'Fionn'-Putting the 'Wow!' Factor into School Science

My Fish Face!
Originally uploaded by Speedie1.
But it is with schools, particularly through the 'Fionn' Primary School Science Project, that I devoted most of my working life over the last four years. Since January 2002, I have coordinated the award winning Galway 'Fionn' Primary School Science Project on behalf of the Galway Science & Technology Board.
'Fionn' provided 35 Galway primary schools with the equipment and training necessary to produce their own Science film. This government scheme was set up to facilitate the introduction of Science into the country's educational sector. A herculean undertaking to say the least! But necessary as there has been an alarming fall-off in students studying science at third-level colleges which will ultimately undermine the nation's development as a high-tech/R & D-based economy.

'Fionn' had a number of inherent innovative principles that contributed to its outstanding success:
  • Child-centred (narration & the main protagonists)
  • Multi-disciplinary (embraced art, heritage, music, drama…)
  • Fun orientated
  • Locality (look for Science in the classroom, the local field or street...)
The ability to take a boring and oftentimes difficult subject such as science and present it as something exciting, funny and educative can really only be done by children (or someone with a child's perspective on life). Adults can look at the pen in their hand and see exactly that- 'a pen'. Whereas, kids with their playful imagination and creativity (that older people seem to lose) can transform it into a rocket or a submarine or a comet or…
If you ask second-level or third level students to produce a film on 'buoyancy', you will probably get an end-product that will be professional, highly scientific, extremely informative but possibly very uninspiring. Whereas, I have seen one primary school class make a Fionn movie on the same subject that included a hilarious rendition of the Beatles's song 'Yellow Submarine' by the entire school; a practical demonstration of buoyancy using plastic cola bottles, stones & a glass tank; a visit to a museum; a classroom festooned with drawings of submarines and a powerful interview with a local man who served as a submarine commander in World War Two! Working on the same subject, another school took delivery of a 15foot tree trunk that they transformed, with a few months of hard work, into a fully functioning canoe using the tools and techniques of prehistoric man ('cutting and burning').
The range and the scientific themes covered by Fionn schools has been absolutely amazing- bats in the school attic, lobster fishing, lighthouses, a medieval abbey, fox-hunting, a disused mine, lake pollution, a school oyster farm, teeth…

The DERI Outreach Crew
Originally uploaded by Speedie1.
A Wonderful Working Life in 2005

-Photo shows the some of the DERI Outreach crew at the Galway Science & Technology Fair
L-R Stefan Decker ('Top Dog'), yours truly & Ina O'Murchu (a 'one-stop-shop' for sourcing news on the latest Internet trends & gadgets)

I really enjoyed my job over the last year. How many people can honestly say that? To be able to work with young people, community groups and committed activists, visionaries, pioneering technologies, film production, art, drama, the sciences, the environment & wildlife is wonderfully exhilarating. I feel truly honoured.
My main areas of responsibilities revolve around developing and coordinating practical and meaningful programmes designed to facilitate the introduction of new technologies and sciences into the educational and community sectors.
Since the early 1990s, Ireland has been a vibrant economy and the envy of the rest of Europe. The 'Celtic Tiger' has transformed the country socially and culturally as well as economically.
But sadly there are still marginalised peoples that feel alienated and socially excluded from the whirlwind of change that we have experienced and have reaped few of the dividends of our economic boom. These groups include older people, the homeless, refugees, the disabled... As Community/Education Outreach Officer with the Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI) at Galway University (NUIG), I ahve been givern the opporuntunity to organise meaningful courses for this sector and help in the process of bridging the 'technology gap' in society that needs to be rectified if a stable sustainable Ireland is to exist in the future.
More of DERI Outreach anon

Originally uploaded by Speedie1.
Birdwatching at Europe's largest Turlough
One of the most enjoyable events that I have attended over the last few years was the bird-watching excursion to Rahasane turlough at Kileeneen(Irish = 'Kileen's little church') in Co. Galway.
Early one Sunday morning, my son Dáire and myself gathered with over 40 enthusiasts to view the enormous range of birdlife that congregate at Rahasane, a lake that is recognised as one of the best examples of a 'turlough' in Europe. A turlough is a feature of limestone landscapes where a freshwater lake can vary enormously in its area from season to season due to the porous natiure of its rock. A heavy rainfall will led to a considerable increase in size; a dry season will inevitably lead to a dramatic reduction.

The nature trip was ably led by Pete Capsey a fellow work colleague from the DERI Institute at the National Universty of Ireland, Galway who personifies the term 'a true English gentleman'.
For the last few years, Pete has,on behalf of Birdwatch Ireland, been voluntarily cataloguing the number and type of avian life that visit Rahasane .
I was shocked to learn from him that some species of birds have declined by 90% since he began his activities. He blames enroachment on the lake by housing development and pollution. There is also the factor of 'Global Warming'.

Life on Earth under Threat
This observation only reinforces my belief that mankind's greed and selfishness is destroying the biodiversity of our planet. If we continue along this path, we will ultimately destroy our own species in the process.
In my little way, I am attempting, by working with other committed individuals though a series of local environmental campaigns, to halt this destructive deathwish. More anon on our eco-initiatives that are based on the 'green' principle of 'Think Global, Act Local'

The Drummers of Halloween

The Drummers of Halloween
Originally uploaded by Speedie1.
As with all parades organised by Macnas street theatre, the drummers are always exceptional. The solid constant rhythm beat of the young drummers keeps all the marches in step.
It is a sight and sound to behold

Originally uploaded by Speedie1.
'Trick or Treat'!
My son Dáire (Red Power Ranger) and his friends calling house to house on Halloween night

Originally uploaded by Speedie1.
Troupe of Fairy Dancers on the Halloween parade through Ballinfoile.

