The Yellow Flowers of Spring: Primrose


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

Multi-tasking: Just like a Woman!


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

The Yellow Flowers of Spring: the Dandelion


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



COVID-19: Growing Your Own Organic Food at Home


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

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

The Yellow Flowers of Spring: the Daffodil


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

Menlo March 2020: Last Tree Planting of Galway Science Festival 2019.


From March 16th until March 18th, the last trees provided by the Galway Science & Technology Festival were planted. The planting was carried out in Menlo by the 32nd Galway (Menlo) Scouts. This was very symbolic as the area is a nature-endowed rural Gaeltacht heritage village lying within the boundaries of the city with the scouts being the original movement that promoted young people of all social classes connecting with and respecting wildlife and the natural world.
Originally it was planned that native hazel trees would be planted on Sunday March 15th in the lead up to National Tree Week by the cubs and beavers on lands made available by the diocese and school near the playing pitches. But the COVID-19 crisis meant this could not happen. So it was decided by the organisers that the trees would be planted separately by local families across Menlo.
A big 'Bualadh Bos' has to be given to Karen McGuire of the 32nd Scouts for her leadership on this issue; to Anne Murray who as manager ensured that tree planting by children and families was a prominent part of the Climate Action-themed Galway Science & Technology Festival 2019; and to Aerogen who sponsored the native Irish trees provided to all schools, as well as many community and youth groups, across Galway city and county. SFI and Coillte also need to be praised for providing the trees planted in a great public Plantathon that took place in Terryland Forest Park during November.
I look forward to all these groups taking on a leading role in the 'National Park City for Galway initiative' whose roll-out with an exciting programme has sadly been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

A Beginner's Guide to Home Gardening-Part 1


At a time when our abuse of the natural world has led to COVID-19 and the confinement of so many of us to our homes, it represents a unique opportunity to consider growing one's own food but in a way that is benign to the soil, air and water.
So to support this process and to help overcome the negativity of isolation and 'cabin fever' that can be a consequence of this 'lockdown' that we find ourselves unexpectedly in I have put together, as part of the Open Innovation Emergency Research Response Initiative of the Nature Response Unit at the Ryan Institute NUI Galway, a simple easy-to-follow "Beginners' Guide to Home Gardening". It contains information on preparing the ground, the tools needed for such an enterprise, the benefits of outdoor gardening and of growing food organically.
I selected three popular vegetables (potatoes, onions and lettuce) that require relatively low maintenance, are easy-to-grow and can be planted during the March/April period.
Using their professional in-house scientific expertise, the Ryan Institute's Nature Response Unit is rolling out a wonderful series of pioneering nature programmes designed to keep us all happy and active in the Great Outdoors.

Check out bit.ly/39msZ8J

 

Good News Story- The 'Big Apple' goes Green!



New York City may have hosted no St. Patrick’s Day Parade and Irish celebratory festivities this month but in 2020 it is more green than ever before.
Two weeks ago I came back from one of my favourite places on Earth. As a UCG student many decades ago, I took advantage of the J1-Visa programme to undertake summer work in the apartments and hotels (the world famous Plaza!) of Manhattan. Staying at Columbia University, eating in the nearby Tom's Diner and living there in the halcyon days of disco (Donna Summer, Bee Gees, Gloria Gaynor, Village People, Anita Ward…), I remember every glorious mad moment as if it was yesterday. I have loved the affectionately known Big Apple ever since.
Two years ago Cepta, my sons and myself decided that we would save hard to be able to take a family trip there each year for as long as possible. It was an opportunity as well to meet up with my American cousins- Good to finally meet you Ed Eccles ‘in the flesh’!
What impresses me so much in the last few years about New York is that, even though it has been synonymous for over a hundred years as the ultimate city of skyscrapers, concrete, tarmac, consumerism and high energy consumption, it is now brilliantly reinventing itself as a Green and sustainable city. It was of course always famous for its fantastic public transport subway system and the great Central Park. But it is in the last few years becoming populated with neighbourhood gardens, rooftop gardens, urban apiaries, cyclists/pedestrians Greenways, organic food outlets, urban farmer markets, outdoor street cafes along a once traffic-congested Broadway, environmental science research centres, natural heritage learning museums, public parks teeming with wildlife and wonderful community/schools/business initiatives to clean up the once heavily polluted New York Bay and Hudson River.
Though a lot more needs to be done to make it a truly eco-friendly environment, nevertheless the Big Apple is moving in the right direction.
Over the next few weeks, I will post every few days a different thematic story on the Big (Green) Apple and provide details of our very own partnership initiative to make Galway a National Park City (coming soon!). As this time of crisis, we need some good news stories!

