'Where Green meets Blue'- Top section of the photo shows the Dyke Road with Terryland Forest Park on one side and the River Corrib on the other. The other images show different aspects of the forest park and the banks of the river.
Galway city is so lucky to have such wonderful natural beauty so close to the city centre. Of course it did not happen by chance. For it took many campaigns and many battles over many decades by community activists to keep it from being lost to built development. But it also happened due to the foresight of many visionary council officials and councillors and their positive engagement with community activists from the mid 1990s onwards. A partnership that will led now to a long cherished demand of campaigners- a direct path link from the riverbank to the main area of the Terryland Forest Park. More to follow on this on a later posting. However after a delay of many months (from January), we are hoping that later today a motion from councillor Imelda Byrne on setting up a full-time parks warden unit is finally debated and voted through at a council meeting by councillors. Thank you Imelda for showing leadership and in taking this critical issue onboard. We do indeed have one fantastic dedicated hard working warden in Galway, namely Cora O'Kelly who does so much good. But she cannot do all of the city parks on her own whilst having other duties to perform (looking after life buoys).
Natural Spaces are our Salvation
The need for a full time seven days a week permanent on-the-ground parks personnel unit in all our major parks is now needed more than ever before. COVID has taught us the benefits to our wellbeing in walking through natural areas and in the vital role that these places play in reversing biodiversity loss, in acting as 'carbon sinks' and in improving air quality.
A Pleasant Encounter with Young Drinkers
Recently my good friend Ryan Crowell and myself spent a wonderful Saturday and Sunday in Terryland Forest Park and along the banks of the River Corrib chatting to people and informing them of the area's natural features and on its history; in picking up rubbish and in planting trees. What I particularly enjoyed the most was an engagement on Saturday evening at c4pm with scores of young people (late teens-early 20s) who were drinking and chatting in groups along the river bank. Whilst we informed them not to drink alcohol in public parks and to be aware of COVID restrictions such as social distancing, we told them that we there only as concerned citizens. In that capacity we ask them in a friendly manner to think of the damage that litter does to wildlife and in undermining other people's enjoyment of a public park. We asked them to take their litter home and, if they could not do so, to use the black bags that we distributed to all of the groups of young people. The youth were so positive in their response to us! Some of them helped us fill up seven full large bags with cans, bottles etc and remove them to my car. I have to point out at this stage that none of the young people were in any way intoxicated. Next morning (Sunday) Ryan and myself returned just after 9am as I wanted to find out if our words had any positive long lasting impact. What greeted us was indeed a lovely sight- multiple bags of rubbish piled together with green spaces and a riverbank almost totally devoid of litter! It was such a morale booster! In total, 15 large bags were collected and removed. There is no doubt in my mind where it not for our actions, much of this rubbish from one small area of the city would have ended up polluting the Atlantic Ocean.
What this incident demonstrated to me was the importance of having a permanent presence in Terryland Forest Park and other parks of friendly council (& volunteer) rangers actively engaging with visitors, keeping the parks clean, planting trees,improving biodiversity features, repairing fences... Is their money in the City Hall budget to set up such a unit? I feel that the council have to be imaginative in this regard, to think outside the box and to use for instance some of the dozens of fully funded staff positions being offered by government for developing a walking and cycling infrastructure for Galway City. After all, the parks and riverbanks will play a vital role in such a development as they already provide areas for people to walk and cycle amongst Nature.
My good friend Ryan Crowell and myself today in Terryland Forest Park planted 7 trees in honour of the 7 signatories of the 'Proclamation of the Irish Republic' that was read out on Easter Sunday 1916 by Pádraig Pádraig in front of the GPO, marking the beginning of the Rising by the men and women of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army against the might of the British Empire. We planted the saplings amongst the ashes of the fires fueled by the wood from trees cut down by vandals in the People's Park in December/January last, trees which had been planted by volunteers of all ages on March 12th 2000.
