A Parent’s Time of Bittersweet

Photo shows Daíre with his teacher Máire Browne, his school bag & his bike(!) on his last day in Scoil San Phroinsias. Notice his whiteshirt that is covered with personal messages from his classmates, a lovely tradition now common in Irish schools.

As a parent I have experienced over the last few month’s extreme emotions, those of great sadness and those of great joy.
On June 26th, my youngest son Dáire left his primary school for the very last time, thus bringing to an end an unbroken family connection with Scoil san  Phroinsias in Galway city that went back to June 1996 when my oldest son Shane started his education there.
When I collected Daire on that June day I shed a few tears not just because I was a proud parent, but because  I realised that, for me, it was also the end of an era. 

I loved that school so much, the commitment of its teachers; the joy and enthusiasm of its pupils; the colour and variety of projects on display in the classrooms; the great array of concerts, fests, sports days and fund-raising that were held in and on behalf of the school. It is a fine institution with a strong learning, respect and discipline ethos. Scoil san  Phroinsias was and is the hub of the local neighbourhood; it is what binds us together as a community.

But on a personal level there is void inside me that will not be filled for a very long time. For I enjoyed so much being a father of a young child. I enjoyed walking up to school in the morning, holding my child’s hand, talking to him about his friends and his class, sharing a joke or two with other parents as I waved him goodbye from the school gate.  Now I know that I will never experience those feelings again, ever.

On a professional level, I work as a university Education Science, Technology and Heritage Outreach Officer. My main area of activity is in schools. So I would always bounce ideas and projects off my sons that I was working on, get their opinions, before I would roll them out into the classrooms. Over the years, I have learnt so much from my children. They (along with Cepta) were my mentors, my advisors, my confidantes. I am so lucky to have such great kids.
In June, Shane completed his last undergraduate examination at NUI Galway.
On Monday, Daíre  started his first day in post-primary school.
Life goes on and so must I. New challenges await.
Still, I always treasure happy memories of the boys’ childhood days.
On behalf of Cepta and myself, thank you so much Shane, Daire and Scoil San Phrioinsias.

Dáire's last school lunch pack

Thank You Neil Armstrong For Letting Us Dream the Dream

The world lost a true hero and gentleman yesterday that history will never forget.

I remember as a young lad staying up all night (on my own!) glued to the BBC television station watching the Apollo 11 mission unfold as the lunar module landed on the Moon followed later by Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface to issue those immortal words, "One small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind".
It was one of the greatest technology achievements ever in human history as 'Science Fiction' metamorphosed into 'Science Reality'.
For a real sense of the excitement of this space mission for those who watched it in 1969, check out

Some young folk like me thought then that visits by earthlings to other planets would soon follow, and that the taste of astro science and technology would bring warring humanity to its senses, as we realised that our planet was only an insignificant grain of sand on the vast beach that was the Universe, which could disappear in an instant due to some stellar mishap or to our own stupidity. We hoped therefore that this realisation might bring peace to the world, as all races, sexes and religions/no religions would reconcile their differences, show respect, implement equality, make peace and work together as a global nation a la 'Star Trek' to explore and seek out new galaxies.
Sadly, it was not to be.
But it was a lovely dream to have and, you never know, it might happen to humanity sometime in the future.

So thank you Neil Armstrong for giving me and others this dream.

His family issued a lovely statement in his memory that is worth sharing with you,

"For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink."
So eloquent.

Finally, click here to view my article on Star Trek and how this children's television series that originated from the 1960s gave so many of the technologies that we use today. A very good example of how the dreams and imagination of youth can and did appear in the real world

Castle Ellen: Birthplace of Edward Carson's mother

Recently I had the honour to lead a group of heritage enthusiasts to visit the historical Georgian mansion of Castle Ellen (Caisleán Eilise). former home of the Anglo-Irish Lambert family.
Our guide through its fascinating halls, out-buildings and grounds was its owner Miceál Keaney.
It was interesting to learn from
Miceál that arch Unionist and the great hate figure of Irish republicanism, Edward Carson, spent many happy times at Castle Ellen, which was the birthplace of his mother Isabella. Edward was also the barrister responsible for prosecuting and ending the career of Oscar Wilde, his former friend.

