Community, Health & Environmental Success at 'Pride of Place' Awards.

 

 

The win by the Tuatha of Terryland Forest Park in the all-Ireland 'Pride of Place' awards in Killarney this week is dedicated to the tens of thousands of volunteers in Galway City of all ages and backgrounds who have over many many decades understood the critical importance of Nature for the health of the planet and the health of people, and that the battle to save the rainforests of Amazonia, the Congo and Indonesia will be fought and won in the cities of the world.

These great people planted trees and flowers, cleaned up rivers, streets and parks, organised nature studies and nature walks/cycles, implemented the green prescription, nurtured and restored species in an sometimes hostile unsympathetic built urban environment. 
 
Our cities need homes, schools, sports/community centres and workplaces but they also need an infrastructure of safe pedestrian/cycling/public transport networks, inter-connected parks, greenways, and wildlife sanctuaries. In the case of the latter, we have to realise that we share our urban habitat with other species and that we need to provide space for the rest of Nature to thrive and by doing so it will provide us with oxygen, lower greenhouse gas emissions, filter out toxic gases, provide flood defenses, give us food, beautify our city and be a tonic to our minds, bodies and souls.
 
We started the idea of a people's and wildlife park along the Terryland River in my house at Christmas in the year of COP 1 (1995) and it became a reality in 2000.
 
Over the last 27 years, we have achieved a lot but we have so much more to do. Our green spaces need significantly more investment and they should be clean and safe for all. Boosted by a new generation of young enthusiastic volunteers (supported of course by many older enthusiastic veterans who have not gone away!), I am optimistic that the next few years will see progress in integrating the rest of Nature into our beloved city through the 'Galway National Park City' designation which is about making our city Greener, Bluer, Wilder, Healthier, Smarter, Sustainable and more Beautiful.
 
Finally, a big Bualadh Bos to Claddagh Watch who do so well at the Awards final in recognition in their great efforts to make our waterways safe and in protecting people's lives as well as to our county friends in the Headford Lace Project and Killannin Development Committee.
Community resiliance is alive and well in Galway!
 

 

Little Schools are the Heartbeat of Rural Ireland & the Foundations for its Revitalisation

 
COVID cut me off from what is one of the most enjoyable blessful elements of my work at the Insight Centre for Data Analytics NUI Galway, namely the opportunity to travel to every corner of Galway county and city in order to teach different aspects of technology in the schools that function as the heartbeat of their local communities.

This is particularly true of the little schools of rural Galway, which serve as the vibrant hub of their villages and parishes. The photo shows Creggs, one of these great primary schools located in the idyllic village that gives it its name and in which I spent a most enjoyable day last week teaching coding to the senior classes (being teaching there since 2006!).

In this period of rural decline it has been these learning institutions that have kept alive local traditions, such as making St. Bridget Crosses on February 1st; decorations and floats for St. Patrick’s Day; planting trees for Tree Week; painting festive eggs at Easter; and playing the songs and reciting the myths and legends of the locality in times past. As Irish people have abandoned farming (for work in the big city) and the great social gatherings that was the weekly Sunday only a few decades ago, it is the school that maintains a sense of ‘community spirit’ by bringing together the grannies, parents, cousins and neighbours of the pupils to enjoy concerts at Christmas, fancy dress parties at Samhain/Halloween, heritage nights, charity fundraising and group cycles. It is also the children of the school that are the life blood of the parish sports and youth clubs.

But these schools have been suffering for many decades due to creeping urbanisation. Fifty years ago Ireland's social and economic life revolved around an agricultural system based on the small family farm and rural towns were vibrant places serving their farming hinterland. Today too many of these country towns look like ghost towns with lines of abandoned and boarded up premises; the small family farm has lost its national economic centrality and the mosaic of fields of colourful wildflower meadows, barley, rye, oats, potatoes, cabbages and apple/damson/pear/orchards have all but disappeared from the landscape.
Depopulation in rural Ireland has led to many school closures including some that I worked in such as Corgary, Carnageehy and Woodlawn in east Galway. The car-based transport infrastructure assists this trend as it encourages some parents living in an increasingly suburban-orientated Irish countryside to understandably take children to schools near where they work in the big towns and cities.

But I now see the seeds for a resurgence in rural Ireland based on the principles of the Circular Economy characterised by mixed organic farming; the return of grain, vegetable and fruit growing in fields surrounded by hedgerows or drystone walls; a revitalisation of indigenous crafts and arts, the establishment of wildlife sanctuaries which includes deciduous forests, a network of interlinked greenways, an increased state committment towards public transport, an increased emphasis on renewable energies (wind, water, biomass), and a hospitality trade focused on sourcing locally grown foodstuffs.

