This is a dark day for Europe and the world

The invasion of Ukraine shows clearly that the anti democratic Putin, who suppresses human rights and assassinates opponents in Russia, to be an imperialist. The excuses given and lies told by this dictator, supported by his fellow dictator in Belarus, have so many similarities to those of the Hitlerite regime for justifying the Nazi invasions of Czechoslovakia and Poland which involved portraying a brutal invasion as a war of ‘self defence’ but with the clear intention of wiping a nation or nations off the face of the Earth.
90% of the people of Ukraine voted in 1991 for full independence. Their wishes should be respected. Now sadly thousands of these freedom-loving peoples could die and hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians will become refugees far from their homeland. 
My thoughts and prayers are with my Ukrainian friends and their families at this dangerous time.

I was against the invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan (both Soviet & US), Cyprus and Yemen, the decades long sanctions against Cuba as well as the ongoing occupation and colonisation of Palestine.
I have been to Russia, have great respect for the Russian peoples, their struggles against Nazi tyranny and a deep love of Russian culture particularly its traditional music. But I have no time for Putin or any autocrat. Nor do many ordinary and prominent Russians who are bravely protesting against Putin's invasion of a fellow Slavic neighbouring country even when it means arrest and probably worse.
Whilst democratic Ukraine should have every right to be part of EU if that is what its peoples want, in my humble opinion it should nevertheless have declared itself neutral as Austria did in the 1950s and remain outside both NATO and Russian military blocs.
There is no justification whatsoever for the brutal invasion, occupation and suppression of any independent nation. Putin is trying to roll back history and reestablish the colonial Tsarist Empire.

Noel Treacy TD, a personal tribute to a Hero of Science & of Education

Noel Treacy TD, Brendan Smith, Tom Hyland, Galway Science & Technology Festival 2012
For twenty years I have been an educational science and technology officer working with third level colleges, schools, businesses, NGOs and local communities in Galway, Ireland, the Middle East and Africa. I consider myself extremely fortunate and blessed to have served in this fascinating role. During that period, I have worked with, learnt from and being inspired by so many fantastic transformational men and women. Thanks to them and to the people that I serve, nearly every day at work is a joyful experience and a challenge to do better. But the origins of my involvement in science education is due to three great individuals that I will be eternally grateful to.

I was not too long back from Iceland where I was involved in the hospitality sector for a number of years and continued to do so for a while after my return to Ireland.
But I had a yearning for a move back to my former professions of teaching and information technology. In their respective roles as chairperson, secretary and patron of the Galway Science and Technology Festival, Dr Jimmy Browne (then Deputy President NUI Galway), Bernard Kirk (Director, Galway Education Centre), and Minister Noel Treacy TD gave me in late 2001 an unbelievably exciting opportunity to manage a pilot scheme that we later named ‘Fionn’ which was about utilising digital technologies to support the introduction from 2004 of science as a new subject into Ireland’s Primary School curriculum.
‘Fionn’ is an amazing story that needs to be told and will be in the not-too-distant future. Suffice to say for the moment that it was Noel Tracey, who as Minister of State for Science, secured funding from Minister of Finance Charlie McCreevy within the 2001 government budget to support this pioneering initiative.

Sadly Noel died a few weeks ago. I have read the many warm and heartfelt tributes from journalists and politicians that have been written about him. What they all said about Noel is so true. He was kind, charming, honest, hardworking, family orientated, ever loyal to his party of Fianna Fáil, possessing a deep affinity of the Irish language, of Irish heritage and of the GAA. He was the consummate grassroots politician who cared deeply about his constituents, the people that he served from morning to night, seven days a week. He entered politics not for personal gain but for a greater societal good. On the many occasions I saw him at local events, I never witnessed a politician to ‘work a room’ as well as he did. He would go from person to person giving each and every one a strong firm handshake and an intense warm look, remind them of previous times when they met and often astonish as well as delight them with stories of their family members going back generations. As my wife Cepta is from east Galway, I would attend family funerals with her over the years where I would often meet Noel at these communal gatherings which are so deeply ingrained into the fabric of Irish farming and village life. One can be cynical about politicians attending funerals in their constituents. But for Noel his presence was sincere and all those present knew and respected that.

Whenever I heard him speak at a event in his role as a government minister, I was always so impressed in how he started his speeches with a great flourish in the Irish (and not just a token cúpla focail) language that he so loved, and admired how he always went out of his way to individually name and thank everyone in the audience that contributed to the success of proceedings.

Yet there is a side of him that has been rarely mentioned in the glowing references. Though he was renowned as the archetypal rural grassroots politician, Noel had an impact on Irish educational and business development that has been long lasting but is rarely mentioned and maybe not fully appreciated.

