Community, Health & Environmental Success at 'Pride of Place' Awards.



The win by the Tuatha of Terryland Forest Park in the all-Ireland 'Pride of Place' awards in Killarney this week is dedicated to the tens of thousands of volunteers in Galway City of all ages and backgrounds who have over many many decades understood the critical importance of Nature for the health of the planet and the health of people, and that the battle to save the rainforests of Amazonia, the Congo and Indonesia will be fought and won in the cities of the world.

These great people planted trees and flowers, cleaned up rivers, streets and parks, organised nature studies and nature walks/cycles, implemented the green prescription, nurtured and restored species in an sometimes hostile unsympathetic built urban environment. 
Our cities need homes, schools, sports/community centres and workplaces but they also need an infrastructure of safe pedestrian/cycling/public transport networks, inter-connected parks, greenways, and wildlife sanctuaries. In the case of the latter, we have to realise that we share our urban habitat with other species and that we need to provide space for the rest of Nature to thrive and by doing so it will provide us with oxygen, lower greenhouse gas emissions, filter out toxic gases, provide flood defenses, give us food, beautify our city and be a tonic to our minds, bodies and souls.
We started the idea of a people's and wildlife park along the Terryland River in my house at Christmas in the year of COP 1 (1995) and it became a reality in 2000.
Over the last 27 years, we have achieved a lot but we have so much more to do. Our green spaces need significantly more investment and they should be clean and safe for all. Boosted by a new generation of young enthusiastic volunteers (supported of course by many older enthusiastic veterans who have not gone away!), I am optimistic that the next few years will see progress in integrating the rest of Nature into our beloved city through the 'Galway National Park City' designation which is about making our city Greener, Bluer, Wilder, Healthier, Smarter, Sustainable and more Beautiful.
Finally, a big Bualadh Bos to Claddagh Watch who do so well at the Awards final in recognition in their great efforts to make our waterways safe and in protecting people's lives as well as to our county friends in the Headford Lace Project and Killannin Development Committee.
Community resiliance is alive and well in Galway!


Little Schools are the Heartbeat of Rural Ireland & the Foundations for its Revitalisation

COVID cut me off from what is one of the most enjoyable blessful elements of my work at the Insight Centre for Data Analytics NUI Galway, namely the opportunity to travel to every corner of Galway county and city in order to teach different aspects of technology in the schools that function as the heartbeat of their local communities.

This is particularly true of the little schools of rural Galway, which serve as the vibrant hub of their villages and parishes. The photo shows Creggs, one of these great primary schools located in the idyllic village that gives it its name and in which I spent a most enjoyable day last week teaching coding to the senior classes (being teaching there since 2006!).

In this period of rural decline it has been these learning institutions that have kept alive local traditions, such as making St. Bridget Crosses on February 1st; decorations and floats for St. Patrick’s Day; planting trees for Tree Week; painting festive eggs at Easter; and playing the songs and reciting the myths and legends of the locality in times past. As Irish people have abandoned farming (for work in the big city) and the great social gatherings that was the weekly Sunday only a few decades ago, it is the school that maintains a sense of ‘community spirit’ by bringing together the grannies, parents, cousins and neighbours of the pupils to enjoy concerts at Christmas, fancy dress parties at Samhain/Halloween, heritage nights, charity fundraising and group cycles. It is also the children of the school that are the life blood of the parish sports and youth clubs.

But these schools have been suffering for many decades due to creeping urbanisation. Fifty years ago Ireland's social and economic life revolved around an agricultural system based on the small family farm and rural towns were vibrant places serving their farming hinterland. Today too many of these country towns look like ghost towns with lines of abandoned and boarded up premises; the small family farm has lost its national economic centrality and the mosaic of fields of colourful wildflower meadows, barley, rye, oats, potatoes, cabbages and apple/damson/pear/orchards have all but disappeared from the landscape.
Depopulation in rural Ireland has led to many school closures including some that I worked in such as Corgary, Carnageehy and Woodlawn in east Galway. The car-based transport infrastructure assists this trend as it encourages some parents living in an increasingly suburban-orientated Irish countryside to understandably take children to schools near where they work in the big towns and cities.

But I now see the seeds for a resurgence in rural Ireland based on the principles of the Circular Economy characterised by mixed organic farming; the return of grain, vegetable and fruit growing in fields surrounded by hedgerows or drystone walls; a revitalisation of indigenous crafts and arts, the establishment of wildlife sanctuaries which includes deciduous forests, a network of interlinked greenways, an increased state committment towards public transport, an increased emphasis on renewable energies (wind, water, biomass), and a hospitality trade focused on sourcing locally grown foodstuffs.

