Joyeux Noel Film - the true message of Christmas portrayed

Click on image above to view the singing by a German soldier of 'Stille Nacht' & 'Adeste Fideles', the latter to the accompaniment of bagpipes played by Scottish soldiers
The French 2005 production 'Joyeux Noel' is one of the most emotionally captivating films that I have ever witnessed. In my humble opinion, it captures the true message of Christmas, namely 'Peace and Goodwill To All Peoples'. 

May I wish you and yours a joyful festive holiday (still a few days left!) and a progressive New Year.

Background to the film:
Along the Western Front on Christmas Eve 1914, soldiers from German, Scottish, English and French regiments organised unofficial ceasefires. Troops ventured into No Man's Land to exchange gifts, play football, sing songs together and bury their dead. 

Ordinary soldiers saw that they were one and the same, no matter what was the colour of the uniform.

Click on image above to hear Scottish soldier pipers playing "I'm Dreaming of Home"

Generals on both sides were incensed and scared that this laying down of arms and friendship across the divide would spread. So they ensured that no such large scale fraternisation ever happened again by ordering artillery barrages during subsequent Christmases. In an insane brutal war, there were already 3.5 million casualties by the end of 1914. Another 32 million would die before the war ended. 

The leaders of the main warring nations dressed up the conflict as a 'War To End Wars', a struggle for peace and liberty when in reality they were only concerned about expanding their empires. Whilst the ‘Allies’ promoted the war as a struggle to free small nations (e.g. Belgium) from German, Austrian and Turkish tyranny, World War One actually resulted in the victorious French and British dividing up the Middle East between them against the wishes of the local populations. 
The horrible legacy of this imperial carve up and the promises made to financiers and oilmen during and soon after WW1 are the conflicts in Iraq, Libya and Palestine that we have today. 

John Lennon and Yoko Ono recognised that throughout the ages, war and conflict were used by those in power to kill, butcher and maim peoples and the planet in order to maintain and expand their control. Their 1971 classic, Happy Christmas, War is Over (below) perfectly encapsulates this message

Galway- Potential to become Europe’s ‘Silicon Valley’

I was privileged to be granted recently the Galway Science Person of the Year 2012 award
So I decided to take advantage of this recognition by encouraging the relevant local stakeholders to work together to promote the city and environs as a Digital Galway Bay or as a European version of Silicon Valley, a concept that is perfectly achievable and that could easily capture the popular imagination.
The following is an article that I submitted to the media on why this concept is based on solid foundations

"A well known local science advocate believes that Galway should emulate its international status as an arts city by striving to become the European equivalent of California’s Silicon Valley.
Presented with the ‘Galway Science Person of the Year’ 2012 Award at the recent Galway Science and Technology Festival for delivering a range of pioneering science and technology learning initiatives to schools, colleges and to communities, Brendan Smith believes passionately that the city possesses many of the key ingredients needed to transform the region into a leading global hub for smart technologies’ innovation and development.

According to Brendan Smith, “Silicon Valley is located in the San Francisco Bay area and is home to many of the world's largest information technology corporations as well as thousands of small start-ups who have established a symbiotic relationship with third level colleges in the vicinity that provide the stream of young enthusiastic inventors, innovators, entrepreneurs, engineers and scientists needed to sustain their existence and success. Companies such as Hewlett Packard and Google grew out of the research work being undertaken by neighbouring university and research institutes.
Whilst it is the digital products and business aspects that largely define the identity of the Silicon Valley and environs, nevertheless there are other elements of the San Francisco Bay area that clearly played a crucial part in its evolution as the world’s premier powerhouse of technology innovation.
Located on the west coast of the United States, the area is famed for its natural beauty that has engendered a 'quality of life' ethos amongst the inhabitants. The city of San Francisco has also long being characterized by political, environmental and social liberalism; possessing a strong progressive artistic, music, cultural and community solidarity dynamic with a youthful, student, cosmopolitan and outward-looking population.

