Ballymurphy Massacre & the British State’s Dirty War in Northern Ireland.

After 50 years, the truth finally come out yesterday in a British court that the British Army shot dead nine innocent people over three days in west Belfast during August 1971. All the victims of the Ballymurphy massacre were members of the nationalist community. 
 
At the same time as these murders were being carried out hundreds of homes were being raided across Northern Ireland by the British military with hundreds of people arrested and imprisoned without trail in internment camps. Many were immediately humiliated and tortured by their captors. Very few of these prisoners were associated with the IRA (the supposed reason for their arrest); many were members of the civil rights movement and left-wing organisations. 
 
7,000 people mainly nationalists at this time were forced from their homes in the North due to burnings and attacks by mobs. Thousands fled over the border with refugee camps being set up in the South. In spite of the fact that British Loyalist paramilitaries were targeting Catholics and carrying out indiscriminate bombings in the period, not one member of these Unionist sectarian gangs was arrested and interned. The Unionist government in Northern Ireland made sure of that.
Over the full period of internment that continued until 1975, of the estimated 1,981 people interned; 1,874 were nationalist, while 107 were loyalist.
 
During the course of the killings in Ballymurphy that included a priest holding a white flag attending to a wounded person, the British Army press officer on the ground was telling the media that those shot were IRA gunmen. That officer, belonging to the First Parachute Regiment, was Mike Jackson who was head of the British Army (Chief of the General Staff) during the illegal invasion of Iraq by British-American forces in 2003. A few months later (January 1972) he was in Derry when the same regiment shot 26 civilians (13 died immediately) during a peaceful Civil Rights march.
 
Boy on the Border
As a young boy living a few kilometres inside the border in Carrickmacross county Monaghan at the time, I witnessed the families fleeing for safety, victims of vicious pogroms in Belfast and elsewhere. I use to listen to the BBC/UTV television channels and the British mainstream media telling the world that the British military in the North were a peacekeeping force protecting the ordinary people of the North from the terrorism of Irish republicans. As a member of a Catholic family living in Ulster (Monaghan), I would hear Ian Paisley being quoted at Loyalist rallies stating “(Catholics) breed like rabbits and multiply like vermin" and that “Catholic homes caught fire because they were loaded with petrol bombs; Catholic churches were attacked and burned because they were arsenals and priests handed out sub-machine guns to parishioners”. I knew then what was being said and written were pure lies. I realised even as a young teenager that the British media were very much part of the propaganda war effort. Censorship applied. Fake news was continuously being spread. An example was the front page of a News of the World newspaper in 1977 showing a (false) image of a Soviet (Russian) submarine off the coast of Donegal (supposedly delivering weapons to the IRA).
 
As a student activist in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I was painfully aware of the dirty tricks and terror campaign being organised by the British state. Bombings and bank robberies took place in the Republic and in the North carried out by British military, their spy network, their special forces such as the SAS, their allies in the Loyalist military and agent provocateurs (e.g. Littlejohn brothers) which were blamed on the IRA. Other covert operations involving collusion between British clandestine security forces in Northern Ireland and loyalist paramilitaries led to killings on both sides of the border. According to witnesses including some former members of the British forces and of loyalist gangs, this included the Miami Showband massacre (July 1975) and the Dublin and Monaghan bombings of 1974 (33 deaths). During the 1980s and 1990s I was involved in the campaigns to release the imprisoned Birmingham Six, Maguire Seven and Guildford Four, innocent mainly Irish people living in the UK framed by the British police for the murderous IRA bombing campaign in Britain.
 
British Heroes of Justice and Truth
But there were the courageous few in Britain who were not afraid to speak out and demand justice and truth even though they were subsequently ridiculed, lied about, harangued and even framed for crimes that they never committed by the British media and British state. These heroic people included ex-British soldiers such as Colin Wallace and Fred Holroyd (who also exposed the British Intelligence cover-up of abuse of children in the Kincora Boys Home Belfast by Unionist paramilitaries) and those unnamed squaddies who gave evidence of the psychopathic tendencies of some of their fellow soldiers involved in the shooting of unarmed civilians; British politicians such as Tony Benn, Ken Livingstone, Jeremy Corbyn and Clare Short; British investigative journalists such as Chris Mullin; lawyers such as Michael Mansfield and Gareth Pierce; artists such as Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Vanessa Redgrave; and British police officers such as Deputy Chief Constable John Stalker who exposed the shoot-to-kill actions of the security forces under which suspected IRA members were deliberately killed without any attempt to arrest them.
 
