The world this week lost one of the great iconic figures of the anti-apartheid movement. Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a leader of the struggle against racist white minority rule in South Africa, and was for decades at the forefront of peaceful mass resistance against the regime. A rebellious priest he steered the Christian churches away from a lukewarm stance on apartheid towards a strong proactive opposition and a recognition that it was evil and immoral to tolerate it. When Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, he spent his first night of freedom with Desmond at the bishop’s residency in Cape Town. When he died in 2013, it was Tutu that gave the final prayers at his memorial service. Mandela would refer to him as the people’s archbishop and it was Tutu who  came up with the term ‘Rainbow Nation’ to describe the ethnic mix he wished for in a post-apartheid inclusive South Africa. It was to be a country for all its peoples and a recognition that many white South Africans over many years such as Helen Suzman, Archbishop of Durban Denis Hurley (his parents were Irish), Kathleen Murray (her father was Irish) and Joe Slovo were in positions of leadership in the progressive movement for liberty, equality and fraternity. A supporter of sanctions and boycotts, Tutu in the 1980s derided western leaders such as US President Reagan, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl for their backing of the South African government whilst also condemning the Soviet Union and China for their anti-democratic anti-religious authoritarianism.  Throughout his life he was a strong opponent of Israel, demanding an international boycott of the country, seeing its treatment of Palestinians and the military occupation and colonial settlement of their lands as ‘apartheid’. Desmond also opposed the illegal invasion of Iraq by a US/UK lead coalition, spoke out against political corruption in post-apartheid South Africa, was a strong advocate for gay rights and campaigned for tough action on Climate Change.

From: International Defence & Aid Fund for Southern Africa, 1978
During my student and post student days I was involved in the global campaign against institutionalised racism in South Africa, setting up a branch of the Irish Anti-Apartheid Movement (IAAM) in UCG (now NUIG) during 1977, inviting its founder Kader Asmal to address the university’s Students’ Union assembly and being a participant in USI-led activities when student leaders from Galway such as Mike Jennings, Padraic Mannion and Grainne McMorrow were part of the movement during an era when powerful interests in Ireland tacitly viewed apartheid as a ‘necessary bastion’ against ‘godless’ communism. The IRFU arrogantly supported sporting tours from and visits to South Africa, and businesses such as Dunnes Stores sold their farm produce in their supermarkets. I demonstrated outside the Lansdowne Road stadium in the early 1980s during rugby matches alongside activists such as Michael D. Higgins, now President of Ireland; stood on the picket line at the Dunnes Stores branch on Henry Street in the mid 1980s with brave workers such as Mary Manning, sacked because they would not handle South African oranges and vegetables. These pickets were largely ignored by amongst others the wider Irish trade union membership until Bishop Desmond Tutu gave them international recognition by inviting the strikers to visit him in London during 1985 to thank them for their courageous efforts. In the 1980s I proudly wore my ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ tee-shirt dancing to the song of the same name by the Specials at alternative discos. I joined Michael D. and Sabina Higgins with other Galway anti-apartheid activists as well as Labour supporters in the Atlanta Hotel Dominick Street Galway on February 11 1990 as we emotionally watched on a big television screen Nelson Mandela being released from Victor Verster Prison after 28 years imprisonment.

Over recent years during my work visits to South Africa, I often met ANC veterans who talk admiringly of the grassroots support that they had from Ireland during the dark days. Some  would proudly inform me that they, from many different religious faiths, had been given their education by Irish clerics who regaled them with stories of the centuries-long struggle for Irish independence. Many viewed the conflicts in Northern Ireland and their own country as part of the wider global movement against imperialism, based on overcoming political establishments that used racial/class discrimination and police brutality to keep indigenous populations under control. Sinn Féin and the African National Congress (ANC) saw themselves as brothers-in-arms and Gerry Adams was part of the official guard of honour at Mandela’s funeral in 2013. Kader Asmal, Trinity law lecturer and IAAM co-founder who later become a Minister in Mandela’s government, had in the 1970s and 1980s arranged meetings between the IRA and the ANC’s military wing. But Desmond Tutu was always against armed conflict and consistently called for a peaceful settlement to the ‘Troubles’.


From: International Defence & Aid Fund for Southern Africa, 1978

These ANC veterans would have agreed with Tutu though that the country still has so much to do to live up to the vision that both he and Mandela had of an egalitarian non-sexist non-racist Rainbow Nation, and that inequality, poverty, corruption, crime, femicide, xenophobia and racism were still prevalent.


During the apartheid era I, as a young impatient social activist, personally did often feel that Tutu, who was viewed internationally as the publicly acceptable tolerant face of the struggle for freedom, justice and equality in South Africa, was not radical enough and was too willing to cool the righteous anger of the oppressed masses. But in hindsight I admit that I was wrong and have over the years come to greatly admire the charming, smiling, gregarious, friendly, witty socialist churchman who was courageous beyond measure, willing to speak out against human rights abuses by the governments of Israel, USA, China, Soviet Union, UK and Myanmar.