Miceál bought the demesne in 1974 when it was the buildings were in an advance state of disrepair and has spent much energies and monies over the subsequent years endeavouring to bring the place back to its former Victorian aristocratic splendour. A true labour of love that he deserves great admiration for.
In the process, he has built up an eclectic mix of memorabilia, from military artifacts to ancient farmyard machinery. You can almost feel the ghosts of the British Empire drift as you wander through the remnants of croquet and tennis lawns, a series of walled gardens with orchards and maze, a tree lined avenue, a pony-driven water well and an underground livestock tunnel.
Well worth a visit.
Contact info@castleellen.com

Transforming an Irish Urban Forest into a Wildlife Sanctuary & Eco-Community Resource of National & International Significance

Terryland River

-->Terryland Forest Park in Galway city is a unique natural resource within Ireland, a parkland of over 100,000 native Irish trees in the heart of a modern city that was initially developed and managed when it started in 2000 by an active partnership of Galway city council, neighbourhood communities, artists, state agencies and environmentalists in an ambitious endeavour to create a harmonious blend of outdoor leisure amenities for all ages and of wildlife sanctuaries that would form a vital ecological corridor (‘Green Highway’) linking into areas of prime biodiversity importance across the west of Ireland. 
Jordan's Island, River Corrib
With climate change, deforestation, loss of wildlife habitats and the sedentary lifestyles becoming issues of growing concern to governments, scientists and ordinary people worldwide, the realisation of this urban forest park came at an opportune time.
During its heyday, the enterprise captured the imagination of the city’s population as it quickly gained national and international media attention. 

It was referred too by officials and citizens alike as the Lungs of the City and the People’s Park as hundreds and thousands of volunteers regularly participated in annual tree and flower planting events. As well as the woodlands, the catchment area also now embraces wetlands, rivers, pasture lands, a neighbourhood organic garden, two medieval castles and a Victorian engineering waterworks. 

Criss-crossed by traditional field boundaries of hedgerows and drystone walls, there also exists ancient rural pathways (or botharíns or boreens) on the periphery of the park that are presently being converted into vital arteries of a urban/rural Greenways network that has the possibility of connecting into walking and cycling routes across the counties of Mayo and Galway.
After a period of stagnation, community input into the Terryland Forest Park (TFP) project has dramatically increased in the last year with the re-establishment of the council-led multi-sectoral steering committee and the involvement of a number of eco-neighbourhood NGOs that working together have the enthusiasm and expertise to make the original vision of the park project a reality by metamorphosing into an outdoor classroom for local schools; a college research laboratory for botanists and zoologists; a scenic location for family picnics, concerts, arts exhibitions, heritage tours, nature trails, cycle routes; and a major diverse mix of native wildlife habitats of national and international significance.
Stephen Walsh, Supervisor of Galway City Parks
Different sections of the local authority are involved, each bringing specialised expertise into the project mix, from Greenways (Rosie Webb), environmental (Sharon Carroll), cycling (Cathy Joyce), Arts (James Harrold), Heritage (Jim Higgins)  to of course the core elements of biodiversity, recreational and parks management (Stephen Walsh). 
The know-how from the diverse groups working in the Park is also quite impressive and includes: Cumann na bhFear (blacksmithy and drystone walling), Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden (planting organic vegetables, fruits & herbs), Galway Civic Trust (heritage preservation), Conservation Volunteers TFP (clean-ups, digital mapping, Greenways development), Castlegar Connect (social heritage, opening up boreens), RAPID (leisure facilities planning).

Since May, the recently formed Conservation Volunteers TFP has for instance organised or participated in the following community initiatives:
a) Tree and wildflower planting events
b) A Litter Clean-up (where large amounts of cans and bottles were collected)
Clean-up of Castlegar Mass Path
Series of clean-ups of Castlegar Mass Path that links Castlegar Church to Ballybrit Racecourse.