The Burning of the Ram

Originally uploaded by Speedie1.
The Climax of the Halloween Parade as a 20foot Ram is burnt on Ballinfoile Hill in a reinactment of an ancient Celtic mythological story

Witch Queen
Originally uploaded by Speedie1.
Celtic Fairy Queen Slays The Horned Ram
Macnas, the internationally-renowned street theatre company, this year organised spectacular night-time community Halloween parades in socially disadvantaged areas of Galway city.
For weeks in advance, local children were enthusiastically learning to play drums, to make costumes and to rehearse their roles as dancers, actors and musicians.
The parade that I participated was in Ballinfoile and involved hundreds of children marching in unison pass or through four different housing estates. There were bands, dance troupes, fireworks and theatre. It ended in an awesome fireworks extravganza as a 20foot high Ram was burnt on a hilltop in an reactment of a mythological Celtic story.
The smiles and laughter on participants and watchers alike was beautiful to behold.
It was a true 'Reclaim the Streets' campaign and give local people a real sense of empowerment.
The only person that was annoyed about the whole activity was my friend Michael McDonnell who lived on the route of the march. Three of his pet birds died from the shock of the exploding fireworks!

Originally uploaded by Speedie1.
Halloween's Pagan Celtic Roots

(Sorry dear readers, I should have posted this article early last month. But a heavy work schedule put paid to that. Anyway, better late than never!!)
Today Halloween is celebrated by children across the Western world. But like many other annual family festivals, it has become so commercialised by 'Americanised' popular culture that its true origins and religious aspects have long being forgotten. I have nothing against many of the entertainment and children elements now so symptomatic of events such as Christmas, Easter and Halloween. After all, if they bring a bit of sparkle into the lives of our youth, that can only be welcomed

The Christianisation of Samhain
Many people though associate the origins of Halloween with the Christian festival of 'All Hallows Eve' or 'All Souls Day' when people remembered their dead family members.
But actually, this event was superimposed onto the ancient pagan Celtic festival of 'Samhain' which marked the beginning of winter and the beginning of the Celtic New Year.
Typical of many agricultural societies, the Celts had four major annual festivals based on the cyclical differences experienced in the changing seasons of nature and their corresponding weather patterns. The other three were 'Imbolc' (spring) 'Bealtane' (summer), 'Lugnasa' (harvest).

Samhain was a time when food was hoarded as people prepared for the cold season when nothing grew. As with all Irish festivals, bonfires were lit as people gathered together at warm fires to socialise.

Antecedents to the Pumpkin & 'Trick or Treat'
But it was also a time when creatures from the supernatural world could enter into the world of mortals. Fairies and the spirits of the dead would walk the earth. Many of these beings were benevolent and the spirits of dead ancestors; so families laid out extra food and set aside a table space for their ghostly visitors. Hence the modern Halloween custom of children dressing up as ghouls and witches, calling door-to-door and receiving presents of apples and nuts when they called. (Such fruits were common in Ireland).
But there were spirits that came on the night of Samhain that were malevolent. Candles were placed in skulls at the entrance to dwellings as light was feared by these dark foreboding creatures. This protection against evil became transformed in modern times into the positioning pumpkins with carved out faces and internal candles at windows and doorways

Irish Bring Halloween to USA
The Irish emigrants of the nineteenth century introduced Halloween and its rituals to America. Within a few decades, the festival was transformed into the fun and games event of today

British Military Fortifications, South Armagh 2005

Originally uploaded by Speedie1.
Somethings never change!
Over 750yrs after Castle Roche was built by the British to keep watch on the rebellious natives of South Armagh (see previous posting), there is today a network of British army watchtowers built to monitor the local predominantly republican population along the border with the Irish Republic.
What is fascinating for visitors to this area is to see isolated little villages and towns in this region openly display banners and memorials to the IRA.
No more so than in Crossmaglen, a town dominated by a large British Army watchtower and the constant sounds & sights of military helicopters flying in and out of the heavily fortified police base.
The military presence seems totally alien to the local landscape. There is no connectivity with the population whatsoever and the soldiers and police are treated as outsiders and occupiers.
A few years ago, I brought some friends into Crossmaglen for a days outing. As we went into a bar for a few drinks, everyone in the premises stopped talking and gazed in our direction. You could hear a pin drop. Nothing was said until I placed my order with the bartender. As my Dublin accent permeated the room, the locals then suddenly relaxed and, with a small outbreak of laughter, they then continued with their conversations! Until I spoke, they had suspected that we were a bunch of off-duty British military personnel!!

British Military Fortifications, South Armagh 1255

Originally uploaded by Speedie1.
I recently paid a visit to this massive Norman castle dating back 750yrs located a few miles from my parents home in Monaghan.
Castle Roche is one of the finest examples of medieval fortress-building and military strategic planning in Ireland. Built on a prominent rock outcrop surrounded by low-lying lands, its main purpose was to keep watch on the native Irish clans who had recently lost much of their lands to the invaders from Britain.

Just over 80yrs after their arrival from Britain, the Anglo-Norman lords had covered much of the country with a network of large stone castles which served as military bases for controlling the indigenous Gaelic population.
None that survive today is more imposing than Castle Roche commenced by Lady Roche de la Verdun (France) in circa 1246. Its prominent high location meant that no-one could move for miles during daylight without being spotted by the soldiers positioned on its battlements.
The castle was located near Gaelic lands bordering the main Norman colonies of Leinster
Condemned by Bishop Eamon Casey as being Immoral!

