Connecting a 21st century urban forest to the primeval forests of ancient Ireland.


A few weeks ago as part of the wonderful pioneering European-wide More Trees Now initiative, the Tuatha volunteers planted in Terryland Forest Park oak tree saplings that came from Coolattin Woods nursery and were donated by the inspirational educationalist Denise Garvey.

This is the second such gift from Denise who gave us similar oak saplings last year that became the foundation for a Ukrainian woods in Terryland.
Coolattin Woods in Wicklow is 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.
But much of the last trees left in Coolattin were only cleared during the 1970s and 1980s and exported as high quality veneer. It took the first large scale eco campaign in Ireland of the modern era lasting nearly 20 years 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 native forest now has a direct connection the birth of the Irish environmental movement and the great forests of ancient Ireland.
May we in the Tuatha wish everyone a joyful New Year and amy we all contribute in our own way towards making 2024 a year of progress in tackling the Climate and Biodiversity Crises.

2004-2023: My son Dáire's 19 year journey in Education.


In September 2004, a happy and excited four old boy started his first day in primary school (photo on left).

Dáire's eight years at Scoil San Phroinsias (Tirellan) was followed by six years at Coláiste Iognáid (the Jes), four years at the NUIG/University of Galway and finally one year at the University of Barcelona where he completed this summer an MSc in Medical Science.
All of these educational institutions served him well and he learned a lot from some fine motivational teachers and lecturers.
His life-long love of wildlife especially marine life, inspired by his fascination with and volunteering at Galway Atlantaquaria with its great staff and management (thanks Liam Twoney, Noirin, Neil, Pete, Colette & Kevin), meant I thought for a long time that he would pursue a career in marine biology or veterinary science.
But that was not to be and his journey in education will mean he will be helping in some form to save the lives of people rather than animals. 
So well done Dáire! In an era of destructive wars and a climate crisis, it is so important that our youth take the decision to help their fellow humans and the rest of nature, both professionally and as volunteers.
The photo on the left shows Dáire on his first day to school accompanied by his older brother Shane (who started secondary school in St. Mary's College on the same day!) and his mom Cepta (p.s. I was there too- I was the photographer!). The image on the right shows Dáire in his graduation robes with Cepta this summer in Barcelona, standing in front of the one of the great man-made wonders of the world, namely the Basílica de la Sagrada Família ('Holy Family').
It is appropriate that both photos show Dáire with his mom. For Cepta has been his (& indeed that of our other son Shane) rock throughout his life, always there to help and guide him from birth to adulthood. So I extend a big 'bualadh bos' to my lovely wife Cepta!
Hopefully too the designer of the awesome Sagrada Família, the renowned Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, will also serve as a positive influence for Dáire into the future. For his passions were so benign and are now needed more than ever in today's troubled world, namely a deep love of Nature, a need to 'green' the built environment, a practitioner of innovation, a Christian humanitarian and a proponent of indigenous culture (in his case the language, art, and history of Catalonia).

Christmas in Terryland Forest Park- the Agony and the Ecstasy

After spending an early St. Stephen's Day morning gathering up rubbish left behind in Terryland Forest Park by selfish uncaring anti-social elements, one could be forgiven for questioning (even for one brief moment) why so many of us give so much of our lives cleaning up the detritus of others that don't seem to care one iota as well as constantly fighting against a political system that time and time again puts obstacles in the way of protecting and enhancing the natural environment.
Then in answer to that eternal question, I had a Eureka moment. Looking onto the river, I saw two beautiful swans appear out of the mist. The whole magical scene of mist-covered waters, slowly swaying rushes, tall trees and majestic fowl reminded me of why we do what we do.
So a happy festive season to every environmental and community campaigner and volunteer across the world. Keep up the great work- you are making a difference.

Christmas with the Smiths.

It was great to have Christmas Day at home with Cepta, Shane, Dáire and sister-in-law Áine.
As with so many others, our festive season is all about family. Very ordinary but all the more extraordinaire and special because of that very simple thing.
Nollaig Shona agus Athbhliain faoi mhaise daoibh.

