Ballinasloe Horse Fair

Photo: Frank Gavin

According to local legend, Napoleon's most famous horse Marengo was bought in 1799 at the Fair in Ballinasloe, which is one of Europe's oldest and largest Horse Fairs, dating back to the 1700's when it was formally established by the local British landlords (Trenchs).
Photo: Frank Gavin
But its origins probably go back thousands of years as Ballinsloe (Béal Átha na Sluaighe, = 'Ford-Mouth of the Gatherings') is located at a strategic crossing of a river near to the famed 'Esker Riada', the great prehistoric highway formed from eskers that allowed people to cross Ireland from east to west, giving them safe dry passage above the bogs, wetlands and lakes of the midlands.
Photo: Frank Gavin
Today, it is estimated that c100,000 visitors flock to the town to sell, buy and enjoy this majestic animal.

As part of my DERI Outreach work, I am involved with a local committee led by Frank Gavin in collecting and digitizing images, films and stories associated with this living heritage and cultural gathering.
Tonight (Sept 30) we hold a special public meeting on the subject in Haydens Hotel in the town. The fair itself starts the following day(Oct 1).
Photo: Frank Gavin

Using Arcade Games To Inspire New Generation of Programmers & Innovators

What promises to be an exciting night of Retro Gaming will take place from 6pm until 8pm this Friday (Sept 23rd) in the National Computer and Communications Museum located in the Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI) at NUI Galway.

This event is being held as part of ‘National Culture Night’ and visitors will be able to enjoy playing video Arcade classics including Pacman, Asteroids and Space Invaders on renowned vintage consoles and computers such as Atari, Amiga and Sinclair ZX81.

The sights and sounds on offer will try to capture the essence of the early days of computer gaming of the 1970s and 1980 which made a major contribution in the overall development of digital sound and graphics.

But attendees will also be introduced to the software coding that constitutes the games. They will be allowed to actually input these computer programmes line by line, to experiment with the code and to make their own creative enhancements. This should give participants a better understanding of how digital technology actually works. For a key aim of this event is be part of a process of introducing young people in particular to the software infrastructure behind popular devices such as smart phones, sensors and laptops thus hopefully inspiring them to consider careers in computer science and engineering which are essential prerequisites in creating a sustainable knowledge-based innovative society that will help secure a niche for Ireland in an ever-changing world.

It must be remembered that a previous young generation enthusiastically took on similar challenges during the early days of computing and created many of the technologies that we use today. They became innovators and entrepreneurs combining youthful imagination, artistic skills with a scientific understanding.

When microcomputers such as Sinclairs, BBCs and Apple 11s were first introduced into Irish schools during the early nineteen eighties, children often had to write their own programmes as there were few affordable applications available. Sadly this ability to be taught how to make things in IT classes has been replaced in the intervening decades by a policy of only teaching pupils to use applications such as word-processing and databases. Whilst this is a laudable exercise, nevertheless we must re-educate our young people in the lost art of computer coding which should be considered a life skill that forms part of the national educational curriculum. Otherwise we will remain, what in literary parlance could be referred to, as a nation of readers rather than of writers.

Over the last year, DERI mentors have provided computer programming courses to primary and post-primary schools in Connacht. In partnership with the Galway Education Centre and other stakeholders, we intend to roll out courses in programming to as many schools as possible over the next year. We will also be promoting the setting up of an inter-schools’ students Computer Club and encouraging participants to draw inspiration from visits to Ireland’s only museum which highlights the important but oftentimes hidden role of Irish people, women and young people in the history of world communications.

Scarecrows, Pedal-Powered Smoothies & Blacksmith Forge Amongst the Highlights of Ballinfoile Harvest Festival

Face painting with Anja Sammon

Scarecrows, pedal-powered fruit smoothies, blacksmith forge, multi-ethnic cuisine, birdwatching excursion, a bugs detective experience and a bike maintenance workshop were some of the highlights of last Saturday’s Harvest Festival in the Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden held in the grounds of the Terryland Forest Park.