I have had a somewhat stormy relationship with the Catholic Church and its teachings on sexuality. While Student Union President at Galway University (NUIG) in 1981, I was patron of the newly formed Gay club (GaySoc). On their behalf, I applied to the university Governing Body for official sanction. The college authorities at the time went ballistic. They were adamant that the four bishops on the Governing Body should not have to see such attempts to legitimise homosexuality on campus. Homosexual acts were still crimes in Ireland at the time.
In spite of the support of a few Governors such as the present NUIG President (Iggy O'Muircheartaigh), my motion failed to get through the necessary sub-committees. Still I set up the society anyway with funding from the general student body.

As student president, I also introduced (along with my fond colleague and Vice President Conor Maguire) the sale of condoms onto the Galway campus on St Valentines Day 1982. In spite of this being illegal, it was well supported by the general student population. However two Nigerian nuns that used to be great fans of mine, lost all faith in me as a result of my action. They came into my office one day crying, despairing that such a 'nice guy' as me  could do such an evil thing & pleading with me to reverse my decision!

Eleven years later, I was a pub & nighclub owner in Galway. On St. Valentine's Day 1992, I installed condom dispensing machines in the toilets of my premises as part of a nationwide campaign called 'Condomsense'. I pointed out to the public that this was a positive social move to protect against the current Aids epidemic as well as to offer added protection to females; after all a man can have one night sex encounters and take no responsibility whatsoever for any consequential pregnancy. Selling these pieces of rubber was still illegal. No other publican supported me and I was left on my own. The police raided the venue every few nights & confiscated the condoms; groups of people said prayers outside on the street; I received hate mail promising me 'hell, fire and damnation'. I was eventually prosecuted by the courts and facing a jail sentence.
Actually the police were very nice. They told me that they had no choice but to uphold the law & pleaded with me to stop selling the banned material. I refused of course.
The then Bishop of Galway and Kilmacduagh, Eamon Casey had all churches in the diocese at Sunday mass condemn me for corrupting the morality of Irish youth. Reverend Father Cusack, a priest friend of my brother, came over to me one night in the pub, shook my hand and apologised for his sermon the previous week- he had no choice by to read out the 'bishop's encyclical on the issue!
My wife Cepta asked me not to attend Sunday mass at her family's church during these turbulent times as neighbours would start pointing me out and giving the impression that our marriage was 'on the rocks'. For, in the warped logic of some petty people, some reasoned that I was only advocating condoms as I was probably using them myself for extramarital affairs!!
With my court case looming, Charles Haughey, Ireland's Prime Minister (Taoiseach) suddenly changed the law and allowed the sale of condoms over the bar counter. So I was saved from prison. Which was just as well for me as there were a few people in jail that I had previously had arrested for drunk & disorderly behaviour!!
But why did Haughey make a U-turn and change the law? The revelations within the Catholic Church hierarchy must have had an impact.

Bishop Flees Ireland after
Extramartial Affair becomes Public
For in May 1992, a few months after being condemned by Eamonn Casey, the bishop suddenly resigned and fled Ireland when it became known that he had a teenage son from a long intimate relationship with an American divorcee Anne Murphy during the 1970s. It was also found out that he had used church funds for maintenance payments towards his son.
Soon after, I was interviewed by the BBC Newsnight television programme in the probable hope that I would condemn him. This I refused to do as I had great respect for the man. Eamon was a progressive church leader who had campaigned on many issues of human rights including the Irish homeless in Britain & against US policy in Central America.

Bishop Boycotts US President's
Degree Conferring Ceremony in Galway
In June 1984 Ronald Reagan was conferred with an honorary degree by NUI Galway. I was one of the leaders of the anti-Reagan demonstrations who organised a series of street protests against this ridiculous decision to award a law degree to a man that had broken international law by bombing Nicaraguan ports and arming right wing terrorists in the region. We approached Bishop Casey for his support, knowing that he had publicly condemned the right-wing regimes and death squads of Latin America. and attended the funeral of the assassinated liberation theology advocate Archbishop Oscar Romero in San Salvador cathedral when the crowds were fired on by snipers. The bishop agreed to boycott the Presidential conferring ceremony at the university of which he was a governor. His decision helped our campaign garner even more support locally with the result that more people participated in the protests than welcomed Reagan. This was an amazing achievement in a city and region that traditionally had strong cultural, family and economic ties with the United States.
Hence I will always have a deep respect for Eamon and was delighted when he returned to live in Galway.
The painful truth of sexual abuse in the Irish Catholic Church
I'm a committed Christian. I also have a great respect for what the Catholic Church did for Irish education over the centuries. The early Irish monks provided a great service for humanity by saving much of the great Classical literature from destruction during the Dark Ages. They also created the first written records in their own native language of the wonderful oral sagas that recounted the legends and history of the Celtic peoples. Throughout the dark days of British occupation, the Church kept the spirit of learning alive through its clandestine 'hedge schools' and by providing university places in France and Spain for Irish refugees. When British rule relaxed somewhat from the late 18th century onwards, it was the religious orders that provided free education to the poorer classes. Without that support, Ireland would have become a nation of illiterates.
Catholicism for many became identified with 'Irish nationalism'.
Peronally, I have nothing but praise and admiration for the members of the Catholic clerics (Patrician Brothers) that taught me in primary and post-primary education.

