Help Clean Up a Forest & Create a Community Garden

Get involved this Saturday (February 15th) in a double Eco-Community event: cleaning up a section of Terryland Forest Park followed by the continuation of the task of establishing a Community Garden at the Eglinton Asylum Seekers Hostel in Salthill.

Last Saturday, great preparatory work was undertaken by a band of enthusiastic residents and external volunteers in transforming a wasteland into what hopefully will become a productive vegetable and fruits organic garden for those living in the Eglinton. This activity will continue this Saturday at 2.30pm. Max 2hr duration. Rendevous: Eglinton reception.

For committed tree lovers & eco-volunteers everywhere, there will also be a one hour clean up from 12.30-1.30pm in the Terryland Forest Park (aka "The People's Park"). Rendevous: Ballnfoile Mór Community Organic Garden located in the forest park, behind Lus Leana and Cluain Fada.
Light refreshments at both locations!

Ireland’s oldest working computer showcased at Technology Museum in NUI Galway

Joe Hurley switches on a 1971 PDP 11 minicomputer
--> A forty three old computer of the type manufactured in Galway during the nineteen seventies formed the centre piece of a major tribute to Ireland’s rich technology heritage that took place last Saturday in the Computer and Communications Museum of Ireland located at the Insight Centre for Data Analytics (formerly DERI) in the Dangan Business Park NUI Galway. The event formed part of the national Engineers’ Week  being held from February 9th to February 15th,

As curator of this museum (in my capacity as Insight Outreach Officer), I believe that this PDP 11 minicomputer from 1971 is probably the country’s oldest operational computer. It is the size of a very large fridge but has only a memory capacity of 128k which seems puny in today’s term when one considers that the latest mobile phone can have 64gigabytes as standard. But forty years ago it was the flagship of computing. The PDP was repaired and restored by Joe Hurley of Quicktec. For Joe it was a labour of love as he had worked as a technician at the Galway factory where these computers were manufactured. In 1971 Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), then the world’s second largest computer company, opened its first overseas manufacturing plant outside the USA  at Mervue in the city which produced a range of minicomputers and software that became the backbone of many industrial and engineering plants across Europe. One of the key reasons that the corporation located in Galway was the presence of a university which could provide an ongoing skilled creative educated workforce. This was further reinforced the following year with the establishment of a third level technology college, now known as the GMIT, near to the DEC plant. Not only did it become a major employer for the city and county, but its decision to set up here encouraged other US high-tech companies to follow suit with the result that the Ireland became a leading global electronics hub. New and exciting job opportunities in the areas of science, engineering and commerce for young Irish people resulted, significantly transforming the nation’s economy and society in the process. 

So Galway can rightly claim to be the country’s first and premier ‘Digital City’, building on an unbroken tradition of computing innovation dating back to DEC’s arrival.
During the Open Day at the museum, facilitated by Pat Moran (who joined DEC in 1973) visitors were able to view a full range of the DEC hardware including VAX systems, VT100 terminals, Rainbow microcomputers, PDP 8s and LA printers, as well as equipment manufactured by Northern Telecom (later Avaya) during the 1970s and 1980s; computers associated with the early 1980s Mervue-based Information Sources Ltd (ISL) which was Ireland’s first international digital archiving and cataloguing enterprise; and an 1993 IBM PC compatible microcomputer made by the Irish-owned QTech company. 
Zenith Heathkit computer from ISL (1983)
There was also on display electronic apparati made in Limerick (Wang), Cork (Apple) and elsewhere in Ireland during the nineteenth seventies and nineteenth eighties.
Thanks also to Philip Cloherty and Alanna Kelly for their wonderful stewardship on the day. Alanna has brought the museum into state-of-the art 21st century technology with her demonstrations of 3D printing.
Máire Bean Uí Chonghaile with Pat Moran (Museum Director & ex-DEC)
Galway: Birthplace of Computing in Schools
One of the visitors to the event was  Máire Bean Uí Chonghaile (neé Ní Chonceanainn), who was a founding member of the Computer Educational Society of Ireland (CESI) which was established in 1973 with its first conference being held in Galway. The group grew out of a series of computer courses for teachers that were hosted at University College Galway (now NUI Galway) during the summers of 1971 and 1972 by the staff of its Department of Mathematics.  
Máire was one of the earliest teachers of computing in schools. From 1977, she used a PDP8 minicomputer with two teleprinters provided by DEC Galway to teach Fortran computer language to students at Coláiste Chroí Mhuire An Spidéal

Support Setting Up a Community Organic Garden at Asylum Seekers Hostel

The management of the Eglinton Asylum Seekers' Accommodation Centre in Salthill Galway city have allocated space and resources for the establishment of a community organic garden onsite to benefit the residents of the hostel. Growing their own vegetables, fruits and herbs will help residents prepare food dishes based on their own traditions.