Clean-up of Carrowbrowne Bog Road

Renewal and resurfacing of an old bog road (botharín) in Carrowbrowne in preparation for a number of ‘Off the Beaten Track’ heritage cycle tours that went from Terryland Castle, to Castlegar Castle and onto Cloonacauneen Castle (c.10km round trip). The bog botharín was an key element in our campaign to establish a network of trails emanating from Terryland Forest Park that would link into county Galway and Mayo Greenways.

Summer Sunday Cycle Through the Terryland Forest Park, Galway Bike Fest Week, 2012

A Sunday Cycle and Picnic in the Park event that took place along the full length of the Terryland Forest Park as part of Bike Fest Week 2012 (June). The trip comprised a series of stopovers: Castlegar Castle;  Ballinfoile Mor Community Organic Garden (where cyclists had beverages and ice-creams); Cumann na bhFear premises (for a blacksmithy demonstration); Terryland Castle and finally the Oak Grove (in the original March 2000 Plantathon site) where we had a Big Picnic with marquee, barbeque, Latino dancers, singers, DJs, clowns. etc. Over 120 people participated. 
Salsa Dancing, Oak Grove, Terryland Forest Park, Galway Bike Fest Week, 2012
To build on this work, we now require increased numbers of volunteers who are prepared to commit themselves for a few hours (or more!) each month to develop further this precious green eco-treasure for the benefit of locals and wildlife alike.
So we require gardeners, cyclists, folklorists, heritage enthusiasts, traditional stonewall masons, botanists, zoologists, tree lovers, herbalists, blacksmiths, wood-turners, artists, community activists, business people, tourism advocates, concerned citizens….
A meeting with take place at 7.30pm on Tuesday (Aug 28) next for those people interested in becoming part of the Conservation Volunteers Terryland Forest Park and environs group.  The venue is the Lus Leana Community House (just off the Headford Road and adjacent to the Ballinfoile Community Organic Garden).  
A programme  of work for 2012/2013 will be discussed and agreed upon. All are welcome to attend.

Online Heritage Trail Map

Ideas for Regenerating the Terryland Forest Park

1. Volunteer Park Rangers

One of the biggest challenges facing the project is how to minimize the level of illegal drinking taking place within the park, a problem that is endemic to modern Irish society where such anti-social behaviour, oftentimes perpetuated by under-age drinkers, is impacting negatively on beaches, forests, graveyards and other public spaces nationwide. 
The high level of litter generated, the unsightly and environmental damage to the park such as burnt trees and polluted waterways, and the presence of sometimes aggressive drunken people can frighten the general public away from using precious green spaces.
Fire damaged tree
One possibility is to establish a corps of volunteers who would patrol the parklands during daylight hours whilst undertaking appropriate duties such as litter collection, tree maintenance, coppicing and acting as information guides for visitors. In conjunction with other initiatives such as installing information signage and hosting public events (see below), the presence of rangers would act as a deterrent to anti-social behaviour. The volunteers would wear identifiable garb (jacket and/or teeshirt) bearing a clearly identifiable park emblem.
Litter seeping in Terryland River

2. Monthly Clean-Ups
Illegal Dumping, Terryland Forest Park
The excellent Glan Suas Gaillimh (Clean Up Galway) scheme was launched in the Terryland Forest Park in 2010. It should be re-introduced based on an annual calendar schedule with a programme of regular clean-ups in certain areas of the park assigned to specific groups such as a local business, a residents’ association or a school. 
'Glan Suas Gaillimh' volunteers, Terryland Forest Park
The park could host an annual Can-the-Can Day where the beverage cans collected by volunteers would be left into Galway city council with the payments received being used to buy tree saplings for planting in the park during spring-time.  

Area of Terryland Forest Park near Woodys

A serious issue that needs to be tackled is the amount of pallettes and other mainly flameabale materrials tbeing removed from the Woodys and other businesses in the Galway Retail Park into the forest park at weekends to be used as fuel for fires for drinkers. 

Area of Terryland Forest Park near Woodys
This activity causes considerable damage to the park's biodiversity and is made easy by the lack of any type of barrier sperating the forest park from this commercial area.