What we did admittedly was a small symbolic gesture but one hopefully that will compensate somewhat for the damage caused by the destructive selfish anti-social mavericks of a few months ago and which will provide sanctuary to wildlife and act as a 'carbon sink' for many decades to come. This was my final planting of 2021. I will though keep a careful eye on these 7 trees as they mature and grow into the future, referring to them always as the 'Phoenix Trees'.
The 'Proclamation of the Irish Republic' is a manifesto that Irish people should be extremely proud of. It is in my opinion one of the most egalitarian revolutionary documents of the early 20th century, declaring the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, to religious and civil liberty, to equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, both male and female, and in cherishing all the children of the nation equally. It provided hope and a clarion call for freedom to oppressed peoples everywhere in a time when the world was controlled by empires I was proud too that Ryan Crowell joined me today in this tribute as he is of the family of Seán Mac Diarmada, one of the seven signatories of the Proclamation. The other signatories were Thomas J. Clarke, Thomas MacDonagh, Pádraig Pearse, Éamonn Ceann, James Connolly and Joseph Plunkett.
It is Red Letter Day for our Green Spaces! Councillors -Please Support the Motion to Set up a City Parks’ Wardens Unit
- A woods that was planted by the people of Galway in March 2000 which is now teeming with wildlife
- The lovely Terryland River which is home to fish, birds and other aquatic creatures
- Alcohol cans, bottles & other detritus strewn across a forest floor and pathway beside a park bench (p.s. I later removed this litter)
St. Patrick’s Day is Ireland’s national holiday and understandably St. Patrick himself is looked on as the personification of all that is Irish.
It is probably the only holiday specifically associated with one nation that is celebrated with gusto in countries across the globe, with prominent streets and buildings on so many continents being decked out in Emerald Isle Green.
Yet St. Patrick himself and so many of the traditions associated with the Festival have their origins far beyond our green shamrock shores.
So for instance:
1. St. Patrick- British & Roman!
St. Patrick himself was actually Romano-British, the son of a Roman official that was taken as a slave by Irish sea raiders probably from near Carlisle (at Hadrian’s Wall) in northern Britain in the early 5th century. Even his adopted name is not Gaelic, coming from the Latin term ‘Patricius' (noble).
Yet, as we say in Ireland, the invader/foreigner oftentimes becomes 'more Irish than the Irish themselves' (except for a few Northern Unionists!). Though sent as a prisoner to Ireland & forced to work as a slave looking after sheep in the mountains, Patrick decided to voluntarily return to Ireland as a Christian missionary years after his escape from captivity.
2. Guinness- Invented by Londoners & with some later support from the British Army!
'Guinness' was copied by Arthur Guinness from an 18th century London drink made out of roasted barley. The beer was known as ‘porter’ because it was originally popular with the porters (carriers) in Covent Garden. Arthur Guinness switched from producing the more common ale at his Dublin brewery. However Guinness was initially not well received with Dubliners because of the owner’s support for the British colonial regime and his opposition to the republican United Irishman during the rebellions of the late 1790s.
Guinness’ international reputation had also a lot to do with the British Army! In WW1, the high-energy consumption ‘porter’ breweries in mainland Britain were closed down by the government to concentrate the national energy resources on the armament production factories. However Guinness and the porter breweries in Ireland were allowed to stay open thus giving them a virtual trade monopoly in the then British Empire that stretched across five continents.
The 'Irish pub' was actually created by Viking invaders in the 9th century in their new slave-trading settlements of Dublin, Cork, Limerick etc. Common to all these Viking cities was the presence of a 'tavern' where Vikings, after grueling days or months spent fighting, raiding, pillaging or trading could come to enjoy the delights of beer, music and food served by gorgeous-looking Celtic wenches.
Over a thousand years later (in 1996), I returned the favour to our Viking brethren by managing the first Irish pub in Iceland- ‘The Dubliner’ in Reykjavik! (pubs were only legalized in that country in 1989)
4. 'St. Patrick's Day Festival Parade’ -an American invention!