Songs & Poems for Peace at Vigil for Palestine, Galway

I was glad to have joined great people last night at the Vigil for Palestine on the Salmon Weir pedestrian bridge with the Galway Cathedral serving as an appropriate religious backdrop.

In spite of the heavy rain and strong winds, the poems read and Christmas hymns sung were clearly heard. Their message was peace, freedom and justice for Palestine and its peoples.
At the vigil, the traditional Nativity scene was given a December 2023 Gaza setting with the crib buried under the rubble of a collapsed building as happens daily due to the non-stop barbaric Israeli air and land bombing.
After the vigil the Nativity scene was transferred to the Cathedral where candles can be lit and prayers said for Palestine.
Well done to the Galway Palestine Solidarity Campaign for their great work in keeping the public aware of what is happening in Gaza and West Bank. They deserve our gratitude.
At the vigil it was great to meet up with Cha Taylor and Sean Regan, two good friends from UCG days.
Finally well done to the Christian community of Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, for cancelling the Christmas festivities in solidarity with the people of Gaza.

The BEO project - Connecting Rural Communities to their past.

I recently enjoyed the warm friendly atmosphere of an old style local rural community night in Coldwood National School near Craugwell county Galway.

There was lots of home-baked scones, cakes and teas served by volunteers as grandparents and parents of the present generation of pupils came back to the school of their childhood days to reminisce and tell stories of life long ago recorded on the night by children for a series of podcasts for the 150 year celebrations of this fine educational institution.
As part of Insight's BEO online local heritage project, I was there to help in the collection of photographs from times past brought in by the older attendees and the identification of those in these images.
To support this process I enlarged and colourised in advance a lot of old images associated with Coldwood as well as bringing along multiple familiar artifacts from Ireland in days gone by such as a wooden school desk complete with inkwell, blotting paper, erasure and 1960s/1970s school books; a milk churn; a transistor radio, a Sony Walkman cassette player, photo slides and vinyl record albums.
The effort was worth it as the photos on display helped reconnect families across the decades. Paddy Cahill(on the top left in photo montage), standing beside his son, points to his dad in a 1910 photo that he had never seen before, whilst Paddy Rooney (on the top right) points to himself in a 1950 photo.
By the end of the night, most of the people in the sample photographs on display were identified as great grandparents, grandparents, parents and themselves by the attendees present.
The interesting and often unique materials collected over the last few years under the BEO online digital local heritage project, supported throughout by the Galway County Heritage Office, will be unveiled at a big celebratory launch next March in the Galway Education Centre
Details to follow at the end of January.

Upstairs, Downstairs – the Inside Story of an Irish ‘Big House’

