Hopes of Iceland's "Saucepan Revolutionaries" Dashed

I recently watched 'God Bless Iceland' a television film documentary on Iceland's economic meltdown. Very thought-provoking and very heart-rending as it followed over many months the daily routine of ordinary people who took to the streets in the 'Saucepan Revolution' to protest against the oligarchy that controlled the Icelandic banks, parliament and the economy, and whose actions were directly responsible for the spectacular financial collapse of a country that was until recently amongst the wealthiest in the world. The programme interviewed all strata of society in their everyday settings from billionaires, bankers, police officers through to those that lost all their life savings.

It covered protestors such as Sturla and Eva, whose hopes were spectacularly raised when popular demonstrations led directly to the government resigning in a fantastic display of 'people power'.

Yet their dreams were quickly dashed, as it soon became obvious that little would change under the new regime.

Sadly the disillusioned Sturlas and Evas, once the heroes of the nation, became part of the huge numbers of Icelanders who are emigrating in droves, something that the country has never before experienced in modern times.

Very very sad.

I Love Iceland!

I have a special affinity with Iceland, having lived there for over two years. There is an awe-inspiring spiritual and natural beauty in its primeval landscapes and seascapes found no-where else in the world. Yet the people share many traits with the Irish. Traditionally, they were family-orientated, hardworking, nationalistic, proud of their rich literary heritage with a respect for nature that was indicative of a people that relied on the land and sea for their survival.

But, as with the Irish, they succumbed in recent decades to the get-rich quick mentality of property speculation, importing low-paid Eastern European workers to build the houses of a construction boom that was unsustainable and nothing more than a facade. For it was the new arrivals that populated so many of the accommodation units that they themselves built rather than to meet the needs of the small indigenous population. As was the case in Ireland, politicians, bankers and developers were trumpeted as ‘role models’ not just at home but also on the world stage.

Members of this ‘nouveau riche’ arrogantly flaunted their new wealth, milked the public coffers via tax breaks and state contracts, and invested their monies in personal aggrandisement and overseas acquisitions. Both countries took their ‘eye off the ball’ and let their natural strengths, that were carefully built up over so many years and which originally provided the foundations of their economic development in modern times, wither away due to the lack of sufficient investment.

In Iceland, it was fisheries.

In Ireland, it was manufacturing, agriculture and tourism. Many Irish people did not want to work in factories, or in the hospitality trade, thinking it was beneath them; farmers abandoned farming and they sold their arable land to property developers. Tourists that use to come for the enjoyment of our countryside and for fishing stayed away as they witnessed an Ireland being contaminated by urban sprawl, high-pricing, pollution and where it was hard to find an Irish pub or restaurant where you could get served by an Irish man or woman.

It has been said many times since 2008 that the only difference between Iceland and Ireland is one letter.

Galway city's Largest Community Garden To Be Officially Launched by City Mayor on Sat

Michael Tiernan & Pete Maye Planting Potatoes using traditional Irish farming methods

Michael McDonnell Harvesting the first potato crop!

I am pleased to announce that Galway city’s largest community organic garden will officially be launched at 12.30pm this Saturday (July 17th) by the Mayor, Councillor Michael Crowe. Located in Terryland Forest Park adjacent to the Lus Leana housing estate, the Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden has become a wonderful example of how neighbourhood-managed initiatives can secure long-term social, health and environmental benefits.

Teas for the Volunteers!

Funding and resources for this local community-driven project was provided by an array of agencies, including RAPID, Galway City Council, HSE, VEC, Respond and the Galway City Partnership. Caitriona McMuiris of the latter organisation has been absolutely brilliant in supporting the local committee in this initiative.

Many of the garden's founding members (including myself) are local community environmentalists and members of the 'Galway Friends of the Forests' NGO that successfully fought to save the Terryland Forest Park from being sacrificed to road development (Headford Road Framework Plan).

For over a decade, we have promoted many environmental community initiatives in Galway including heritage cycle tours through rural landscapes in the locality, school and community tree plantings, outdoor eco-arts projects, nature field trips and the protection of wildlife habitats in our city.