Ever the networking diplomat, in his capacity as Minister of State for Science, Noel in 1998 brought together in a small hotel room, an influential but disparate group of individuals drawn from third level colleges, schools, health, development agencies, state organisations, local government, media and business. Noel told them that he wanted to make Galway a science and technology hub second to none and this meant encouraging young people to value it as a worthy career choice. He told the audience that in a recent trip to the Hebrides he encountered a very successful festival of Science and Technology aimed at the islands’ school-going population. He saw no reason why Galway could not replicate this Scottish model and he formed there and then a multisectoral committee to organise Ireland’s first Science and Technology Festival with the dynamic Bernard Kirk as its secretary. Twenty four years later under its wonderful manager Anne Murray, chairperson Paul Mee and their brilliant team of movers and shakers, the festival is as vibrant as ever and has in the intervening period spawned a myriad of similar festivals nationwide.

For a man that did not go to third level college for a degree, Noel was passionate about encouraging children to consider further education and employment in science. As aforementioned he acted as a catalyst in the introduction of science into the primary school curriculum. The subject was actually taken out of the curriculum during the early 1920s by the Free State government to make way for the Irish language. With state funding secured by Noel, I was hired by the Galway Education Centre in late 2001 to prepare a pilot programme that would help schools transition over a four year period into the teaching of science in the classroom and in their hinterland. Our mantra was “All Science is Local”.

Later Noel became Minister of State for European Affairs and continued to do so much good, encouraging the fostering of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) with creativity, arts, innovation and enterprise, as well as in developing educational connections between Ireland and the rest of Europe.

For a number of years after his retirement from government ministry, I continued to meet Noel, along with Marie Mannion of the Galway county council Heritage Office, in his role as Cathaoirleach (Chair) of the Galway GAA via the schools/communities BEO online local heritage archives project that he also supported due to his love of preserving using digital technologies the stories of the past.

Like so many members of the original festival team that he established which included Bernard Kirk(Galway Education Centre), Tom Hyland(IDA), Jimmy Browne(NUIG), Sean O’Muircheartaigh(GMIT), Pat Morgan(NUIG), Simon Lenihan and John Cunningham(Connacht Tribune), Noel was a visionary that facilitated the building of a resilient modern, outward-looking, collegiate, educated, sustainable Galway and Ireland that was at the vanguard of meeting the global challenges that we faced. More than ever before we need that “we are all in this together” spirit and scientific/community ethos to tackle the Climate and Biodiversity Crises which requires a sustained united active approach.

Finally the photo shows me in 2012 at the Galway Science Fair standing between two legends of our times, namely Noel and his good friend Tom Hyland (RIP) with whom he worked closely alongside over many years in encouraging industrial and educational development. Tom was at the helm of the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) of Ireland Western Region for much of the period from the 1970s to the early 2000s, helping attract high profile global investment and corporations to the city and county, ensuring that it became one of the country's key hubs of and business.

Let’s not forget the accomplishments and impact of Noel as a politician. We need such ‘role models’ today. His legacy should be preserved, possibly through the establishment of an annual educational or enterprise award for young people.

"When We Were Young": Student Days & Nights at UCG’s Rag Week


I feel really sorry for the present generation of students at GMIT & NUIG including my son Dáire.

For this is the week, when in my student days (& nights!) at UCG we hosted College Week (aka Rag Week), a wonderful fun 7 days events programme before most (well some!) of us began the serious stuff of study and exam preparations.
And what an action packed week it was!
There was the Mr & Ms College Week auditions in the Skeff; live music from the best local/national/international bands every night in Leisureland; the clubs in Salthill bursting at the seams dancing to the disco sounds of DJs Gerry Sexton, the K-Tel kids..; Kissing Competitions in the Concourse (Mike Jennings - didn't you win it one year?), the Crazy Boat Race; the Greasy Pole competition over the Eglinton Canal; the male & female Pub Crawl (on stretchers!) Races, the Tug-of-War & other field sports; the kidnappings of bishops and college lecturers held until a ransom (for charity- all good fun though!) was paid over; the streakers running through crowded lecture halls; the myriad of 'social action' activities provided by SAM (Social Action Movement); the crazy ‘pogo’ lunchitime dancing in the (canteen) basement; and the grand finale- the 'Fancy Dress Ball' on the Saturday Night with musical acts such as Bob Geldof & the Boomtown Rats, U2.....
All coordinated by a College Week Director- Ollie Jennings was director one year and Patrick Gillespie another year(I was lucky to be Pat's assistant!) with Padraic Boran, UCG SU Ents Officer securing the big music acts.
The city was rocking!! In spite of the craziness though, there was very little alcohol consumed per student. Unless we won a beer keg in a competition we did not have the money then to afford more than a few beers per night. Outside Rag Week, for most of us it was alcohol, the pub & the dance club only on Thursday nights. Overall the week was all good (largely clean!) fun with no violence and, except for small amounts of cannabis, no drugs. There were great prizes for the winners of the competitions. In 1981, our house in Hazel Park enjoyed a party night when 2 kegs (prizes!) of beer were enjoyed by residents and guests! I never got a drop though- I was dancing the night away in the 'Beach' nightclub!
In 1978 one of my house mates won Mr College Week- it meant free tickets to all of the main gigs!
The photo shows the cover of the independent student Unity magazine in the year that I was editor. The brilliant artwork was done by my good friend of the time Marie Drumgoole, a Medical student with an extraordinary artistic touch.