One of the most enjoyable nights that I have experienced for manys the long year took place recently when it seemed the whole community of Fohenagh and environs, complimented by heritage enthusiasts, politicians and dignitaries, came together to celebrate and to give due recognition to my good friend Frank Gavin for the launch of his excellent book entitled “The Dillons of Clonbrock, a History”.
The venue was Gullane’s Hotel in Ballinasloe and the large attendance and its makeup was a reflection of the high esteem and respect that Frank is held in across east Galway and beyond. Amongst the participants were Senator Aisling Dolan; Galway County Cathaoirleach Liam Carroll; Martin Mac Oirealla, a highly enthusiastic ‘heritage in schools’ educator; Joe Mannion, another local historian par excellence; and the 87 year old Michéal Keaney, owner of the historical Castle Ellen (birthplace of the mother of Edward Carson, the founder of Northern Ireland) and the finest engineer that Galway City Council ever has had.
Master of ceremonies for the event was the brilliant Christy Cunniffe, one of Ireland’s best known community archaeologists. Special guest speakers were Marie Mannion, the country’s hardest working and much admired local authority heritage officer; and Professor Terence Dooley the distinguished historical writer and Director of the Centre for the Study of Historic Irish Houses and Estates at the National University of Ireland Maynooth.
I myself was honoured to be asked by Frank to also be a guest speak at the launch, to write the foreword for the publication and to enhance and colourise an old black and white photo taken of Clonbrock House circa 1904 that formed the cover of the book.
I was especially and personally honoured as both sides of my family fought on the republican side during the Irish Civil War, whose forces were sadly responsible for the burning down of many of the gentry mansions across the country, seeing them as symbols of centuries of colonial oppression.
I have known and admired Frank since 2008 when we first collaborated in helping the children of Fohenagh National School, under the guidance of the much loved principal at the time, Anne Burke, to undertake research studies and field trips on the history of the Clonbrock estate. The extraordinary series of podcasts and videos made with the school and the local community during 2008 and 2009 will be relaunched on March 6th 2024 at a special event in the Galway Education Centre to commemorate the BEO online heritage archives project and the Fionn Primary School Science 2002-2005 initiative.
The best tribute that I can give Frank here on the importance of his work is to repeat the foreword that I wrote in the book:
“There have been multiple books written about the Anglo-Irish gentry and their great estates which dominated and shaped the Irish countryside for centuries. Many more will follow in the years ahead. But this book is different. For the author is able to give a personal perspective from within the walls of the demesne as he himself was part of this ‘Upstairs and Downstairs’ world in its twilight years.
Frank Gavin worked as a gardener in the Clonbrock estate when Ethel Louisa Dillon, daughter of the fourth Baron Clonbrock who was one of the largest landowners in Ireland, was still alive. She was a debutante in Victorian London society at a time when it was said that the sun never set on a British Empire that covered almost a quarter of the world’s landmass. Frank provides some fascinating information on the Clonbrock estate during its heyday in the 19th century when the third and fourth barons, along with the latter’s extraordinary wife Lady Augusta Caroline Dillon, were exceptional in this era for being highly progressive pioneering residential Anglo-Irish landlords who practiced mixed farming; planted woods; constructed heated glasshouses (growing exotic fruits such as grapes and peaches), a forge, a sawmill, a butchery, a photographic house and a sophisticated piped water system for the estate; set up a poultry co-operative and established four schools in the locality for the children of their tenant farmers.
But Frank is at his best when he provides the names, photographs and the stories of the people who worked alongside him in Clonbrock and whose families had often done so for many generations before. He moves the spotlight along from the imperial landed class towards the farmhands and house servants that were the essence of these estates and whose descendants still live locally.
This is local history at its most authentic, when it is done by someone who has lived and experienced the subject matter at first hand.”

Helping parents to become aware of Cyberbullying and what to include in Internet Safety guidelines for themselves and their children.

In my role as Education and Public Engagement Manager at the Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics, I am spending up to three nights a week since last month talking to parents in schools on Internet Safety and what needs to be done to increase their children's awareness and their protection against the dangers of cyberbullying, racism, misogyny, fake news, and related issues.

On Monday I was with the parents of Gort Community College (photo), last night it was at Scoil Shéamais Naofa, Bunscoil Bhearna, and tonight it is in Galway Educate Together Secondary School.
During the daytimes I am working with the children of these same schools.
With both groups I always start with highlighting the benefits of web technologies, provide a factual but quirky insight into the history of communications technologies since the early 1900s, and the inspiring prominent role of young people in their development before going into the 'dark side'.
It is most rewarding work and something that I have been doing since 2005.

Celtic Origins of Halloween

Halloween's Pagan Celtic Roots
Today Halloween is joyously celebrated by children across the world.
There is a popular misconception though that Halloween is a modern American invention. Not so. Though our American cousins have to be congratulated for making this very special festival a fantastic children-centric occasion nevertheless, as with so many other things that have brought great happiness and joy to humanity for millennia, its roots lay firmly in the culture of the Irish Celts!
(Photo shows my son Dáire & 'friend' that was taken many years ago)

Yet in the modern repackaging of this ancient pagan festival, many of the fine traditions that were once such an integral part of the festivities have disappeared. For instance our Celtic custom of placing human skulls with candles at entrances to domestic dwellings in order to ward off evil spirits has been replaced by lights in hollowed-out pumpkins! Likewise the visits of children dressed up in ghoulish and macabre fancy dress going door-to-door looking for gifts of sweets and fruits is a poor substitute for the former visits of the ghosts of our ancestors who used to drop in once a year on October 31st for a nice meal with their living relatives (we would prepare a place for them at the dinner table).
It was said too that live captives were placed in wicker cages above huge bonfires and burnt alive (as portrayed in the classic British 1970s cult film “The Wicker Man”). But such horror stories were originally spun by those nasty Romans when they were at war with the Celts. So it was probably nothing more than malicious enemy propaganda. After all, what do you take us Celts for? Barbarians?!!

