Part 2: March 12th 2000-c3,000 people came to a field & left behind a forest. The Rewilding of Galway city had begun

(Continued from Part 1)


Grace & Irene Cummins in Terryland Forest Park, March 12th 2000

Unlike many other Irish cities, Galway did not possess a central public park of any major size. Reviewing the ‘Development Plan for Galway city’, we agreed that the lands either side of the Terryland or Sandy River that started at the River Corrib and continued towards Castlegar village should be preserved for posterity as a mix of leisure, farming and wildlife habitats. We called it the ‘Terryland River Valley Park’ and mounted a concerted campaign based on the belief that it could become “the future lungs of Galway city” with the retention of its riverine wetlands, limestone outcrops, caves and country fields characterised by traditional stone walls and hedgerows, that would be complemented by the addition of an visitors’ educational city farm, fishing piers, landscaped parks and the planting of trees. Within months, we got the support of the majority of city councillors and officials. City Manager Joe Gavin and Gus McCarthy of the Planning Office were particularly welcoming. Renowned ecologist Gordon D’Arcy issued a major (Crann) report recommending a major expansion of the woodland element. Michael D. Higgins, then Minister for the Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, was so enthusiastic about the idea that he sent a wildlife expert from his department to undertake a biodiversity assessment of the proposed area. Kevin Collins of the national Tree Council helped in securing funding under the government’s Urban Woodland scheme. When Stephen Walsh became Superintendent of Parks, he established a multi-sectoral steering committee for the new park that was unheard of anywhere in Ireland. It comprised representatives of people with disabilities, local residents, environmentalists, artists, Teagasc, Coillte, OPW, the third level sector, heritage, the council planning office, government departments,  the Tree Council of Ireland and schools.  

Years before terms such as ‘Climate Change’, ‘biodiversity extinction’ and ‘social inclusion’ became part of everyday and political speak, the visionaries of late 1990s/early 2000s were designing a park to become a ‘carbon sink’ to serve as the ‘Lungs of the City’; an ‘ecological corridor’ for wildlife connecting the Corrib waterways through the city to the farmlands of east Galway; a facility for the annual planting of thousands of native Irish trees and wildflowers by the people of Galway through mass public ‘Plantathons’; an ‘outdoor classroom’ for schools promoting science and the arts; a green space with an ‘access for-all’ infrastructure; a location for the regular hosting and celebration of ‘arts in Nature’ events; a living heritage area for the preservation and learning of traditional rural heritage skills such as coppicing and drystone walling; a “people’s park” owned and co-managed with the city’s communities; and the promotion of new green technologies. There were ambitious plans to construct a forestry interpretative/learning centre, a tree nursery and an outdoor green amphitheatre.

But at another level it was part of a shift in Galway and Irish society happening during that period. A citizens’ group ‘Save Galway Bay’ had been campaigning for years against locating a wastewater treatment plant on Mutton Island.  In January 2000, a huge community campaign got underway to stop the construction of a large regional municipal incinerator which led to Galway becoming the first municipality in Ireland to implement a three bin recycling-based household waste system. The following month the business, education, health, state, trade unions and community-voluntary sectors formally came together with the council to develop a holistic city strategy as part of a radical EU prompted reorganisation of local government. 


(part 3 to follow)

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