A Blameless COVID Youth Generation is Suffering


Thanks so much to the Galway City Tribune for publishing my article below 

Exasperated with the high volumes of rubbish strewn on the green spaces along the Dyke Road particularly at weekends, I and my good friend Ryan Crowell on Saturday evening put on yellow vests and walked out amongst the 50 or so young people that were socialising in groups along the riverbank as they enjoyed the fine sunny weather chatting and drinking. We went from group to group telling them that, whilst they should be informed that they were breaking a number of rules (drinking alcohol in public parks, gathering together in groups wearing no masks or practising social distance), we were neither council staff nor members of An Garda Síochána but only concerned civic-minded individuals seeking their cooperation in keeping the green spaces and waterways free from litter which we pointed out damaged biodiversity, the environment and undermined the benefits of a city park to the general public. We then gave each group large black bags which we requested that they use for their leftover cans/bottles/papers should they decide not to bring this material home.  

The response from the youth was very positive and some of them actually helped us collect the scattered litter and put the bags into my car for removal back to my home garden whey they would remain until after the weekend when parks staff returned to work.

Early next morning Ryan and myself visited the same site. I am happy to state that the young people had honoured their promises from the day before; the bags were filled with debris with only a comparatively small amount of cans and bottles lying in the grass or along the riverbank. Over a short period of time (Saturday evening and Sunday morning) on what was a relatively small piece of land, we removed fourteen bags of refuse,  the contents of which would otherwise have contaminated the land and the river with some of it ending up polluting the Atlantic Ocean.

Ryan and myself will continue to return on further weekends to undertake these same necessary volunteering duties.


Need for Park Wardens in Galway city is so obvious

The incident reinforced my long held belief that the presence of a full-time seven days per week warden unit, whose members are willing to engage on friendly terms with parks’ visitors,  is an essentiality that city council must implement. Community activists have been requesting this for some time. To support this development we consistently have offered our services free of charge in the capacity of volunteer park rangers to complement the full time staff on specific tasks when required and with health and safety training provided by City Hall.  Sadly we have not yet been successful in our endeavours. But thankfully councillor Imelda Byrne has put forward a motion on park wardens that will be voted on next Monday at a meeting of councillors. At present the city has one warden available on a regular half week basis in Galway. She is a fantastic committed worker but she has to take care of multiple city parks. In a time of lockdowns when green spaces and natural areas in cities have shown their crucial role in protecting human and planetary health as well as being a necessity in a sustainable post-COVID world, this can no longer be accepted, with public parks needing to be cleaned on a daily basis early every morning which is the case with many other cities. Galway City Council needs to rethink its stance, to be imaginative, creative and to ensure that it takes full advantage of the government’s offering of twenty two walking/cycling staff positions with some of these employees being assigned to plan out, design and maintain walking as well as cycling paths in our public green spaces. Such staff should also I feel have their terms of reference expanded to include warden duties.

Damage of being confined indoors & online

But the incident also clearly made me realise that we as adults are responsible for stealing the most precious years from our young people. The first year at third level college is normally when students form friendships that can last a lifetime, as well as taking up interests in social, sport, learning subjects and other activities that will shape their futures. Sadly so many of this generation will miss out on these experiences.

In spite of the hard work and good intentions of teachers and lecturers, many second level as well as third level students have lost out on a qualitative education with online learning not being able to fully compensate for the discipline and focus brought on by the controlled environment of a classroom, a lecture hall or a dedicated shared study facility. Our young people are suffering with their mental and indeed oftentimes physical health being greatly undermined during the lockdowns. Too much time spent in front of a laptop or phone screen disrupts sleep patterns and levels of concentration; can lead to stress, exhaustion and burn-out; exposes one to damaging views of sexual and other types of violence where too often young women in particular are victims and whose abuse is portrayed as ‘normal behaviour’; can distort one’s views of the world with one-sided bias ‘fake news’ arguments; and leaves users open to high levels of bullying and intimidation as well as a disconnect from the real world and opportunities to develop meaningful flesh and blood relationships. Web addiction especially online gaming is too often a consequence of 24/7 connected smart devices. I say this as someone who has for forty years (and still do) proudly promoted the benefits of computing technologies.

