Tom Hyland RIP, chairperson of the Galway Science & Technology Festival.

A dear colleague and Champion of Science was buried yesterday.
Without doubt Tom Hyland was one of those legendary few individuals that can justifiably claim to have nurtured and shaped modern Galway.

As head of the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) of Ireland Western Region for much of the 1970s through to the 1990s, he helped attract high profile global investment and companies to Galway, ensuring that the city became one of the country's key hubs of industry and business.
Following on from the pioneering work of Bernard Kirk , who was supported by former science minister Noel Tracey and Dr. James Browne (now President of NUI Galway) in initiating the Galway Science & Technology Festival in the late 1990s, he in his capacity as chairperson helped steer it to become the largest annual STEM programme of events in Ireland.
As a member of the Festival board since the early 2000s, I saw at first hand how his single-mindedness and determination ensured that our goals and aspirations each year were met and surpassed.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

The photograph above that I took shows Tom (fourth from left) with fellow members of the great board of 2010 that was the team that successfully transplanted the Science Fair (the finale of the two week long Festival) from Leisureland in Salthill to NUI Galway.
This move represents one of the key milestones in the history of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Outreach in Galway. The university location brought science to a whole new audience with crowds of 22,000+ enjoying an array of exhibitions, workshops, talks and shows across the whole campus unmatched by any similar event nationwide.

Web Feb 22nd: Make Your Own Bat Box workshop

 After a lengthy closure to facilitate major renovations to the premises, Cumann na bhFear (aka Ballinfoile Mór Men’s Shed) located at Unit 1B Sandy Road Business Park is now reopened and welcoming new members.
Because of its strong environmental ethos and as a member organisation of the Terryland Forest Park Alliance, the Cumann is offering a "Make Your Own Bat Box" workshop at 7pm tomorrow (Wednesday February 22nd) supervised by Peter Finnegan. Fee is €12 which covers the cost of materials and light refreshments.
The session will be followed a few weeks later by a practical demonstration from Dr. Caitriona Carlin of NUI Galway, in association with the Vincent Wildlife Trust and the Galway Bat Group, of how and where best to place bat boxes. This event will take place in Terryland Forest Park. Should you wish to book a place on this workshop, email But please note that there are a limited amount of places available.

Because of vampire novels such as Dracula, these nocturnal flyers are sadly misunderstood. In fact bats which are protected under Irish law should be viewed as a gardener’s best friend. For the world’s only flying mammals act as natural insect control agents, as key pollinators with their droppings being prized as an excellent organic fertilizer. So gardeners should attend this workshop in order to learn how to attract more bats into their gardens.

The primary role of Cumann na bhFear is to encourage retired, working and unemployed men and women of all ages to help each other develop, learn and/or teach skills and crafts that can benefit themselves and the wider community. There is a focus on the provision of practical skills whose existence was endangered by a modern society where the ability to make or repair everyday items was been devalued. Hence the members provide courses and workshops on traditional Irish heritage crafts from woodturning to blacksmithing to beekeeping.

Photograph shows Kevin McLernon with some of the bat boxes made at Cumann na bhFhear which were donated to schools and community gardens in Galway city and county

Community Garden to become major Environmental, Social, Health & Education Hub

After the winter break, the Ballinfoile Mór Community Garden will reopen this Saturday (February 18th) at 11am. 
We need as many people to volunteer on this day as is possible in order to start the process of making this great green community resource a success in 2018. 
The organising committee of the garden, which is located behind Lus Leana on the Headford Road in the Terryland Forest Park, have ambitious plans for the year ahead ranging from a children’s Scarecrow Festival in April, to crafts workshops in the summer to the turning of the soil by a horse-drawn plough in the autumn.  

We want to make this green neighbourhood resource a wonderful friendly outdoor venue where people can socialise, grow organic fruits and vegetables as well as to learn the traditional eco-skills from composting to pruning that our grandparents possessed. The garden will continue to develop as a social, health, learning and environmental hub for the neighbourhood of Castlegar and Ballinfoile and indeed for the whole of Galway. 
The latest medical scientific research is showing the mental and physical health benefits to people of all ages that comes from spending time surrounded by plants and trees. It is what doctors are now referring to as the ‘Green Prescription’.
By working with others in amongst our fruit trees, vegetable plots and herbal beds as well as by participating in our educational courses, volunteers to our community garden will be encouraged to bring this knowledge back home so that they can grow tasty safe foods in their own gardens to be served on the kitchen plate for the enjoyment of the whole family.

Growing food organically enriches the soil, reduces our carbon footprint, does not pollute the environment, helps the local economy, reduces a household’s food bill and improves personal nutrition. Just as important a well-maintained organic garden is by nature a diverse place, filled not only with food crops, but flowers, birds, insects, bees, butterflies and birds. It is a sanctuary for wildlife at a time when 25% of Ireland’s native species are under threat.
So we are asking people to join us in continuing to develop this local community and outdoor educational centre.

St. Brigit's Day - a sign of the remarkable status of early Irish Celtic Women

February 1st is the first day of Spring, the season of birth and re-birth that follows the harsh cold barren months of Winter. In Ireland, it is known as Fhéile Bríde as it is dedicated to a female, St. Brigit (or Bridget, Brigid, Bride), the country's most famous native born saint. Children in schools across the country mark the occasion by making a distinctive traditional four armed cross woven out of reeds that is named after the saint. Her name also has a strong affinity with a Celtic deity associated with fertility and symbolised by 'fire', the element that offered humankind protection from the natural deadly forces of winter.