3. Populating Park Signage with Information and  Art
There is a series of high quality signage units located at most of the main entry points to the Forest Park. However they are sadly underutilized. 
Present Signage
What should be done is to use one side of each sign to provide relevant informative folklore, social and natural heritage text and images to benefit the visitor. The format and layout should be attractive with a reputabale eco-artist such as Gordon D’Arcy being commissioned for the task.
There is also a need to place colourful maps of the forest park oen some of thse signs.

Follklore Signage, Slieve Gullion Forest Park, County Armagh
The second side of each sigh could be used to exhibit eco-artwork projects carried out by Galway schools, local community (e.g. youth, active retirement) groups and artists. These exhibits should be regularly promoted through the media.
Blackrock, County Louth

Market Square, Clarinbridge, County Galway
4. Redesigning Picnic Tables
The seats and table bench units are located only in certain areas of the parklands where they tend to be primarily used by alcohol drinkers. The resulting detritus of cans and bottles is not a pretty sight. Of course the proposed introduction of park rangers should reduce this phenomena.

Newport, Co. Mayo
But to increase the attractiveness of these units, game-boards could be carved into the table tops; game pieces (chess, draughts) could be rented from a neighboring retail outlet and an educational/community group such as the Galway NUIG chess clubs could be requested to take advantage of this feature.

5. Biodiversity Research and Survey
Forests provide a haven for a huge variety of wildlife. As well as their role in protecting biodiversity, trees provide us with the oxygen for sustaining life and in absorbing the man-made carbon emissions that are the main factor in global warming.
The planting of 100,000 native Irish trees in this urban woodland must have had a positive impact on the number and type of flora and fauna in Galway city. The third level colleges NUI Galway and GMIT should be requested to consider carrying out an annual survey of the species living in the forest park. In particular they should supervise volunteer involvement in the compilation of data on mammals for the National Wildlife Atlas presently being compiled.
Dundalk Bay, Dundalk, County Louth
Dr. Colin Lawton of NUIG Zoology, one of the instigators of this Atlas and renowned expert on Irish wild mammal populations, undertook a mammal survey in the forest park during the period 2003-2006. He has expressed strong interest in helping to organise another survey with some of his undergraduate student(s) being involved .
A selection of the most interesting animals (drawings and text) from this survey with associated facts should be placed on the information signage located at the entry points, thereby generating public interest and awareness of the vital contribution that this collection of natural habitats has in biodiversity conservation.
Dundalk Bay, County Louth

6. Arts in the Park
Giant Children's Mural Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden, Terryland Forest Park
Arts was central to central to the original ethos of the project. Artist  Lol Hardiman actively took park in all of the early public plantathons and school bulbathons where the motto was "a spade in one hand and a paintbrush in the other" as children would paint or draw their vision of the park onto huge shared canvases after planting trees and flowers. In fact one large arts forest project was at the time (2000) the largest mural in the world totally encircling the construction site of the Raddison Hotel.
Lol Hardiman's drawing of the proposed Terryland Forestry Interpretative Centre & Arts Amphitheatre, 2000
Today, there are still high hopes of re-engaging with the arts community and establishing a cultural programme. Parts of the park could provide very suitable locations for hosting certain types of eco-arts shows, pieces and exhibits. 

The willow sculptures created earlier this year by artist Jen Hesnan and the GAF youth group are presently on display in St. Bridget’s Garden (see photo above). But similar type works would find a natural home in the Terryland Forest Park.
Furthermore, trees such as willows could be grown in certain areas to be harvested in the future to provide materials for artists and crafts workers.
City Arts Officer James Harrold should be communicated with on this issue.

7. Community Tree Planting
Tree Planting, Terryland Forest Park
Subject to funding availability, an annual programme of tree and bulb planting festivals should continue for the benefit of biodiversity and community engagement. The council’s Arts office came up with the excellent idea of designating a section of the park for the planting of trees by artists visiting the city. This concept would revive the Celtic bards’ associations with the world of Nature as well as in reinforcing Galway’s cultural identity.

8. Deadwood
Blackrock Park, County Louth
Nature field work organized by the Conservation Volunteers TFP could include workshops on the importance of the provision of deadwood for insect life, hedgerow planting, litter clean-ups, wildflower planting, wild edible food foraging, bird watching trips...