It originated in the mid-18th century American cities of Boston (1737) and New York (1762) where it was actually created by Irish soldiers serving in the British Army who marched on March 17th in honour of the patron saint of Ireland. The latter parade is usually recognised as the first true parade. By the 19th century, it had become an opportunity for the Irish emigrants in the USA not only to promote their heritage, but most importantly to present a powerful expression of Irish nationalism and the struggle against British colonial rule in Ireland.
New York's Parade for Indian & Irish Independence
Interestingly, the New York Parade of 1920 took on a more cosmopolitan anti-imperial flavour as it became a huge demonstration for Indian as well as Irish independence with Indian republicans carrying large banners emblazoned with messages such as '315,000,000 of India with Ireland to the Last'and 'President De Valera's Message to India: Our cause is a common cause.'
5. Irish Whiskey -the essence of the Middle East!
The process of creating whiskey(from the Gaelic 'uisce beatha' = 'water of life') - 'distillation' was learnt from Coptic or Arab alchemists by studious Celtic monks. The former used it for medicinal purposes. However, we Irish soon saw its greater significance in the hospitality and entertainment sectors!
6. Sexy Irish Traditional Dancing- another American invention!
Traditional Irish step dancing only gained an international appeal in the 1990s thanks primarily to the efforts of an American, Michael Flatley.
This Irish-American from Chicago created the choreography for the 'Riverdance' show and, with fellow lead dancer Jean Butler, led the show to amazing success as the intermission act in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1994. Irish step dancing has never looked back since and Riverdance has generated a myriad of successful offshoots. Not only that, but the dour unsmiling
Irish dancers of previous eras were transformed into vivacious high-kicking Irish cailíní and buachaillí in figure-hugging attire. Furthermore, modern Irish dance now unashamedly embraces elements from other cultures (Russia, Arabian) increasing its international appeal even further.
Michael Flatley portrayed all that was good and important about Irish-Americans. When Irish traditions were dying out in the Emerald Isle, it was they that for centuries nurtured and kept alive the flame of Celtic culture.
7. There is no such thing as Irish 'Craic'!
The term 'Craic' is looked on today as an Irish word denoting a quintessentially Irish form of fun (drink, music, amusing & friendly conversation).
In fact there was no such word in the Gaelic Language until the 1970s. It is actually an old English(!) word spelt 'crack' that meant in Elizabethan times 'to boast', 'to banter' or 'to tell a joke' as in the term 'to crack a joke'.
8. 'Irish Coffee'- invented for the benefit of American tourists suffering from the Irish weather!
On one cold evening in 1942 at a small windswept airport terminal on the west coast of Ireland, the local chef felt pity for the tired and freezing passengers who had just embarked from a seaplane that had to turn back from its trans Atlantic journey due to atrocious weather conditions.
Being Americans, he knew that they would enjoy a cup of hot coffee (not then much consumed by Irish people) topped with fresh cream. But because of the freezing conditions, he decided to spice it up with a shot of Irish whiskey. Legend has it that one of the passengers, remarking on the unusual taste of this drink asked, "Hey Buddy, is this Brazilian coffee?", to which the chef Joe Sheridan replied, 'No, that's Irish coffee'. And so, history was made!
9. Irish Songs-written by English, Americans, Scots & Australians!
Many of those great 'traditional Irish' ballad songs that are sung with such gusto every night by broken-hearted inebriated Galwegians or Dubliners in some Irish pub across the world were in fact written by English, Scotch, Australian or American!
For instance Dirty Old Town (that many mistakenly believe refers to Dublin) was written by the (Scottish-) English socialist folk singer Ewan MacColl; From Clare to Here by English singer songwriter Ralph McTell; Willie McBride/Green Fields of France by Scottish Australian Eric Bogle; Danny Boy by English lawyer Fred Weatherly; My Wild Irish Rose and When Irish Eyes are Smiling by New York Broadway star Chauncey Olcott; and the late great Johnny Cash wrote Forty Shades of Green
British Army made an Irish theme song the most popular music of World War One
Written in 1912 by Englishman Harry Williams and Jack Judge, the son of Irish emigrants, the song It's a Long Way to Tipperary was heard by English news reporter George Curnock being sung by the Connaught Rangers regiment of the British Army as they marched through Boulogne in August 1914. He wrote about it in the Daily Mail and very soon it was being picked up by other British regiments and became the most popular marching song of the war.