The COVID lockdown has opened our eyes to the endless opportunities available with a proper broadband infrastructure allowing many to work long distance be if from homes or from the shared space of small town innovative digital hubs (some are set up already in what was until recently boarded up shops and pubs). Climate Change and Biodiversity Loss as well as the consequences of the destructive Russian invasion of Ukraine have shown us the crucial need to use local solutions to solve global crises. Sustainable jobs exist in nature guardianship, Outdoor Learning, Outdoor leisure (hiking, rowing, cycling etc), energy production, farming at so many levels, electronic repair/recycling/upcycling, biomedical manufacturing, education, crafts, arts, culture, scientific/technology research and green tourism. 3D printing, using safe recyclable materials, will mean the return of the 'cottage industry' to rural Ireland.

So it is crucial that the little country schools are now nurtured and kept open during this period of transition.

I have happily worked in these schools (and their second level ‘big brothers’) since 2002 teaching a range of science and technology courses (coding, film production, photo editing/enhancing, heritage, environmental science, data science, Citizen Science and Internet Safety) as well as offering teachers and children the opportunity to attend sessions at my university workplace to learn from my younger research colleagues, to visit my beloved computer museum as well as to exhibit at the annual Galway Science and Technology Festival Fair.

Hopefully soon I will have re-established the school circuit that I had in the years before COVID not only in the city but in so many villages and parishes in the county stretching from Inishbofin off the coast of Connemara to Tiernascragh near the River Shanno

Planting a Ukrainian woods with an African connection and roots back to ancient Ireland within Terryland Forest Park.


 The Tuatha volunteers have since mid March quietly planted a small woodland in Terryland Forest Park dedicated to the brave people of Ukraine who are suffering so much as they bravely resist Putin's brutal invasion.Only trees native to both countries were planted, namely oak, birch and alder.

The first trees were planted by our good friend Duncan Stewart from Eco-Eye.
We will this week write to Gerasko Larysa, the Ukrainian ambassador to Ireland, requesting her to visit Galway late this year to plant a tree in a woods that symbolizes the strong support that Ukraine has amongst the Irish people.
The Tuatha volunteers involved though came not just from Ireland but also from many other countries including Sweden, Vietnam and USA.
Today's Tuatha volunteers continue an inclusivity and diversity tradition that has been part of the ethos of Terryland Forest Park since its foundation. For instance in 2006, under the banner of 'Putting Roots in Irish Soil' asylum seekers from Iraq, Russia, Belarus, Nigeria, Kenya and many other countries took part in the planting of a Celtic-themed 3 ring maze near Terryland Castle, initiated by the fantastic Stephen Walsh, the first and present Superintendent of Parks at City Hall.
Many of the trees for the Ukrainian woods were provided by the inspirational EasyTreesie who are doing so much to help local communities in reforesting Ireland. we thanked them for that.
 
The African Connection
We also had trees donated from the wonderful Self-Help Africa programme thanks to the generousity of Ronan Scully--, one of the great heroes of modern Ireland, whose work spanning two continents is based on implementing sustainability, environmental protection and community empowerment, combatting social exclusion and overcoming systemic poverty. The Self-Help Africa programme connects the planting of trees by schools in Ireland with reforestation in Africa. Ronan is also a worthy champion of the Galway National Park initiative. Thank you Ronan for all that you have been doing over many decades.
---
Oak Trees from the primeval forests of ancient Ireland.
But of special heritage value are the oak tree saplings donated by Denise Garvey. These native Irish oaks come from Coollattin Woods in Wicklow, one of the final remnants of the great primeval forests that covered Ireland until the great clearances of the plantation period from the early 17th century onwards.
Much of the woods in Coollattin were actually though cleared during the 1970s and 1980s with its trees exported as high quality vineer. It took the first large scale eco campaign in Ireland of the modern era lasting nearly 20 year to save the last of its ancient trees in the locality of Tomnafinnogue following the direct intervention by the then Taoiseach Charles Haughey
UK businessman and Wicklow resident Brian Kingham took over Coollattin in 2016 and has undertaken an ambitious reforestation of the estate.
So we are so proud that the community-council driven Terryland Forest Park now has a direct connection not only in symbolism with Ukraine and Africa but also with the birth of the Irish environmental movement and the great forests of ancient Ireland. Thank you Denise Garvey.