9. Greenways Hub
'Off the Beaten Track' map, Ballnfoile-Castlegar-Ballindooley-Menlo

Over the last few years, the Friends of Galway’s Forests and the Galway City Community Forum have worked with the Galway Transport Unit (GTU) to introduce a series of ‘Off the Beaten Track’ heritage cycle tours along the botharín network that still exists on the north east side of Galway city. The different routes normally start from the Ballinfoile side of the Terryland Forest Park and continue on towards the castles of Castlegar, Menlo, Cloonacauneen and Ballybrit.
These routes are presently being digitally mapped in order to provide a series of online routes as part of a new community tourism initiative. 

'Off the Beaten Track' group, Castlegar Castle, May 2012
The existence of these eco-tours along with the work being undertaken by Castlegar Connect, Cumann na bhFear and residents of Parkmore and Carrowbrowne supported by Councillor Frank Fahy is bringing an exciting new tourism dimension to Galway city and in the process transforming Terryland Forest Park into a major walking and cycling Greenways hub that could over time embrace Connemara and east Galway and further onto into Mayo. After all, the defunct Galway-Clifden railway, which is presently being developed in north Connemara as a national rural cycle route, starts at the ‘Plots’ Dyke Road adjacent to the Forest Park. 

10. Outdoor Classroom
Blackrock Park, County Louth
The forest park should serve as an integral part of the science curricula in primary and post-primary schools.  It is an appropriate location for environmental, ecological, health and heritage studies not just for city schools but also for students of external educational institutions visiting Galway.
Of course the introduction of park rangers, the installation of information signage as well as other works would have to be completed before schools would start to use the park on a regular basis.
An annual programme of schools’ engagement with the park could be based around a series of seasonal events e.g.
  • Can the Can Clean Up clean up (Winter)
  • Tree Planting (Spring)
  • The Big Picnic (Summer)
  • Wild Fruit Harvesting or Heritage Cycle Trip or (Autumn)
Blackrock Park, County Louth
But consideration should also be given to the construction of an actual classroom feature based on tree trunks and large limestone rocks (worked on by stonemasons) seating in an area of the parkland that has a child educational ethos.
Blackrock Park, County Louth

11. Re-constructing Stone Walls and Hedgerows
Dyke Road
Drystone Walls and Hedgerows have been a traditional feature of the Irish countryside for generations. They also serve as import conduits for wildlife. The repair and re-introduction of these man-made constructions along the park’s perimeter would enhance the facility’s attractiveness and functionality.

Terryland Castle locality, Dyke Road

Of particular significance would be the reconstruction of the drystone wall near the entrance to Terryland Castle which was dismantled a few years ago during road widening works.It was never rebuilt and was sadly replaced by unsightly concrete blocks. But thankfully, the original stone pieces are left lying nearby.
Blackrock Park, County Louth
The Tús community employment government scheme should be untilised to provide workers that act as stone masons, tree planting and hedgerow coppicing.

The Galway Civic Trust and Cumann na bhFear (Community volunteer skiils and crafts club) are involved in helping Galway City Council  undertake this acvitiy along the Spring Well botharin at the north end of the Terryland Forest Park. Cumann na bhFear have also fabricated metal signage and repaired old style field gates.

12. Foraging for Wild Edible Plants
3 generations of a family collecting Hazelnuts, Botharín, Menlo
Hedgerows could also provide a rich harvest of wild edible foods, particularly in the autumn for hazelnuts and blackberries. Schools and communities should be encouraged to participate in an annual Wild Fruit Harvesting Sunday where the collected wild fruits could be used in tarts and cakes recipes (granny’s food). Participants would also understand important aspects of sustainability and ecology by ensuring enough wild foods are left to benefit wildlife such as birds.
Mushrooms, nettles and wildflowers are already harvested by members of the Ballinfoile Community Organic Garden and used as to make soups and salads.

13. Wildflower Meadows
There is a perception amongst the general public that a grassland needs to regularly cut in order to give the appearance of a domestic garden lawn. 
Terryland Forest Park
Parts of the park could be developed as wildflower meadows with signage explaining the benefits of such a habitat to insects, birds and animals.