Galway therefore bears an uncanny resemblance to San Francisco possessing many of its main traits in abundance. Our president Michael D Higgins could be said to be the personification of this image of Galway as visionary, vibrant, artistic, socially just and technology-savvy.
Many of the leading corporations in the biomedical and information technology sectors such as Avaya, Boston Scientific, Cisco, Electronic Arts, Hewlett-Packard, Medtronic, SAP and Valeo, are already based here with established links to research institutes located in GMIT and NUIG such as DERI, Ryan and REMEDI which are providing the scientific expertise to sustain their presence in Galway and underpin their status as leaders in cutting edge product development. DERI for instance has over one hundred and forty young experts from thirty three countries developing the next generation of the World Wide Web known as the Semantic Web.
There is also the presence locally of indigenous high tech manufacturing and services industries comprising Irish-owned companies such as Creganna and Storm Technologies.

But what is also an abiding feature of Galway is the deep sense of ‘community solidarity’ as well as the high level of volunteerism that exists amongst many of the prime ‘movers and shakers’ in the industrial, political, educational and local government sectors who have over the years collaborated under the auspices of the Galway Education Centre, Junior Achievement and the Galway Science and Technology Festival, to deliver important learning initiatives in schools and colleges across the Western region.  In a modern industrial urban version of ‘Meitheal’ that was once the hallmark of traditional Irish rural community support, these visionaries have promoted and harnessed an army of young professional mentors from industry and third level colleges who give their time and energies to teach in primary and post-primary classrooms delivering science courses whilst acting as positive ‘role models’ for our young generation. 
Such courses will equip our children with a range of skills, from using mathematics to fostering critical thinking, necessary for transforming Ireland from being a nation of ‘digital users’ into a nation of ‘digital creators’ that would export worldwide a series of beneficial Irish-made smart tech products and services.
These formal learning programmes are now being complimented by the activities of electronic and computer coding volunteer clubs such as 091 Labs and Coderdojo which are often established by young people themselves to provide informal after-school digital maker’s environments where participants are encouraged to be creative and to experiment in new processes and ideas, writing software for instance for online games or to control the movements of robots.
The success of these initiatives is best shown by the dramatic uptake by schools in these mentoring courses as well as by the tens of thousands that attend the science shows and exhibitions during the annual two week Galway Science and Technology Festival.

Galway can rightly claim to be the country’s first and premier ‘Digital City’, building on an unbroken tradition of computing innovation that dates back to 1971 when Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), then the world’s largest minicomputer company, opened its first European manufacturing facility in Mervue. This proud technology heritage is exemplified by the fact that the ‘Computer and Communications Museum of Ireland’, which pays tribute amongst other things to the oftentimes hidden role of Ireland, women and youth in communications development, is based in the city at DERI in NUI Galway.

Brendan Smith is the Education and Community Outreach Officer at the Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI) in NUI Galway. For over twelve years, he has coordinated an array of successful medical, environmental, digital heritage and web science projects for schools and communities through his work with DERI, Medtronic, Waterways Ireland, the Galway Education Centre, Galway County Council and the Galway Science and Technology Forum. He is co-founder of Coderdojo Galway, Conservation Volunteers Terryland Forest Park, Cumann na bhFear (Men's Shed Galway city), Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden and curator of the ‘Computer and Communications Museum of Ireland’.
As well as being a previous recipient in 2006 of the Galway ‘Science Person of the Year’ Award, Brendan has also earned other accolades including the Galway City Mayoral Community Award, the ITAG ‘Computing in Schools’ Award and the Apple Distinguished Educator(ADE).

A Jesus in Today's Palestine

Could the story of the Nativity happen today in Palestine? 
For would a poor young unmarried teenage girl in the West Bank, who had just announced that she was pregnant, not become a victim of male ‘honour’?
Even if she did survive, she and her new husband would have found it extremely difficult to go from Nazareth to Bethlehem due to road-blocks and travel restrictions placed on local inhabitants by the occupying Israeli military; the shepherds would have probably lost their grazing lands to compulsory acquisition for the erection of the ‘Security Wall’ and Jewish colonial settlements; and the three wise men from Iraq (Mesopotamia) would have being denied entry visas.
But even if the birth did manage to occur in Bethlehem, Israeli military border controls would have probably barred Mary’s family from crossing into Egypt to escape religious persecution thus sealing their faith.
Yet there is no doubt that an adult Jesus of the New Testament and of a modern Middle East would have ended their lives in a similar terrible fashion. For anyone preaching a message of peace and love, a call for people’s liberation from poverty and oppression, of respect for all races and creeds, of freedom for prisoners, and an end to the oppression of women would have made himself both an enemy of the state and of a religious fundamentalism that preaches intolerance towards non-believers and death to all apostates and blasphemers.
Yes, death would have come either from an American-made laser guided missile or from execution by a Islamic death squad.