A Cycling & Walking Journey across the rural landscapes of Galway city & environs

 
Thank you to all those who joined us last Sunday for the 7 Galway Castles Heritage Cycle Trip held as part of Bike Week 2022.

The event was fully booked out days in advance.
In spite of the heavy rainfall for the first few hours, we got to see and experience a breathtakingly beautiful countryside of boreens (country lanes), ancient woods, abandoned villages, bogs, wetlands, pasture, burren-type rockscapes, castles, rivers and so much more.
We are eternally grateful to Galway City Council for providing Bike Week grant funding and to Cunningham Marine & Civil for sponsoring the lunch at McHughs Bar and Restaurant.
Our next cycle will be the 3 Athenry-Monivea Castles Heritage tour in late June and another 7 Galway Castles Heritage Cycle in July.

A patriotic Green Irishman wears Blue & Yellow on St. Patrick's Day!

I was proud to dress up in the colours of Ukraine and hold the country's flag high yesterday as I took part on my bike in the Connemara Greenway presence in the St. Patrick's Day Parade in Moycullen.

It was so lovely to be joined by so many good friends demanding the completion of an access-for-all Connemara Greenway including John Power (CEO for Aerogen & the campaign's No 1 supporter), Claire Lillis (what a fantastic job she did with the promotional signage!), Micheal Ó Cinneide (the great co-leader of the Corrib BEO initiative - the Corrib blueways & greenways are so interlinked!), Helen Caird (eco artist extraordinaire), Ronald van Dijk,  Gabe Bourke (who travelled from Donegal to join us!) Thomas Flanagan (who cycled from Barna) Kevin Jennings (chair of Galway Cycle Campaign & who cycled with friends from Galway city), Dick Delaney (who begins today a cycle with family from Galway to Dublin!), Thomas Ó Cadhain (who, in spite of being in pain with a severe injury, walked with his crutch), councillor Alastair McKinistry (who has been a staunch and strong political advocate for it) Pat Collins, Kyran O'Gorman (a great Blue advocate of Lough Corrib)....
All along the route of the parade, the watching crowd cheered and clapped their support for the Greenway. The enthusiasm was palpable! 
 
But I felt, as so many others across our country did yesterday, that it was important too that there should be a tribute and a remainder of the brave men, women and children fighting a people's war against Putin's brutal invasion of their country and his attempts to wipe an independent sovereign country of the map of Europe and assimilate into an anti-democratic new Tsarist Empire. So I dressed up head to toe in the colours of Ukraine carrying my home-made Ukrainian flag and tunic
 
I feel too that Irish people, because of our history, have a special affinity with small countries that suffer oppression and occupation from aggressive rulers of larger more powerful neighbours. Hence the popular support in Ireland too for Palestine.
I hope someday to visit a free Kyiv, Lvev, Kharkiv and Mariupol in a free Ukraine.
 

The Non-Irish Origins of St. Patrick's Day & 'All Things Irish'!


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.
Yet he and so much 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 return to Ireland as a Christian missionary years after his escape.

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.

3. Irish Pub- Viking roots!
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 and New York where it was created by Irish Americans longing for their homeland and an opportunity to promote their heritage. The first parade took place in New York on March 17th in 1762 when it was led by Irish soldiers serving in the British Army! By the 19th century, it had became a powerful expression of Irish nationalism and the struggle against British colonial rule in Ireland.


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'!
'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!
(Click on song title below to hear the song)
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 American country music star Johnny Cash wrote Forty Shades of Green

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.

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!"

 

Marina Ovsyannikova: The Bravest Russian in the World

Marina Ovsyannikova is a true Russian patriot.
Say her name with pride.
 
An editor of the state-controlled flagship Channel 1 television station, she ran onto the set of its live evening news programme yesterday (Monday) shouting: “Stop the war. No to war" and holding a handwritten sign with the script "No war, stop the war, don't believe the propaganda, they are lying to you here."
Sadly she could have paid the ultimate price for speaking out against Putin's war machine and invasion of Ukraine as possibly torture and a harsh imprisonment sentence could have awaited her under recent draconian legislation enacted by the Duma. But the reality of what she could have suffered did not deter her.
Marina's bravery should never be forgotten and her message against the destruction of Ukraine by the neo-Nazi Putin regime should be spread far and wide.
She also released a pre-recorded video on the OVD human rights group in which she spoke of her shame at working for Channel One and facilitating the propaganda of the Putin regime in brainwashing the Russian people.
“Regrettably, for a number of years, I worked on Channel One and worked on Kremlin propaganda, I am very ashamed of this right now. Ashamed that I was allowed to tell lies from the television screen. Ashamed that I allowed the zombification of the Russian people. We were silent in 2014 when this was just beginning. We did not go out to protest when the Kremlin poisoned Navalny”
“We are just silently watching this anti-human regime. And now the whole world has turned away from us and the next 10 generations won’t be able to clean themselves from the shame of this fratricidal war.”
“What is happening in Ukraine is a crime and Russia is the aggressor”
“The responsibility of this aggression lies on the shoulders of only one person: Vladimir Putin.”
Marina pleaded with her fellow Russians to join the anti-war protests so that the brutal invasion and destruction Ukrainian;s peoples and their cities would end. “Only we Russians have the power to stop all this madness. Go to the protests. Don’t be afraid of anything. They can’t imprison us all.”