Why A Reign of Terror in Northern Ireland?
So the question has to be asked, why was such a brutal system imposed by the British establishment? The answer was partly due to the desire to protect a right wing corrupt sectarian elite in Northern Ireland because they were loyal to mainland Britain. But it was also because of the situation happening globally during the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s. It was a time when all across the world (United States, Vietnam, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Palestine, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chile, Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Algeria, South Africa, Palestine, Iran, Czechoslovakia, Poland…) peoples and the youth in particular were rising up against racism, discrimination, tyranny, occupation and colonialism. In the case of this island, there was a fear amongst the powerful in Britain that Catholic Ireland could go the way of Catholic Cuba and become a bastion of communism that could spread to neighbouring countries

A Blameless COVID Youth Generation is Suffering

 


Thanks so much to the Galway City Tribune for publishing my article below 

Exasperated with the high volumes of rubbish strewn on the green spaces along the Dyke Road particularly at weekends, I and my good friend Ryan Crowell on Saturday evening put on yellow vests and walked out amongst the 50 or so young people that were socialising in groups along the riverbank as they enjoyed the fine sunny weather chatting and drinking. We went from group to group telling them that, whilst they should be informed that they were breaking a number of rules (drinking alcohol in public parks, gathering together in groups wearing no masks or practising social distance), we were neither council staff nor members of An Garda Síochána but only concerned civic-minded individuals seeking their cooperation in keeping the green spaces and waterways free from litter which we pointed out damaged biodiversity, the environment and undermined the benefits of a city park to the general public. We then gave each group large black bags which we requested that they use for their leftover cans/bottles/papers should they decide not to bring this material home.  

The response from the youth was very positive and some of them actually helped us collect the scattered litter and put the bags into my car for removal back to my home garden whey they would remain until after the weekend when parks staff returned to work.

Early next morning Ryan and myself visited the same site. I am happy to state that the young people had honoured their promises from the day before; the bags were filled with debris with only a comparatively small amount of cans and bottles lying in the grass or along the riverbank. Over a short period of time (Saturday evening and Sunday morning) on what was a relatively small piece of land, we removed fourteen bags of refuse,  the contents of which would otherwise have contaminated the land and the river with some of it ending up polluting the Atlantic Ocean.

Ryan and myself will continue to return on further weekends to undertake these same necessary volunteering duties.

 

Need for Park Wardens in Galway city is so obvious

The incident reinforced my long held belief that the presence of a full-time seven days per week warden unit, whose members are willing to engage on friendly terms with parks’ visitors,  is an essentiality that city council must implement. Community activists have been requesting this for some time. To support this development we consistently have offered our services free of charge in the capacity of volunteer park rangers to complement the full time staff on specific tasks when required and with health and safety training provided by City Hall.  Sadly we have not yet been successful in our endeavours. But thankfully councillor Imelda Byrne has put forward a motion on park wardens that will be voted on next Monday at a meeting of councillors. At present the city has one warden available on a regular half week basis in Galway. She is a fantastic committed worker but she has to take care of multiple city parks. In a time of lockdowns when green spaces and natural areas in cities have shown their crucial role in protecting human and planetary health as well as being a necessity in a sustainable post-COVID world, this can no longer be accepted, with public parks needing to be cleaned on a daily basis early every morning which is the case with many other cities. Galway City Council needs to rethink its stance, to be imaginative, creative and to ensure that it takes full advantage of the government’s offering of twenty two walking/cycling staff positions with some of these employees being assigned to plan out, design and maintain walking as well as cycling paths in our public green spaces. Such staff should also I feel have their terms of reference expanded to include warden duties.


Damage of being confined indoors & online

But the incident also clearly made me realise that we as adults are responsible for stealing the most precious years from our young people. The first year at third level college is normally when students form friendships that can last a lifetime, as well as taking up interests in social, sport, learning subjects and other activities that will shape their futures. Sadly so many of this generation will miss out on these experiences.

