Tales from the Home Garden: Inspired by Simon & Garfunkel

Photos show parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme growing in my repaired (using recycled washing line waterproof felt) raised herbal and strawberry bed.
Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel would be so proud that I was inspired to do so whilst I was in the garden humming the lyrics of 'Scarborough Fair', the beautiful old English folk song that they rejuvenated in the 1960s.
Check out their legendary version at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Ccgk8PXz64

MIKE MULQUEEN RIP - DEC Galway's first employee

"Those who worked in the computer industry in Ireland in the 1970s and 1980s were greatly saddened by the recent death of Mike Mulqueen, the first Irish employee of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). Mike wasn’t a tech guru but nevertheless his contribution to the growth of the Hi-Tech sector in Ireland was immense.
Mike, a native of Co. Limerick, came to Galway in 1971 as Personnel Manager for DEC which had just announced that it was establishing its European Manufacturing base in Galway. He was joined by a start-up team from the US and within three months he had recruited the first production workers. By Christmas staff numbers had grown to 140. More importantly Mike, as Personnel Manager, had started to establish the values and ethics of company president Ken Olsen, which had already permeated the young Digital in the US. He did that superbly well and helped create the work environment which so many of those who worked for the company in Ireland look back on with great pride and great fondness.
Digital was a fairly small player in the computer sector in 1971 but it went to become number 2 to IBM on a global basis. At the same time, with Mike still in charge of HR, the Galway plant had advanced from being a low-tech core memory manufacturer to a state of art hi-tech operation producing complex hardware and software for the EMEA region. It had become a centre for R&D.
The success of the Galway plant was used by IDA Ireland to demonstrate to the Apples, Intels and Microsofts of this world that Ireland should be their location of choice when opening up in Europe. They duly arrived and have gone on to prosper. Their presence in Ireland later attracted companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, Paypal, LinkedIn and many others.
Mike treasured the many friends he made in Digital and travelled from his home in Limerick on a number of occasions to be with former colleagues, at the First Thursday coffee mornings in the Huntsman.
Members of the board of the Computer and Communications Museum of Ireland would like to offer their sympathy to Mike’s sons, Billy and Michael, his grandchildren and the extended Mulqueen family."
-Liam Ferrie

Photograph shows Mike (right) signing into the Computer and Communications Museum of Ireland for the DEC night in 2011 accompanied by the late Des McKane (centre) and the late Chris Coughlan (left) who was then Chairperson of the museum. All three gentlemen were employees of Digital Galway.

Graduation Day in a Little School on a Hill in Connemara

A few days ago, I completed my official involvement with St. Theresa's National School, Cashel, Connemara. In my capacity as chair of the board of management (to Dec 1 2019), I gave a speech of thanks and best wishes to the graduation class of 2020 at their online (Zoom) conferring.

With only a few dozen pupils in this fine learning establishment. Andrew and Arnold were the entire graduation class of 2020. But if it is a small school, it is one with a very big heart as wide as the Atlantic Ocean whose waters almost lap against its gates.
As with many little rural schools across Ireland, it is the heart beat of the local community giving meaning, purpose and identify to its people.
Thanks to the force of nature that is its principal Cepta Stephens, the graduation celebration of last Tuesday, though taking place online in the strange surreal environment that is COVID 19, was the living embodiment of all that is good and beautiful in our people and in our countryside.
All the children and parents of the school took part in the ceremony. There were excellent live music performances and literary renditions from many of the children; the showing of thematic videos; a presentation in story and in imagery of the history of the two graduates during their school days, from infant to senior class; tributes from the parish priest, music mentor, parents' representative, board of management, and from all of their fellow classroom pupils (3rd, 4th & 5th classes). Uachtarán na hÉireann/President Michael D. Higgins even ‘turned up’, starring in a short film that he made for the benefit of all the primary school graduates of 2020 (It surprised and impressed Andrew and Arnold as I am sure that it did for all graduates). The two hour ceremony was so enchanting, so emotional, so friendly.
I am a big fan of all the schools of Ireland. But I have a special affinity for the small rural school which, in a world of impersonalised fast-moving globalisation, is in many cases the key custodian and embodiment of local identity. When such an institution is forced to close its doors, then a sense of community can soon disappear.
The principals in these little country schools have one of the toughest 24/7 (but most rewarding) jobs in the country- having to be teacher, administrator, parents’ liaison, sports manager, musician, friend, doctor...the list is endless!
In mid 2016, Cepta asked me to consider becoming chairperson of this school located in the heart of southern Connemara. Having long being an admirer of her visionary principalship and holistic teaching, it did not take me long to say ‘yes’.
But my involvement goes back to 2005. Over the years, I have mentored heritage, medical, scientific, Internet Safety and coding programmes in the senior of the two classrooms. I hope that this continues on into the distant future as I see a school that provides top class education to its pupils and one is strongly supported by the local community.
Finally as I said in previous postings written during the Great Lockdown, I also see a bright future for all of rural Ireland if green, smart and community-centric sustainable policies are implemented.