Thousands of Russians & Belorussians arrested in protests against Putin's war.

According to the United Nations, 12,700 people were arrested up until Sunday for taking part in anti-war street demonstrations across Russia as Putin's regime introduces emergency legislation to criminalise peaceful protests against his invasion of Ukraine in order to stifle the country's growing anti-war movement.

A similar situation is happening in Minsk and other Belorussian cities as many young Belorussians protest against the dictator Lukashenko' participation in Putin's war.
These people are the bravest of the brave, facing the threat of years in prison and deserve our respect and admiration.
So too do the populations of Russian-occupied Ukrainian cities who are regularly protesting against Putin's soldiers, telling them to leave their country and go back to Russia.
Like Bush and Blair who organised an illegal invasion of Iraq based on lies about weapons of mass destruction, Putin is a war criminal who fabricated a litany of lies to justify an illegal war. The results are the same- militarisation, destruction, economic collapse, civil conflict and population collapse.
The result of this ultra nationalist dictator who wants to recreate the Tsarist Empire is that thousands of Ukrainians and Russians have already being killed, cities destroyed by land and air bombing and circa 2 million people have had to flee their homelands. So many of these refugees fleeing west to Poland and other European countries are Russian speakers hence belittling Putin's propaganda that he came to Ukraine as their liberator to save them from genocide.
 

We will not be assimiliated

 
Message to Putin from the people of Ukraine: "WE ARE UKRAINIANS, WE WILL NOT BE ASSIMILIATED, RESISTANCE IS NOT FUTILE!"

Solidarity with the brave men and women of Ukraine in their fight against the huge invading army, air and naval forces of the anti-democratic tyrant who wants to wipe their country off the face of the Earth and absorb it into a 'Greater Russia'.
Civilians stand unarmed in front of Russian tanks and soldiers. Women and children make Molotov cocktails to defend their homes and neighbourhoods against one of the world's largest military.
Solidarity too with the brave ordinary men and women of Russia who have protested on the streets of Moscow, St Petersburg and dozens of other Russian cities against the invasion and 4000+ of whom were arrested and face punishment from a brutal regime.
 
Solidarity with the brave journalists, artists and politicians in Russia such as Katerina Kotrikadze, Tikhon Dzyadko, Dmitry Muratov, Yelena Kovalskaya, Elena Chernenko, Alexey Navalny, Lisa Peskova, Tatyana Yumasheva, Valery Meladze, Oxxxymiron and Ivan Urgant who spoke out against the invasion of Ukraine.
 
Solidarity with the sports players and fans from all across the world who at tournaments and matches over the weekend proudly held and applauded flags and banners in support of the Ukrainian resistance and against the imperialist Putin.
 
Freedom to all nations. No to dictatorships

This is a dark day for Europe and the world

The invasion of Ukraine shows clearly that the anti democratic Putin, who suppresses human rights and assassinates opponents in Russia, to be an imperialist. The excuses given and lies told by this dictator, supported by his fellow dictator in Belarus, have so many similarities to those of the Hitlerite regime for justifying the Nazi invasions of Czechoslovakia and Poland which involved portraying a brutal invasion as a war of ‘self defence’ but with the clear intention of wiping a nation or nations off the face of the Earth.
 
90% of the people of Ukraine voted in 1991 for full independence. Their wishes should be respected. Now sadly thousands of these freedom-loving peoples could die and hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians will become refugees far from their homeland. 
 
My thoughts and prayers are with my Ukrainian friends and their families at this dangerous time.