Terryland Forest Park: Conservation Volunteers Update

Clean-Up of Forest Park was a great Success!
Many thanks to all those volunteers and supporters of the  Conservation Volunteers Terryland Forest Park (CVTFP) that turned up on Saturday October 28th for a well supported clean-up in the Terryland Forest Park on Saturday October. Lots of rubbish was collected in the allocated 2 hour period- 30 full bags (alcohol cans and bottles), a bicycle, a large piece of lino flooring, a buggy, a microwave, washing machine and a sofa.

Recent Anti-Social Activity
Sadly since our clean-up, more litter has appeared in the park due to the presence of a group of very drunk young people late on Halloween night who congregated near to the clean-up area and left behind a myriad of burnt tyres, tables, chairs and beverage containers.
However, CVTFP chairperson Brendan Smith met this week with the local Community Garda on the issue and discussions are taking place on possible ways of eliminating this anti-social problem once and for all from the Forest Park. So do not lose heart!

Conservation Volunteer HQ in Forest Park!

The Conservation Volunteers have taken delivery of a large container from City Parks manager Stephen Walsh. It has been positioned near to the Galway Bay FM premised at one of the entrances to the Terryland Forest Park. This unit has enormous potential uses including serving as our onsite headquarters and a depot for touring bicycles that can be loaned to park visitors.
Our friends in Cumann na bhFear are allocating a number of High Nelly vintage bikes to be used for this purpose. 
Brendan Smith has held preliminary discussions with the City Arts Office on how schools can be actively involved in the painting  of a thematic mural on the exterior walls of our new HQ.

Leafless Tree Detective Walk
Conservation Volunteer TFP member Matthew O’Toole is organising what promises to be an exciting investigative guided nature walk in the Terryland Forest Park at 2.30pm on Saturday November 17th.
Matthew says. “As the last leaves of autumn fall, the trees take on a different form.
Come discover the trees of Terryland Forest Park with bark, shape and form. Become an arboreal detective!”
Rendezvous: O'Brien's Café, Lisbaun Estate, 2:30pm, Sat. November 17th
For further information, contact Matthew at

School Becomes a ‘Friend of the Terryland Forest Park’
St. Nicholas Parochial School is the first in a series of schools that it is hoped will be signing up over the next few months to take an active role in the development and preservation and promotion of the Terryland Forest Park  as an outdoor classroom and research laboratory of significant local and national importance.
The fifth and sixth class students will be working with Conservation Volunteer members Andreas Baumann, Matthew O’Toole and Brendan Smith to develop a free mobile app of the parkland that will benefit local and tourists alike!
The students will also mount an exhibit on the theme of the Forest Park at the Galway Science Fair that will take place on Sunday November  25th in NUI Galway. This fair is major importance and attracted over 25,000 visitors last year.

Online Digital Maps of Forest now Available
Brendan Smith is one of three CVTFP members working on producing digital information maps containing important social and natural heritage information of the Terryland Forest Park. Andreas Baumann and Bernard McGlinchy are also involved in mapping the pioneering Seven Galway Castles Lopped Cycle Trail which will become a major Greenways of national importance.
It is the intention that these high tech resources will be used for educational and tourism purposes and be accessed online or as mobile apps.
A draft version of Brendan’s work can be viewed here

City Heritage Officer to work with Conservation Volunteers TFP
Jim Higgins, Galway City Heritage Officer, will meet with the conservation volunteers  and our partner group Cumann na bhFear (aka Men’s Shed) at 8pm this Thursday to review heritage work projects within the Terryland Forest Park area that could be undertaken by our members. Areas being considered include works at the Terryland Castle and the old Victorian waterworks as well as the repair of drystone walls along the Dyke Road.
The meeting will take place at Cumann an bhFear premises at Unit IB Sandy Road Business Park. All members and supporters are invited!