But the old adage rings so true: 'power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely'. The church became debased by its growing political and religious pre-eminance in society. Bishops became 'princes' and behaved like divine rulers who considered themselves above the law. As God's representatives on Earth, the celibate priests were judged by ordinary people to be above suspicion and to be free of the 'sins of the flesh'. But many joined the priesthood when they were too young to know their own sexuality and experience ordinary healthy sex relationships. For those few members of the clergy that were sexual deviants, they found that they could have a ready supply of victims inadvertently sent to them by their families for religious reasons such as to hear confession, to be provided with religious instruction etc.
The release yesterday of the offical report into clerical sex abuse within the diocise of Ferns has shocked the nation. 22 priests in this lowly populated region in south east Ireland were found to have committed a sickening litany of crimes against children. Over 240 priests nationwide in a 40year period are now confirmed as having being accused of sexual abuse. People are left wondering how extensive was such abuse across the rest of the country

Friendly Foxes & the Hare Who Dined Daily at the Hotel

Originally uploaded by Speedie1.
Renville was blessed with wildlife. The presence of a forest, rolling meadows, a golf-course and miles of unbroken seashore provided a mosaic of natural habitats for rabbit, stout, crabs, mussels, pheasants, heron and badger. Every spring, I use to sit down on the grass and admire fox cubs at play 20 yards away. I was lucky enough to capture their antics on my digital movie camera.
Sadly, a phenomenal rise in housing and institutional development in the locality is threatening the survival of these species. Yet amazingly, some wild creatures do adapt and multiply in these new man-made environments. In summer months, dozens of housemartin birds fly out of the nests that they had built up in the eaves of the holiday houses and perform breathtaking air displays to the delight of our guests. Starlings would set up homes in any large spaces found in the brickwork exterior. Some individual crows became almost personal pets as they regularly sat on the gutters waiting to be feed breadcrumbs. One crow was so friendly that locals bestowed him with a name -‘Jack’ – which he responded to!
In the last six months, one large solitary hare daily visited the grounds of the neighbouring hotel and nonchalantly chewed the long grass taking little notice of passing pedestrians.
Scandal in Renville Holiday Village?
Sadly, I have no juicy bits of sexual shenanigans, stories of international intrigue or cases of attempted murder to reveal from my six years of looking after thousands of guests at Renville Village. Jesus- they were a boring lot!
Actually the clients were mainly genuine sober friendly people on holidays with their families. The location never really attracted the 'lager lout' brigade who tend to want accommodation closer to the city centre nightclubs. I was left with the extended family groups, the 'great outdoor' types and the couples looking for a tranquil setting 'far from the maddening crowd'.
The week of the annual Galway Races was particularly enjoyable. I had more or less the same guests for the last 6 summers. I couldn't praise them enough. Their big Mercs and BMWs nicely complimented the helicopters parked at the hotel that commuted daily them back and forth from Ballybrit Race Course.
But a few hard types did break through our security screen- a handful secretly booked the houses as venues for 21st birthday festivities; at other times, some inebriated wedding guests brought the celebrations back with them. But I was lucky that these incidents were isolated.
I was only once a victim of malicious damage. Last October, after one couple had a flaming row, the girlfriend locked herself in a bedroom. The angry boyfriend put his foot though an internal wall and broke the handle of the door in his attempts to secure entry.

Goodbye Sweet Renville!

Goodbye Sweet Renville!
Originally uploaded by Speedie1.
I still can't believe it. I can now sleep in on Saturday mornings!
For a chapter of my life ended this month when I finished up as on-site manager of the Galway Bay Holiday Homes in Renville, Oranmore. After 6 years, I decided to hand in my notice because my other contract work, particularly with schools and the universiry, was taking up more and more of my time. I also wanted to expand my community activities, spend more time with my family, see the world, write a best-selling novel (Honest! - I have postponed this for nearly 8 yrs)…
For the first time in years, I have weekends off. Hurray!! No more getting up on Saturdays at 7am and working through until 10-11pm. No more Sunday morning 'check outs'. No more travelling the 16miles round journey to Renville on weekend nights to unblock a toilet (ugh!), fix a leak in a shower, repair a broken fridge, re-tune a television, let guests into their house after they lost their keys, deliver an extra set of crockery for a dinner party, singly clean a nine room house at short notice …. When you are supervising a multiple of houses all by yourself, it can be all consuming.
But I don't regret one minute of it. It was a wonderful job that I thrived on. I really enjoyed interacting with the foreign tourists; I got a kick out of pontificating about the delights of our region- the natural heritage, the children facilities, the best music pubs and finest restaurants etc. For specical festive occasions, such as Christmas, St. Valentine's Day and Halloween, I would decorate the houses with appropriate bunting and materials (Christmas trees or pumpkins or romantic pieces). The houses that I was given to manage were real gems- high quality and well equipped. The location of Renville was idyllic in many ways- forest, wildlife, picnic tables, seashore, children's playground, hotel, golf club... Ok, the seashore was too often covered in refuse washed in by the sea currents. But otherwise, it was not an embarrassment. I also built up a great relationship with the staff in the neighbouring hotel that was mutually beneficial. If they needed an extra baby cot at short notice, they gave me a call. If I required an extra mattress or a set of pillows in an emergency, they helped me out. They also gave a restaurant discount to my guests.
Last but not least was the company that I worked for. Trident Holiday Homes has a reputation that is praised by clients and envied by their competitors. They have the best locations for their complexes, their properties are top class; their office staff are as professional and as friendly as one can find anywhere in the world.
We hear so much these days of Ireland being no longer the 'Land of a Thousand Welcomes'. This is true. The warmth and generosity of spirit that once epitomised the Irish character can no longer be taken as a certainty; the famed unspoilt countryside is now being devoured by housing developments; the roads are covered with convoys of speeding vehicles where angry car drivers express hostility towards the slower-moving pedestrians or cyclists; where in a nation famous for its native culture, it is virtually impossible to get a pub that hosts good traditional music 'seisiúns'. The slower pace of life that foreigners innocently expect to find in the Emerald Isle was long ago consumed by the overpowering Rat Race.
Of course, it would be wrong of me to claim that all is ' doom and gloom'. Progressive movement has occurred. Ireland is no longer a priest-dominated inward-looking poverty-stricken rural society where our biggest (and saddest) export was our young sons and daughters. Yet progress and modernity has taken its toil on the image and reality of the genial Irish 'colleen' and 'gasun' .
But a beacon of hope still shines at such places as No. 15 Irishtown Road, Dublin 4. Here at their HQ, Trident has carved itself a strong, confidant unassailable niche in the tourism market because it delivers a top quality product. While it has wonderful holiday homes, it has realised though that the 'human touch' is fundamental in this section of the 'hospitality' sector. Trident HQ's female staff oozes efficiency and helpfulness all packaged in the persona that reminds one of a young Maureen O'Hara.
But these traits actually stem from the personality of the owner Jacinta who has carved the organisation in her own image and likeness. Probably Ireland's most glamorous granny(!), she combines a strong sense of entrepreneurialism with a genuine concern for her customers.
God! I will miss those regular pleasant telephone chats with Michelle and Emer; their witticisms that would gladden the heart of Oscar Wilde or Brendan Behan. The memories of these ladies brings a tear to my eye. Slán agus beannacht, mo chairde.

