Volunteers working in the Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden have been enthusiastically working very hard over the last few weeks to get the facility ready for Sunday's Harvest Festival as a celebration of its tenth anniversary.

But over the last few days, this great outdoor community and environmental resource has suffered from mindless vandalism. On more than one occasion, three to four children (possibly 11-13years) on bikes (some at least were BMX) entered the garden when it was un-staffed and proceeded to uproot and destroy vegetables, rip fruits from their trees and slash (with a knife?) our large polytunnel on three sides, resulting in large gaping holes.

When a woman confronted these children on what they were doing they told her to f... off and worse.
Then, on at least two occasions, anti-social adults entered the garden in the evening time, when the volunteers had left, to use and possibly sell illegal drugs.
It is worth noting that before this week there has never any negative incident involving children.
There have been occasions though over the years when anti-community drug-using and heavy-drinking males have late at night entered and damaged some property.
But these have been relatively isolated occurrences and we thought that we had seen the end of this type of behaviour months ago.

Now we have suffered from what feels like a tsunami of destruction.
When we discussed with the city council setting up this much needed social, health and eco neighbourhood facility in 2009, we decided that we wanted no high perimeter fencing. We opted for a low wooden fence to symbolise there was no barrier between our public facility and the wider community that we were all part off.

As I said in an interview this morning with Keith Finnegan on Galway Bay FM, we are now asking the people of the Ballinfoile-Castlegar locality and of greater Galway city area not to allow the anti-people bullies to win, to stand with us and to show solidarity by coming along to our Harvest Day event that is taking place this Sunday from 12.00pm until 4pm.

Urban Community Organic Garden celebrates its 10th birthday

One of Galway city’s oldest community gardens will this Sunday celebrate its’ tenth year in existence by hosting a Harvest Festival for the benefit of local residents.

According to Brendan Smith, PRO and a founding member of the Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden , “We are asking residents of all ages from the surrounding Ballinfoile, Terryland, Ballindooley and Castlegar areas to come along from 12pm until 4pm on Sunday July 14th  to celebrate this great community-made resource and to enjoy the fruits, vegetables and herbs grown by a small group of dedicated gardeners who have done so much to create a green oasis that is used as an outdoor classroom, a social space, a wildlife haven and a healthy food growing facility. The event will also provide pizzas baked in our huge oven made out of local clay, potatoes boiled in giant pots heated over a traditional open fire, music, traditional children’s games, face painting and much more.
”The facility has never looked more productive thanks to the hard working committee of Padraic Keirns, Tom Hanley, Laurence Daly, Margaret Douglas, Michael McDonnell, Michael Tiarnan, Maura Mullen and Sabrina Commins supported by a healthy band of volunteers including Alaa, Saaed and Vlad from the Eglinton Direct Provision Centre.

The field in Terryland Forest Park, 2009
We have come a long way since 2009 when the representations of Michael McDonnell, Michael Tiarnan, Caitríona Nic Mhuiris and myself proved successful as Stephen Walsh of Galway City Council Parks office allocated a small field at the edge of Terryland Forest Park for the development of an organic garden for local residents. Modelled on the original of the species, the Ballybane Community Garden, we set about transforming a barren patch of ground into the lush green productive space that it is today.

Volunteers of all ages preparing the ground in the garden, early June 2009

The field was levelled and fenced off for us in 2009 by City Parks staff who also provided a shipping container. From January until July 2010, volunteers dug out from very rough stony ground the first vegetable beds, planted the first fruit trees, constructed a raised concrete platform for dining and live music activities, laid down electrical cabling and water pipes as well as erecting a large poly tunnel. The interior of the container was transformed into a storage facility, a kitchen and a toilet whilst its exterior was covered with a beautiful rural landscape scene, painted by local children working under the auspices of artist Margaret Nolan.
Local children painting a landscape scene with artist Margaret Nolan at container exterior, August 2010

By August of that year, we were able to host a very successful Harvest Festival, thus making next week’s event our tenth annual food celebration.

Erecting a Polytunnel, August 2010
Our aim is to continue making this green neighbourhood resource a 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.
As a diverse range of stakeholders from business to health, to community to education come together on the National Park City for Galway initiative, the latest medical scientific research is showing the benefits to people of all ages that comes from spending time surrounded by plants and trees in what is referred 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 in our community garden are encouraged to bring this knowledge back to their homes 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.
Building a community tree nursery, May 2019
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, and butterflies. It is a sanctuary for wildlife at a time when 25% of Ireland’s native species are under threat.

Urban neighbourhood organic gardens will play an ever-increasing role in tackling Climate Chaos.

Note: This article appeared in the July 12th edition of the Galway Advertiser

Rediscovering the Ancient Trails of Galway city

Local resident Ellie enthusiastically leads a group of intrepid adventurers along a hidden country lane that centuries ago was the main thoroughfare for people, animals and coaches travelling between Menlo village and Galway city.
Today this 'boreen' (Irish = 'botharín = small road) at Coolough (Cúil Lough = lake's end) ) is populated with a wonderful cornucopia of native trees, wildflowers, birds, insects and mammals. The sounds and sights of Nature that we experienced yesterday were a welcome soothing relief from the harsh noises of cars, trucks and much of urban life that was so evident only a few kilometres away.
Participants in yesterday's Seven Galway Castles' Heritage Cycle Tour felt they had stumbled into a lost world!
On the edges of Galway city lies a largely forgotten network of traditional rural lanes that local communities are now working together on to create a Greenways infrastructure as part of the 'National Park City for Galway' initiative. This 'lost world' will become 'our everyday world of the future'!