As with so many other annual family festivals, Halloween has become so commercialised by 'Americanised' popular culture that its true origins and religious aspects have long since being forgotten.
So here is the true story of 'Féile na Marbh' (Festival of the Dead'):

Christianisation of 'Samhain'
Yet modern-day Americans were not the first people to re-brand the festival. In the middle ages the Catholic Church created the Christian festival of 'All Hallows Eve' or 'All Souls Day' when people were asked to remember and pray for their dead family members.
This event was superimposed onto the ancient pagan Celtic festival of 'Samhain' which marked the end of the summer season characterised by heat & light and the coming of the dark cold barren winter months.

Celtic Festivals
Typical of many agricultural societies, the Celts had four major annual festivals based on the cyclical differences experienced in the changing seasons of nature and their corresponding weather patterns. The other three were 'Imbolc' (spring) 'Bealtane' (summer), 'Lugnasa' (autumn). The latter was associated with harvest time.

Samhain was a time when food was hoarded as people prepared for the cold season when no plants grew. While many domestic animals such as cattle were brought indoors for the winter, others were slaughtered and most of their meat salted for storage whilst the remainder was cooked for the big feast. As with all Irish festivals, communal bonfires were lit as people gathered together at warm fires to socialise and to give thanks to the deities. Bones of the slaughtered animals were thrown into the fire as symbolic gifts to the gods, an action which give rise to the term ' bone fires' or 'bonfires'. Embers from this sacred fire were taken by local people to their households to light their own domestic fires.

Antecedents to the Pumpkin & 'Trick or Treat'
But Samhain was also a time when creatures from the supernatural world could enter into the world of mortals. 'Fairies' (Irish='Sidhe' as in ‘Banshee’/‘female fairy’) and the spirits of the dead would walk the earth. Many of these beings were benevolent and the spirits of dead ancestors; so families laid out extra food and set aside a table space for their ghostly visitors. This metaphorised into the custom of today's children dressing up as demons and witches & calling to the neighbours' houses to receive presents.
But there were spirits that came on the night of Samhain that were malevolent. Candles were placed in skulls at the entrance to dwellings as light was feared by these dark foreboding creatures. This protection against evil became transformed in modern times into the positioning of hollowed-out turnips and later pumpkins with carved out faces and internal candles at windows and doorways.
Centuries-old party games of trying to eat an apple lying in a basin of water ('bobbing') or dangling on a string tied to a ceiling ('snapping') are still popular festive past-times with Irish children.

The apple is probably the most common edible fruit in Ireland. It was also strongly associated with the spirit world and the fairies (sidhe). In the Arthurian legends, the mystical island of Avalon is where Arthur (of the Celtic Britons) obtains his magical sword Excalibur and where he is taken at the end of his life by the Lady of the Lake and her female fairy companions (banshee). Avalon comes from the Welsh word afal or Irish aball.

Fortune Telling at Halloween
Central to the Irish Halloween is the eating of a fruit bread known as 'Barmbrack' from the Gaelic term 'Báirín Breac' (speckled or spotted top). It is still a popular festive food today.
Various symbolic pieces were placed in the dough before it was baked such as a ring, a pea and a stick. When an item was found in the slice when it was being eaten, it told of the future that awaited the recipient. For instance, the 'ring' signified marriage within a year; a 'stick' represented a bad or violent marriage; the 'coin', wealth and a 'pea', a long wait before marriage.

Irish Export Halloween to North America
The Irish emigrants of the nineteenth century introduced Halloween and its rituals to America. Within a few decades, the festival was transformed into the fun and games event of today.