Renville - Still Ireland's Most Litter-strewn Seashore!

Can't believe that in spite of personal lobbying and my article in a local newspaper, Renville Bay is still covered in debris. (see my September blog).
In fact, it has got worse- there is more refuse than ever before!
Doing my concerned citizen bit, I have complained to Galway County Council quite a number of times but to no avail alas.
Hard to believe that they don't care about a jewel in the crown of Ireland's natural heritage and one of our top tourist attractions i.e. Galway Bay
So I have decided to start a weekly 'Renville Watch' in my blog giving viewers up-to-date photos of the seashore and park .
Will approach the local media next week to publicise this new type of 'direct citizen's action'
Rip-Off Ireland is Alive and Well in Oranmore!

At last the country is waking up to the fact that we are being screwed by the prices and services provided by many garages, restaurants, pubs, banks and government departments.
Unlike the Spanish for instance, most of us wouldn’t dream of telling a restaurant manager to his or her face that the meat was too tough or that the wine tasted like vineger. We are a nation that likes to complain ‘after the event’ or just to a group of close friends over a few pints.
But one man has destroyed that national servile demeanour almost overnight. The new television phonemena that is Eddie Hobbs has exposed the chancers and carpetbaggers that are ‘Rip Off Ireland’ Inc.
Fair play Eddie!
What really gets me upset is the long list of consultants that receive massive sums of monies from the government and state agencies for their consultancy work on road and other large scale infrastructural projects. These expensive developments constantly go 'over budget'. Yet the consultants still get the same percentage cut on the new larger price. So rather than be fined for allowing this increase to occur, they are rewarded and the ordinary tax-payer has to cough up. No minister, civil servant or consultant loses their job when things go so wrong. Crazy & Stupid!!

But the rip-off mentality is endemic right down to the smallest supplier.
So prompted by my friend Ina, starting right here I intend to implement the ‘Hobbs’ philsophy and ‘Name and Shame!” A bit of public exposure and financial levies is all these rip-off merchants understand.

Recently a letter appeared in the Galwy Advertiser regarding Race Week price increases by an Oranmore restaurant.
I was amused that in the following week’s edition, there was a note from the editior stating that the ‘Pi’ restaurant wished it to be known that they were not the guilty party.
This really irked me as I was treated abysmally the previous Race Week by this same establishment. So I instantly sat down and wrote a letter myself to the Advertiser on my personal experience in the Pi premises (but without mentioning its name). I am glad to say that it was published ‘in toto’.
But now I have decidcd to publish it with the Pi name inserted!

“Last year I brought my family to Oranmore after enjoying a wonderful day at Sunday’s Race event. We entered the ‘Pi’ restaurant at approximately 7.10pm. My wife, my two sons and myself comprised our group. As we sat down at a vacant table a waitress came over to us and told us that we couldn’t be served as the premises didn’t serve children after 7pm. Puzzled, I asked to speak to the manager. When he arrived, I pointed out to him that there were no laws governing children in premises until 9pm and that this legislation related to licensed premises. He pointed out that he was upholding the law of the land and that, by not serving children after 7pm, it meant that he could then ensure that there were no under-age people on the premises when 9pm arrived!
We had no choice but to humiliating walk out of the building. Still we had a fine meal supported by a friendly service in another hostelry nearby. I also telephoned two other local eating establishments and was informed by both that they welcomed children of every age to come and eat.
It is obvious that this anti-child establishment only wanted customers that could be charged full adult price.
As the manager of a local holiday homes complex and a former member of the Galway City and County Tourism group, I am aware of the hard work being done to promote the region as a quality friendly holiday destination for families.
The selfish attitude of this restaurant manager is undermining the excellent work of those innovative people that have invested heavily in providing excellent family facilities such as the Dartfield Horse Museum, Atlantaquaria, the Turoe Pet Farm, ‘Busy Bees’, City Limits etc.
Subsequently, I have ensured that my Information Pack to my own guests excludes any recommendation to this particular venue. “

The Future of Irish Soccer Looks Bright, Yellow & Green!

