Galway: Eco & Heritage Highlights of 2013

2013 was a year when environmental, community and heritage issues associated with the Terryland Forest Park and the Ballinfoile Neighbourhood achieved some notable successes thanks to the collaboration between residents, activists and  Galway City Council. But it was also a year when dredging along the Terryland River led to serious biodiversity damage with the spread of a very dangerous invasive species (Japanese knotweed) and when the same local council stifled significant progress in what is historically known as the Lungs of the City by failing to hold meetings of the multi-sectoral Terryland Forest Park  steering committee to implement a strategic plan.

1. Community Tree Planting Day
After an absence of a number of years, community tree planting or Plantathons returned to Terryland Forest Park when on one Saturday in April almost two hundred of people of all ages turned up to plant native Irish trees. It was a reminder of the heyday of this unique urban parkland during the early part of the last decade. We planted Holly, Alder, Oak, Silver Birch, Hazel, Rowan, Blackthorn and Hawthorn. The event was part of a national One Million Trees in One Day initiative which sadly never fulfilled its goal due to lack of funding and other related issues that stopped the organisers securing the number of trees necessary.  In Galway we were extremely fortunate that garden landscaper Brian Lohan donated extra trees so that everyone that came to the Forest had trees to plant.
2. Weekly Park Clean-Ups
From early June, the local Terryland branch of the Conservation Volunteers (CVTFP) have been involved on a weekly basis in removing rubbish from the Terryland Forest Park. The material is temporarily stored in a container shed kindly donated to the CVTFP by the council’s Parks division. The vast majority of the litter comprises beverage cans and bottles left behind by anti-social elements that are destroying so much of the county’s natural habitats and turning so many of our public parks, woodlands and beaches into no go areas for the general populace. Society has to face up to these activities that are  destroying communities, neighbourhoods and our countryside.   Removing the cans, bottles, shopping trolleys, cloths, needles, faeces and other detritus left behind becomes meaningless over time and is only treating the symptom and not the cause of the problem. In my opinion, the implementation of ASBOs and the sentencing by the courts of the culprits to beneficial community work will enhance local neighbourhoods, undo some of the damage that the perpetuators have done and hopefully educate them on the benefits of environmental care
3. Wildman of the Forest
Tom Cuffe is the great Mr. B(Biodiversity, Bees, Birds & Butterflies) of this great urban forest of Galway city. For four months he undertook a weekly transect for the national Butterfly and Bee monitoring survey. 
Associated with this initiative, Tom photographed an amazing variety of wildlife that inhabits the woods, fields and riverbanks within the Terryland Forest Park’s boundaries including Sedge Warblers, Redpoll, Moorhen, Long tailed Tits, Hoverflies, Peacocks, Large Whites, Tortoiseshells, Lady’s Smock and Lesser Celandine. We now understand better the crucial importance that this natural reserve is to the biodiversity of the city.