A hero to so many over so many generations Desmond Tutu, throughout his long eventful life, saw himself first and foremost as a Christian priest rather than a politician who tried to live and to follow in the footsteps of his own hero, namely Jesus Christ. May he Rest in Peace/Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

An Irish Christmas, Past and Present -Part 1

Was Christmas more exciting for children and more satisfying for adults in days gone by? In my humble opinion, the answer at so many levels is an emphatic “No”. But it was different.

In a 21st century  Christmas the gregarious Santa, the bearer of gifts, becomes king of the festive season and the cold dark winter nights transform into bright multicolour light shows. 

The spirit of caring and helping others is now part of the fabric of the modern Christmas with tens of millions of euros being collected for good causes every December in Ireland. There is a wonderful emphasis on volunteering and taking part in fund-raising events for those who are disadvantaged both at home and abroad. Inclusivity and diversity takes centre stage with children of special needs, disabilities, ethnicity and faiths being given respect and prominence in the media such as on the Late Late Toy Show and other festive television delights. The renowned generosity and openness of the Irish is there for all to see.

Pop-up Xmas markets are hosted in every city enticing the visitor with amongst other things, live entertainment, an array of Irish handmade produce, fair trade gifts, mouth-watering craft beverages and tasty homegrown organic foods. Every town and village across the country is decorated with colourful sparkling bunting and lights, and the gardens and buildings of many private houses look like Las Vegas at night-time. 

It is a time when fun family events promoting quality of life tend to be held such as the mass public cycle ride through Galway city of two weeks ago promoting the Salthill Cycleway when participants of all ages dressed up in thematic fancy dress (I was Super Mario!) and rode their blinged-out bikes!

Over the last few years, the Irish people are encouraged like never before to Buy Irish,  Buy Local, Buy Sustainably, Buy Organic and support jobs and innovation in Ireland

Thanks to online shopping and special festive product releases, the selection of toys for children as well as electronic gadgetry, clothes, toiletries and jewellery for adults has never been more wide ranging.

Up until COVID, all age groups could celebrate at Christmas with their peers, from work parties for the adults , to clubbing for the teens/younger adults, and to school concerts for the children and parents. The cinemas, streaming and online media libraries such as Netflix as well as music services explode with much anticipated seasonal movies and music blockbusters.

Children happily write cards to Santa and more likely than not he delivers their requested and oftentimes very expensive gifts. Boys and girls wake up early on Christmas morning to rush down to the tree to be overwhelmed with an array of toys. Thank you Santa!

Christmas during my childhood was more frugal, more serious, less bright and less festive than that of the 21st century. But it was nevertheless every bit as magical and joyful for children then as it is for today’s young generation. In fact…(Part 2 to follow tomorrow).

Coderdojo - Upskilling a Generation of Irish Youth.


Coderdojo Galway volunteers have been teaching coding on Saturdays since Febuary 2013, helping to turn our Galway youth from digital users into digital creators. Some of the children we taught in the early days of the movement are now studying computer science and data science at third level.

I always get chuffed when some of those 'kids' of yesterday come up to you on campus or on the street to tell you that their interest or love of computer programming started at those Saturday morning sessions at NUI Galway.
Today coding thankfully has gone mainstream in many Irish primary and post primary schools and is now part of the national educational curriculum.
But we still find that there is a need for our Saturday morning volunteer training.
Photo shows my fellow Codordojo mentor colleague David with his own two boys who are part of the Scratch beginners class of 2021.
Ireland - A Nation of Volunteers
A 'Bualadh Bos'/big thank you to our Coderdojo champion Aksana Ch and to our mentors Justine, David, Zoltan, Mairead, Paul, Irina, Freha, Adrien, Conor and Cristina who give up valuable time and energy every weekend to upskill our Irish youth. Ireland has a strong tradition of volunteerism that many other countries do not possess and it is something that we should feel very proud off. Add up those that are involved as trainers, coaches, organisers in scouts, heritage, arts, culture, community, cycling/walking groups, conservation, environmental, charities, sports etc and you will find a large percentage of the Irish population are active and willing to help others.

Life Springs Eternal in the Darkest Days of Winter

Nature never sleeps. Today (Christmas Day) I witnessed the life of the next generation of Nature lying silently but proudly amongst the bare branches of the trees in an almost leafless forest.

Thousands of male flowers belonging to the alder, silver birch and hazel trees could be clearly seen hanging like chandeliers of light in a dark woodland. Over the next few weeks the catkins will quietly build up size and colour until at the beginning of the Celtic spring, they will burst into clouds of dust flowers to be carried off by the wind to meet and fertlise the female flowers of their species.
The science of Nature is so magical and never ceases to amaze and delight the human spirit.