In spite of the atrocious weather at the weekend, hundreds of people turned up to enjoy an exciting programme of events that appealed to all ages and all traditions in a wonderful garden setting that is a tribute to the skills and civic enthusiasm that exists amongst the residents of Ballinfoile, Bothár an Choiste and Tirellan.
Social Inclusivity: Volunteer gardeners from the
Lisbrook Asylum Seekers Accommodation Centre

The festival was a successful fusion of local volunteerism; environmental, community and art organizations idealism and the public service ethos of many staff in state agencies.
Michael Tiernan from Cumann na bhFear working the Forge

Mayor Hildegarde Naughton complimented the organisers, and along with councilor Frank Fahy and Derek Nolan TD, spent considerable time enjoying the positive ambiance of the occasion.
Mayor of Galway city Cllr Hildegarde Naughton, with Daire Smith & renowned Galway hurler Alan Kerins

Councillor Frank Fahy with Tom Cuffe who provided a very informative guided birdwatching tour of nearby woodlands

There were stalls selling locally grown fruit, herbs and vegetables;
Selling Vegetables & Fruits harvested from the community garden

tasty fruit smoothies produced by pedal power; a blacksmith forge; a multi-ethnic food fair; a home baking counter, a bird-watching tour of the surrounding woodlands; face painting; craft displays; a free bike maintenance workshop; a large marine aquarium; a trad music seisiún; disc jockeys; bug detective trails, and a medicinal herbal information stand.
Michael Quinn(L) from Galway Civic Trust enjoying some of the delightful ethnic dishes provided

What was particularly eye-catching though was the fantastic array of 40 plus colourful scarecrows that dotted the garden created by the children of Scoil San Phroinsias and the Sunny Meadow’s playschool.
Neighbourhood festivals based around locally grown food produce, culture, heritage, sport and environmental awareness are growing in popularity worldwide. Over the last few years events such as the Boreen Festivals of Castlegar have started to capture the public imagination in suburban Galway. In times of deepening recession, rising unemployment and decreasing national expectations, Irish people need to rediscover the importance of working with their neighbours to develop a sense of place, purpose and pride as well as a feeling of goodwill towards their localities. Traditionally, we as a nation have been characterized by a strong community ethos as exemplified by the GAA, ‘Meitheal’ and our coming together in times of adversity. So the festival was be grassroots based and will celebrate local volunteerism and demonstrate how residents working together for the common good can improve the quality of life in their communities.
Finally, a big thank you to Galway City Council and Galway City Partnership for all their support.
U3 (Frances, Deasan & Cathal) traditional music group

Visitors at the weekend also saw the fantastic contributions made by local people to the development of the garden over the last eighteen months including the drystone walls, hedgerows, poly-tunnel, vegetable plots, orchard, wildlife pond, wildflower meadow; path-laying, outdoor performance stage, disability-friendly raised beds, hazel hurdles, kitchen toilets, giant nature art mural and willow sculptures.
Bikers United! Brian MacGabhann & Cathal McCusker who were in charge of the Bike Maintenance Workshop

Distributing home-made ice lollies to the visitors

Kevin O'Hara from Atlantaquaria demonstrating the wonders of Galway Bay at the Marine Boat Aquarium

'Bug Detective' Stand from Dolores Keegan was one of the most popular stands at the Fest

Michael McDonnell, the backbone of the community garden for all things infrastructure, at the Cumann na bhFear workshop

Visitors left with a bountiful selections of fresh organic vegetables & fruits!

The Herbal Information Stall enlightened attendees on the medicinal value of what many still consider obnoxious Weeds

DJ Paul Coyne kept people entertained with his selection of Commentary & Celtic Rock music

Caroline, Justine & co provided a wide selection of month-watering multi-ethnic dishes to all & sundry!

The hard-working Caitriona Nic Mhuiris(left) was one of the engines of the Festival

Digging One's Own Dinner! -One of the great novelties of the Festival, was that we had many of the visitors
dig up their fruits and vegetables puchases!

Home-made Cakes & Jams Stall

Africans United! Pierre Ludwick from South Africa with a young west African friend

Tiernan McCusker pouring fruit smoothies from the pedal powered unit gracioulsy supplied by Liam Cobb of the West of Ireland Cycles

Scarecrows Galore!
The Children of Scoil San Phroinsias & Sunny Meadows playschool provided a breathtaking display of scarecrows,
each one of which had its individuality and character!