The first step will be the removal of rubble,  the preparation of the ground area and the installation of a series of raised beds made by a very talented staff member of the Eglinton.
These activities will take place from 11.45am on Saturday February 15th.
Volunteers are urgently required in helping residents undertake this necessary preparatory work.

Cumann na bhFear and the Terryland Forest Park Conservation Volunteers will be providing garden implements for this work.

It is worth noting that the many of the asylum seekers who come from a wide range of countries in Africa, Asia and Europe will have traditional culinary and garden skills that could benefit other local community gardens in Galway.
If you want to help out this Saturday, contact me at

Terryland Forest Park: Outdoor Classroom, Outdoor Laboratory & the People's Park

The following was an article that I wrote which was published  recently as the centre-page spread in  the Galway City Tribune newspaper:

Untapped Tourism, Health and Environmental Benefits of Terryland Forest Park
Dear Editor,
The solution to some of the most serious problems impacting on global society today from man-made climate change to rising levels of mental illness and obesity in children lies within our city’s boundaries.  But Galway City Council’s failure to fully exploit the wonderful natural resources that they manage or to engage meaningfully with communities on the issue is not what one expects from a taxpayer-funded public service institution and is only contributing negatively to the environment and the health of the population-at-large. 

March 200: First Community Planting (Plantathon) attracted over 3,000 people
The Terryland Forest Park (aka the “People’s Park”) was recognised in its heyday internationally as a flagship for community environmental engagement as well as ‘best practice’ in developing natural habitats/ecological corridors and protecting indigenous biodiversity within a modern city setting. Its potential as an urban green resource for tourism and as a unique Outdoor Classroom and Outdoor Laboratory for schools and colleges is enormous. But years of indifference by the higher echelons of City Hall has alienated the general public from something that they themselves created. A once proud citizen-planted urban forest is being forgotten and, as with other green spaces across the city, has become a magnet for anti-social behaviour, bush-drinking and waste dumping. The controversy last autumn over the spread of the dangerous invasive species known as Japanese Knotweed as a result of drainage works along the Terryland River would never have happened if the park’s multi-sectoral steering committee, with a membership that included the OPW, An Taisce, NUIG, HSE, schools, ecologists and local residents, had not been abandoned in 2012 by City Hall. 

Yet it is not to late to save this vital green landscape that can, with a new proactive partnership approach, live up to its motto as the ‘Lungs of the City’.

Without trees humanity will cease to exist. They along with other plants produce the oxygen that gives us life. Based on scientific calculations the approximate 100,000 native Irish trees in Terryland, planted by citizens, school children, visitors and council staff in great Plantathon gatherings since 2000, absorb over a decade 3,800 metric tons of the carbon dioxide gas that is contributing to global warming; offset the climate impact of 800 cars for one year; supply the oxygen needs of up to 400,000 people each day and provide over 4.64 billion Euros worth of air pollution control every 50 years. 
Forests are central to biodiversity, supporting more species than any other habitat. For instance, a single oak tree can be home to over four hundred different types of insects, fungi, plants, birds and mammals. 
Until recently the sights, sounds and smells of the wild were an integral part of our lives. The majority of Irish people over fifty years of age have happy childhood memories of playing conkers, climbing trees, identifying different bird songs, dipping into rock pools, collecting leaves for art classes, making daisy flower chains and picking blackberries to bring home to their mothers to make jam. 
Modern research clearly demonstrates that contact with the natural environment is highly beneficial to children’s physical health, emotional well being and education. US, UK and European studies show that patients recover better after surgery if they have a view of nature through hospital windows; that planting trees in housing estates reduces aggression and fear amongst residents helping to change ‘concrete jungles’ into ‘leafy suburbs’; that children diagnosed with ADHD improve when they are exposed to nature and that getting one’s hands covered in clay makes us happier due to the presence of  ‘mycobacterium vaccae’ in organic soils that triggers the release of the hormone Serotonim in the human body which elevates mood and decreases anxiety.