'Ronaldo O'Brien'!
Originally uploaded by Speedie1.
The presence of these Brazilians in our midst is sure to bring many long-term benefits to the country.
Imagine the beautiful children that will result from the mixing of our races!
There is also the dividends that will accrue to the successors of Brian Kerr (Ireland's soccer manager). For on Saturday I attended a local soccer match to watch as an indigenous Gort team was beaten 8 nil by itsBrazilian counterparts! A generation of 'Ronaldo O'Briens' are waiting in their prams!!
So are they being accepted? On the whole, I believe so.
Some people such as Frank Murray, a Portuguese-speaker community organiser, are coordinating some excellent integrationist programmes. I myself will be organising a series of evening IT classes for Brazilian adults designed to promote 'electronic' communities or eNeighbourhoods and closer social interaction.
Of course, some local young people feel that these relatively good-looking Brazilians are here to steal their boyfriends and girlfriends. There are also stories 'doing the rounds' that tell of lonely old farmers being seduced by sexy young Brazilian girls into marriage and signing over the deeds of their farms! Supposedly a few of their cousins are not too happy with on-folding events!!

Sleepy Rural Town Rocks to the Samba Beat!

Brazilian Senhoras in Galway!
Originally uploaded by Speedie1.
What a sight! Down-town on a Saturday night oozes excitement and emotionality. Brazilian men wolf whistle as the girls in tight figure-hugging clothes strut their stuff, provocatively smiling as they nonchalantly stroll pass their ogling admirers. Children saunter up and down on bikes as their parents gather in groups outside their front doors laughing and talking loudly as they share the latest scandals and news stories with their neighbours. Someone turns on a CD radio and two girls dance in rhythm to the samba beat.

Early Monday morning the town square is still populated with crowds of people. This time the scene is of dozens of men armed with lunch boxes waiting quietly in groups in anticipation of being collected by pick-up trucks for casual work in the fields and building sites of the surrounding area. Not everyone is successful though and, after a few hours of fruitless waiting, the unlucky ones slowly wander home. Yet they will return the following day to once again re-commence the process.

But these scenes are not from some backwater village in central Brazil. This is Gort in the rural heartland of Co. Galway in the west of Ireland.

Through personal contacts, I have developed good friendships with many of the Brazilians who now constitute 33% of the town's population and who have injected a real 'tropical buzz' into Gort.
The Brazilian invasion began over 5 years ago when Duffys, the owners of the local meat processing & animal slaughter factory were forced to travel to Brazil to recruit workers. They were finding it increasingly difficult to secure local staff for this physically demanding and dirty work.
The new arrivals came from poor communities in central and southern Brazil. As the months and years rolled by, the families of the male workers followed with the result that they have now transformed the social and cultural landscape of a Gaelic countryside. Signs in some of the local shops are now in Portuguese and the local Catholic Church hosts has a monthly mass in the language. I went to one religious service last Tuesday- it was so musical, expressive and interactive that I find myself spiritually uplifted.
This year the newcomers held their second annual 'Rio carnival' which was an outstanding success. The Brazilian women spend lots of time knitting and sewing up sparkling dress wear for the parade's participants.
Recently, the south Americans opened two shops (Real Brasil & Tabor Brasil) on the main street selling food and other domestic produce.

First Day Back at School- Joy & Trepidation!

First Day Back at School!
Originally uploaded by Speedie1.
Summer Holidays are over as School Reopens
Photo shows(L-R) Shane, Cepta & Daire just before we travel to school for the first day of the new school year.

One of the major red-letter days in the annual calendar of both parents and children, the first day back is always greeted with a mixture of trepidation and joy.

In the background, you can see construction work taking place at our house(we decided to add on an extension).

Renville - One Day After the Clean Up!!

This photo was taken a day after the Galway County Council undertook a clean up of Renville!

The roadside bags (upper left of photo) represented the rubbish gathered by the county council staff.
Somebody forgot the seashore!

Why is the owner of this ramshackle boat allowed to leave it in Renville public carpark?

This boat was dumped in the Renville Park public carpark by the local sailing club. This was over a year ago.
The county council found out who owned, But in spite of the threat of court action, the wealthy owner from nearby Oranmore has done nothing to remove this big piece of junk

Renville- Ireland's most litter-strewn bay?

This rubbish was collected by the local authority after 2 months of lobbying by yours truely.
But they gathered it on a Thursday and left it onsite until the following Tuesday!!
Notice where they dumped it - right up against one of their own signs stating "No Dumping"!! Can you believe it?
Furthermore, it was only a fraction of the rubbish strewn across the area (See next photo)
Yet they told a few week later that the job was done!!!

Ireland's most Litter-strewn Seashore?

Originally uploaded by Speedie1.

Ireland is famous for its scenery. It the country*s primary asset in promoting Tourism, our most important industry since the 1950s.
And there is no more pictureseque location in the country than Galway Bay, celebrated in song and verse for centuries.
But sadly, the massive built development that has been taking place in our country for the last decade is destroying our God-given natural beauty. We are ‘killing the goose that lays the golden egg’.
I would be the first to admit that the government-imposed plastic bag levy and Galway City Council’s introduction of a radical pro-recycling waste management domestic waste system have been positive eco-friendly initiatives. But the overall picture is depressing. Our lakes are being polluted with fertilsers; wetlands and bogs are being drained; hedgrows (Ireland’s tropical rain forests) are being ripped up; our fields are being covered over with tarmacaden and houses & our air is being filled with toxic pollutants.