Decision by 14 Galway City Councillors to overrule the Public Consultation on the Salthill Cycleway Undermines Local Democracy


Decision by 14 Galway City Councillors to overrule the Public Consultation on the Salthill Cycleway harms Local Democracy. In September, 17 Galway City councillors voted in favour of a temporary cycling infrastructure for Salthill. Only one voted against. This was welcomed by so many of us as a major step in finally implementing a 2002 policy to develop a safe citywide cycling and pedestrian infrastructure. In the largest ever consultative process organised by Galway City Council in January, nearly 7000 submissions were received from the public on the options put forward on the type of Cycleway that would be installed next month and which would remain in place until September. The cost of this infrastructure would be funded by the National Transport Authority. Much of these monies could later be recouped if the Cycleway became, with critical reconstructs, a permanent cycle way. Now 14 city councillors have signed a motion to revoke their backing for the Salthill cycle path trial before the results of the public consultation has even been published. Mayor Colette Connolly, Deputy Mayor Martina O'Connor, councillors Owen Hanley and Niall Murphy are not part of the 14 councillor grouping. I am shocked at this decision and in all my years since the mid 1980s when I started engaging with Galway City Council as a community activist, I have never seen such arbitrary action. This in my opinion is a slap in the face to every person that took the time and effort to submit their views in the consultation process. It undermines trust in City Hall, makes a mockery of public engagement and puts a question mark over every future local government consultation. Every person that took part did so in good faith and felt that the option favoured by the majority would be implemented on a trial basis. For councillors to change their opinion, based on new information etc, is their right and is good in many cases. But no matter how people voted, it is only respectful to wait for a new motion until the results of the consultation are published. I know most of the 14 councillors involved and some of them I consider good friends who have done great things for the city over the years. Even if the consulation is non-statuary, their present action harms local democracy. Our great city and its citizens deserves better than this. There are renowned practitioners in the arts, science, technology, education, health, small business, corporate business, sports and amongst NGOs in Galway that serve as inspiring role models to people all over the world. Their perseverance, innovation and pioneering spirit is respected by so many and has given Galway an international reputation second to none. But sadly governance in some parts of City Hall is seriously stagnating. The European City of Culture 2020, the Pálás Cinema and Eyre Square episodes were badly handled and cost the taxpayers millions. We are now falling behind other cities in terms of genuine community engagement and in not implementing the polices that are needed to create a sustainable economy and society to tackle the Climate and Biodiversity Crises. The council also recently voted not to include the Galway National Park City initiative, and a Waterways Strategy, in the City Development Plan 2023-2029 that would laid the foundations post COVID to build our city back greener and better. These decisions defy logic in the 21st century. Does our city now need a new generation of MichaelDs who have the courage, vision and passion to provide the political leadership that is soo desperately needed to fulfill our United Nations (17 Sustainable Development Goals), EU (Green Deal) and national (walking/cycling/public transport) commitments? None of the options presented represented the solution that could have been designed to meet the needs required and sadly have turned good people, that should have been natural allies, against each other. I voted for Option 2 but it was a question of Hobsons Choice for so many of us. Much more thought should have been given to the planning of these proposals before they were issued. The councilors and officials collectively could have worked together to come up with something much better. The people of Galway urgently require a city wide safe pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. We have waited 20 years and we need a sustainable way forward.

St. Brigit's Day - a sign of the remarkable status of early Irish Celtic Women

February 1st is the first day of Spring in the Celtic calendar, the season of birth and re-birth that follows the cold barren months of Winter. In Ireland, it is known as Fhéile Bríde as it is dedicated to a female, St. Brigit (or Bridget, Brigid, Bride), the country's most famous native born saint. Children in schools across the country mark the occasion by making a distinctive traditional four armed cross woven out of reeds that is named after the saint. Her name also has a strong affinity with a Celtic deity associated with fertility and symbolised by 'fire', the element that offered humankind protection from the natural deadly forces of winter.