Library for all ages set up in Eglinton Direct Provision Centre.



Supporting Community during the COVID-19 crisis
Thanks to the support of staff (well done Carole!), management (Patrick) and residents (thanks Adelina & Jihad in photo) we managed, after weeks of hard work, to convert a former nightclub counter bar into a library. What was once stocked with whiskeys, gins, vodkas, brandies and liqueurs is today populated with books catering for all ages. It is divided into sections for adult male and female, teenagers, children, parents with babies, education and ecology. We also have a myriad of boardgames, jigsaw puzzles, guitars and sewing machines. It is now a facility that will become an important resource to the residents during the coronavirus crisis and help overcome boredom whilst also acting as a centre for learning and entertainment.
 
Note: The ‘Library/Leabharlann’ image in the centre of the photo represents the large sign displayed in front of this new facility.

Galway’s United Nations: 34 Languages spoken at my university workplace!

In celebration of international Mother Language Day we installed, in the foyer of our workplace (the Insight Centre for Data Analytics, Data Science Institute, NUI Galway), a World Map in which our colleagues decorated with scripts written in the alphabets of their own language.

February 21st is a global day of commemoration designed to increase awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity. It is officially recognised by the Galway’s United Nations: 31 Languages spoken at my university workplace as an opportunity "to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world."
It was first initiated by Bangladesh. So it is appropriate then that it was my good friend and colleague Safina Showkat Ara from that country who suggested that we also mark this very important occasion at our research institute. I was only to happy to oblige.

And what a wonderful exercise it turned out to be. For in populating the map we happily discovered that there are at least 34 languages spoken at our research institute- Arabic, Armenian, Bangla, Czech, Dutch, English, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Irish, Italian, Kannada, Kashmiri, Kurdish, Magahi, Mandarin, Marathi, Nepali, Pashto, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Ukrainian, Urdu, Russian, Sanskrit, Slovene, Spanish, Swahili, Tamil, Vietnamese and Yoruba. Wow!
We hope that this new initiative will become a new tradition that will continue to be observed for years and years to come.

It is also worth noting that my other good friend and colleague Sina Ahmadi correctly pointed out that millions and millions of people across the world are today deprived of learning in their mother language in their own countries. Denial of a people’s right to express their cultural identity has been used throughout history by brutal repressive regimes often to overcome resistance to foreign rule. For hundreds of years the British imperial forces in Ireland tried to destroy our right to independence by a combination of war, ethnic cleansing, introduction of foreign settlements, economic exploitation and a denial of cultural expression by the native Celts. 
It was Pádraig Pearse, the great Irish revolutionary and leader of the 1916 uprising against British rule, who summed up so well the need to resist the latter policy of ‘cultural assimilation’, “A country without a language is a country without a soul.”
Today cultural assimilation is the policy of many countries towards indigenous peoples living in forests, wetlands and mountains, none more  so than in Brazil where President Bolsonaro
aggressively pursues a campaign of taking Amazonian lands from the Amerindians for commercial exploitation by ranchers, palm oil growers, miners and loggers leading in the process to the loss of the Earth’s lungs. 