I was against the invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan (both Soviet & US), Cyprus and Yemen, the decades long sanctions against Cuba as well as the ongoing occupation and colonisation of Palestine.
I have been to Russia, have great respect for the Russian peoples, their struggles against Nazi tyranny and a deep love of Russian culture particularly its traditional music. But I have no time for Putin or any autocrat. Nor do many ordinary and prominent Russians who are bravely protesting against Putin's invasion of a fellow Slavic neighbouring country even when it means arrest and probably worse.
Whilst democratic Ukraine should have every right to be part of EU if that is what its peoples want, in my humble opinion it should nevertheless have declared itself neutral as Austria did in the 1950s and remain outside both NATO and Russian military blocs.
 
There is no justification whatsoever for the brutal invasion, occupation and suppression of any independent nation. Putin is trying to roll back history and reestablish the colonial Tsarist Empire.


Noel Treacy TD, a personal tribute to a Hero of Science & of Education

Noel Treacy TD, Brendan Smith, Tom Hyland, Galway Science & Technology Festival 2012
 
For twenty years I have been an educational science and technology officer working with third level colleges, schools, businesses, NGOs and local communities in Galway, Ireland, the Middle East and Africa. I consider myself extremely fortunate and blessed to have served in this fascinating role. During that period, I have worked with, learnt from and being inspired by so many fantastic transformational men and women. Thanks to them and to the people that I serve, nearly every day at work is a joyful experience and a challenge to do better. But the origins of my involvement in science education is due to three great individuals that I will be eternally grateful to.

I was not too long back from Iceland where I was involved in the hospitality sector for a number of years and continued to do so for a while after my return to Ireland.
But I had a yearning for a move back to my former professions of teaching and information technology. In their respective roles as chairperson, secretary and patron of the Galway Science and Technology Festival, Dr Jimmy Browne (then Deputy President NUI Galway), Bernard Kirk (Director, Galway Education Centre), and Minister Noel Treacy TD gave me in late 2001 an unbelievably exciting opportunity to manage a pilot scheme that we later named ‘Fionn’ which was about utilising digital technologies to support the introduction from 2004 of science as a new subject into Ireland’s Primary School curriculum.
‘Fionn’ is an amazing story that needs to be told and will be in the not-too-distant future. Suffice to say for the moment that it was Noel Tracey, who as Minister of State for Science, secured funding from Minister of Finance Charlie McCreevy within the 2001 government budget to support this pioneering initiative.

Sadly Noel died a few weeks ago. I have read the many warm and heartfelt tributes from journalists and politicians that have been written about him. What they all said about Noel is so true. He was kind, charming, honest, hardworking, family orientated, ever loyal to his party of Fianna Fáil, possessing a deep affinity of the Irish language, of Irish heritage and of the GAA. He was the consummate grassroots politician who cared deeply about his constituents, the people that he served from morning to night, seven days a week. He entered politics not for personal gain but for a greater societal good. On the many occasions I saw him at local events, I never witnessed a politician to ‘work a room’ as well as he did. He would go from person to person giving each and every one a strong firm handshake and an intense warm look, remind them of previous times when they met and often astonish as well as delight them with stories of their family members going back generations. As my wife Cepta is from east Galway, I would attend family funerals with her over the years where I would often meet Noel at these communal gatherings which are so deeply ingrained into the fabric of Irish farming and village life. One can be cynical about politicians attending funerals in their constituents. But for Noel his presence was sincere and all those present knew and respected that.

Whenever I heard him speak at a event in his role as a government minister, I was always so impressed in how he started his speeches with a great flourish in the Irish (and not just a token cúpla focail) language that he so loved, and admired how he always went out of his way to individually name and thank everyone in the audience that contributed to the success of proceedings.

Yet there is a side of him that has been rarely mentioned in the glowing references. Though he was renowned as the archetypal rural grassroots politician, Noel had an impact on Irish educational and business development that has been long lasting but is rarely mentioned and maybe not fully appreciated.

Ever the networking diplomat, in his capacity as Minister of State for Science, Noel in 1998 brought together in a small hotel room, an influential but disparate group of individuals drawn from third level colleges, schools, health, development agencies, state organisations, local government, media and business. Noel told them that he wanted to make Galway a science and technology hub second to none and this meant encouraging young people to value it as a worthy career choice. He told the audience that in a recent trip to the Hebrides he encountered a very successful festival of Science and Technology aimed at the islands’ school-going population. He saw no reason why Galway could not replicate this Scottish model and he formed there and then a multisectoral committee to organise Ireland’s first Science and Technology Festival with the dynamic Bernard Kirk as its secretary. Twenty four years later under its wonderful manager Anne Murray, chairperson Paul Mee and their brilliant team of movers and shakers, the festival is as vibrant as ever and has in the intervening period spawned a myriad of similar festivals nationwide.