Establishing a Volunteer Park Rangers unit
As mentioned previously, the establishment of a volunteer Park Rangers unit to act as an almost permanent daytime presence in the Terryland Forest Park is essential if this green heritage resource is to be reclaimed by the citizens as the People’s Park and a haven for wildlife. These rangers could act as information guides, litter collectors and supervisors of tree planting activities.
Are you interested in joining up?

Greenprint for Terryland Forest Park
Click here to see the ambitious community plans for Terryland Forest Park

Help in the Clean-up of Galway city's Green Lungs!

Photograph shows illegal dumping along the banks of the Terryland River behind the Terryland Retail Park
Calling all concerned people! f you have an hour or two to spare tomorrow (Sat), please help 'Conservation Volunteers' in a clean up of the Terryland Forest Park.
Rendezvous: 11am, Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden
Sadly it is people that live amongst us that, by their littering and dumping activities, are damaging our vital urban forests that act as the 'Lungs of the City' and a vital home for our precious native wildlife. 
In the last 16months, volunteers have done much to reclaim the parks and forests for the ordinary people of Galway. 
Ambitious plans are presently being jointly developed by council officials, Conservation Volunteers and local communities to make Terryland Forest Park the 'Phoenix Park' of Galway. Details will be unveiled over the next few weeks!

Bike Repair Workshops at Galway's "Men's Shed"

Cumann na bhFear (aka Men’s Shed) is actively involved in enhancing public engagement with Terryland Forest Park in areas such as developing a walking and cycling trails network.
To support this latter project and to help in increasing cycling within Galway city the club will host, commencing at 7pm on Monday October 22nd, a four (weekly) session course in bike maintenance at their premises located at Unit 1B in Sandy Road Business Park (near Galway Bay FM).
Tutor is renowned cycling enthusiast Brian MacGabhann.

Brian will give practical advice and demonstrations on topics such as repairing a flat tyre, cleaning and oiling bike chains, fixing a buckled wheel and adjusting brakes.
All are welcome to attend.

Eco-Neighbourhood Festival in an Irish City Suburb

It is refreshing to know in these times of economic gloom that in the heart of a very built up urban suburb, a neighbourhood fair dedicated to heritage and a traditional rural lifestyle could capture the imagination of local people.
Traditional Cast Iron Kitchen Cooking Set over an Open Fire at Harvest Fest

Well that happened on September 22nd in Galway city when approximately 350 people attended the Ballinfoile Mór Harvest and Heritage Festival in the Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden.
The event, now in its third year, has as its theme the promotion of locally grown organic fruits and vegetables.
Mayor of Galway, Cllr Terry O'Flaherty buys some of Garden vegetables & fruits
But the festival has become more than a tribute to organic food. It has metamorphosed into a celebration of the broader themes of community (Meitheal), culture, children, environment, ecology, social heritage and preserving traditional hand-made arts, crafts and skills.
Second Hand Book & Toys Stalls
Hence there were  stalls for locally baked cakes and buns as well as for locally produced wooden and leather goods; an open hearth fire where potatoes were being boiled in skillet pots; a outdoor oven made from local clay serving pizzas; a Irish traditional music seisiún; dozens of scarecrows in a multitude of colours and sizes made by children from the local primary school (Scoil san Phronsias) and playschool (Sunny Meadows); woodturning; a blacksmith's forge; a bike repair workshop; second hand books and toys stalls; a tree conservation stall; a vintage bike display; pony rides for kids; a lively DJ playing an eclectic mix of dance music and Irish ballads; impromptu Irish dancing and singing; a marine aquarium, juggling and face-painting.
Mihchelle looking after the Cakes & Buns Stall
But one of the most popular highlights of the festival  was without doubt the shoeing of a horse by farrier Joe Dodds which enthralled all those present. 
Joe Dodds Shoeing a Horse

Thanks to the efforts of a small band of dedicated and socially conscious residents, Ballinfoile is witnessing a resurgence in community volunteerism based around a sense of community, pride of place and of awareness of the need to preserve local heritage in a time of growing globalisation.  
Scarecrows giving a Children's & Artistic dimension to the garden
Plans are already being made to make the Ballinfoile Mór Harvest and Heritage Festival even bigger and better, with topics such as butter churning, quilt making and children's street games being included.