Brigit is second only in the Irish saints' calendar to St. Patrick who was born in Roman Britain.
The fact that Brigit was female is quite significant as the early Celtic Church in Ireland was unique in contemporary Christian Europe in giving considerable recognition to the role of women. Irish society was not as patriarchal as their Roman, Greek or Germanic neighbours. According to the historian Dáibhí Ó Cróinín in his book 'Early Medieval Ireland', a woman could divorce her husband for a variety of reasons (including if he failed to satisfy her sexual needs!), could own and inherit property and was treated as an individual in her own right with inherent protections under Celtic law. Women fought on the battlefield as warriors until this was banned by the church.

Celtic female influence extended as far as Iceland....

Even outside Ireland, the influence of Irish women at this time (5-7th century) was felt- St. Ives in Cornwall is called after an Irish female saint (a.k.a. Eva or Aoife), St.Grimonia & St. Proba lived in France (Gaul) in the 4th century, St. Dardaloch in Pavia, Itay (c.300ad) and the nunnery in Austria made famous in the film and musical 'The Sound of Music' was probably founded by an Irish female missionary (Erintrude). In Iceland the hero of one of the great Icelandic Sagas is the Irish female slave Melkorka, a stong willed woman who refused to be coerced by humiliation, rape and brutality. In fact it has been noted by some that the status of women in Iceland (where I lived for a number of years), which was higher than in contemporary Scandinavian societies, possibly owed its origins to the impact exerted by the high number of Irish women living amongst the country's early Viking settlements- they were brought to the country as slaves and wives from the Viking towns of Ireland. It has been said that it was their influence that persuaded many of their pagan husbands to vote in favour of the country's adoption of Christianity at the famous 'Althingi' (parliament) of 1000AD.

This independent-minded spirit must have left a lasting legacy as Icelandic women were amongst the most successful in securing equal rights for women's during the course of the 20th century.

Female Celtic Warriors
Celtic mythology provides ample evidence of the power of women in pre-Christian Ireland. The country itself -Éire ('Ire(land)' in English)- is named after a goddess; the names of most of the great rivers with their life-giving waters are associated with nymphs, goddesses and female animals; the Celtic God of War (Morrigan)- the most masculine of activities- is female. Some of the most powerful Celtic rulers were women such as Queen Maeve and Queen Boadicea(Bó = Cow in Irish) 
The fiercest and most macho hero in Celtic mythology is 'Cuchulainn'. Yet he was actually totally female-dominated(!):
  • trained in martial arts and weaponry by Scathach
  • first defeated in battle by Aoife
  • protected by the War Goddess Morrigan
  • kept on the 'straight and narrow' (most of the time!) by his strong-willed wifeEmer
  • nursed back to health from near fatal battle wounds by his mistress Niamh
  • and killed by the army of Queen Maeve.
High Status of Brigit in Celtic Church & pagan associations 
Brigit was also a powerful Celtic goddess of fertility associated with the birth of animals and symbolised by fire. Hence her links with one of the four great pagan festivals of the seasons- the Spring Festival of 'Imbolc' which occurs in February and the time of 'lambing'.It is therefore quite possible that St. Brigit was originally a high priestess of the pagan goddess Brigit who converted along with her female followers to Christianity during the time of St. Patrick.

According to legend St. Brigit was the daughter of Dubhthach, an Irish chief, and one of his 'Picttish' (from modern Scotland) slaves. She was made a bishop by St. Mel (whom the actor Mel Gibson was named after) and founded one of the most famous Irish monasteries beside an Oak tree on the plains of Magh Liffe thereafter known as 'Cill Dara' or Kildare- 'the Church of the Oak Tree'.In the Celtic pagan religion, trees were considered sacred, none more so than oak trees which were prime locations for spiritual worship.The monastery also was the repository of a 'holy flame', another clue to its possible pagan origins as a temple of Druid priestesses in a sacred woodland. It also has striking similarities to the story of the 'Vestal Virgins' of Ancient Rome whose primary task was to maintain the sacred fire of Vesta, the goddess of the 'hearth'.Under Bridget's leadership as Abbess and bishop, Cill Dara became a great place of spiritual learning and of the arts/crafts particularly metal work and illumination. For centuries thereafter, each succeeding Abbess of Kildare took the name of 'Brigit' and was regarded as a person of immense stature thoughout Ireland with the monastery being second only to Armagh in its ecclesiastical importance.

Rape of Brigit & decline in the status of Women in Irish society 

But over time, the importance of women in society was reduced as Viking raids, wars and the growing influence of the patrician 'male only' Vatican took its toll. The death knell came in 1132 when it seems troops of the King of Leinster Dermot MacMurrough sacked the monastery, raped the abbess Brigit, carried her off and forcibly had her married to one of his followers. As is the case throughout the history of humanity, 'rape' is used as the ultimate weapon against female independence and the physical symbol of man's power over womankind. McMurrough is the same man who invited the British Normans to Ireland to aid him in his wars; they of course soon decided to conquer the country for themselves staying in the process for over 800 years.