The best remedy for online addiction and over-reliance on hand-held devices is to practice periods of ‘digital detox’ and spend regular periods immersed in natural environments, being active on the sporting field or enjoying a leisurely time on green spaces with friends or people of a similar age. But the COVID restrictions are denying them the circumstances to do so in the Great Outdoors which is in fact  the safest place for young people to be as it is responsible for only .01% of transmission cases in Ireland.

A Lost Youth

Youth are forced to spend much of their days indoors, sometimes in poorly ventilated small spaces. All because older people and previous generations have, for short term material gain, brought humanity to the edge of the abyss due to a consumer culture and a linear economy characterised by  Climate Chaos, land/water/air pollution, plant-killing herbicides, insect-killing pesticides and pandemics. Yet even with the global society being brought to its knees in 2020/2021, adults are still making the same mistakes. Expenditure is increasing on military technology; once-off plastic production is spiralling (e.g. huge volumes of PPE masks and liquid bottles being shipped long distances from China) polluting our rivers and oceans in the process; and young people in Hong Kong, Myanmar, India, Iran, Israel, Tunisia, Turkey, Egypt, Ethiopia, Spain, Russia, Belarus, Brazil, the USA and elsewhere are being detained for speaking out against state injustices and abuse of power.

So we as adults have to heed the message of youth as spoken by teenagers such as Greta Thunberg and redouble our efforts to undo the mistakes of the past and present in order to give hope and make a world a better place for generations to come.


Le meas,

Brendan Smith

Galway City Council unanimously support motion to set up Parks Warden unit!

Last Monday was a good day for local democracy.

All councillors supported a motion from Councillor Imelda Byrne to establish a parks warden unit for Galway City's three main public parks (Barna, Merlin & Terryland Forest) and playgrounds.
I would like to give a big vote of thanks and a 'Bualadh Bos' to Imelda and all councillors for their action today, which will greatly benefit the quality of life of the people of the city and of its biodiversity.
It has been a long battle getting to this point but well worth it!
4 to 5 new posts will be set up costing approximately €250,000 per annum with a start date probably not until the next budget year (2022). But that is fine- we always realised that funding would have to be allocated in the annual budget that will be first discussed in July and signed off in November.
However today's vote was a milestone in the history of modern Galway. City Hall has accepted the principle that park wardens are part of the public services that have to be provided; it will bring us into line with Dublin and other cities across Europe. The upkeep and safety of our parks are now to be recognised as priorities in the running and operations of Galway.
Of course we have to ensure that 'Peter is not robbed to pay Paul'. The budget for Parks has to be increased to cater for the extra demands not required.
But that is a battle for another day. Let us today savour in this victory before moving on to tomorrow to the next stage of campaigning.
A Good Day for the council, for campaigners, for wildlife and for the people of the city!

A Tree for Michael D- Thank you Mr. President!


A Tree for Michael D- Thank you Mr. President!
Today Lucy Kelly and Rachel Huane planted a Rowan Tree in Terryland Forest Park in honour of President Michael D. Higgins' 80th Birthday.
NUI Galway students Lucy and Rachel are members of the Volunteer group of the Galway National Park City working under the auspices of the wonderful champion Lorrraine Tansey of the university's CKI Alive. 
The Irish president is Patron of this great initiative which is about integrating the natural world into the fabric of Galway city. The volunteers decided at their last meeting that it would appropriate that a native tree would be planted in a park that Michael D. Higgins supported when he was Ireland's first Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage. 
In early 1996 local community activists in the Ballinfoile-Terryland area started a campaign to save the land either side of the Terryland River from built development and secure it as a multi-habitat public park for both the leisure needs of the people of Galway and to protect biodiversity. As Minister he publicly backed campaigners and sent experts from his government department to examine the area's wildlife population.
So it is only appropriate that, thanks to the Galway National Park City supporters, Michael D. today secured permanent roots in the soils of the Galway park that he helped become a reality.
The Rowan/Mountain Ash (Caorthann in Irish) was chosen as it is associated in Celtic mythology with Female Magic and Life. Our president has been a life long feminist.
Thanks to Aengus McMahon for the brilliant photo!