Celebrating Terryland Forest Park 2000-2020: Presentation on Woodquay & Circle of Life parks


On Monday at 7pm we will host our second online (Zoom) meeting of supporters of the Terryland Forest Park.

It was so wonderful to have in attendance at our last meeting supporters living in proximity to the park and those from further afield, who are willing to get involved in bringing Ireland's largest urban forest park project to a new level of ambition by getting it recognised, not only as a wildlife sanctuary and a People's Park with recreational facilities for all age groups, but also as part of a unique Blue and Green hub of international importance that comprises the Corrib waterways stretching into the heartlands of Mayo; a network of ancient walking trails ('boreens') embracing Menlo, Castlegar and Carrowbrowne; a wonderful heritage cycling route (Seven Galway Castles' Heritage Cycle Trail/ Slí na gCaisleán) and a terminus for the Connemara Greenway when the construction of a bridge on top of the old railway pillars gets the green light.

With a new generation of volunteers now coming onboard, we can over the next six months work on developing a new website; secure increase information signage; plan out, with the agreement of city council additional wildflower meadows and new seating; as well as hopefully set up a volunteer park rangers unit.

At next week’s meeting we will have presentations from Feargal Timon on the proposal for an ambitious Mary Reynolds-designed Woodquay Park situated in an historical urban locality that is the commencement of the Terryland Forest Park-Dyke Road blue and green network; and from Denis Goggin on the very beautiful national organ donor commemorative garden and stone themed ‘Circle of Life’ Park in Salthill. Both Feargal and Denis are veteran supporters of the forest park and have contributed much to its enhancement over the last few years..

What the Great Lockdown has cleary shown is that local public parks such as Woodquay and Circle of Life have taken on a new significance for local people and communities. The launch of the National Park City for Galway initiative in early July will clearly show this.

If you are a supporter of the officially designated Green Lungs of the City (Terryland) you are welcomed with open arms to attend Monday's meeting. Should you wish to take part, please email me at speediecelt@gmail.com

Finally, photo shows the river Corrib from the front of Woodquay Park.

Experiences of COVID-19: Falling in Love & Discovering Superheroes living amongst us

I was asked to contribute to a new column in the Galway Advertiser on a Post-COVID Galway.
Below is my contribution which appeared in last week's edition.

The greatest global disruption since World War Two has brought humanity to a crossroads. This pandemic has caused massive job losses, financial meltdown, suffering and death. In a post COVID-19 world, we as a country can understandably decide to take what looks like the easier route in quickly making up for what was lost by going full steam ahead to stimulate job creation via the traditional consumer economic model. But this option, with its interrelated symptoms of Climate Chaos, oceanic pollution, biodiversity loss and pandemics, will in my opinion mean travelling at speed down a cul-de-sac leading finally to a crash of unprecedented global catastrophe.
Or we can reflect on what has happened over the last few months and decide to take a different route that, with hard graft and ingenuity, promises a better quality of life and a better future for the planet.
Galway city is uniquely positioned to be a flagship for a more sustainable equitable world. It is surrounded by picturesque natural landscapes that can, through a network of greenways, help revitalise areas such as Connemara and east Galway. The city is renowned for its arts but also as a world class hub for benign biomedical, computing, marine and renewable energy technology research and production that can be developed even further. It has an environmental volunteer movement that is promoting innovative ‘Outdoor Classroom’ education and ‘Health through Nature’ programmes, and a small but growing organic farming sector involved in revitalising food models of beekeeping, fresh vegetable and preservative production.
One of the unexpected windfalls of the lockdown was the wonderful ways that Galwegians came together in local and online communities to reach out to those in need, from providing reconditioned laptops for Leaving Cert students to making vegetable boxes for people living in isolation to setting up online neighbourhood newsletters to producing quirky collaborative musical videos.  We finally paid homage to those everyday people who lived amongst us but whom we now recognised as the super heroes that they always were- nurses, doctors, carers, cleaners, scientists, Garda, outdoor council personnel, shop workers, garden centre staff and those working in local life-saving medical companies. The message of campaigners pushing for a walking, cycling and park infrastructure started to appeal to us.
Post-COVID, let us not lose this sense of community solidarity and respect for others.
But many of us also found ourselves falling madly in love with an intensity that we never thought possible. Nature became our passionate lover. We could not stop ourselves getting excited by the sights and sounds of birds in our garden, the beauty of wildflowers in a field, the movement of a bee or butterfly in flight, or the leaves unfolding in our new vegetable plot that we hastily dug out in March. Our rendezvous with our new love was often in the local park, a place that we never really visited before.
We discovered too that cooking, eating, sharing stories and undertaking home repairs together with family began to give us a new perspective on what really mattered in life.
Next month, the ‘National Park City for Galway’ initiative will be unveiled. Supported by all sectors of local society and with President Michael D. Higgins as patron, it is about integrating the rest of Nature into the fabric of our urban environment, something that we have found, through the experience of the Great Lockdown, is fundamental to our wellbeing and, as we will soon learn, can provide us with amazing new economic and societal models.