10. Irish Traditional Music- reinvented by British Punks
It was a London-based Punk group of mixed English & Irish background that shook Irish music to its foundations and re-invented it for a modern Western youth audience. The anti-establishment Pogues, led by their brilliant lead singer and lyricist Shane MacGowan, that revitalised Irish music and brought vibrancy, youthfulness, relevancy and radical politics back into a staid Irish music scene.
Formed in 1982, the inventors of Celtic Punk fused traditional Irish folk with contemporary English punk and rock.
The name 'Pogues' comes from Pogue Mahone, the anglicisation of the Irish 'póg mo thóin,' meaning "kiss my ass".
As with Riverdance, their music was oftentimes condemned by the native Irish purists who preferred to keep Celtic culture in a sealed box untainted by outside forces.
Silly people! Like all cultures, Irish traditions are ever-changing, are constantly borrowing and being re-shaped by external influences.
More than any other food item, the potato is associated with Ireland. Today it is a central element of Irish cuisine with a myriad of traditional recipes associated with this root crop, ranging from Boxty (Irish Potato Griddle Cakes), potato soup, Dublin Coddle to Colcannon. Particularly from the early 1800s, it became the staple diet of the Irish people. Because of its high nutritional value and its ability to be grown abundantly on poor soils, the majority of the impoverished native peasantry planted this vegetable on the miserable patches of lands left to them by their new lords and masters, the British ruling elite, who had conquered and colonised Ireland during the wars of the 16th-18th centuries, transforming the countryside in the process into grazing and tillage lands to provide livestock and grain for the British market. Over dependency on the potato in the 19th century sadly had dire consequences when potato blights led to mass starvation, death and emigration particularly in the Great Famine (an Gorta Mór = the Big Hunger) of the 1840s.
However the potato was introduced into Ireland only in the late 16th century from North America, probably by English soldier and adventurer Sir Walter Raleigh on his estates in county Waterford that had been awarded to him from lands seized from Irish rebels. Raleigh is mostly remembered today for popularising another crop from the the New World, namely tobacco. However his legacy in Ireland is somewhat different and will be forever associated with colonising Irish lands with English settlers and American spuds.
The Claddagh ring (Fáinne Chladaigh in Irish) is internationally renowned as a traditional Irish token of friendship, love, or marriage. It is called after the fishing village of Claddagh ('Cladach' = stony beach in Irish), now a suburb of Galway city on the west coast of Ireland.
Each element of this distinctive metal ring has symbolic meaning: the hands represents friendship, the crown loyalty, and the heart love. If the ring is placed on the right hand with the heart turned outwards, it means that the wearer is "unattached". When the heart is turned inwards, it is a sign that he or she is married or in a permanent relationship.
It has appeared in popular television programmes including Friends, and in Buffy the Vampire Slayer where the character Angel (who was an Irishman in a previous life) presents Buffy with a Claddagh ring on her birthday saying “My people – before I was changed – they exchanged this as a sign of devotion. It’s a Claddagh ring. The hands represent friendship, the crown loyalty…and the heart….well you know…..wear it with the heart pointing towards you it means you belong to somebody."
All wore the ring in the belief that it is a authentic Love Symbol from ancient Ireland.
Yet its origins probably lie in North Africa, in the white slave trade practiced by the fierce Moorish pirates in what was then known as the Barbary (Barbarian) Coast.
According to legend Richard Joyce, from British occupied Ireland, was captured by Muslim pirates on a ship traveling to the slave plantations of British West Indies. Sold like many hundreds of thousands of captured Europeans in a slave market in Morocco or Algeria, he was bought by a kindly goldsmith from Algiers who taught him the skills of his trade during his 14 years of captivity.