Parks Warden unit needed to protect the Beautiful Woods, Meadows, Parks & Waterways of Galway city


'Where Green meets Blue'- Top section of the photo shows the Dyke Road with Terryland Forest Park on one side and the River Corrib on the other. The other images show different aspects of the forest park and the banks of the river.

Galway city is so lucky to have such wonderful natural beauty so close to the city centre. Of course it did not happen by chance. For it took many campaigns and many battles over many decades by community activists to keep it from being lost to built development. But it also happened due to the foresight of many visionary council officials and councillors and their positive engagement with community activists from the mid 1990s onwards. A partnership that will led now to a long cherished demand of campaigners- a direct path link from the riverbank to the main area of the Terryland Forest Park. More to follow on this on a later posting. However after a delay of many months (from January), we are hoping that later today a motion from councillor Imelda Byrne on setting up a full-time parks warden unit is finally debated and voted through at a council meeting by councillors. Thank you Imelda for showing leadership and in taking this critical issue onboard. We do indeed have one fantastic dedicated hard working warden in Galway, namely Cora O'Kelly who does so much good. But she cannot do all of the city parks on her own whilst having other duties to perform (looking after life buoys). 

Natural Spaces are our Salvation  

The need for a full time seven days a week permanent on-the-ground parks personnel unit in all our major parks is now needed more than ever before. COVID has taught us the benefits to our wellbeing in walking through natural areas and in the vital role that these places play in reversing biodiversity loss, in acting as 'carbon sinks' and in improving air quality. 


A Pleasant Encounter with Young Drinkers 

Recently my good friend Ryan Crowell and myself spent a wonderful Saturday and Sunday in Terryland Forest Park and along the banks of the River Corrib chatting to people and informing them of the area's natural features and on its history; in picking up rubbish and in planting trees. What I particularly enjoyed the most was an engagement on Saturday evening at c4pm with scores of young people (late teens-early 20s) who were drinking and chatting in groups along the river bank. Whilst we informed them not to drink alcohol in public parks and to be aware of COVID restrictions such as social distancing, we told them that we there only as concerned citizens. In that capacity we ask them in a friendly manner to think of the damage that litter does to wildlife and in undermining other people's enjoyment of a public park. We asked them to take their litter home and, if they could not do so, to use the black bags that we distributed to all of the groups of young people. The youth were so positive in their response to us! Some of them helped us fill up seven full large bags with cans, bottles etc and remove them to my car. I have to point out at this stage that none of the young people were in any way intoxicated. Next morning (Sunday) Ryan and myself returned just after 9am as I wanted to find out if our words had any positive long lasting impact. What greeted us was indeed a lovely sight- multiple bags of rubbish piled together with green spaces and a riverbank almost totally devoid of litter! It was such a morale booster! In total, 15 large bags were collected and removed. There is no doubt in my mind where it not for our actions, much of this rubbish from one small area of the city would have ended up polluting the Atlantic Ocean.

What this incident demonstrated to me was the importance of having a permanent presence in Terryland Forest Park and other parks of friendly council (& volunteer) rangers actively engaging with visitors, keeping the parks clean, planting trees,improving biodiversity features, repairing fences... Is their money in the City Hall budget to set up such a unit? I feel that the council have to be imaginative in this regard, to think outside the box and to use for instance some of the dozens of fully funded staff positions being offered by government for developing a walking and cycling infrastructure for Galway City. After all, the parks and riverbanks will play a vital role in such a development as they already provide areas for people to walk and cycle amongst Nature.

Easter 2021- Supporting the Climate Action 'Plantathon' of 2019


On the last day of March 2021 three lads, representing Galway City Council and the volunteers of Galway (top photos), planted 360 trees on the same site along the Dyke Road in Terryland Forest Park where hundreds of Galwegians of all ages happily came together early on a Sunday morning in November 2019 to plant 2000 trees (bottom photo) as part of that year's highly successful Climate Action-themed Galway Science and Technology Festival.