Significant Irish Contributions to World Culture:
No. 7642- 'Dracula'

Considering our national passion of asking the dead to resurrect themselves & drop into the house for a late night meal & party, it should come as no surprise that the world's most well known vampire Count Dracula was the creation of an Irishman, the novelist Bram Stoker in 1887.
His inspiration though was Carmilla, a book about a lesbian vampire created naturally enough(!) by another well known Irish writer, Sheridan Le Fanu.

(Photos from Macnas Halloween youth parade in Ballinfoile, Galway City)

Today I was to be on the shores of the Dead Sea.

I have been in Jordan before, teaching coding in schools, universities and in the huge Syrian refugee camp at Za'atari (photo) with my good friends Batoul, Ibi, Claire, Bernard, Bruno, Kevin, Nuala and Shadi.
Yesterday I was supposed to have travelled back to Jordan to present at a UNESCO conference along the shores of the Dead Sea.
My presentation at the ‘Global Media and Information Literacy Week’ conference was, in a time of fake news, online hostility and abuse, to showcase a pioneering good news digital literacy project that was part of a process of bringing hope, creativity, togetherness and positive change across an entire continent.
I was so excited to be doing so!
For since it was established in 2015, the Africa Code Week initiative led by SAP and through a partnership of Camden Educational Trust, UNESCO, Association for the Development of Education in Africa, Irish Aid, multiple African governments and grassroots NGOs, has taught over 100,000 teachers and millions of youth in 41 countries how to become proficient in coding. But it has also through its programmes promoted cultural diversity and respect, inclusivity, female empowerment, art as a learning medium, awareness of the importance of the natural environment, sustainability, innovation, technology skill sets, and delivering an learning environment that is enjoyable, practical, holistic and meaningful to participants.
But today I find myself in Ireland and not in the Middle East. The war in Gaza understandably led to the cancellation of the conference by UNESCO and the Jordanian government.
So my prayers and thoughts are with the Palestinian, Lebanese and Israeli peoples at this very dangerous time. Especially with the residents of Gaza who are living in what is the world’s largest concentration camp being denied water, food, electricity, fuel, education and human dignity whilst their homes and neighbourhoods are being pulverised.
I have worked in Palestinian and Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan, with refugees in Egypt and Turkey, taught in schools in the Hezbollah stronghold of Nabatieh, and met with Jews whose parents or grandparents survived the Nazi Holocaust in Europe and the pogroms of Yemen, Iraq and North Africa.
In spite of the suffering I have often seen, I am always inspired by the unbelievably good and kind people I met who in the most terrible circumstances keep on trying to help others.
I am inspired too when I witness over the last week Jewish people marching in the hundreds sometimes in their thousands on the streets of New York, Washington and London demanding justice for their Muslim, Christian and secular Palestinian neighbours and an end to the brutal occupation of the West Bank and the destruction of Gaza.
The Middle East belongs to all of its peoples be they Jew, Shia, Sunni, Christian, Yazidi, Alawite or atheist. There has to be a lasting just peace for all.
But sadly we are living in dangerous times when conflict and war are on the rise due to the machismo arrogance of egotistical male leaders who use differences of religion, race and political ideology to promote division, hate and fear in order to retain power.
In the last few years, we have witnessed ethnic cleansing in Ukraine, Myanmar, Syria, Iraq, Palestine and Nagorno Karabakh; tribal lands being stolen in Brazil and India; women being reduced to becoming the property of men in Afghanistan and being treated as second class citizens in Iran; democracy being snuffed out in Hong Kong; the rise of intolerant misogynistic fundamental strands in many religions; our oceans being militarised; fossil fuel companies corrupting the political system in the USA and worldwide; the leaders of some powerful western and Arab countries destroying Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan; and in the case of USA, UK, France and the EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, giving complete backing to the most right-wing government in the history of Israel; and witnessing the natural world being destroyed at an ever-increasing rate.
There has been exposure too in the courts of Ireland and across the world of how powerful male clerics of my own Christian Catholic religion have been responsible for the most heinous crimes against untold defenceless innocent children.
Yet I am still an optimist. I wholeheartedly believe in the goodness of ordinary everyday people. I believe in a future where all states are secular, which respects all religions but gives preference to none; that has equality for all sexes, race and creed and where the rule of law exists to protect the citizen from the oppressor; where Climate Change, biodiversity protection, sustainability and social justice is central to all government policies and where all technological innovation, products and processes have to be benign or else they are withdrawn.
In a world where over one million species face extinction due to our behaviour and where our time as a species is running out, we need to recognise the rest of humanity as our brothers and sisters and the planet as our mother.
This can be done if we fully implement the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the Charter of the United Nations-they provide a pathway for us all to follow.
Please look closely at the people in the photo- they are wonderful men, women and children who were forced to flee their homeland of Syria to live in a refugee camp (Za’atari) in Jordan. It was not their choice-they left behind jobs, friends, dreams and so much more to escape persecution and death to live in a camp in a desert.
P.S. Apologies if this piece reads as a naïve and rambling narrative. But I just decided this evening to sit down and write something about how I felt about the state of the world.