Under a peace treaty during the reign of King William III, Richard was released along with all other British prisoners. In spite of being offered riches and a daughter in marriage by his former master. Richard returned to Galway. Equipped with his new metalwork skills and designs, he became a successful goldsmith. It is said that he presented the first Claddagh ring to a lover that had remained faithful to him during his long years in captivity.
13. Easter 1916 - Ireland's greatest rebellion against British Imperial Rule- Led by a Scotsman, an Englishman, an American and the English-born wife of A Polish Count
The Easter 1916 Rising is probably the most celebrated rebellion against British colonial rule in Ireland. Though it ended in failure, it was the catalyst for the larger scale guerrilla warfare campaign of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) that commenced in January 1919 and became known as the War of Independence which led to the establishment of the Irish Free State and the end of British rule in 26 counties of the 32 counties of Ireland.
Yet interestingly, many of the rebel leaders were foreign-born, evidenced of the extent and influence of the Irish Diaspora. The chief planner of the rebellion, Tomas Clarke was born in the Isle of Wright, England; James Connolly the internationally renowned socialist and overall commander, was born in Edinburgh Scotland; Éamon DeValera, commandant of the Boland Mills unit, was born in New York to a Cuban father; Constance Georgine Markievicz (neé Gore Booth) second in command of the St. Stephen's Green rebel forces was born in London and married a Polish aristocrat Count Casimir Markievicz from what is now Ukraine. The father of Pádraig Pearse, the Commander in Chief of the overall rebellion and the person most associated with the Rising was from Birmingham.
14. Ireland's Picturesque Landscapes of Green Fields & Stone Walls - A Product of British Conquest & Colonisation
A traditional Irish (honest!) Toast
In honour of the day itself, may I send you all an old and heartfelt Irish blessing:
"May your glass be ever full,
May the roof over your head be always strong,
And may you be in heaven
half an hour before the devil knows you're dead!"
Part 2: March 12th 2000-c3,000 people came to a field & left behind a forest. The Rewilding of Galway city had begun
(Continued from Part 1)
|Grace & Irene Cummins in Terryland Forest Park, March 12th 2000|
Unlike many other Irish cities, Galway did not possess a central public park of any major size. Reviewing the ‘Development Plan for Galway city’, we agreed that the lands either side of the Terryland or Sandy River that started at the River Corrib and continued towards Castlegar village should be preserved for posterity as a mix of leisure, farming and wildlife habitats. We called it the ‘Terryland River Valley Park’ and mounted a concerted campaign based on the belief that it could become “the future lungs of Galway city” with the retention of its riverine wetlands, limestone outcrops, caves and country fields characterised by traditional stone walls and hedgerows, that would be complemented by the addition of an visitors’ educational city farm, fishing piers, landscaped parks and the planting of trees. Within months, we got the support of the majority of city councillors and officials. City Manager Joe Gavin and Gus McCarthy of the Planning Office were particularly welcoming. Renowned ecologist Gordon D’Arcy issued a major (Crann) report recommending a major expansion of the woodland element. Michael D. Higgins, then Minister for the Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, was so enthusiastic about the idea that he sent a wildlife expert from his department to undertake a biodiversity assessment of the proposed area. Kevin Collins of the national Tree Council helped in securing funding under the government’s Urban Woodland scheme. When Stephen Walsh became Superintendent of Parks, he established a multi-sectoral steering committee for the new park that was unheard of anywhere in Ireland. It comprised representatives of people with disabilities, local residents, environmentalists, artists, Teagasc, Coillte, OPW, the third level sector, heritage, the council planning office, government departments, the Tree Council of Ireland and schools.
Years before terms such as ‘Climate Change’, ‘biodiversity extinction’ and ‘social inclusion’ became part of everyday and political speak, the visionaries of late 1990s/early 2000s were designing a park to become a ‘carbon sink’ to serve as the ‘Lungs of the City’; an ‘ecological corridor’ for wildlife connecting the Corrib waterways through the city to the farmlands of east Galway; a facility for the annual planting of thousands of native Irish trees and wildflowers by the people of Galway through mass public ‘Plantathons’; an ‘outdoor classroom’ for schools promoting science and the arts; a green space with an ‘access for-all’ infrastructure; a location for the regular hosting and celebration of ‘arts in Nature’ events; a living heritage area for the preservation and learning of traditional rural heritage skills such as coppicing and drystone walling; a “people’s park” owned and co-managed with the city’s communities; and the promotion of new green technologies. There were ambitious plans to construct a forestry interpretative/learning centre, a tree nursery and an outdoor green amphitheatre.