Due to COVID restrictions we could not advertise or promote the event in any way and had to sadly limit the attendance to three people. It was very much 'under the radar'.
Kevin Nally and Mark Ryan of Galway City Parks and myself replaced any of the 2019 trees that were severely damaged or had died whilst also expanding the area of planting.
It gives me great joy though to report that most of the trees, planted by the public that fine crisp winter morning of three years ago, are doing really well!
Behind these trees lie thousands of others resulting from the peoples' 'Plantathons' of 2012 and 2010 on the Dyke Road sector of Terryland Forest Park. As you can see from the photos, these trees stand tall and proud and are doing a great job in supporting wildlife, in filtering out toxic fumes and greenhouse gases from the atmosphere whilst providing us all with oxygen!
I have to use this opportunity to extend my respect and gratitude to Kevin and Mark who are part of a new generation of parks staff in City Hall that under the great tutelage of Stephen Walsh are devoted to helping protect and enhance the public parks for the benefit of the people and biodiversity of Galway city and beyond. Maith daoibh!
Now with the planned construction of a bridge onto of the old railway stacks that will become the start of the Connemara Greenway and hopefully a boreen network leading onto Coolough, Menlo Castlegar and Carrowbrowne, this area has the potential to become a blue-way (River Corrib) and a green-way (Terryland Forest Park) of huge significance that would be the envy of any other city in Europe.
So I am asking all Galway City councillors to help make this happen by transforming the Dyke Road into a walking/cycling corridor and the old Waterworks into a River/Forestry Interpretative Centre complete with café, gallery, crafts/rural skills learning centre and natural heritage museum.

City Hall replies over 'Right of Way' to Menlo Castle

Fair play to the Galway City Tribune for getting the reply first from Galway City Council with regard to right of access to the public lands of the old Menlo Castle demesne.

A spokesperson for City Hall was quoted as saying in the newspaper, "There is a right of way to the Castle over lands owned by Galway City Council but there may be local issues with parking by an increased number of visitors as a result of COVID <5km exercisers".
This is great news for walkers and cyclists who are increasingly enjoying the natural beauty and landscapes of the lovely village and hinterland of Menlo. We are blessed that such a rural area exists within the boundaries of Galway city.
However it is important that the concerns of local residents are addressed and sorted out. There should be no cars or bikes blocking entries to people's houses or lands.
There is now an urgent need for Galway City Council to take advantage of the government offering 22 new staff positions whose remit will to develop a proper walking and cycling infrastructure for Galway. An important part of this process is to map out the lands that are public or commonage especially along the boreens and traditional country lanes that are traditional 'green-ways'.
Hopefully I can, once COVID restrictions allow within the next few months, restart my "Slí na gCaisleán/Seven Galway Castles Heritage Cycle Guided Tours"! Though Menlo Castle for safety purposes may be cordoned off nevertheless we hope to enjoy its surroundings lawns and the views over the River Corrib to Dangan.

Easter 2021 - Out of the Ashes out of Vandalised Trees, Arose the Phoenix Saplings.

My good friend Ryan Crowell and myself today in Terryland Forest Park planted 7 trees in honour of the 7 signatories of the 'Proclamation of the Irish Republic' that was read out on Easter Sunday 1916 by Pádraig Pádraig in front of the GPO, marking the beginning of the Rising by the men and women of the Irish Volunteers and the Irish Citizen Army against the might of the British Empire. We planted the saplings amongst the ashes of the fires fueled by the wood from trees cut down by vandals in the People's Park in December/January last, trees which had been planted by volunteers of all ages on March 12th 2000. 

What we did admittedly was a small symbolic gesture but one hopefully that will compensate somewhat for the damage caused by the destructive selfish anti-social mavericks of a few months ago and which will provide sanctuary to wildlife and act as a 'carbon sink' for many decades to come. This was my final planting of 2021. I will though keep a careful eye on these 7 trees as they mature and grow into the future, referring to them always as the 'Phoenix Trees'. 

The 'Proclamation of the Irish Republic' is a manifesto that Irish people should be extremely proud of. It is in my opinion one of the most egalitarian revolutionary documents of the early 20th century, declaring the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland, to religious and civil liberty, to equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens, both male and female, and in cherishing all the children of the nation equally. It provided hope and a clarion call for freedom to oppressed peoples everywhere in a time when the world was controlled by empires I was proud too that Ryan Crowell joined me today in this tribute as he is of the family of Seán Mac Diarmada, one of the seven signatories of the Proclamation. The other signatories were Thomas J. Clarke, Thomas MacDonagh, Pádraig Pearse, Éamonn Ceann, James Connolly and Joseph Plunkett.