'Black Lives Matter Day': Online Garden Meeting with the residents of the Eglinton Direct Provision Centre.

I was disappointed that I was not at the 'Black Lives Matter' protest yesterday afternoon in Eyre Square as I thought, based on media reporting, that it was called off.
But anyway yesterday morning I was facilitating the first online (Zoom) meeting between garden volunteer residents of the Eglinton Direct Provision Centre in Salthill, garden supremo Kay Synott and artist extraordinaire Monica de Bath.
This has been our first get-together since the beginning of the Great Lockdown and it was so wonderful to finally met up once again 'face-to-face' with my Eglinton friends.
Eight residents were in attendance- Georgina, Jihad, Pretty, Beltar, Elizabeth, Innocent, Thom and Stanley.
A few others were unfortunately missing due to sickness including our good friend and the queen of hearts herself, namely Carole Raftery, a key member of the staff of the Eglinton.
The attendees agreed today on a set of guidelines and a roster to help build on the work that has been done over the last few months under the chairperson of Georgina. Kay has been brilliant during that period in ensuring the delivery of seeds and plants to the Eglinton whilst Monica has kept the spirit of 'art in nature' alive amongst the children of the Eglinton.
I have a special affinity with the residents, management and staff of this direct provision centre since I started volunteering there in 2004. Over the years I have seen so many hard-working people in the Eglinton get Irish residency, and contribute positively to the greater good of their new homeland. Today that tradition continues as the present garden chairperson Georgina will be leaving the centre tomorrow to start a new life elsewhere in Galway. I wish her the very best.
In my time there, I have made many life long friendships amongst residents and staff.

It was really lovely to see today also that the legacy of former residents such as Lyudvig Chadrjyan in putting so much effort in helping to start the community garden over five years ago is still bearing fruit (& vegetables!)

Celebrating Terryland Forest Park 2000-2020: a unique Green & Blue Hub for Galway city and environs.

Last week we held the first online (Zoom) meeting of supporters of the Terryland Forest Park from surrounding areas and beyond. It was so beneficial to have residents from areas such as Dyke Road, Coolough, Castlegar, Gleann na Trá, Castlelawn, Ros na Shee(Sidhe), Sandyvale, Skellig Ard, Carraig Bán and Riverside who want to get involved in bringing Ireland's largest urban forest park to a new level of ambition by getting it recognised not only as a wildlife sanctuary and a People's Park with recreational facilities for all age groups, but also as a unique Blue and Green hub of international importance.
With a new generation of volunteers now coming onboard, we can over the next six months work on developing a new website; secure increase information signage; plan out, with the agreement of city council additional wildflower meadows and new seating; as well as hopefully set up a volunteer park rangers unit.
But it is envisaged also that the Terryland Forest Park and the Dyke Road could well become a hub for the Corrib waterways stretching into the heartlands of Mayo; the terminus for the Connemara Greenway with the construction of a bridge on top of the old railway pillars; and, working with local communities, a starting point for a network of walking and cycling trails along the 'boreens' of Menlo, Castlegar and Carrowbrowne. The pioneering Seven Galway Castles' Heritage Cycle Trail/ Slí na gCaisleán that begins and ends at Terryland Castle (see photo with Helen Caird's lovely drawings!) is now twelve years old.
Note: a huge poster of Slí na gCaisleán is on permanent display beside Terryland Castle.
Every large park must have a central multi-purpose building that serves as meeting point and so much more. We must now seriously look at converting the abandoned 19th century waterworks into a forestry/river interpretative centre with café, gallery, heritage museum, toilets and cycle rental/repair shop.
Details of the speakers and themes for this month's Zoom meet-up will be posted on this blog on Thursday. More volunteers and supporters welcomed!

Tales from the Home Garden: Apple Blossom Time becomes the Darling Buds of May

In early May, the apple trees in our garden were covered in the most beautiful blossom, a mass of white flowers. By the end of the month, the flowers had disappeared to be replaced by buds that will in the autumn become Ireland's most famous fruit, loved since time immemorial.
In my childhood, all the wealthy houses in our area had orchards of apple (& some pear) trees. It was almost a rite of passage that, as children, we had to undertake our Arthurian quest and steal the most sacred of all fruits that had led Eve astray in the Garden of Eden and changed the course of human history. There were of course obstacles that had to be overcome in order to fulfill our sacred mission. As well as angry owners and vicious dogs to be avoided, there were the chunks of broken glass cemented on the tops of walls surrounding the orchards! But with nimble feet and a lot of luck one could land in the inner garden without cutting oneself. Children of our generation lived dangerously!