In spite of the hard work and good intentions of teachers and lecturers, many second level as well as third level students have lost out on a qualitative education with online learning not being able to fully compensate for the discipline and focus brought on by the controlled environment of a classroom, a lecture hall or a dedicated shared study facility. Our young people are suffering with their mental and indeed oftentimes physical health being greatly undermined during the lockdowns. Too much time spent in front of a laptop or phone screen disrupts sleep patterns and levels of concentration; can lead to stress, exhaustion and burn-out; exposes one to damaging views of sexual and other types of violence where too often young women in particular are victims and whose abuse is portrayed as ‘normal behaviour’; can distort one’s views of the world with one-sided bias ‘fake news’ arguments; and leaves users open to high levels of bullying and intimidation as well as a disconnect from the real world and opportunities to develop meaningful flesh and blood relationships. Web addiction especially online gaming is too often a consequence of 24/7 connected smart devices. I say this as someone who has for forty years (and still do) proudly promoted the benefits of computing technologies.

The best remedy for online addiction and over-reliance on hand-held devices is to practice periods of ‘digital detox’ and spend regular periods immersed in natural environments, being active on the sporting field or enjoying a leisurely time on green spaces with friends or people of a similar age. But the COVID restrictions are denying them the circumstances to do so in the Great Outdoors which is in fact  the safest place for young people to be as it is responsible for only .01% of transmission cases in Ireland.

A Lost Youth

Youth are forced to spend much of their days indoors, sometimes in poorly ventilated small spaces. All because older people and previous generations have, for short term material gain, brought humanity to the edge of the abyss due to a consumer culture and a linear economy characterised by  Climate Chaos, land/water/air pollution, plant-killing herbicides, insect-killing pesticides and pandemics. Yet even with the global society being brought to its knees in 2020/2021, adults are still making the same mistakes. Expenditure is increasing on military technology; once-off plastic production is spiralling (e.g. huge volumes of PPE masks and liquid bottles being shipped long distances from China) polluting our rivers and oceans in the process; and young people in Hong Kong, Myanmar, India, Iran, Israel, Tunisia, Turkey, Egypt, Ethiopia, Spain, Russia, Belarus, Brazil, the USA and elsewhere are being detained for speaking out against state injustices and abuse of power.

So we as adults have to heed the message of youth as spoken by teenagers such as Greta Thunberg and redouble our efforts to undo the mistakes of the past and present in order to give hope and make a world a better place for generations to come.

 

Le meas,

Brendan Smith

Galway City Council unanimously support motion to set up Parks Warden unit!

Last Monday was a good day for local democracy.

All councillors supported a motion from Councillor Imelda Byrne to establish a parks warden unit for Galway City's three main public parks (Barna, Merlin & Terryland Forest) and playgrounds.
I would like to give a big vote of thanks and a 'Bualadh Bos' to Imelda and all councillors for their action today, which will greatly benefit the quality of life of the people of the city and of its biodiversity.
It has been a long battle getting to this point but well worth it!
4 to 5 new posts will be set up costing approximately €250,000 per annum with a start date probably not until the next budget year (2022). But that is fine- we always realised that funding would have to be allocated in the annual budget that will be first discussed in July and signed off in November.
However today's vote was a milestone in the history of modern Galway. City Hall has accepted the principle that park wardens are part of the public services that have to be provided; it will bring us into line with Dublin and other cities across Europe. The upkeep and safety of our parks are now to be recognised as priorities in the running and operations of Galway.
Of course we have to ensure that 'Peter is not robbed to pay Paul'. The budget for Parks has to be increased to cater for the extra demands not required.
But that is a battle for another day. Let us today savour in this victory before moving on to tomorrow to the next stage of campaigning.
A Good Day for the council, for campaigners, for wildlife and for the people of the city!

A Tree for Michael D- Thank you Mr. President!

 

A Tree for Michael D- Thank you Mr. President!
 
