March 2000: They entered a field and left behind a Forest.

On Sunday March 11th 2000, nearly 3000 people turned up in what previously was pasture inhabited by a few grazing cattle adjacent to the Quincentenary Bridge. Over the course of a few hours, these volunteers planted thousands of native Irish trees in the first phase of a development new to Ireland, namely an urban forest park. We called it Terryland Forest Park, a zoned green area of 180 acres lying within the boundaries of Galway city.

It was an inspiring sight to behold. Months of hard work and lobbying by members of the park’s multi-sectoral steering committee (that included my good friends Lol Hardiman and Niall O Brolchain) led by Stephen Walsh, who had been appointed in the previous year to the new position of ‘Superintendent of Parks’ of what was then Galway Corporation, came to fruition. We watched joyously as groups of trainee Garda Síochána, scouts, girl guides, pupils from different schools, company staff as well as families, politicians and senior council officials arrived in the park over the course of the morning, afternoon and early evening armed with shovels, spades and forks to be part of what was and still remains Ireland’s largest community-local government partnered urban forestry project. There was a true sense of togetherness that day, a feeling amongst many that we were creating something special, something that we hoped would make the city a better place to live in for present and future generations as well as become a unique urban sanctuary for wildlife. Many of those dreams have indeed come true. Today it contains nearly 100,000 trees, wetlands, meadows, riverways, pathways, community garden, sculpture trails, farmland...But there are still other aspirations that have yet to occur that should reinforce its legacy.

Twenty years later, we are once again calling on the people of Galway to help bring this mighty forest park to a new level. We need volunteers soon and in the years ahead to plant, to create wildflower meadows, to act as tour guides, to litter-pick, to monitor and survey biodiversity, to map trails, to use old traditional rustic skills such as repairing drystone walls and an array of other tasks including becoming committee members...

If you are interested in being part of another generation of volunteers helping to make Terryland Forest Park an important hub in a new Green and Blue Galway, why not join an online (Zoom) get-together at 7pm on Wednesday? To register, send an email to me at

Note: The first photo shows Terryland Forest Park on March 11th 2000. The second photo was taken in the same spot in May 2020.

Pacman- Happy 40th Birthday!

One of the greatest video games of all time, Pacman is 40 years old this month and yet remains as popular as ever.
Created by Toru Iwatani and a team at the Japanese game company Namco, it was released on May 22nd 1980. It was the first game written to appeal to a female audience. Iwatani saw that the whole video games industry catered only for men and concentrated on sport and violent war themes. Only boys seem to populate the arcade machine halls. So he decided to develop a game with cute, happy looking bright coloured characters based around colourful foods such as deserts and sweets. One of the inspirations for the Pacman image was a pizza with a slice removed. The ghosts in the game were inspired by the television series Casper the Friendly Ghost.

Tales from the Home Garden: The Return of the ‘Irish Famine' Potato!

The photo shows a rare and some would say infamous variety of potato growing quite nicely in containers at my home. It is known as the ‘Lumper’ and I planted a number of these heritage vegetables in my garden during mid-March at the beginning of the great lockdown, though I kept them separate from my main crop of spuds.
The Lumper is not very attractive ('lumpy'- hence the name!) and some would say not very tasty. But its infamy arises from the fact that it was the variety of potato that was grown extensively in Ireland until the Great Famine ('An Gorta Mór' = 'The Big Hunger') of the 1840s. Over one million people in Ireland died due to the failure of their primary food source caused by a potato blight that originated in Mexico.
During this period of Irish history, the vast majority of the Irish lived in extreme poverty as they had being dispossessed of their clan(tribal) lands in successive waves of plantations over many centuries by British colonialists. The great forests were cut down and the native Irish were driven off the fertile lands to make way for tillage and increasingly during the 19th century for livestock farming (shades of today's Amazonia).
The potato though is a wonder food crop, is highly nutritious and can grow on very poor soils in large enough quantities on very small patches of ground which was all most Irish families then possessed.
Once the blight destroyed their only food crop, large sections of Irish society starved to death with approximately 1.5 million driven into exile, primarily to North America. Yet in spite of the mass deaths, the colonial landlords continued to export huge amounts of food to Britain and beyond. In fact the export of grain and livestock from Ireland increased during the famine years! Ireland was then the granary for the British homeland providing grain as well as meat and vegetables to the growing urban working population of England's industrial revolution. The establishment were not going to allow death and starvation in British Empire's oldest colony to interfere with their profits and free trade policies. The famine also provided a golden opportunity for some of the Anglo-Irish gentry to clear even more lands of their native tenantry to make way for livestock. To facilitate this exodus, they paid them the cost of traveling by ship to the Americas.
My own maternal ancestors suffered terribly during the Famine. They were evicted from their squalid hovel of a home, most starved to death with the surviving members of the family ending up in the dreaded workhouse in Carrickmacross in county Monaghan. Only one survived. If he did not, I would not be writing this post.