For a man that did not go to third level college for a degree, Noel was passionate about encouraging children to consider further education and employment in science. As aforementioned he acted as a catalyst in the introduction of science into the primary school curriculum. The subject was actually taken out of the curriculum during the early 1920s by the Free State government to make way for the Irish language. With state funding secured by Noel, I was hired by the Galway Education Centre in late 2001 to prepare a pilot programme that would help schools transition over a four year period into the teaching of science in the classroom and in their hinterland. Our mantra was “All Science is Local”.

Later Noel became Minister of State for European Affairs and continued to do so much good, encouraging the fostering of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) with creativity, arts, innovation and enterprise, as well as in developing educational connections between Ireland and the rest of Europe.

For a number of years after his retirement from government ministry, I continued to meet Noel, along with Marie Mannion of the Galway county council Heritage Office, in his role as Cathaoirleach (Chair) of the Galway GAA via the schools/communities BEO online local heritage archives project that he also supported due to his love of preserving using digital technologies the stories of the past.

Like so many members of the original festival team that he established which included Bernard Kirk(Galway Education Centre), Tom Hyland(IDA), Jimmy Browne(NUIG), Sean O’Muircheartaigh(GMIT), Pat Morgan(NUIG), Simon Lenihan and John Cunningham(Connacht Tribune), Noel was a visionary that facilitated the building of a resilient modern, outward-looking, collegiate, educated, sustainable Galway and Ireland that was at the vanguard of meeting the global challenges that we faced. More than ever before we need that “we are all in this together” spirit and scientific/community ethos to tackle the Climate and Biodiversity Crises which requires a sustained united active approach.

Finally the photo shows me in 2012 at the Galway Science Fair standing between two legends of our times, namely Noel and his good friend Tom Hyland (RIP) with whom he worked closely alongside over many years in encouraging industrial and educational development. Tom was at the helm of the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) of Ireland Western Region for much of the period from the 1970s to the early 2000s, helping attract high profile global investment and corporations to the city and county, ensuring that it became one of the country's key hubs of and business.

Let’s not forget the accomplishments and impact of Noel as a politician. We need such ‘role models’ today. His legacy should be preserved, possibly through the establishment of an annual educational or enterprise award for young people.

"When We Were Young": Student Days & Nights at UCG’s Rag Week

 

I feel really sorry for the present generation of students at GMIT & NUIG including my son Dáire.

For this is the week, when in my student days (& nights!) at UCG we hosted College Week (aka Rag Week), a wonderful fun 7 days events programme before most (well some!) of us began the serious stuff of study and exam preparations.
And what an action packed week it was!
There was the Mr & Ms College Week auditions in the Skeff; live music from the best local/national/international bands every night in Leisureland; the clubs in Salthill bursting at the seams dancing to the disco sounds of DJs Gerry Sexton, the K-Tel kids..; Kissing Competitions in the Concourse (Mike Jennings - didn't you win it one year?), the Crazy Boat Race; the Greasy Pole competition over the Eglinton Canal; the male & female Pub Crawl (on stretchers!) Races, the Tug-of-War & other field sports; the kidnappings of bishops and college lecturers held until a ransom (for charity- all good fun though!) was paid over; the streakers running through crowded lecture halls; the myriad of 'social action' activities provided by SAM (Social Action Movement); the crazy ‘pogo’ lunchitime dancing in the (canteen) basement; and the grand finale- the 'Fancy Dress Ball' on the Saturday Night with musical acts such as Bob Geldof & the Boomtown Rats, U2.....
All coordinated by a College Week Director- Ollie Jennings was director one year and Patrick Gillespie another year(I was lucky to be Pat's assistant!) with Padraic Boran, UCG SU Ents Officer securing the big music acts.
The city was rocking!! In spite of the craziness though, there was very little alcohol consumed per student. Unless we won a beer keg in a competition we did not have the money then to afford more than a few beers per night. Outside Rag Week, for most of us it was alcohol, the pub & the dance club only on Thursday nights. Overall the week was all good (largely clean!) fun with no violence and, except for small amounts of cannabis, no drugs. There were great prizes for the winners of the competitions. In 1981, our house in Hazel Park enjoyed a party night when 2 kegs (prizes!) of beer were enjoyed by residents and guests! I never got a drop though- I was dancing the night away in the 'Beach' nightclub!
In 1978 one of my house mates won Mr College Week- it meant free tickets to all of the main gigs!
The photo shows the cover of the independent student Unity magazine in the year that I was editor. The brilliant artwork was done by my good friend of the time Marie Drumgoole, a Medical student with an extraordinary artistic touch.