In a time of growing globalisation it is important that we promote harmony, the sisterhood /brotherhood of humanity, and peace between cultures, race and sexes based on respect and equality. Fundamental to this view is that we should also treasure diversity in all its form. For the world would be so much poorer if we lose our traditions, heritage and language. Variety is after all the spice of life! 


Furthermore, as you can see from the large poster in the front of the photograph, our institute is where people from all over the world come together to work on research into tackling Climate Chaos in so many sectors (peatlands, air, water, waste, manufacturing, cities...). We stand united for the common good.


Nóta: Tá muintir na Rúise agus na hÍsiltíre inár n-ionad oibre a labhraíonn Gaeilge!

General Election- the Tweedledee & Tweedledum of Irish Politics has finally been broken

It is great to see so many progressive parties and independents doing so well in this election. In particular the rise in the Sinn Féin vote has finally broken the mould of Irish politics that has been in place for almost 100 years with its capture of nearly 32% of the youth vote (double the combined total of FF, FG and Labour). The tweedledee and tweedledum of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil has meant that a Thatcherite social and economic conservative philosophy has dominated for far too long. The power of a well-connected elite that includes Denis O’Brien, bankers, landlords, beef barons and property speculators has meant that the land, former state companies, media, services and resources of Ireland have time and time again been sold off to a few well-connected men leaving the country having one of the greatest disparities of wealth in the western world.
Mary Lou McDonald’s performance on last week’s three way leaders' debate was fantastic and showed the Irish people what we were missing when it came to true differences of policy. She raised issues such as the political influence on Irish politics of monied vested interests that none of the main parties would ever have questioned.
In a time of Climate Chaos, biodiversity loss, environmental catastrophe, social deprivation, growing inequality and privatisation of national resources, there is now a golden opportunity to take positive action to create a better future for both humanity and the rest of Nature. A strong united front of left, green and other progressive parties/independents as well as progressive elements within FG and FF can reshape government policies. For I truly admire some politicians in both of these latter parties that have done some great things for the nation including Eamon O’Cuiv in FF and Ciaran Cannon in FG. It will not be easy forming such a grand forward-thinking coalition that includes FG or FF but there may be no choice. The future of the planet and the hopes for a more egalitarian state are at stake.
As a life-long environmentalist, socialist, republican and feminist, I hope that such a realignment can come to fruition even if it means going as a united green/red front into government, but only around key fundamental lines that have to be honoured at all costs. Sadly the history of Irish politics has been one where small progressive parties have gone into government, been gobbled up by the bigger parties and sold out on their principles for the sake of a power that was not real. This time the combined seats of the green/left parties/independents can control the shape and direction of any coalition with either FG or FF to ensure a truly radical programme of government.
In the process though Sinn Féin itself will have to review its attitude towards Irish farming and promote a move away from dairy/beef livestock monoculture towards a more historical and sustainable mix with a strong emphasis on organic tillage, horticulture, native forestry and regeneration/reflooding of the bogs that will revitalise rural Ireland. Furthermore the new government has to take long overdue action against Denis O’Brien, Michael Lowry and other powerful individuals over the findings of the Morarity Tribunal in 2011 which highlighted the influence of the ‘old boys’ network that has undermined Irish parliamentary democracy but which has been collected dust on a shelf ever since.
Finally what is happening now reminds me so much of when I was co-leader of the campaign against Ronald Reagan’s conferring of a honourary law degree (when he was breaking international law in Nicaragua) by UCG (now NUI Galway) in 1984. There was initially strong opposition even anathema by the wide progressive coalition partners against the left wing (there were indeed very right wing elements) of (Provisional) Sinn Féin becoming part of the campaign. I and a few others had to fight hard to ensure their involvement in Galway city’s mainstream protest politics for the first time since the 1930s. But it succeeded and the rest as they say is history.

Sat: Combining a Forest Clean-up with Trees for Planting!