Trees of Terryland Forest Park: Hawthorn (Irish = 'Sceach Gheal'). ‘The Fairy Tree’- Symbol of Magic and of Summer.

May is the month of the white blossom when hedgerows and field boundaries across rural Ireland are dotted with trees covered with what from a distance looks like snow but is instead the beautiful white flowers of the Hawthorn tree. Associated with the fairies, the hawthorn or whitethorn was oftentimes feared by Irish people and in many parts of the country was never brought inside a house. People of my generation were the last generation to truly believe in its connection with the Sí (sidhe) and my own wife for this reason stopped me planting hawthorns in our garden when we first got married!
The remains of prehistoric dwellings known as ‘fairy forts’ dot the Irish landscape and are usually evident by the presence of clumps of hawthorn bushes. Solitary hawthorn trees can also be seen in many farmed fields in rural Ireland. In both instances, local people in my time would never cut them down lest bad luck would befall them. This fear may also have something to do with the scent of the hawthorn flower. It is the chemical compound triethylamine, which is one of the first chemicals produced when a human body starts to decompose.
But triethylamine is also found in human semen and vaginal secretions. So no wonder the tree with its white blossom symbolised the lusty month of May, the arrival of summer as the season of fertility and growth. It was when a hawthorn branch on a tree would be decorated with ribbons, pieces of cloth and flowers requesting a good harvest. As with the ash, it was also associated with holy wells which were also linked to female fertility. By September, the pollinated flowers become lush red fruits known as haws. The April leaves were used as a green salad in sandwiches. Jelly was made from the red berries.

‘Nettle’ Cake & Nature’s Pantry

For the first ever in my life, I enjoyed the delicious taste of Nettle Cake courtesy of Pól Mac Raghnaill, a true guardian and lover of Terryland Forest Park.
As well as nettles sourced from the forest, it contained potatoes, flour, milk, salt and pepper. Thanks Pol!

The tradition of ‘foraging’ is making a comeback.
I have happy memories of me and my childhood friends collecting basket-loads of highly nutritious hazel nuts, nettles and blackberries from hedgerows, meadows and woodlands to bring home to their moms to make cakes, soups, jellies and jams.
Harvesting the wild flowers, fruits, herbs, fungi, roots and leaves of the forests has been integral to the fabric of humanity since our species first appeared on the planet.
It is only over the last fifty years that as a result of technology ‘development’, in the form of refrigeration, mechanised transport, chemical fertilisers, intensive agriculture, urbanisation and the growth in supermarket shopping, we in our consumer society have lost an understanding of the seasonality of food, of the importance of sourcing food locally and of the natural edible resources that exist in our local woods, hedgerows, seashores, rivers and meadows.
Disconnect with Nature leads inevitably to habitat destruction and the extinction of species.
However, there has been over the last decade increased involvement by the general public in growing food locally and organically, precipitated by a growing awareness of the dangers being brought about by man-made Climate Chaos. During COVID-19, it is so lovely the surge in people setting up organic vegetable gardens at their homes. It is cool now to be a gardener!
Over the last few weeks I have also come across a number of people out harvesting nettles in the Terryland Forest Park. Many are originally from countries where foraging is still a living tradition. Collecting wild foods is good for both the mind and body as well as putting us back in touch with the sights, sounds and smells of Nature. 

However a few principles need to govern those harvesting wild food:
1. Be moderate in what you take home as the berries and nuts that you are collecting are the natural food sources for much of the birds, insects and animals of the countryside and our urban natural areas.
2. Do not remove the whole plant; take only the edible parts that you require such as the fruits and leaves whilst leaving the roots and some of fruits and leaves so that it can grow again. 
3. Many fungi and fruits are poisonous. So if you are unsure, take someone with you that is familiar with the culinary aspects of plants and fungi.