But too many parents today are unknowingly causing harm to their offspring by isolating them from the ‘Great Outdoors’. Computer screens, concerns about the dangers lurking on the street or in the park as well as fears about vehicle traffic means that we are confining children more and more indoors. A Natural England report shows that only 10% of children now experience woodland play as opposed to 40% of their parent’s generation.  The UK National Trust recently promoted the use of ‘forest schools’ because of the positive effect that they have on children with emotional or behavioural difficulties. 
Forests and associated wildlife feature prominently in our Celtic spiritual and cultural heritage.
With its diverse network of woodlands, beaches, rivers and farmlands, Galway city has opportunities to integrate hands-on nature studies and outdoor activities into the everyday lives of our youth. Galway City Council in 1999 appointed its first Superintendent of Parks (Stephen Walsh) and became an enthusiastic advocate of the social and learning benefits of nature by establishing a multi-sectoral steering committee - whose membership were drawn from educational, artistic, residents, environmental, health interests as well as from different internal council departments -  to transform a new green space as proposed by local communities into an urban riverine woodland that was named the Terryland Forest Park. 
Regular community tree and wild flower planting festivals gave citizens of all ages a sense of ownership, civic pride and loyalty towards a man-made natural habitat that, in spite of an existing intrusive road network, had the potential to become a ‘wildlife corridor’ linking the River Corrib to the farmlands of east Galway. 
But things later started to stagnate especially when council officials in 2007 tried to build a major road through the park, which was stopped in its tracks by widespread public opposition.  City Hall then arbitrarily abolished the steering committee. 
Only slowly were the people once again allowed to participate in shaping the future direction of Terryland commencing with the creation of a vibrant neighbourhood organic garden in the Ballinfoile section of the Park. In 2012, the re-establishment of the steering committee supported by conservation volunteers and park staff led quickly and all too briefly to a series of guided nature walks, family picnics, a Latino dance fest, eco-art projects, mass tree plantings and ongoing weekly park cleanups in Terryland.   
Other initiatives included the allocation of HSE funds towards the installation of outdoor exercise equipment; the digital mapping of a series of woodland walk trails; restoration of a fleet of High Nelly bikes for touring the park and a major biodiversity survey carried out by ecologist Tom Cuffe. The park was one of the main themes of the Tulca Visual Arts Festival 2013 with a photographic exhibition by Robert Ellis. Terryland Castle has became a focal point for Slí na gCaisleán, a leisurely 25km looped ‘Off the Beaten Track’ heritage cycle trail connecting seven castles in Galway city and county, that could if further developed jointly by the two local authorities, become a national green route with significant benefits to tourism and local communities alike. 

Over the last few weeks, NUI Galway scientists, schools, community groups and environmentalists are discussing  ways of finally transforming the woodland into the much anticipated Outdoor Classroom with features such as rustic wooden benches and tables, autumn time wild fruit collection forays and springtime animal forensic detective challenges. 

Scientific research is being done for a series of attractive Irish/English information signs that would be placed in the now empty graffiti-covered display stands that are dotted throughout the park, thus creating a network of educational trails. The signs would identify the wonderful range of flora and fauna that live within the meadows, woodlands, wetlands, farmlands and rock outcrops of this important wildlife reserve.  
Other enthusiasts want to use traditional scythes to hand-cut grass in order to regenerate wild flower meadows;
repair stone walls, hedgerows and paths, and to establish a volunteer Park Rangers unit to regularly patrol the park as well as to provide regular guided walks to visitors. The Galway City Partnership is endeavouring to introduce a Tús work project scheme into the area.
The discovery last year of the bodies of eight British soldiers from the Williamite Wars near to the Terryland Castle is an example of the rich tapestry of historical sites that exist in the park which cover the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Medieval, Renaissance, Cromwellian and Victorian periods. 

The National Roads Authority (NRA) is now considering following the example of other countries in building ‘green bridges’ to overcome habitat fragmentation caused by road construction. Surely now is the time to ask the organisation to consider such with regard to Bóthar na Traobh which dissects the park into two halves at its northern sector?  Artists have pointed out that the park should once again be used as a regular outdoor theatre and artist venue thereby providing an added dimension to the local authority’s bid to secure the title of ‘City of Culture’.