4. Slí na bhFile: Reviving the Link Between Celtic Bards & Nature

One of the most significant events ever to take place in the Terryland Forest Park was the planting of trees during the Cúirt International Festival of Literature in May 2013.
Thanks to the vision of Galway City Arts Officer James Harrold supported by Stephen Walsh of Galway City Parks, Michael Longley and Maidhc Danín Ó Sé were the first writers to plant native Irish trees on what is intended to become over time a Poets’ Nature Walkway along the banks of the River Corrib close to the Black Box.
It is appropriate that this reconnection of the world of the Irish literati with trees occurs in Galway, a city that has for decades kept alive the ancient Celtic bardic respect for Mother Earth. Here in this urban landscape, environmentalists and artists often come from the same womb and share the same eco-values and beliefs.
Maidhc Danín died a few month’s after this planting. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
5. Nature Tree Detective Walks
Botantist Matthew O’Toole gave a number of highly informative guided walks in which he introduced participants to the characteristics and cultural aspects of the native trees planted in the Terryland Forest Park. We became arboreal detectives  as we  studied the bark, shape and form of the Oak, Alder, Hazel, Ash and other native flora. We found out too why such trees were so important in the lives and beliefs of the peoples of Celtic Ireland.
6. 'Off The Beaten Track' Trail becomes 'Slí na gCaisleán'
In 2013, I expanded my Off the Beaten Track heritage guided tour and had it renamed Slí na gCaisleán (Way of the Castles). This unique historical trail now links seven historical castles in Galway city and county and has the potential to give a whole new eco-tourism dimension to the region if it secures the active support of both local authorities.
Slí na gCaisleán that starts and finishes at Terryland Castle is a  twenty five mile looped cycle trail that passes en-route castles at Menlo, Cloonacauneen, Killeen, Ballybrit, Castlegar and Ballindooley. It represents a leisurely ‘Off the Beaten Track’ cycle journey  through a wonderful idyllic landscape of hills, bótharíns, abandoned farms, karst outcrops, bogs, lakes, dykes, turloughs and meadows that is unknown to the majority of the large population living only a short distance away in urban Galway.
The guided tour normally includes a picnic at Menlo Castle and lunch at the hostelry of Cloonacauneen Castle. On two occasions, we were honoured to enjoy a stopover at the private residency of Killeen Castle where we treated to a lovely talk by the very kind owner on the history of this impressive historical building.
Plans are now afoot to extend the trail to at least one and possibly even two more castles and to lobby both Galway city and Galway county councils to collaborate in making it a safe cycle-friendly route of international importance.

7. 2013 Slí na gCaisleán : Hilltop Graveyard
The newly expanded Slí na gCaisleán route includes the isolated but picturesque Killeen graveyard. Situated on a hilltop, it commands a panoramic view of the rural landscapes of east Galway. The gravestones date from the 19th and 20th centuries. But its unusual structure of rounded dry stone boundary wall leads me to believe that it was built at or near an early Christian church or Iron Age settlement.
Notice in the photograph the large stone trough for collecting rainwater in front of the graveyard. These units are still used extensively on the fields of the Aran Islands.

8. Photo Exhibition of Terryland Forest Park at Tulca Galway Visual Arts Festival 2013

The park was one of the main themes of the Tulca Visual Arts Festival 2013 with an exhibition by renowned photographer Robert Ellis.
Robert was specifically commissioned by the festival curator Valerie Connor as she was fully aware of the under usage of the park by the general populace and wanted to highlight the huge  positive potential that it dad for the city.
I was myself very happy to be separately involved in Tulca as the festival hosted a major show entitled the Speedie Telstar that commemorated the 50th anniversary of the world's first telecommunications satellite and the work of the Computer and Communications Museum of Ireland that I established at NUI Galway.

9. High Nelly Bikes: Resurrecting 'Daisy', 'Molly', 'Bluebell'..!!
Under the tutelage of Brian MacGabhann, Michael McDonnell and Michael Tiernan, a series of  workshops were undertaken at Cumann na bhFear based on repairing and making road worthy a fleet of vintage heavy bicycles known as High Nellys that were one of the primary modes of transport in Ireland up until the early 1960s.  With memories of milking cows in days of old, each individual High Nelly has been given a name- 'Molly', 'Daisy', 'Bluebell'...! The bikes are used in the Slí na gCaisleán tours. We will also hopefully make them available from the Conservation Volunteer TP depot for use by visitors to the Terryland Forest Park

10. UpCycling Broken Tiles- Turning Waste into Art
Cumann na bhFear, based at Sandy Road adjacent to the Terryland Forest Park, is affiliated to the international Men’s Shed movement. Open to both women and men, it has a strong emphasis on the preservation and teaching of practical heritage skills such as wood carving, wood turning, vintage bicycle repair, blacksmithy, crochet and beehive production.
In 2013, it branched out into Upcycling with two new projects. The first was  on involved transforming a mishmash of broken and left-over tiles into beautiful thematic colour mosaic designed objects. The mosaic workshops were mentored by Ann Richardson Burke.