Look at the attached pictures of Galway Bay. The location is Renville near the holiday village that I manage. It must be the most litter-strewn seashore in Ireland and it is permanently covered by appalling levels of rubbish. This is because the direction of the ocean’s currents leads to the depositing of all sorts of waste material from the city and environs at this particular shoreline.
Renville itself is now host to a cluster of quality leisure activities - golf club, sailing club, holiday homes, hotel , a fine public park and the location for the new Marine Institute.
But in spite of months of personally lobbying the county council, I have had little success in solving the ongoing waste crisis.

I regularly help in voluntary cleaning actions. But the task is too large for a small number of individuals to solve. It is the council’s responsibility to provide at least a weekly cleaning service in this popular leisure destination. However, due to a government embargo on local authorities staff recruitment, there are not the human resources available to implement such a policy. The local Community Warden tries his best but has a very wide geographical brief. It took me two months of persistent lobbying to get a council cleaning crew out last June. But the rubbish collected was only the tip of the iceberg and was left on site for four days beside a Council ‘No Dumping’ Sign before it was collected! Part of the shore wall had previously being broken down to allow equipment onto the seashore. But an unsightly mess left behind was never repaired.
Furthermore, a large derelict boat was removed from the sailing club area last year and dumped in front of the park. In spite of the best efforts of the Community Warden, the craft is still there despoiling this beautiful public amenity.
The person that owns it is a wealthy millonaire living locally! The personification of selfishness.
Over the last few months, I have being forced to cancel field trips by schools to the seashore because of this appalling waste vista. Something needs to be done soon to preserve this unique heritage and natural environmental area before it is too late.

This week, I wrote an article on the topic for a local newspaper. Hopefully this may embarass the council into action

Influential & courageous British politician dies

Really sad to hear that the former British politician Mo Mowlan died today.
Mo was the British government's Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when the historical 'Good Friday' agreement was signed between the main Irish nationalist and 'Unionist' parties. She was the most energetic, dynamic and radical politician ever to hold this post and her presence was vital in making the agreement happen.
She was a true friend of Ireland and was sympathetic to the aim of a United Ireland.

On a personal level, she was witty, irreverent, straight-talking and blunt much to the annoyance of many civil servants and old style politicians.
A BBC correspondent summarised her persona when he told the story today of the circumstances around one interview he had with her in Government buildings. She just strolled into the room, waving her wig around in her hand & saying, "Well Douggie, have you got a comb handy"! When he gave her his comb, she started to brush her wig and then asked him to proceed with his questions!!!

Many in Britain hold that she was the most popular politician of her generation.
Sad to say, she was finally pushed out of the British cabinet by people like Tony Blair & Peter Mandelson who felt threatened by her popularity and left-wing stance.
In that sense, she was from the same stable as other British Labour politicos such as Clare Short, Tony Benn & Ken Livingstone (all of whom were pro-Irish nationalist) and the late lamented Robin Cook (who died last week).

I'll miss her

Graffiti at City Hall!!

Originally uploaded by Speedie1.

Graffiti at City Hall!!

Originally uploaded by Speedie1.

Graffiti at City Hall!!

Originally uploaded by Speedie1.

Graffiti at City Hall!!

Originally uploaded by Speedie1.

Graffiti at City Hall!!

Originally uploaded by Speedie1.

Graffiti all over City Hall!!

Originally uploaded by Speedie1.
If I had a hat, I would surely take it off to honour James Harrold, Galway City Council's Arts Officer.
His present exhibition in the grounds of City Hall has taken what was (& still is) subversive art and placed in the corridors of power. Well done James!
Galway is known as the 'arts capital of Ireland'. This is due to the efforts of a dedicated few such as James who still have to win over an establishment that is quite conservative, philistine and spartan even on issues of culture and arts. For instance, just look at the horrible buildings that have been erected in our city over the last few decades. Horrible!!
James (or JC to his old college buddies such as myself) is like a breath of fresh air that puts colour into what can otherwise be a very grey city.
Earlier this year, he came to the rescue of one of my 'Fionn' primary schools that wanted to make a 3D model of their science project on the theme of the 'waterways of Galway'. He funded the hiring of two artists that supported the children in their creation of a beautiful large scale model of our urban canals & rivers. We hope to have the completed sculpture on display at the official opening of the new museum in early 2006. Then the 'world and his mother' can have a birdseye view of Galway and understand why it is the 'Venice of Ireland'.

Mirrors on a Student's Bedroom Ceiling?
While I am on the subject of our esteemed Arts officer, I remember someone telling me in a pub a few years back that JC had mentioned that I use to have mirrors placed on the ceiling over my bed during my student days.
So to put the rumours to rest once and for all- My ceiling was actually painted black and covered with a moon, stars and the gory face of a huge female vampire. The bedroom walls on the other hand were painted sky blue populated with some nice clouds. Contrasts!!
JC - you would have been proud of my artistic endeavours!
Alas, these wonderful mural creations of mine failed to charm the ladies though!

Finally, I was inspired to write this blog when my colleague Ina recently showed me photographs of some excellent street graffiti in London. So my attitude was, what London has so have we. Even though ours is on a much less grand scale.

Students of the Rainbow Coalition

Originally uploaded by Speedie1.
African and Brazilian students of the DERI Internet classes pictured with my colleague Ina & yours truely at the launch of our Community Outreach programme at Galway University.
Guest speaker was government Minister Eamon Ó Cuiv, grandson of the great 1916 republican veteran Eamon de Valera. Ó Cuiv is a politician that I admire greatly for his sense of vision and community (though I have serious differences with him on certain issues such as 'once-off housing' in rural areas).