But the council-led steering committee has not been allowed to meet since its brief resurrection in 2012, which has stifled many of the aforementioned proposals. As nature abhors a vacuum, groups of anti-social aggressive drinkers are now starting to congregate on evenings and nights in certain areas of the park, leaving behind massive quantities of cans, bottles, burnt palettes as well as human faeces. These negative activities will continue as Garda and community wardens do not or will not patrol our city parks.

As someone who along with a small band of trusty volunteers organise weekly park clean ups, I am shocked by the level of inertia that we sometimes encounter in City Hall in our efforts to combat vandalism and littering.  Time and time again when we report rubbish that is to difficult for us to move, we encounter reasons why it cannot be removed in the short, medium or even in the long term or why prosecutions cannot be undertaken. In one example, I single-handedly had to remove twenty five bags of domestic rubbish dumped in the park and store in my property over one Christmas when the council refused to remove the refuse before the holidays. I wanted to ensure that walkers did not have to suffer the sight of litter-covered woodlands during the festive season.

Whilst some of the most visionary, hardest working, civic-minded people that I have ever known serve within City Hall, nevertheless there is a fundamental flaw within the organisation’s structure that the new City Manager must rectify as a matter of priority. Correspondence to officialdom is often ignored, there can be a puzzling disconnect between different departments within Galway City Council as well as their relationships to external bodies such as the community sector that is undermining public confidence in the local authority. The Terryland Forest Park is one prime example of where Parks, Planning, Heritage, Arts, Community, Transport and the Environment could and should be coordinating their activities as part of an agreed joint strategy with the social partners as was once the case.  The hand of friendship being extended by civic minded unpaid volunteers engagement is sometimes cut off rather than reciprocated. Hence I have requested that the new City Manager Brendan McGrath support the resourcing and reactivation of  the Terryland Forest Park steering committee as well as request the Garda Síochána, Galway City Partnership, Inland Fisheries Ireland, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the NRA as well as adjoining business interests to become members.

Working together we can make this green resource that, possessing the recreational opportunities of Dublin’s St Stephen’s Green combined with the natural beauty of England’s New Forest, has the potential to benefit tourism, scientific research, schools, local communities, the environment and the health of our children. 
Let is make 2014 theYear of the Forest when peoples of all ages will use our greatest natural resources to benefit themselves and to help save the planet in the process. Galway’s image as an ‘Arts City’, its growing reputation as a ‘Digital City’ can be complimented by ‘Forest City’ with a new proactive council-community-schools-colleges-business partnership.

Men’s Shed Hosts Blacksmithy Workshop

A blacksmithy workshop will take place from 11.00am until 4pm on Sunday February 9th in the Cumann na bhFear premises at Sandy Road Business Park, Galway city.

There has been an enormous revival over the last few years in the ancient and time honoured profession of blacksmithing, the ability to create objects from wrought or malleable iron by forging the metal using tools to hammer, bend and cut it.
At the Sunday workshop, participants will be shown how to produce objects such as pokers, rivets and tongs. 

Cumann na bhFear is part of the international Men's Shed movement with both male and female members. The cumann possess a number of anvils, which are the distinctive blocks of iron consisting of a smooth flat top upon which the metals being worked on are traditionally hammered, bent and cut into shape. 

There are a limited amount of places available and pre-booking is required. Fee is 10Euro. So anyone interested, please contact Michael Tiernan at

Carnsore Point - the Birth of the Irish Environmental Movement

The late 1970s witnessed the birth of a countrywide environmental movement based on opposition to the Irish government’s proposals to build Ireland’s first nuclear power station which was to be located at Carnsore Point in Wexford

The oil crisis of 1973 was the catalyst for this policy. Anti-nuclear groups spring up across the country to campaign against this decision with many members drawn from third level colleges. Students from UCG joined this new anti-nuclear movement including members of the UCG Friends of the Earth.

Environmentalists organised a series of highly successful concerts at Carnsore Point from 1978 to 1981 that featured many of the country’s top folk and rock musicians including Christy Moore, Barry Moore, Clannad and Andy Irvine.