A New Member for the ‘Hall of Graduates’ at Data Science Institute, NUI Galway.


Congratulations to my good friend and (now) former Insight Research Centre colleague Safina Showcat Ara who defended her PhD thesis today on the topic of "Exploration Algorithms for Discoverable and Undiscoverable Decentralised Online Social Networks."

She will soon take her rightful place alongside her husband Zia Ush Shamszaman on the walls of our 'Hall of Graduates' at the Data Science Institute NUI Galway dressed up in her spectacular PhD finery.
Safina and Zia were key members of Insight and contributed to the life of the centre at so many levels.
As well as their research work, they were active participants in our multi-cultural festivals, our excursions across Ireland, our Christmas/end of year parties, our ‘coffee and chat’ get togethers in Deri Cafe, our public engagement activities in schools and elsewhere…
Due to COVID, we can’t understandably organise these social activities for the foreseeable future. So many friends have left my workplace since the pandemic began as they complete their studies to move on to pastures new. But due to the new environment we all find ourselves in, I don’t have the opportunity to meet the new Safina Showkat Aras and Zia Ush Shamszamans in the flesh.
I really miss this social connectivity. I really need to met people in the real world. The online and virtual worlds have limitations

A Brief History of the Origins & Role of Terryland Forest Park.

 This is a short film that I made on the history of Terryland Forest Park for the benefits of the CKI Alive progarmme and student research volunteers at NUI Galway.

It outlines the origins of this urban wildlife sanctuary and people's park of 100,000 native Irish trees with its mosaic of ecosystems.
It also shows clips of people planting trees at a 'Plantatho'n and school children planting bulbs at a 'Bulbathon' in the park during 2002; and traditional grass cutting and collecting using hand scythe and horse with cart.
In the mid-late 1990s, Terryland Forest Park pioneered the idea of 'rewilding' a city, in creating 'ecological corridors' for biodiversity restoration and natural 'carbon sinks' to tackle Global Warming, in developing the concept of the 'Outdoor Classroom' for schools and third level colleges, in providing an urban setting for the learning and use of traditional rural heritage skills, and in the involvement of communities in partnership with local government to reshape and Reimagine Irish cities.
Tomorrow that legacy will continue with the rewilding of Lough Atalia.
So please join us at 10am-11am tomorrow (Sat Dec 11) to help, 21 years after the first trees were planted in Terryland Forest Park, in the process of reverting pasture lands back into a mix of wildflower meadows, native tree woodlands and reed-covered wetlands. 
Rendezvous: Gate entrance opposite Áras an tSaile (Dept of Defence) Renmore.

After the Storm comes the Tree Planting!

Help Us ‘Rewild’ Galway on Saturday next with native tree and bulb planting at Lough Atalia. 

The frequency and severity of storms is becoming more characteristic of Ireland as a result of unstable destructive global warm weather caused by the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of Nature’s ‘carbon sinks’ such as forests and bogs. ‘Barra’ is the latest in a long list of storms to hit our shores over the last decade. 

But one key way to tackle Climate Change is to plant trees and lots of them. The Irish government wants to have 22 million trees planted annually. 

This planting also happens to tackle the other great global crisis of our modern era, namely Biodiversity Loss. One million out of five million known species on the planet are threatened with extinction. Global populations of fauna have declined by nearly 70% since 1970. A forest is probably Earth’s most diverse biodiversity rich mix of ecosystems with an oak tree being able to be home to over 400 species of flora, funga and fauna. So planting trees is a necessary action in helping to save the planet from humanity’s errors.

Galway city has a proud history in rewilding going back to the origins of Terryland Forest Park as a community campaign in the mid 1990s and with the first trees been planted on March 12th 2000 by c3000 volunteers. 

At 10am next Saturday (December 11), we are asking people to help in the rewilding of Lough Atalia by planting 400 trees and thousands of bulbs on lands owned by the Galway Community College. The necessary permission has been granted by the National Parks and Wildlife Service on lands that lie within a Special Area of Conservation, the trees have been funded by Aerogen. 

Rendezvous: Gate entrance opposite Áras an tSaile (Dept of Defence) Renmore. 

Register at 

Requirements: Bring Spade and wear suitable clothing. 

Please note that as area is part of a Special Area of Conservation, permission had to be granted by the National Parks Wildlife Service for the planting to take place. A big thank you/Bualadh Bos to all that that have made this happen, namely to Galway Community College, Conservation Volunteers Galway, Terryland Forest Park Alliance, Self Help Africa, Lets Get Galway Growing, Scoil Chaitríona Senior, the Galway Science and Technology Festival and Aerogen- all champions of the Galway National Park City initiative.