Today Lucy Kelly and Rachel Huane planted a Rowan Tree in Terryland Forest Park in honour of President Michael D. Higgins' 80th Birthday.
NUI Galway students Lucy and Rachel are members of the Volunteer group of the Galway National Park City working under the auspices of the wonderful champion Lorrraine Tansey of the university's CKI Alive. 
The Irish president is Patron of this great initiative which is about integrating the natural world into the fabric of Galway city. The volunteers decided at their last meeting that it would appropriate that a native tree would be planted in a park that Michael D. Higgins supported when he was Ireland's first Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage. 
In early 1996 local community activists in the Ballinfoile-Terryland area started a campaign to save the land either side of the Terryland River from built development and secure it as a multi-habitat public park for both the leisure needs of the people of Galway and to protect biodiversity. As Minister he publicly backed campaigners and sent experts from his government department to examine the area's wildlife population.
So it is only appropriate that, thanks to the Galway National Park City supporters, Michael D. today secured permanent roots in the soils of the Galway park that he helped become a reality.
 
The Rowan/Mountain Ash (Caorthann in Irish) was chosen as it is associated in Celtic mythology with Female Magic and Life. Our president has been a life long feminist.
 
Thanks to Aengus McMahon for the brilliant photo!

Parks Warden unit needed to protect the Beautiful Woods, Meadows, Parks & Waterways of Galway city

 

'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.

Easter 2021- Supporting the Climate Action 'Plantathon' of 2019

 

On the last day of March 2021 three lads, representing Galway City Council and the volunteers of Galway (top photos), planted 360 trees on the same site along the Dyke Road in Terryland Forest Park where hundreds of Galwegians of all ages happily came together early on a Sunday morning in November 2019 to plant 2000 trees (bottom photo) as part of that year's highly successful Climate Action-themed Galway Science and Technology Festival.

Due to COVID restrictions we could not advertise or promote the event in any way and had to sadly limit the attendance to three people. It was very much 'under the radar'.
Kevin Nally and Mark Ryan of Galway City Parks and myself replaced any of the 2019 trees that were severely damaged or had died whilst also expanding the area of planting.
It gives me great joy though to report that most of the trees, planted by the public that fine crisp winter morning of three years ago, are doing really well!
Behind these trees lie thousands of others resulting from the peoples' 'Plantathons' of 2012 and 2010 on the Dyke Road sector of Terryland Forest Park. As you can see from the photos, these trees stand tall and proud and are doing a great job in supporting wildlife, in filtering out toxic fumes and greenhouse gases from the atmosphere whilst providing us all with oxygen!
I have to use this opportunity to extend my respect and gratitude to Kevin and Mark who are part of a new generation of parks staff in City Hall that under the great tutelage of Stephen Walsh are devoted to helping protect and enhance the public parks for the benefit of the people and biodiversity of Galway city and beyond. Maith daoibh!
Now with the planned construction of a bridge onto of the old railway stacks that will become the start of the Connemara Greenway and hopefully a boreen network leading onto Coolough, Menlo Castlegar and Carrowbrowne, this area has the potential to become a blue-way (River Corrib) and a green-way (Terryland Forest Park) of huge significance that would be the envy of any other city in Europe.
So I am asking all Galway City councillors to help make this happen by transforming the Dyke Road into a walking/cycling corridor and the old Waterworks into a River/Forestry Interpretative Centre complete with café, gallery, crafts/rural skills learning centre and natural heritage museum.

City Hall replies over 'Right of Way' to Menlo Castle

Fair play to the Galway City Tribune for getting the reply first from Galway City Council with regard to right of access to the public lands of the old Menlo Castle demesne.

A spokesperson for City Hall was quoted as saying in the newspaper, "There is a right of way to the Castle over lands owned by Galway City Council but there may be local issues with parking by an increased number of visitors as a result of COVID <5km exercisers".
This is great news for walkers and cyclists who are increasingly enjoying the natural beauty and landscapes of the lovely village and hinterland of Menlo. We are blessed that such a rural area exists within the boundaries of Galway city.
However it is important that the concerns of local residents are addressed and sorted out. There should be no cars or bikes blocking entries to people's houses or lands.
There is now an urgent need for Galway City Council to take advantage of the government offering 22 new staff positions whose remit will to develop a proper walking and cycling infrastructure for Galway. An important part of this process is to map out the lands that are public or commonage especially along the boreens and traditional country lanes that are traditional 'green-ways'.
Hopefully I can, once COVID restrictions allow within the next few months, restart my "Slí na gCaisleán/Seven Galway Castles Heritage Cycle Guided Tours"! Though Menlo Castle for safety purposes may be cordoned off nevertheless we hope to enjoy its surroundings lawns and the views over the River Corrib to Dangan.