Being so politically correct, Ina decided to wear a symbolic 'black & white' dress for the occasion.
As you can see, I tried to follow 'suit'!
My African Refugee IT Students

In spite of my previous comment, I still got certain things completed satisfactorily. So all was not lost.
Particularly enjoyable was my morning Internet class with the African refugees from the Eglinton (Hotel) Hostel. At long last, I finally found a suitable summer venue for the DERI Online Social Networking classes.
The Galway Centre for Independent Living (GCIL) has a fine IT suite.
The lesson went really well. The majority of the participants found that they finally cracked it & they were laughing & giggling. The girls were emailing, setting up communities, surfing, creating their own topics... It was really great and I broke into a permanent smile! Tess (Kenya) was playing the keyboard as if it was a piano; Adenike (Nigeria) was printing out some interesting posters from websites; Catherine (South Africa) sent her first ever email! Magret (Zimbabwe) & Ana (Angola) were flying. Only Miranda (Cameroon) had serious problems- she lost her password and couldn't get into Orkut. But, as I told her, there is always next week.

However I did have one major embarrassment. At the last session, I took photos of all the girls to be inserted this week onto their individual web profiles. But what happens?
Everyone of them came into class with dramatically altered appearances. New hairstyles that made the photos look totally unrecognisable.

But I promised to call out to the hostel next Monday for a new photo shoot. Still the girls were warned not to undertake any major facial surgery for at least another 4 weeks.

I have to say that the OSN classes are making a big difference to the lives of these students. It is helping them break the drudgery of their everyday Galway existence & to enjoy life a lot more. Many of them were previously stuck in the hostel 24/7, not getting a chance to get out and do something productive. Now thanks to the Internet classes, they are making friends at home & abroad as well as learning new practical technological skills.
So next week, our online friend Padraig O'Beaglaioch will help them establish sporting activities. He tells me that he is so exicted about the prospect of helping them organise multi-cultural sport games. But I told him that he always gets that way around women!
Disorganised & Anarchic- Its Getting me Down
Had a really frustrating day yesterday. Got only a fraction done of what I planned. This is becoming an ever-growing problem for me. Others say that I have too much on my plate being involved as I am in so many diverse things. However I blame my inability to plan my working day better. I get sidetracked too easily & cave into sudden requests from others for meetings etc. There is no excuse- It is like going out with the best looking woman in the world & then letting your eyes wander. Totally illogical, stupid & silly!!
Anyway, tomorrow will be the first day of the rest of my life and I will rigidly keep by my pre-written schedule tomorrow. That's a public (i.e. Internet) promise!

'Jennie Johnson' Famine ship in Galway

Originally uploaded by Speedie1.

Horror behind the Beauty

The 'Jennie Johnson' docked this week in Galway Harbour. A replica of a 19th century sailing ship, she is truly a thing of beauty. With majestic masts & sails dominating the skyline, ornately carved metal fittings gleaming in the sun & a hull gently creaking as its lolls in the water, one could almost imagine the ship's Victorian-era crew happily singing a sea shanty in unison as they unfurled its rigging.

However this stunning creature is a representation of something much more sinister from one of the darkest moments in our nation’s history.
The Jennie Johnson is a replica of the infamous 'coffin ships' that transported hundreds of thousands of starving Irish to the shores of America during the Great Famine of the 1840s. Thousands died in the Atlantic crossings as a result of the unsanitary conditions on the ships. Unscrupulous ship owners decided to make a killing out of the desperate peasants that poured into the ports of Ireland seeking escape from a famine that left one million dead. Once they paid their fare, the passengers were squeezed into cramped holds, given subsistence in the form of rotting food & contaminated water and provided with little if any onboard medical assistance. Dysentery and typhus killed many while others drowned as overcrowded ships capsized in the violent oceanic storms. The transatlantic voyages normally took 3 months to complete. Sadly too many emigrants never had a chance to fulfil the dream of a life in the United States or Canada as they were tossed overboard to a watery grave.

Galway Races 2005 - A Mass of Humanity

Originally uploaded by Speedie1.
Up to 40,000 at the Galway Races on one day.
Over 150,000 visited the 7 day festival.

It is truely an egalitarian event with all sectors of society present- from the very rich to the very poor.
It offers a taste of what Celtic tribal gatherings must have been like thousands of years ago

Galway Races 2005 - Horse & Jockey

Originally uploaded by Speedie1.
The Stars of the Show

Green Lady at the Galway Races

Originally uploaded by Speedie1.
Style and Panache on Display!


Originally uploaded by Speedie1.
A Really Good Day
A really Good Day for Ireland! and...
Today was a really good day!
a) For myself personally- I was honoured to have an article published in the prestigious daily ‘Irish Times’ newspaper on the Primary School Science project that I manage. Known as ‘Fionn’, the programme equips and trains teachers and children to produce their own annual science documentary. More details tomorrow!

b) For Ireland- the IRA announced an end to the 36 year 'Armed Struggle'. As a long-time democratic Irish republican, I have to congratulate Gerry Adams & Martin McGuinness for their decisive leadership in bringing this campaign to an end.
Let us hope and pray that the so-called Loyalist (drug-dealing) gangs also disarm; that the Unionist politicians break down their elitist 'Fortress Mentality' to engage with their fellow Irishmen & women i.e. Irish Republicans & that the British government push bring through much-needed social and political reform. Because for Peace to take root and grow, the nourishment of Justice must be provided.

Machine Locusts Over Galway!

Originally uploaded by Speedie1.
Like a swarm of tropical locusts the helicopters descend out of the skies over Galway during Race Week. Then, as suddenly as they appear, they vanish after 7 days of feverish activity. Never to be seen or heard of for another year.