Buying a Book
Trad Seisiún in action

There were queues all day long at the Anja's Face painting stall

Serving Hot & Cold Dishes

Elder Taylor selling 'Little Herbal Garden' Boxes

A captive Audience for the Juggling Demonstrations

Galway Atlantaquaria's Aquarium populated with crabs, starfishes & other creatures of the seas

Mayor Terry O'Flaherty addresses the crowds

Foroige youth volunteers serving pizzas freshly baked in the garden's Clay Oven

Joe's Pony Rides were a big hit with the children

What a fine collection of Scarecrows!

Joe wooing the audience with his wonderful crooning

The Garden's Wooden Seats & Benches were made by local craftpeople
Nothing like a good cuppa of tea and a good chat!

Fergus & Willy at the Fruit & Vegetable Stall

Matthew and Lenka showing samples of wild food from Irish forests
Jay at the Bike Repair workshop

See previous articles:
Third Annual Harvest Festival in Galway Neighbourhood

Second Harvest Festival in a Galway Neighbourhoood

Mayor to officially open Galway city's largest community garden

A Celtic Forest Garden in 21st century Ireland

'Summer Picnic & Cycle in the Park' event to start a new tradition?

Caroline with one of the 'High Nelly Bicycle's restored by Cumann na bhFear

New Greenway Route to Link Seven Castles in Galway City & County

Cloonacauneen Castle
New Greenway Route to Link Seven Castles in Galway City and County
Years of community grassroots initiated activity will finally bear fruit on Sunday October 7th when Slí na gCaisleán (‘The Way of the Castles’) will be launched which it is hoped will form the basis for a network of Greenways (scenic pedestrians and cycling routes) linking Galway city with the rural landscapes of east county Galway.

The event takes place as part of National Trails Day, a special time of the year to celebrate Ireland’s wonderful variety of trails and a chance for everyone to enjoy some of our most beautiful countryside, forests, mountains and lakes.
Ballindooley Castle
A milestone in the development of the ‘Off the Beaten Track’ guided heritage cycle tours that are now in their third year, this event will cover a route that encompasses seven castles on the north and eastern side of Galway city and into Galway county. ‘Slí na gCaisleán’ will start (10am) from and finish at Terryland Castle in a 25mile looped cycle route that will include castles at Menlo, Cloonacauneen, Killeen, Ballybrit, Castlegar and Ballindooley.
Carrowbrowne Bog Road that has been cleared of debris by conservation volunteers
Ballybrit Castle at the famous Race Course
Three of these castle are lived in, with one being a hotel.

This leisurely cycle will journey over through a picturesque idyllic landscape of hills, botharins, abandoned farms, karst outcrops, bogs, lakes, dykes, turloughs and meadows.
Carrowbrowne farmland
The vision and hard work to make this Greenways network become a reality encompassed many different groups and individuals including university students, farmers, environmental campaigners, city residents, cycling advocates, heritage groups, local authority officials and politicians.
Terryland Castle: Starting point for the '7 Castle Looped Castle Route'
Menlo Castle
Start time: 10am, October 7th
Rendezvous point: Terryland Castle, Terryland Forest Park, Dyke Road.
Organisers & Supporters: Terryland Forest Park Steering Committee, Conservation Volunteers Terryland Forest Park, Cumann na bhFear and Galway City Council (Recreation and Amenity), City Planning & Greenways office, GTU and the HSE.
Ballindooley Lough
Note: Participants should bring along their own bicycle, suitable clothing and packed lunch. There will be a stop over at Cloonacauneen Castle where participants can purchase food and beverages. Any children twelve years or under must be accompanied by an adult. All participants must sign a form agreeing to abide by the rules of the tour.
For further information, contact Brendan Smith at
Picnic along the banks of the Corrib river, Menlo
Castlegar Castle

The Grotto, St. Peter & Pauls' Church, Coolough

'High Nelly' bicycle enthusiasts, Terryland Forest Park, Lus Leana

Menlo Botharîn
Cyclists enjoying lunch at Cloonacauneen Castle
On the road to Cloonacauneen Castle (background)

Spelman's Botharîn, Castlegar