|March 200: First Community Planting (Plantathon) attracted over 3,000 people|
Until recently the sights, sounds and smells of the wild were an integral part of our lives. The majority of Irish people over fifty years of age have happy childhood memories of playing conkers, climbing trees, identifying different bird songs, dipping into rock pools, collecting leaves for art classes, making daisy flower chains and picking blackberries to bring home to their mothers to make jam.
Regular community tree and wild flower planting festivals gave citizens of all ages a sense of ownership, civic pride and loyalty towards a man-made natural habitat that, in spite of an existing intrusive road network, had the potential to become a ‘wildlife corridor’ linking the River Corrib to the farmlands of east Galway.
But things later started to stagnate especially when council officials in 2007 tried to build a major road through the park, which was stopped in its tracks by widespread public opposition. City Hall then arbitrarily abolished the steering committee.
Other initiatives included the allocation of HSE funds towards the installation of outdoor exercise equipment; the digital mapping of a series of woodland walk trails; restoration of a fleet of High Nelly bikes for touring the park and a major biodiversity survey carried out by ecologist Tom Cuffe. The park was one of the main themes of the Tulca Visual Arts Festival 2013 with a photographic exhibition by Robert Ellis. Terryland Castle has became a focal point for Slí na gCaisleán, a leisurely 25km looped ‘Off the Beaten Track’ heritage cycle trail connecting seven castles in Galway city and county, that could if further developed jointly by the two local authorities, become a national green route with significant benefits to tourism and local communities alike.
Scientific research is being done for a series of attractive Irish/English information signs that would be placed in the now empty graffiti-covered display stands that are dotted throughout the park, thus creating a network of educational trails. The signs would identify the wonderful range of flora and fauna that live within the meadows, woodlands, wetlands, farmlands and rock outcrops of this important wildlife reserve.
Other enthusiasts want to use traditional scythes to hand-cut grass in order to regenerate wild flower meadows;
repair stone walls, hedgerows and paths, and to establish a volunteer Park Rangers unit to regularly patrol the park as well as to provide regular guided walks to visitors. The Galway City Partnership is endeavouring to introduce a Tús work project scheme into the area.
The discovery last year of the bodies of eight British soldiers from the Williamite Wars near to the Terryland Castle is an example of the rich tapestry of historical sites that exist in the park which cover the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Medieval, Renaissance, Cromwellian and Victorian periods.
But the council-led steering committee has not been allowed to meet since its brief resurrection in 2012, which has stifled many of the aforementioned proposals. As nature abhors a vacuum, groups of anti-social aggressive drinkers are now starting to congregate on evenings and nights in certain areas of the park, leaving behind massive quantities of cans, bottles, burnt palettes as well as human faeces. These negative activities will continue as Garda and community wardens do not or will not patrol our city parks.
Working together we can make this green resource that, possessing the recreational opportunities of Dublin’s St Stephen’s Green combined with the natural beauty of England’s New Forest, has the potential to benefit tourism, scientific research, schools, local communities, the environment and the health of our children.
Let is make 2014 the ‘Year of the Forest’ when peoples of all ages will use our greatest natural resources to benefit themselves and to help save the planet in the process. Galway’s image as an ‘Arts City’, its growing reputation as a ‘Digital City’ can be complimented by ‘Forest City’ with a new proactive council-community-schools-colleges-business partnership.