Cumann members Jonas and Michael McDonnell meanwhile used old discarded metal pipes and sheets to manufacture wood-burning stoves,

11. Recycled Garden Tools
The shovels, spades and forks used by the volunteers for the Community Tree Planting Day or Plantathon (see item one above) day and those in the Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden were implements recycled and repaired by the members of Cumann na bhFear who are an integral part of the Terryland Forest Park NGO alliance. 

12. Picking Blackberries
During the autumn, my wife Cepta, son Daíre and myself enjoyed picking blackberries from the hedgerows along the bótharíns of our family farm in Currantarmuid. On such magical excursions into the countryside, I travel back in time to the days of my childhood as I feel once again squished berries in my hands and have my fingers covered in purple juices. Pure heaven!
Blackberries or brambles are probably the most popular wild food still gathered in Ireland. Bramble bushes are common across Ireland and inhabit hedgerows, waste ground and woodlands across Ireland.

13. Getting the Hands Dirty- Garden Volunteers
Organic gardening can be an all-year round, time-consuming, mundane and backbreaking activity. A small core of dedicated volunteers led by Margaret, Christine, Michelle, John, Michael T. Michael M, Caroline, Samuel,  Brendan, Coleman, Frances and Deasun spent almost every week from February until August digging, sowing, weeding, repairing, cleaning and harvesting in the Ballinfoile Mór Community Garden. Heroic!

14. Harvest Festival- Resurgence in Grassroots Gatherings 
For the fourth consecutive year, the community garden hosted a very successful harvest festival where the vegetables, herbs and fruits grown and nurtured by local residents were sold. 

With Anja Sammon and her daughter's very popular face painting, Irish trad music seisiún, a blacksmithy’s forge, beehives, hot sizzling pizzas served from the garden’s own clay oven, home-baked pastry stall and Cumann na bhFear’s locally produced honey, 
the festival was representative of the resurgence of neighbourhood festivals and community self reliance that have grown in popularity and in abundance since the economic collapse of 2008, and particularly in 2013 as a result of the highly successful The Gathering Ireland initiative.
Bee Hives
15. Kiddies Corner at Ballinfoile Mór Community Garden

Over the course of the summer, lots of adult volunteers and Tús workers helped children in creating their own special zone within the Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden that is located in the grounds of the Terryland Forest Park. We repaired a bug hotel; installed bird feeders; painted birds' boxes, raised beds and large stones in garish colours thus hoping in the process to give a Disney multi-coloured 'candy' look and feel to this section of the garden. 

The best contribution came from Lynette McGowan, a very artistically talented local child, who painted onto the wooden raised beds colourful images of animals, insects and people that live and work in the garden.
Photo shows Lynette at work being watched and admired by proud mom Christine and her fellow garden volunteers Margaret and Michelle.

16. Green Teen Projects
In 2013, teenagers made a significant contribution to the forest garden. The Ballinfoile Foróíge youth group painted and installed a beautiful hand-painted information sign, constructed a wooden shelter beside the clay pizza oven that they built last year. 
Under the tutelage of artist Margaret Nolan wiht funding from City Hall, local teenagers painted a mural onto one side of the garden HQ hut whilst Kevin Beatty from Lus Leana estate built an impressive Seed Germinator out of waste materials such as wooden planks and plastic sheets.

17. Transplanting Willow
In July, we transplanted large numbers of willow trees from Scoil Náisiúnta Cholmcille Castlegar to the Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden in the Terryland Forest Park. Such an exercise is not recommended during the growing summer season. But the area where the trees were located in the school grounds was soon going to be concreted over as part of a building expansion programme. So it was a race against time to save the willows before the bulldozers came.
The robust willow is probably the only tree that can be taken out of the ground at this time of the year with a good chance of survival in its new home. Thankfully most of the trees took root and the signs are that by the summer we will have a nice extension to our willow tunnel.

18. Willow Sculpture
In February volunteers harvested willows from the copse in the Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden and, under the tutelage of Kay Synott, used the whippets to extend the living tree tunnel, create a new tunnel and plant a wind break.