The COVID lockdown has opened our eyes to the endless opportunities available with a proper broadband infrastructure allowing many to work long distance be if from homes or from the shared space of small town innovative digital hubs (some are set up already in what was until recently boarded up shops and pubs). Climate Change and Biodiversity Loss as well as the consequences of the destructive Russian invasion of Ukraine have shown us the crucial need to use local solutions to solve global crises. Sustainable jobs exist in nature guardianship, Outdoor Learning, Outdoor leisure (hiking, rowing, cycling etc), energy production, farming at so many levels, electronic repair/recycling/upcycling, biomedical manufacturing, education, crafts, arts, culture, scientific/technology research and green tourism. 3D printing, using safe recyclable materials, will mean the return of the 'cottage industry' to rural Ireland.

So it is crucial that the little country schools are now nurtured and kept open during this period of transition.

I have happily worked in these schools (and their second level ‘big brothers’) since 2002 teaching a range of science and technology courses (coding, film production, photo editing/enhancing, heritage, environmental science, data science, Citizen Science and Internet Safety) as well as offering teachers and children the opportunity to attend sessions at my university workplace to learn from my younger research colleagues, to visit my beloved computer museum as well as to exhibit at the annual Galway Science and Technology Festival Fair.

Hopefully soon I will have re-established the school circuit that I had in the years before COVID not only in the city but in so many villages and parishes in the county stretching from Inishbofin off the coast of Connemara to Tiernascragh near the River Shanno

Planting a Ukrainian woods with an African connection and roots back to ancient Ireland within Terryland Forest Park.

 The Tuatha volunteers have since mid March quietly planted a small woodland in Terryland Forest Park dedicated to the brave people of Ukraine who are suffering so much as they bravely resist Putin's brutal invasion.Only trees native to both countries were planted, namely oak, birch and alder.

The first trees were planted by our good friend Duncan Stewart from Eco-Eye.
We will this week write to Gerasko Larysa, the Ukrainian ambassador to Ireland, requesting her to visit Galway late this year to plant a tree in a woods that symbolizes the strong support that Ukraine has amongst the Irish people.
The Tuatha volunteers involved though came not just from Ireland but also from many other countries including Sweden, Vietnam and USA.
Today's Tuatha volunteers continue an inclusivity and diversity tradition that has been part of the ethos of Terryland Forest Park since its foundation. For instance in 2006, under the banner of 'Putting Roots in Irish Soil' asylum seekers from Iraq, Russia, Belarus, Nigeria, Kenya and many other countries took part in the planting of a Celtic-themed 3 ring maze near Terryland Castle, initiated by the fantastic Stephen Walsh, the first and present Superintendent of Parks at City Hall.
Many of the trees for the Ukrainian woods were provided by the inspirational EasyTreesie who are doing so much to help local communities in reforesting Ireland. we thanked them for that.
The African Connection
We also had trees donated from the wonderful Self-Help Africa programme thanks to the generousity of Ronan Scully--, one of the great heroes of modern Ireland, whose work spanning two continents is based on implementing sustainability, environmental protection and community empowerment, combatting social exclusion and overcoming systemic poverty. The Self-Help Africa programme connects the planting of trees by schools in Ireland with reforestation in Africa. Ronan is also a worthy champion of the Galway National Park initiative. Thank you Ronan for all that you have been doing over many decades.
Oak Trees from the primeval forests of ancient Ireland.
But of special heritage value are the oak tree saplings donated by Denise Garvey. These native Irish oaks come from Coollattin Woods in Wicklow, one of the final remnants of the great primeval forests that covered Ireland until the great clearances of the plantation period from the early 17th century onwards.
Much of the woods in Coollattin were actually though cleared during the 1970s and 1980s with its trees exported as high quality vineer. It took the first large scale eco campaign in Ireland of the modern era lasting nearly 20 year to save the last of its ancient trees in the locality of Tomnafinnogue following the direct intervention by the then Taoiseach Charles Haughey
UK businessman and Wicklow resident Brian Kingham took over Coollattin in 2016 and has undertaken an ambitious reforestation of the estate.
So we are so proud that the community-council driven Terryland Forest Park now has a direct connection not only in symbolism with Ukraine and Africa but also with the birth of the Irish environmental movement and the great forests of ancient Ireland. Thank you Denise Garvey.

A Cycling & Walking Journey across the rural landscapes of Galway city & environs

Thank you to all those who joined us last Sunday for the 7 Galway Castles Heritage Cycle Trip held as part of Bike Week 2022.

The event was fully booked out days in advance.
In spite of the heavy rainfall for the first few hours, we got to see and experience a breathtakingly beautiful countryside of boreens (country lanes), ancient woods, abandoned villages, bogs, wetlands, pasture, burren-type rockscapes, castles, rivers and so much more.
We are eternally grateful to Galway City Council for providing Bike Week grant funding and to Cunningham Marine & Civil for sponsoring the lunch at McHughs Bar and Restaurant.
Our next cycle will be the 3 Athenry-Monivea Castles Heritage tour in late June and another 7 Galway Castles Heritage Cycle in July.