Easter 2021 - Out of the Ashes out of Vandalised Trees, Arose the Phoenix Saplings.

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

Photo shows the Beauty & Ugliness of Terryland Forest Park on a Sunday in March 2021:
  • 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)
A motion from Councillor Imelda Byrne, which has been on the city council agenda since last January, to establish a permanent on-the-grounds seven days a week wardens/rangers unit for our city parks will hopefully be finally discussed at today’s meeting of city councillors.
It is important that all city councillors support this motion for the sake of our parks, our people and our biodiversity.
It is long overdue that such a unit was established.
The city’s parks were a godsend during COVID for so many of our citizens. As per the ambition of the Galway National Park City initiative that is supported by such a broad strata of society, green and blue spaces need to be integrated into the fabric of cities.
But we need the resources and investment to ensure that they are safe and of high maintenance for the benefit of the public and for enhancing urban biodiversity. Sadly this is not the case at present with litter, anti-social drinking, vandalism and broken furniture too often symptomatic of our green spaces. The limitations placed on volunteer activity organising regular group litter pick-ups etc since March 2020 has only made a bad situation worse.
In so many other cities such as Dublin and across Europe, there are full-time wardens in public parks to ensure overnight litter is removed early every morning, that repairs and graffiti removal are quickly carried out etc. By their very presence, wardens also act as a deterrent to anti social elements that use and damage our precious green spaces.
There is only one warden in Galway city's public parks who took up her duties early last year. She is top class and does an awesome job in Terryland Forest Park and elsewhere. Yet she is only there for circa half a week as she has other duties to take responsibility for. Furthermore, neither she or anybody else is on duty at weekends when so much damage is done. The other parks personnel are also brilliant hardworking people that love their work and do so much good. But there are very few in number and have to cover all of the city’s parks and green spaces.
At the very least Galway’s three main parks need full time on-the-ground staff (park wardens/rangers) 7 days a week as otherwise broken fences, broken seating, graffiti, rubbish can be left on location for long periods. With this present situation exacerbated by the presence of drinkers etc, people can understandably be turned off visiting the parks at the very time when medical science is telling us of their importance to human and planetary health.
Furthermore, the wardens' terms of reference must include not just litter picking, providing information to visitors but also repairing fencing, planting trees, paths upkeep etc.
A few weeks ago the government offered Galway City Council twenty two new staff positions for the development of walking and cycling. Should City Hall not take some of these personnel and assign them to the parks in order to design, development and maintenance of natural walking trails and walking/cycling path routes? 
 
Why No Permanent Bins at Park Entrances?
Last September, as a community (GCCN) representative on the Special Policy Committee of Galway City Council dealing with Climate Change, Environment, Recreational and Amenity I proposed a motion, based on my experiences of the parks in other parts of Ireland such as Dundalk, that large permanent applicable park bins, supported by information signage and that are regularly emptied, be placed at the entrance to all three main parks as an alternative to the plastic bags that are presently pinned to benches-which though they do indeed help in keeping parks clean- sadly are ugly, flimsy and tend to tear easily. This was supported by all community reps and indeed all other members. Officials told us at the follow up meeting in early December that these bins would be in place by Christmas. Sadly this has not happened and members have not being given an explanation why this is the case, even though we asked. 
 
Anti-social elements above prosecution?
It is disgraceful and an insult to the citizens of Galway that at least up until a few weeks ago some individuals who did so much damage to Terryland Forest Park in December-January by ripping up and burning fences, gates and trees, destroying paths, lighting fires and covering large swathes with rubbish subsequently walked through this very same park with impunity. 
I have asked An Garda Síochána and Galway City Council, who were so helpful during the period of destruction(especially Sgt. Browne, parks staff & cllr Niall McNelis), to issue a barring order preventing them from entering this taxpayer funded facility. I am told that this is not practically possible under present legislation.
I and others cannot and should not accept such a situation and have requested that an action group be set up consisting of community reps, Garda, city parks personnel and other appropriate agencies to look at coordinating the protection our parks. After all the law should be there to protect the common good and public facilities from those that seek to destroy it.

