thousands of years BC.
To think that two Atlantic islands, one located off the coast of Europe and one off the coast of Africa, had historical connections with the heart of Asia in Neolithic times is mind-blowing.
We tend to think of these prehistoric peoples as primitive savages living in small isolated communities. But maybe many were part of an ancient ‘Global Village’?
We still have much to learn of our ancestors.

Santa Brigida: Irish Female Saint of Fertility
To deepen the connection between the Canary islands and Ireland even further, just north of Tara is the district of Santa Brigida which is called after the Irish saint Saint Brigit.
Brigit was the earliest and most renowned of all female Celtic saints whose fame spread across Catholic Europe. But it is thought by some that she was originally a chief priestess to a powerful pagan goddess also known as Brigit who was associated with female fertility. Can you believe it?!!! Check out my previous article on St. Brigit and the power of Celtic women.