The cutting of the grasses could be done by volunteers using traditional farming methods and implements.
Blackrock Park, County Louth

14. Develop the Old Waterworks as an Interpretative Centre
The old Waterworks is of great historical value and represents a fine example of Victorian hydrological engineering. At present, the premises is mainly used as a storage facility. 
The Heritage Plan designates its use ultimately as an interpretative centre dedicated to the Corrib waterways. The Terryland Forest Park and Castle would fall within this remit. 

Unfortunately the buildings have suffered a lot of damage recently due to vandalism and theft. 
It is felt by the Heritage Officer that some remedial works under his supervision could be undertaken by Cumann na bhFear and the Conservation Volunteers at both the castle and the Waterworks.
However funding permitting, consideration long term should be given to revamping and extending the Waterworks complex to include a range of facilities such as a café, toilets, Greenways information section, a bike hire and repair shop, a tree nursery and a crafts and skills workshop for Cumann an bhFear. It would be an ideal hub for walking and cycling tours of the forest and the Greenways network.
The latter facility would facilitate the teaching of traditional coppicing, tinsmithing, blacksmithy woodturning, carpentry, leatherwork, drystone walling and other skills/crafts that could then be used within the park.
Cafe in converted farmyard building,: Slieve Gullion Forest Park, Co. Armagh

15. Terryland Castle
The Terryland Castle and adjacent Yew Maze are extremely unsightly.
Whilst the decay of the castle is too far advanced and will always remain in a ruinous state, nevertheless an attractive informative piece on this historical building (and on adjacent Jordan’s Island) should be provided on the large sign located at the nearby park entrance.
The Yew Maze planted in 2005 will unfortunately probably never grow on its present site due to the unsuitability of the soil. If that is the case, thought should be given about its removal to another location and alternative uses for the ground area.   

16. Increasing water flow in the Terryland/Sandy River
Terryland River
The Terryland/Sandy River is almost choked with plant growth at a number of locations behind Dunnes Stores and near to the Quincenntennial Bridge. The OPW should be requested to undertake immediate remedial action. Talks should also take place with Inland Waterways Ireland about how they can increase the aquatic life in the river.

17. Outdoor Fitness Equipment
Slieve Gullion Forest Park, County Armagh
The funds previously provided by the HSE to the project should be used to purchase and install physical equipment in appropriate sites within the park.
Slieve Gullion Forest Park, County Armagh

Exerciise equipment, Tenerife, Spain

18. Hosting Eco-Community Festivals
Well publicised Plantathons, Bulbathons, family picnics and eco-festivals were the lifeblood of the park project during its early days.
Summery Cycle & Picnic in the Terryland Forest Park, June 2012
Groups should be encouraged to apply to hold appropriate and eye-catching community events in the park such as a family Teddy Bear Picnic. In late June a successful Latin Fiesta Party was held in the Oak Grove as part of Bike Fest 2012.
Summery Cycle & Picnic in the Terryland Forest Park, June 2012
19. Organic Farming 
Consideration should be given to retaining the fields at the northern side of the Terryland Forest Park as grazing land for cattle. 

Discussions should take place with farmers and Teagasc about best practice possible for using only organic fertilsers in the farm lands within the park’s boundaries.

20. Neighbourhood Organic Garden
Harvest Festival, Ballinfoile Mór Commniuty Organic Garden
The Ballinfoile Mór Communithy Organic Garden located within the perimeter has been an outstanding success. Thanks to the support of Galway City Council and the involvement of local residents, the garden contains herbs section, vegetable plots, an orchard, native tree hedgerow, drystone walks, willow tunnel, toilets, kitchen, clay oven, polytunnel, performance stage, seating, bug hotel and pond (under construction). A Harvest Day and other public festivals are hosted in the garden.
Ballinfoile Mór Commniuty Organic Garden
21. ‘Adopting’ Park Space
Due to the road network, the Terryland Forest Park is unfortunately split up into isolated sections.  Consideration should be given as to how these segments can be linked up to benefit visitors and local residents as well as wildlife.
However in the interim, it might be best to investigate the possibility of he different stand-alone areas being adopted and maintained by neighbouring groups or organizations such as NUIG, GMIT, schools, business park management/staff, youth groups and resident associations.