19. Being Led Up the Garden Path!
Using rocks and stones from discarded rubble, Tús workers Coleman (the main man!), Seán and myself planned out and constructed the first in a series of meandering pathways within the community garden.

20. Turning Plants into Food
Nettle Soup
Volunteers used the vegetables and fruits and even the nettles grown in the Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic garden to make a myriad of food products such as soups, tarts, jams, salads and herbal teas.
Photograph above shows Lenka with a basket of rhubarb off to be transformed into very tasty tarts and jams. 

21. Home produced Food
One of the main reasons for setting up the Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic garden was to encourage local residents that participated in this neighbourhood green facility to develop their very own domestic gardens. I was one of those people that did so. Thanks to a lot of hard work and a constant battle with slugs and butterflies, our family over the last few years enjoy a rich variety of home produced vegetables and fruits including strawberries, potatoes, Brussel sprouts, apples, lettuce, cabbages, onions, turnips and rhubarb.

22. Creating a Home for Wildlife
Inspired by the developing Terryland Forest Park, I have over the years planted many native Irish trees and gradually dug up the non-native species. In 2013, we replaced the sterile Griselinia hedge with Holly trees and the Laurel shrub. Though the latter is not native, sadly I had to make a choice between a native plant that gave little protection and privacy to the garden or to go for a fast growing hedging plant that quickly formed a green barrier. In this case, I went for the latter. However other native trees, wildflowers, organic garden and bird feeders made up for this somewhat!

23. Galway Honey
This year saw the first large amount of honey produced by the hives of Cumann na bhFear under the stewardship of beekeepers Messers’ Tiernan and McDonnell. 
My wife Cepta (above), myself and many other volunteers spent hours washing and sterilising dozens and dozens of old food jars. Once again it give me flashbacks to days of childhood; of collecting blackberries and raspberries from hedgerows along the roadsides; bringing baskets of fruits home for my granny to make jam after the enjoyable task of gathering up old glass jars from friends and neighbours alike.

24. Polytunnel and Raised Beds for COPE garden
Volunteers from Cumann na bhFear (Men's Shed), Conservation Volunteers Terryland Forest Park and the Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden spent a day helping in constructing a polytunnel and multiple raised beds for the residents of the COPE house on the Dyke Road adjacent to Terryland Forest Park.
The event was co-organised by our good friend and garden expert Fergus Whitney. As you can see from the photograph, we did great work!
The house and garden is beautifully situated beside the Terryland Forest Park.
COPE works with those suffering from homelessness, isolation and domestic violence.
This new green facility will give a whole new dimension to the residents living this COPE house. As it was to participants in the Ballinfoile Mór Community Garden (& with other community gardens) this eco-resource is helping to improve residents' quality of life by undertaking healthy outdoor activity, by engaging in positive social interaction, by learning new skills in self-sufficiency and of course by ultimately enjoying harvesting and eating the fruits and vegetables that they nurtured.

25. Blossoming of School Gardens
As part of the Medtronic healthy Living programme, I help Kay Synott set up organic gardens in schools across Galway city and county. Kay has a very holistic approach to gardening and teaches the children the benefits of creating an environment for wildlife as well as planting nutritious food crops for humans. 
Thanks in particular to the government's Incredible Edibles scheme, most schools now have their own garden growing vegetables, fruits, native Irish trees and wildflowers. This welcome development was initiated by the former Green Party Minister Trevor Sargent when he was a Minister of State in the last government. 
The attached photograph shows a section of the garden in Scoil Naisiúnta Caisleán Gearr (Castlegar) which was revamped and officiated opened with a lovely community reception in June 2012. 

26.  Donkeys on the Farm

Our family has a small farm holding in Currantarmuid near Monvea in county Galway. 
At present, we lease the land to local farmers who use the fields for grazing cattle and donkeys
Greening the City
Of course the Terryland Forest Park alliance are only one grouping amongst many that are doing so much to protect biodiversity in the city and to increase public awareness of the importance of both combating climate change and growing organic food locally.
Greening the City
Of course the Terryland Forest Park alliance are only one grouping amongst many that are doing so much to protect biodiversity in the city and to increase public awareness of the importance of both combating climate change and growing organic food locally.