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.
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.


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 (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 'Riverdanceshow 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!
(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 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.


11. The Irish Potato- Brought to Ireland from North America by English colonists
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.

12. Claddagh Ring- African Origins of the Irish Symbol of Love
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.
Many famous people have worn it including the British Queen Victoria, Hollywood actor Gabriel Byrne, film producer Walt Disney and US President Bill Clinton.
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 ScotlandÉamon 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 rural landscape comprising a mosaic of little green fields and a network of drystone walls is the image that many foreigners have of Ireland and its ancient Celtic past and rural traditions. In fact the fields and walls were largely created by British colonists and merchants from the early seventeenth century onwards when, after the defeat of Gaelic clans, the huge forests that covered much of the country were cut down to provide fuel for the English ironworks, timber to build ships for the imperial navy, tillage and pasture lands for the production of crops and livestock for export to the English homelands.


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)


Happy Mother (Earth) Day!

Terryland Forest Park
On Mother's Day, let us give thanks and appreciation to Mother Earth, the personification of all living things and the biosphere that sustains us all.

For most of the existence of the human species, it is the Mother Goddess or Goddess of Life that was worshiped first and foremost. The Greeks called her Gaia; the pre-Celtic Irish called her Dana or Anu, in Hinduism she is known as Pritvhi Mata; amongst the ancient peoples of the Andes she was referred to as Pachamama.
The fertility of the soil and the fertility of the female took priority over everything else. It is only in the late period of human history, with the smelting of metal from the Bronze Age onwards, that the male gods began to take priority over the female Goddess. The power of metal weaponry and the ability to kill began to take precedence over the power of reproduction and the ability to give life.
Since then our species arrogantly began to convince ourselves we were male Lord and Master over all of the dominions of the Earth and that all living things exist purely to serve our needs. This disconnect with the rest of Nature has led to Climate Chaos, pandemics and the destruction of the planet.
Time to undo the selfishness and 'mé-féinism' of the last few millennia and begin again to worship the ability to give life rather the ability to dispense death. All Power to the Female!

March 12th 2000: c3,000 people came to a field & left behind a forest.

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

Volunteers needed to transform Old Laptops into New to Help School Students in need!

 

Are you available to volunteer in helping in a wonderful transforming old laptops into new’ initiative that aims to benefit school students and others whose financial circumstances do not allow them to buy new laptops? If so an online training course under the Tech2Students scheme being organised by Camara and the Access Centre NUI Galway is taking place from 2.30pm to 4.30pm on Monday. To book a place contact me as soon as possible and a set of instructional notes will be sent to you in advance.

The closure of schools last March due to COVID-19 led to a seismic change in Irish education as online teaching and learning became the new normality. However this shift exposed a considerable technology gap in society with many families not being able to afford the laptops that have now become an essential device for their children to access and download online educational courses and teaching materials. In other homes, children that are in their Leaving Certificate year have had to share a laptop with their siblings and parents. As a result of this smart device deficit and with problems associated with broadband connectivity, many young people with financial difficulties are encountering serious learning barriers and have been locked out of education as a result.
To come up with a solution last spring that could help students in their time of need and to face up to the challenges of providing the necessary secure equipment, the technical personnel at our workplace of the Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics compiled easy-to-follow guidelines that reimaged laptops by wiping off all data and installing free open-sourced operating systems and other key software. I was so happy at the time that we managed to help a lot of young people continue their educational studies unhindered by providing fully functional and suitable smart devices.
Insight is now working within the Tech2Start programme led by the Trinity Access Centre, Camara and coordinated in Galway by the brilliant Imelda Byrne, Aidan Harte and team at the Access Centre of NUI Galway to offer a similar but expanded system nationwide.
Furthermore if you have laptops that you no longer need and are willing to offer them to this initiative, please contact tech4students@nuigalway.ie
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