But at another level it was part of a shift in Galway and Irish society happening during that period. A citizens’ group ‘Save Galway Bay’ had been campaigning for years against locating a wastewater treatment plant on Mutton Island. In January 2000, a huge community campaign got underway to stop the construction of a large regional municipal incinerator which led to Galway becoming the first municipality in Ireland to implement a three bin recycling-based household waste system. The following month the business, education, health, state, trade unions and community-voluntary sectors formally came together with the council to develop a holistic city strategy as part of a radical EU prompted reorganisation of local government.
(part 3 to follow)
|Terryland Forest Park|
Part 1: The Rewilding of Galway city had begun.
|Pupils, Teachers & Parents of Scoil Chaitríona in Terryland Forest Park, March 12, 2000|
On this day 21 years ago, nearly 3000 people turned up in what previously was pasture inhabited by grazing cattle adjacent to the Quincentenary Bridge. Over the course of a few hours, these volunteers in Galway's first community 'Plantathon' planted thousands of native Irish trees in the first phase of a development new to Ireland, namely an urban forest park. We called it Terryland Forest Park, a zoned green area of 180 acres lying within the boundaries of Galway city. It was an inspiring sight to behold. Months of hard work and lobbying by members of the park’s multi-sectoral steering committee led by Stephen Walsh, who had been appointed in the previous year to the new position of ‘Superintendent of Parks’ of what was then Galway Corporation, came to fruition. We watched joyously as groups of trainee Garda Síochána, scouts, girl guides, pupils from different schools, company staff as well as families, politicians and senior council officials arrived in the park over the course of the morning, afternoon and early evening armed with shovels, spades and forks to be part of what was and still remains Ireland’s largest community-local government partnered urban forestry project. There was a true sense of togetherness that day, a feeling amongst many that we were creating something special, something that we hoped would make the city a better place to live in for present and future generations as well as become a unique urban sanctuary for wildlife. Many of those dreams have indeed come true. But there are still many other aspirations that have yet to occur that should reinforce its legacy. The idea for such a park started in late 1995 when a small group of community activists living in housing estates along the Headford Road came together in my house one night to discuss long term solutions to the urban sprawl that we were living in. We realised that within a matter of years, as a result of the city’s population growth (‘the fastest growing city in Europe’), the agricultural lands that were still a feature of our locality could be covered in concrete and tarmac with its inhabitants deprived of usable green space...
(to be continued)
Photo shows children, parents and teachers from Scoil Chaitríona Senior on that memorable day. Thank you Jim Hynes for being one of those teachers and being a pioneer over many decades in promoting the Outdoor Classroom. Thank you Lol Hardiman, Niall O Brolchain, Paddy Cunningham Stephen Walsh, Donal Keegan, Gordon D’Arcy, Joe Quilty, Kevin Collins and Sasha van der Sleesen for being part of that great team that was the steering committee of Terryland Forest Park
When my son Dáire was in primary school, he took to it like a fish to water.
Now he is 21 years old. But I still have a display in my attic (now my off-campus workplace since COVID!) of a number of his Origami creations (geometric shapes, birds and frogs) that he made when he was 10, 11 and 12 years of age.
Tom's Origami hands-on workshops at the annual Galway Science and Technology Festival Sunday Fair on the campus of NUI Galway were always a big visitor attraction. Lets hope that they return in November of this year at a post-COVID festival!
Calling all Graduates of NUI Galway. Vote Mike Jennings in next week's elections for the university's Governing Authority.