Thanks to the generousity of the Galway Science and Technology Festival and of Aerogen, free native Irish trees will be made available to participants in the Terryland Forest Park clean-up on General Election Day. So on February 8th, you can vote, take part in a community clean-up of a wildlife park sanctuary and plant a tree!

It was the Festival committee, Galway company Aerogen, as well as Coillte and Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) that provided the thousands of trees that were planted in primary schools, secondary schools, hedgerows, neighbourhoods, towns and villages across Galway city and county as well as in Terryland Forest Park last November as part of the Science and Technology Festival.

So we welcome this gift of Nature that will allow Galwegians to not only clean up Ireland's largest ever urban community woodland project but to plant trees in their gardens or localities that will provide homes to our precious wildlife, give us the oxygen that we need to live, filter out dangerous car emissions from the air but also absorb the carbon dioxide that is the main cause of Global Warming.

Rendezvous: 12pm, Terryland Forest Park entrance adjacent to Currys. Check out bit.ly/2UqlSs2.
Wear suitable attire.
This event is organised by the fantastic Garry Kendellen and the team from Galway Atlantaquaria Clean Coast who will provide bags and gloves to the attendees.

First the People’s Tree Planting, now the People’s Clean up of Terryland Forest Park


 We are asking the people of Galway to take part in a litter pick on General Election Day (Sat Feb 8th) to help protect our precious land and aquatic mammals, birds and insects that live in our woodlands, rivers and in the seawaters of Galway Bay.
It is so appropriate that this event is  being organised by our good friends in the Galway Atlantaquaria (Ireland’s National Aquarium) Clean Coast group. For what is dumped in a park or woodland not only kills its indigenous wildlife, but also destroys fragile ecosystems that live in the deepest parts of the Atlantic Ocean.
Take plastic for instance. Approximately 8.8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the ocean much of it by way of rivers and by being wind-blown, leading to the deaths of at least 100,000 sea mammals annually. Over 90% of the plastic ever made has not been recycled with 50% produced annually being single use and discarded.  Sadly this type of plastic production is still continuing. A representative of Coca Cola, the world’s most polluting plastic brand that produces the equivalent of 200,000 bottles a minute, said last month at the World Economic Forum in Davos that the corporation has no plans to stop using single-use plastic bottles.

So let us the residents of Galway city keep highlighting the need to end the madness of once-off plastic, to increase the protection our precious urban biodiversity zones and keep the pressure on Galway City Council to have more on-the-ground park staff.
Community campaigning last year succeeded in having full time staff appointed to our woodlands. But when our green spaces worldwide and locally are being called upon to provide more trees, to serve as ‘carbon sinks’ and as safe zones for threatened flora and fauna, City Hall needs to do so much more if we are to emulate for instance the labour resources of Dublin’s Stephen’s Green and Phoenix Park.
In November, the people of Galway answered the call to plant thousands of native Irish trees in Terryland Forest Park. Now let us come together to collect the thousands of plastic bottles, beer bottles, beverage cans and other debris that cause so much damage in Terryland and along every seashore, park and woodland in the city and to demand greater restrictions on their manufacture and dumping.

Finally, participants are reminded to make sure to wear suitable clothing and shoes, all should ensure their own personal safety, wellbeing and not take risks.

Our Research Institute: Using Science & Technology in the war against Climate Chaos, Biodiversity Loss...

The research taking place at my university workplace is contributing to tackling the issues being caused by Climate Change, biodiversity loss and the excesses of the consumer society.
As part of our Educational and Public Engagement (EPE) programme at the Insight Centre for Data Analytics of the Data Science Institute NUIG, we have been offering since last summer a package to visiting schools that combines an introduction to our research, a coding workshop, an immersive Virtual Reality experience and a guided tour of the Computer & Communications Museum.