Decision by 14 Galway City Councillors to overrule the Public Consultation on the Salthill Cycleway Undermines Local Democracy

 

Decision by 14 Galway City Councillors to overrule the Public Consultation on the Salthill Cycleway harms Local Democracy. In September, 17 Galway City councillors voted in favour of a temporary cycling infrastructure for Salthill. Only one voted against. This was welcomed by so many of us as a major step in finally implementing a 2002 policy to develop a safe citywide cycling and pedestrian infrastructure. In the largest ever consultative process organised by Galway City Council in January, nearly 7000 submissions were received from the public on the options put forward on the type of Cycleway that would be installed next month and which would remain in place until September. The cost of this infrastructure would be funded by the National Transport Authority. Much of these monies could later be recouped if the Cycleway became, with critical reconstructs, a permanent cycle way. Now 14 city councillors have signed a motion to revoke their backing for the Salthill cycle path trial before the results of the public consultation has even been published. Mayor Colette Connolly, Deputy Mayor Martina O'Connor, councillors Owen Hanley and Niall Murphy are not part of the 14 councillor grouping. I am shocked at this decision and in all my years since the mid 1980s when I started engaging with Galway City Council as a community activist, I have never seen such arbitrary action. This in my opinion is a slap in the face to every person that took the time and effort to submit their views in the consultation process. It undermines trust in City Hall, makes a mockery of public engagement and puts a question mark over every future local government consultation. Every person that took part did so in good faith and felt that the option favoured by the majority would be implemented on a trial basis. For councillors to change their opinion, based on new information etc, is their right and is good in many cases. But no matter how people voted, it is only respectful to wait for a new motion until the results of the consultation are published. I know most of the 14 councillors involved and some of them I consider good friends who have done great things for the city over the years. Even if the consulation is non-statuary, their present action harms local democracy. Our great city and its citizens deserves better than this. There are renowned practitioners in the arts, science, technology, education, health, small business, corporate business, sports and amongst NGOs in Galway that serve as inspiring role models to people all over the world. Their perseverance, innovation and pioneering spirit is respected by so many and has given Galway an international reputation second to none. But sadly governance in some parts of City Hall is seriously stagnating. The European City of Culture 2020, the Pálás Cinema and Eyre Square episodes were badly handled and cost the taxpayers millions. We are now falling behind other cities in terms of genuine community engagement and in not implementing the polices that are needed to create a sustainable economy and society to tackle the Climate and Biodiversity Crises. The council also recently voted not to include the Galway National Park City initiative, and a Waterways Strategy, in the City Development Plan 2023-2029 that would laid the foundations post COVID to build our city back greener and better. These decisions defy logic in the 21st century. Does our city now need a new generation of MichaelDs who have the courage, vision and passion to provide the political leadership that is soo desperately needed to fulfill our United Nations (17 Sustainable Development Goals), EU (Green Deal) and national (walking/cycling/public transport) commitments? None of the options presented represented the solution that could have been designed to meet the needs required and sadly have turned good people, that should have been natural allies, against each other. I voted for Option 2 but it was a question of Hobsons Choice for so many of us. Much more thought should have been given to the planning of these proposals before they were issued. The councilors and officials collectively could have worked together to come up with something much better. The people of Galway urgently require a city wide safe pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. We have waited 20 years and we need a sustainable way forward.

St. Brigit's Day - a sign of the remarkable status of early Irish Celtic Women


February 1st is the first day of Spring in the Celtic calendar, the season of birth and re-birth that follows the cold barren months of Winter. In Ireland, it is known as Fhéile Bríde as it is dedicated to a female, St. Brigit (or Bridget, Brigid, Bride), the country's most famous native born saint. Children in schools across the country mark the occasion by making a distinctive traditional four armed cross woven out of reeds that is named after the saint. Her name also has a strong affinity with a Celtic deity associated with fertility and symbolised by 'fire', the element that offered humankind protection from the natural deadly forces of winter.

Brigit is second only in the Irish saints' calendar to St. Patrick who was born in Roman Britain.
The fact that Brigit was female is quite significant as the early Celtic Church in Ireland was unique in contemporary Christian Europe in giving considerable recognition to the role of women. Irish society was not as patriarchal as their Roman, Greek or Germanic neighbours. According to the historian Dáibhí Ó Cróinín in his book 'Early Medieval Ireland', a woman could divorce her husband for a variety of reasons (including if he failed to satisfy her sexual needs!), could own and inherit property and was treated as an individual in her own right with inherent protections under Celtic law. Women fought on the battlefield as warriors until this was banned by the church.