On October 29th, President Michael D. Higgins gave a powerful thought-provoking speech to an online (via Webex) meeting of people of all ages drawn from a wide strata of local society on why the movement towards transforming Galway into a National Park City is so crucial at this particular time in human history due to unprecedented Climate Change, biodiversity loss and pandemics, and why it can be a template for other cities in Ireland to follow. His talk was followed by presentations from Dan Raven Ellison, a visionary campaigner who led the successful drive to establish London as world's first National Park City; and from Kathryn Tierney, policy coordinator at the Directorate General Environment of the European Commission involved in the EU’s radical new growth strategy known as the ‘Green Deal’ with its key principles of circular economy, wildlife protection, zero pollution, clean energy, net greenhouse emissions by 2050 with funding being made available towards research, business innovation and community transition. So impressed are all three by what is happening in Galway that President Higgins agreed to become this new movement’s official patron; Dan to be its mentor; Kathryn to be its champion at EU level; whilst Duncan Stewart, Ireland’s most well-known environmentalist, is its national champion.
So what is meant by ‘Galway National Park City’ and why has it so excited these four luminaries?
The aim of this new pioneering initiative is to make our urban environment more healthier, sustainable, harmonious, beautiful, equitable with biodiversity-rich environments of quality green and blue spaces where people value, benefit from, and are strongly connected to the rest of Nature.
Over eighty (and more to follow) individuals and their respective organisations have started to come together over the last few weeks to help facilitate this process. They will form a steering committee representing the widest possible cross-section of backgrounds, professions and sectors of Galway society including education, community, health, medical, arts, environment, youth, engineering, corporate business, small business, crafts, residential neighbourhoods, scouting, direct provision, marine, waterways protection, renewable energies, makers/repairers, cycling advocacy, walking advocacy, life sciences, data science, social sciences, media, heritage, animal welfare, ecology, and urban farming. Each of these persons have in their own professional and volunteering fields been undertaking or coordinating incredible projects in their workplaces, schools, communities and neighbourhoods, sometimes over many years, to enhance and care for the city’s unique natural heritage and to help others to benefit from it. Much of the activities of these local champions often takes place without the wider general public being aware of it. The National Park City initiative will help join up and promote their activities, provide a city-wide approach and inspire others from all of the different sectors to follow suit.
A series of local speakers from diverse backgrounds outlined at the launch some of the current environmental and sustainability activities that they are involved in. SAP staff have transformed, with support from Friends of Merlin Woods, a large sterile green lawn into a lush wildflower meadow at their HQ in Parkmore, the first such conversion within a business park in the region; NUI Galway is implementing a campus wide all-embracing consultative Sustainability Strategy; residents and management at the Eglinton Direct Provision Centre have implemented organic gardening and upcycling programmes; students and staff at Galway Community College have planted a woodland, and developed compost, reuse and recycling projects; Claire Lillis, R&D manager at Aerogen, showcased a video on the Connemara Greenway that demonstrated its economic, social and environmental benefits; John O’Sullivan introduced ‘EcoEd4All’, a new Galway-piloted conservation course for Transition Year students that is being rolled out to schools nationwide; Anne Murray explained how the 2019 Galway Science and Technology Festival was the largest ever event held in Ireland on Climate Change involving businesses, NGOs, schools and colleges; Ríonach Uí Néill guided participants through the ‘Drowned Galway’ outdoor arts mural trail; and Conor Ruane gave an overview of the Galway-Roscommon Local Authority Community Waters programme.
The fact that this important gathering took place online demonstrates why a united approach is needed to transform Galway to meet the challenges that now face us in a rapidly changing world. A virus, an entity smaller than a human cell, had in a matter of a few weeks brought the most powerful species on the planet to its knees. The coronavirus pandemic is just another symptom(one of many) of humanity’s abuse of nature that is increasingly coming back to haunt us. As President Higgins said at the meeting, mankind stands at a precipice and needs to combine its individual/sectoral talents, and work together like never before in a unity of purpose to come up with solutions to the catastrophic that we have put ourselves in.