The first part is based on talks by our researchers on their work (mostly in collaboration with other European countries) that more and more has a strong emphasis on Sustainability and on Citizen Science. . On Tuesday, Niall O’Brolchain outlined the 'CarePeat' partnership research project to students of St.Jarlaths College from Tuam. CarePeat is about reducing carbon emissions from and restoring the carbon capacity of Europe’s degraded peatlands. Niall pointed out that, though only covering c3% of global land surface, peatlands store twice as much carbon as all of the Earth’s forests combined, but are now responsible for 5% of global carbon emissions due to degradation.

The second talk was by Umair ul Hassan on his research project entitled 'Sharerepair'. Its purpose is to roll back Europe’s fastest growing waste stream by scaling up citizen repair shops through the use of digital tools

A fully operational Apple Macintosh joins the Museum!


A working Macintosh SE (System Expansion) from the late 1980s has been added to our new interactive Apple zone.
This personal computer is part of an initiative to make the museum even more 'hands-on' in readiness for the museum being opened every Saturday from next month onwards.
It will also form part of a major exhibition to be launched in April entitled "A Byte of the Apple”.
This particular SE comes with an array of business and games software including MacDraw, Excel and Star Wars.
It was secured from Adrian in Waterford.
The black wooden display unit on which the new Mac proudly sits was donated by Tom Callanan. The Mac Carry Bag was supplied by Pat Anderson.
So a big 'Bualadh Bos' (Irish =round of applause) to Adrian, Tom and Pat!!
Launched in March 1987 the SE was the first Macintosh to come with an internal drive bay for a hard disk or a second floppy drive and was the first compact Macintosh that featured an expansion slot

Friends from Conflict Zones Showing the World a Better Way.


Photo shows myself and my colleagues from Iran, Iraq, Kashmir, Libya and Yemen enjoying each other’s happy companionship at our workplace café. Though their homelands and their families are suffering from conflict-be it in the form of occupation, bombings, oppression, civil war, invasion, ethnic discrimination, religious discrimination, economic sanctions…, nevertheless here in Ireland these lovely individuals are united in friendship. This is as it should be.
It makes me feel hopeful that our species will ultimately become ‘civilised’, and that humanity will be bonded together by peace, equality and respect. Since time immemorial, too often we have allowed individuals to take control by using diversity in culture, religion, ethnicity, skin colour and gender to sow hostility and mutual distrust rather than as a strength and something that we should celebrate.
I am also proud that our university and our country (in spite of its many social and economic problems that need radical solutions) promotes tolerance and diversity. This is the view expressed by many of my present and former asylum seeker friends towards this country and city over the years. It is still at many levels an ‘Ireland of the Welcomes’, due I feel primarily to two reasons. Firstly we were until recently a nation of small farming villages portraying the friendliness of rural folk everywhere towards strangers. Secondly, as an occupied, oppressed and colonised country for 800+ years, many of us instinctively feel empathy towards other peoples that are victims of conflict.
But we have got to remember too that we are all neighbours living today in one global village and more than ever before we need to stand together against a common foe in a truly 'just' war, namely to save the planet from the ravages of human-induced Climate Chaos that we increasingly see every day. From the Arctic in the north to Australia in the south, the world is on fire.

Colin donates his favourite Pet to the museum!

 What a great start to 2020! We are pleased to announce that Colin Lafferty, one of museum’s most recent volunteers, has generously gifted us a working 1979-1980 Commodore PET 3032 computer complete with a C2N-B datasette cassette recorder, a Commodore 4040 5.25 inch floppy disk dual drive and a bundle of business and games software.

This is an amazing and welcome addition to our ‘hands-on’ collection the Age of the Microcomputer’.

The PET series is truly one of the great icons of the computing world, its distinctive shape forever associated with television and movies, especially of the science fiction genre, during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

For more information on this remarkable computer check out Colin’s blog at http://laffertycolin.blogspot.com

I would like to also point out that my good friend Colin could be referred to as a pioneering advocate of electronics communications and computing in Galway.  He was a founding member (vice-auditor) of the Computer Society (CompSoc) in 1978 at what was then the University College Galway/UCG (now NUI Galway/NUIG) and became its auditor in 1980.