27. Greening St. Patrick's Day Festival with Westside Garden & Cumann na bhFear
Thanks to the energetic leadership of director Caroline McDonagh, the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade in Galway city over the last two years has had a very strong community ethos with Cumann na bhFear, thematic green schools and community gardens amongst many others providing a colourful eco-presence. None more so than the Westside Community Garden in last year's event.
High Nellys on Parada

Greening the City
Of course the Terryland Forest Park alliance are only one grouping amongst many that are doing so much to protect biodiversity in the city and to increase public awareness of the importance of both combating climate change and growing organic food locally.

28. Rooftop Garden at the City Partnership
In August, Galway City Partnership officially launched their newly completed rooftop community organic garden. This green oasis is located in a not very attractive building complex in one of the most traffic congested districts but which nevertheless commands breathtaking views of the River Corrib and adjacent Terryland Forest. The facility contains a fantastic range of wooden garden furniture and vegetable/flower beds which are uniquely wheelchair friendly. The GPA have helped the people involved to establish their own wood making business enterprise.
The layout of the rooftop garden was supervised by Fergus Whitney.

29. Ballybane- Galway’s oldest community garden
The community organic garden at Ballybane each year goes from strength to strength. In 2013 it completed a wonderful children s eco-playground, a very welcome addition to the families in the neighbouring housing estates.

30. Saving Merlin Woods
Campaigners Caroline & Colin walking through Merlin Woods
A group of committed volunteers led by Caroline Stanley, Colin Stanley, Peter Butler and supported by Councillor Frank Fahy lead the campaign to stop Galway City Council destroying one of Galway city’s few remaining large areas of woodland and a significant wildlife habitat by constructing a major roadway within its boundaries. They are an inspiration to us all!

31. Conservation Volunteers Galway
Almost every fortnight, a highly motivated band of enthusiasts known as Conservation Volunteers Galway city undertake biodiversity projects ranging from planting wildflower meadows to building bat boxes in Barna Woods and Renville Park. Keep up the good work!

32. Marine Conservation and Learning - National Aquarium of Ireland
Atlantaquaria in Salthill is the country’s national aquarium. In 2013 this treasured national marine learning resource continued to maintain seawater tanks in schools across the West of Ireland that were filled with a myriad of wildlife associated with rock-pools (lochan sáile). Their seashore safaris, beach clean-ups and summer marine science camps have now become regular occurrences on the annual calendar of events. 

33. Top Class Biodiversity Experts in Galway
I was lucky in 2013 to work with the very best of biodiversity and science educators. People such as Dr. Sarah Knight (NUIG) Noírín Burke (Atlantaquaria), Kay Synott, Fergus Whitney, Muriel Grehan (NUIG) and Tom Cuffe (BIrdwatch Galway) are amongst the very best that Ireland has to offer whose efforts are helping to ensure that our children and youth undo some of the huge environmental damage being done to the planet by many of the older generation. 

34. Galway & Claddagh Swan Rescue
Mary Joyce-Glynn (one of my students!) and all her volunteers at the Galway & Claddagh Swan Rescue do so much wonderful work helping to protect swans (and other wild birds) in Galway. One of the great traditional symbols of Galway are the swans of the Claddagh which I and hundreds of others enjoy feeding on a Saturday afternoon. But it is Mary and co that protect so many of these magnificent regal birds


Sarah Knight said...

Brendan - what great memories, and you have played a central role in all of them. Great work to you and everyone that jumps on board, and gets green 'n dirty! Looking forward to working with you more in 2014, keep on speedin'!

Catherine Cronin said...

Pure inspiration, Brendan! You and the many people you mention here are doing such great work and creating a vibrant and positive legacy for the people of Galway, and beyond.

And to have fun doing it all? Well that makes it all the better! :) Thanks, to you and to all.