This may seem too overwhelming a task for a few thousand citizens of a small city on the western edge of Europe. But we should not underestimate ourselves. For if we combine ingenuity with a common sense practical approach by ‘thinking Global and acting Local’, we can make a significant contribution to positive change. This is what the National Park City Galway is all about.
Over last few months, the natural world came to our aid and gave us clues to what is required to turn things around. In our time of crisis, when we were confined to our homes and locality, the parks on our doorstep that many of us never actually visited before, characterised by the sights and sounds of bees and birds that we never noticed or heard before, became our place of refuge and our outdoor gym providing a ‘green prescription’ for our physical and mental health. Galwegians in unprecedented numbers took to walking, cycling, and growing organic vegetables, herbs and fruits as well as in helping neighbours through a renewed spirit of ‘Meitheal’. We also began to repair home appliances and recycle materials that we may have previously thrown out. Some of us gave a whole new lease of life to old laptops by installing new free open-source software, so that they could be used by school students who desperately required them for the new online education that was suddenly thrust upon them.
Without realising it, we were answering the call from the higher echelons of the United Nations and the European Union to transition from a linear (take, make and waste) economy to a circular economy.
Galway is strategically placed both in human and natural resources to become a world leader in sustainability and environmental repair. Surrounded by ocean, rivers, lakes, mountains, bogs and green landscapes, we can be a global centre for renewable energies, organic farming, green tourism, restoration of natural habitats and carbon retention. But we are also blessed with a creative arts and crafts sector; a vibrant community and environmental sector; a location for some of the world’s leading biomedical corporations whose products are saving lives, and IT companies whose digital technologies are bringing us all closer together; a hub for leading edge life-enhancing scientific, medical and engineering research; a centre for indigenous business innovation; a high level of volunteerism; and a flagship for schools and colleges integrating the Outdoor Classroom and Outdoor Lab into educational studies. The political life of Galway should also be praised, after all it gave Ireland a president that is respected throughout the world for his vision, sense of justice and intellect.
A few weeks ago, a presentation was given on the Galway National Park City initiative to a Special Policy Committee (SPC) of Galway City Council where it received unanimous support from the officials and councillors present. The proposal now goes to a full meeting of the council for discussion. We hope that City Hall enthusiastically becomes a fully-fledged leading active partner in this exciting endeavour to create a city for the future that is ‘Green’ as well as ‘Smart’.
We have serious problems locally including traffic congestion, urban sprawl, housing shortage, pollution and an absence of rangers in our parks. But the council should be praised for making positive strides on key environmental issues over the last few months including adopting the All Ireland Pollinator Plan, appointing a Biodiversity Officer, and putting forward proposals for public consultation on increasing the zones of attractive pedestrianisation within the city centre.
However we as citizens should be more ambitious. A safe city-wide access-for-all cycling, walking and public transport infrastructure is long overdue. The main urban parks and waterways must be connected via a network of ‘ecological corridors’, and wildlife sanctuaries should be established. Planning regulations should encourage the development of ‘urban villages’ and green features such as the use of renewable energies, rooftop/vertical gardens, rainwater collection systems, community green space and native planting areas.
The boreens (country lanes) in the rural areas of the city such as Castlegar, Ballinfoile and Menlo should be protected and promoted as walking routes. The Dyke Road has the unique potential to be an inspiring green/blue hub out of which radiates the Connemara Greenway (by constructing a bridge over the old railway pillars), the Terryland Forest Park, a boreen network emanating out to the rural hinterland towards Coolough, Carrowbrowne and beyond; and a Corrib waterways that stretches to Mayo.
In the past when City Hall came together in a partnership approach with the wider community, extraordinary unprecedented measures were achieved that placed Galway at the forefront of sustainability and environmental care within Ireland. These included the establishment of the country’s first pro-recycling 3 bin domestic waste collection system; the Cash-for-Cans scheme and Ireland’s largest community urban woodlands project (Terryland Forest Park).
In 2020, a united vision and a spirit of togetherness in Galway can help us be part of creating a new more caring post-Covid world where we work with the rest of Nature and not against it.
Brendan Smith, interim convenor, Galway National Park City