Brigit is second only in the Irish saints' calendar to St. Patrick who was born in Roman Britain.
The fact that Brigit was female is quite significant as the early Celtic Church in Ireland was unique in contemporary Christian Europe in giving considerable recognition to the role of women. Irish society was not as patriarchal as their Roman, Greek or Germanic neighbours. According to the historian Dáibhí Ó Cróinín in his book 'Early Medieval Ireland', a woman could divorce her husband for a variety of reasons (including if he failed to satisfy her sexual needs!), could own and inherit property and was treated as an individual in her own right with inherent protections under Celtic law. Women fought on the battlefield as warriors until this was banned by the church.

Celtic female influence extended as far as Iceland....

Even outside Ireland, the influence of Irish women at this time (5-7th century) was felt- St. Ives in Cornwall is called after an Irish female saint (a.k.a. Eva or Aoife), St.Grimonia & St. Proba lived in France (Gaul) in the 4th century, St. Dardaloch in Pavia, Itay (c.300ad) and the nunnery in Austria made famous in the film and musical 'The Sound of Music' was probably founded by an Irish female missionary (Erintrude). In Iceland the hero of one of the great Icelandic Sagas is the Irish female slave Melkorka, a stong willed woman who refused to be coerced by humiliation, rape and brutality. In fact it has been noted by some that the status of women in Iceland (where I lived for a number of years), which was higher than in contemporary Scandinavian societies, possibly owed its origins to the impact exerted by the high number of Irish women living amongst the country's early Viking settlements- they were brought to the country as slaves and wives from the Viking towns of Ireland. It has been said that it was their influence that persuaded many of their pagan husbands to vote in favour of the country's adoption of Christianity at the famous 'Althingi' (parliament) of 1000AD.

This independent-minded spirit must have left a lasting legacy as Icelandic women were amongst the most successful in securing equal rights for women's during the course of the 20th century.

Female Celtic Warriors
Celtic mythology provides ample evidence of the power of women in pre-Christian Ireland. The country itself -Éire ('Ire(land)' in English)- is named after a goddess; the names of most of the great rivers with their life-giving waters are associated with nymphs, goddesses and female animals; the Celtic God of War (Morrigan)- the most masculine of activities- is female. Some of the most powerful Celtic rulers were women such as Queen Maeve and Queen Boadicea(Bó = Cow in Irish) 
The fiercest and most macho hero in Celtic mythology is 'Cuchulainn'. Yet he was actually totally female-dominated(!):
  • trained in martial arts and weaponry by Scathach
  • first defeated in battle by Aoife
  • protected by the War Goddess Morrigan
  • kept on the 'straight and narrow' (most of the time!) by his strong-willed wifeEmer
  • nursed back to health from near fatal battle wounds by his mistress Niamh
  • and killed by the army of Queen Maeve.
High Status of Brigit in Celtic Church & pagan associations 
Brigit was also a powerful Celtic goddess of fertility associated with the birth of animals and symbolised by fire. Hence her links with one of the four great pagan festivals of the seasons- the Spring Festival of 'Imbolc' which occurs in February and the time of 'lambing'.It is therefore quite possible that St. Brigit was originally a high priestess of the pagan goddess Brigit who converted along with her female followers to Christianity during the time of St. Patrick.

According to legend St. Brigit was the daughter of Dubhthach, an Irish chief, and one of his 'Picttish' (from modern Scotland) slaves. She was made a bishop by St. Mel (whom the actor Mel Gibson was named after) and founded one of the most famous Irish monasteries beside an Oak tree on the plains of Magh Liffe thereafter known as 'Cill Dara' or Kildare- 'the Church of the Oak Tree'.In the Celtic pagan religion, trees were considered sacred, none more so than oak trees which were prime locations for spiritual worship.The monastery also was the repository of a 'holy flame', another clue to its possible pagan origins as a temple of Druid priestesses in a sacred woodland. It also has striking similarities to the story of the 'Vestal Virgins' of Ancient Rome whose primary task was to maintain the sacred fire of Vesta, the goddess of the 'hearth'.Under Bridget's leadership as Abbess and bishop, Cill Dara became a great place of spiritual learning and of the arts/crafts particularly metal work and illumination. For centuries thereafter, each succeeding Abbess of Kildare took the name of 'Brigit' and was regarded as a person of immense stature thoughout Ireland with the monastery being second only to Armagh in its ecclesiastical importance.

Rape of Brigit & decline in the status of Women in Irish society 

But over time, the importance of women in society was reduced as Viking raids, wars and the growing influence of the patrician 'male only' Vatican took its toll. The death knell came in 1132 when it seems troops of the King of Leinster Dermot MacMurrough sacked the monastery, raped the abbess Brigit, carried her off and forcibly had her married to one of his followers. As is the case throughout the history of humanity, 'rape' is used as the ultimate weapon against female independence and the physical symbol of man's power over womankind. McMurrough is the same man who invited the British Normans to Ireland to aid him in his wars; they of course soon decided to conquer the country for themselves staying in the process for over 800 years.