Wildlife-friendly Organic Garden

An organic community garden with a biodiversity ethos has been part of our philosophy for a a number of years inspired by green urban neighbourhood initiatives in the USA and Cuba but also with the work undertaken in the nearby Galway suburb of Ballybane.

Harvesting Nettles for Soup & Salads

Since its inception late last year, ‘An Ghardín’ has become a magnet for residents of all ages from across the Ballinfoile/Bóthar an Chóiste locality to work together in the development of this extraordinary resource.

School Children & Parents from the local Scoil San Phroinsias planting flowers & vegetables

One of the partners in the project, the local primary school Scoil San Phroinsias, recently held a weekend planting day when circa 150 parents and children came along to plant vegetables and flowers.

Watering the Plants

The VEC and a nearby child daycare centre too are using it as an outdoor classroom. We are also encouraging disability and older people groups, residents’ associations, the nearby Lisbrook Asylum Seekers Hostel and youth organizations to use ‘An Ghairdín’ as a facility for nutrition and organic farming classes, crafts workshops, nature studies, social interaction and physical education activities.

Katherine Admiring Mike McDonnell's (second from right) work in producing Disability-friendly Raised Beds

Committee members and local volunteers have in a few short months transformed a barren field into a fertile oasis consisting of vegetable beds, a herbal garden, a fruit tree orchid and a poly-tunnel overflowing with crops of corn, peas and tomatoes.

Erecting the Poly-tunnel

Volunteers have laid the foundations of a large pond to nurture indigenous aquatic flora and fauna such as frogs; have provided water piping and electrical cabling and constructed a stage for outdoor cultural performances.

Creating a Pond for Aquatic wildlife

The committee has also made a commitment to promote and utilize traditional rural crafts in the ongoing development of the garden. Hence many of the vegetable beds were planted using old farming methods. Courses were held last week on willow/hazel hurdling with the resulting natural fencing created by the participants being used as perimeters within the garden.Jack planning out the traditional dry-stone wall

Traditional drystone walls will become a feature of the garden over the next few months.

The site for the ‘An Ghardín’ was provided by Galway City Council in the grounds of the Terryland Forest Park as our project complements the wildlife and environmental ethos of this proposed ‘ecological corridor’ due to the fact that our charter includes the promotion of biodiversity by for example constructing traditional hedgerows of Irish trees such as Hawthorn and Hazel around the garden perimeter; by using only organic fertilizers as well as by planting native wild flowers to attract bees and other insects.

Children with their completed Competition Questionnaires on the Wildlife of the Garden & surrounding Terryland Forest Park

Over the coming year, hundreds of local residents will avail of this remarkable green resource that will do much to improve the quality of life in our locality. It is expected that the garden will have many beneficial effects for the Ballinfoile Mór community by its provision of an outdoor nature classroom, by contributing to building up good neighbourliness, by increasing awareness of food nutrition and a healthy living lifestyle and by creating a source of locally produced organic foods. It is expected that many of those that use the community garden will create their own organic household gardens.

So we hope that as many residents as possible turn up for the official launch at 12.30pm on Saturday!

Site for the Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden

Early days- Digging in the Garden

Early days: Cennis & other volunteers from the Lisbrook Asylum Seekers Accommodation Centre preparing the ground for planting
Garden Starting to take shape

Des & co Offloading the Seaweed Sourced from a local Beach & to be used as a natural Fertiliser

Planting the first Fruit (Gooseberry, Blackberry & Raspberry) Bushes

The First Planted Fruit Trees

Working on the garden paths

Herbal Garden takes shape, using timber perimeters made from hazel trees produced by local volunteers

Francis, Jack, Frances standing beside the raised bed being used by the children from the local pre-school.

Felicia & friends from the Lisbrook Asylum Seekers Accommodation Centre weeding the potato beds

Myself & Willie Needham holding some of the first crop of potatoes dug from the garden!