Celtic female influence extended as far as Iceland....

Even outside Ireland, the influence of Irish women at this time (5-7th century) was felt- St. Ives in Cornwall is called after an Irish female saint (a.k.a. Eva or Aoife), St.Grimonia & St. Proba lived in France (Gaul) in the 4th century, St. Dardaloch in Pavia, Itay (c.300ad) and the nunnery in Austria made famous in the film and musical 'The Sound of Music' was probably founded by an Irish female missionary (Erintrude). In Iceland the hero of one of the great Icelandic Sagas is the Irish female slave Melkorka, a stong willed woman who refused to be coerced by humiliation, rape and brutality. In fact it has been noted by some that the status of women in Iceland (where I lived for a number of years), which was higher than in contemporary Scandinavian societies, possibly owed its origins to the impact exerted by the high number of Irish women living amongst the country's early Viking settlements- they were brought to the country as slaves and wives from the Viking towns of Ireland. It has been said that it was their influence that persuaded many of their pagan husbands to vote in favour of the country's adoption of Christianity at the famous 'Althingi' (parliament) of 1000AD.

This independent-minded spirit must have left a lasting legacy as Icelandic women were amongst the most successful in securing equal rights for women's during the course of the 20th century.

Female Celtic Warriors
Celtic mythology provides ample evidence of the power of women in pre-Christian Ireland. The country itself -Éire ('Ire(land)' in English)- is named after a goddess; the names of most of the great rivers with their life-giving waters are associated with nymphs, goddesses and female animals; the Celtic God of War (Morrigan)- the most masculine of activities- is female. Some of the most powerful Celtic rulers were women such as Queen Maeve and Queen Boadicea(Bó = Cow in Irish) 
The fiercest and most macho hero in Celtic mythology is 'Cuchulainn'. Yet he was actually totally female-dominated(!):
  • trained in martial arts and weaponry by Scathach
  • first defeated in battle by Aoife
  • protected by the War Goddess Morrigan
  • kept on the 'straight and narrow' (most of the time!) by his strong-willed wifeEmer
  • nursed back to health from near fatal battle wounds by his mistress Niamh
  • and killed by the army of Queen Maeve.
High Status of Brigit in Celtic Church & pagan associations 
Brigit was also a powerful Celtic goddess of fertility associated with the birth of animals and symbolised by fire. Hence her links with one of the four great pagan festivals of the seasons- the Spring Festival of 'Imbolc' which occurs in February and the time of 'lambing'.It is therefore quite possible that St. Brigit was originally a high priestess of the pagan goddess Brigit who converted along with her female followers to Christianity during the time of St. Patrick.


According to legend St. Brigit was the daughter of Dubhthach, an Irish chief, and one of his 'Picttish' (from modern Scotland) slaves. She was made a bishop by St. Mel (whom the actor Mel Gibson was named after) and founded one of the most famous Irish monasteries beside an Oak tree on the plains of Magh Liffe thereafter known as 'Cill Dara' or Kildare- 'the Church of the Oak Tree'.In the Celtic pagan religion, trees were considered sacred, none more so than oak trees which were prime locations for spiritual worship.The monastery also was the repository of a 'holy flame', another clue to its possible pagan origins as a temple of Druid priestesses in a sacred woodland. It also has striking similarities to the story of the 'Vestal Virgins' of Ancient Rome whose primary task was to maintain the sacred fire of Vesta, the goddess of the 'hearth'.Under Bridget's leadership as Abbess and bishop, Cill Dara became a great place of spiritual learning and of the arts/crafts particularly metal work and illumination. For centuries thereafter, each succeeding Abbess of Kildare took the name of 'Brigit' and was regarded as a person of immense stature thoughout Ireland with the monastery being second only to Armagh in its ecclesiastical importance.

Rape of Brigit & decline in the status of Women in Irish society 

But over time, the importance of women in society was reduced as Viking raids, wars and the growing influence of the patrician 'male only' Vatican took its toll. The death knell came in 1132 when it seems troops of the King of Leinster Dermot MacMurrough sacked the monastery, raped the abbess Brigit, carried her off and forcibly had her married to one of his followers. As is the case throughout the history of humanity, 'rape' is used as the ultimate weapon against female independence and the physical symbol of man's power over womankind. McMurrough is the same man who invited the British Normans to Ireland to aid him in his wars; they of course soon decided to conquer the country for themselves staying in the process for over 800 years.