Internet Safety mentoring: From Bebo to TikTok.

In these early months of the current school year I have already provided, as part of my work at the Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics of the University of Galway, Internet Safety sessions to parents, teachers and the young people of both primary and secondary schools in counties Galway, Clare and Dublin.

I have been undertaking Cyberbullying Awareness presentations since 2005 and was probably one of the first people in Ireland to do so.
(photo is of a leaflet from 2008 prepared by the primary school in Newport co. Mayo for a talk to parents on my birthday! The content reflects the era).

Since my student college days, I have been a strong advocate of the benefits that digital technologies can bring to people from all walks of life, having spent much of my working life teaching coding and upskilling people in the use of digital technologies. I started doing so in late 1981 soon after leaving university thanks to great inspirational visionary people such as Dr Jimmy Browne.

Immersing myself in web technologies really took off for me in mid 2004 when I became employed as the Outreach Officer of the Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI) at what was then NUI Galway. It was when the World Wide Web was for the first time becoming populated with user-generated content. It was exciting to be part of this!

In the early 2000s ‘blogging’ (personal websites) was the new craze; ‘online social media’ in the form of Bebo(2005), MySpace(2003) and Orkut(2004) was starting to appear for the first time; YouTube had just been invented (April 2005); online messaging and video telephony in the form of Skype (2003-4) was capturing people’s imagination; broadband was only being rolled out nationwide; the big bulky desktop computer was the main technology device in business, school and at home; and the smart touch phone in the form of the iPhone had yet to be invented(2007). ‘Email’ was king with many people of all ages acquiring their very first email addresses around this time.

Yet as a parent of both pre-teen and young teenage boys, I could see the dangers that computer gaming and web-based social interaction sites could and were bringing into our young people’s lives. Violence-based gaming, online aggressive pornography, misogyny, racism, cyberbullying, online stalking, and subsequent addiction and mental health issues for many users were a feature of the web even in those early days. People of all ages were suffering and yet there were few rules or guidelines available and nobody was talking about these new but growing problems.

So as a concerned parent and as someone working in a university web scientific institute (DERI), I decided, after securing the very supportive permission of my manager/directors, to put together my own content for delivering pioneering Internet Safety sessions to schools, universities, communities (neighbourhoods, asylum seekers, disability groups). But I always included in these talks (and still do) the benefits of new web technologies, giving a series of examples of exciting new developments especially those invented by young people, the need for stronger government legislation to protect those online including in punishing the very wealthy service providers, and highlighting the importance of good old fashioned benign parenting with the proviso that they make the effort to become aware and knowledgeable of their children’s activities on the web.

Eighteen years later, I am still providing such talks and workshops across Ireland. But sadly I have lost one important resource along the way. Over the years after having ‘the big chat’ with my sons when they were in their pre-teens or early teens and keeping lines of communications open, I learnt more from them that they ever did from me on the strengths, weaknesses, stories, pitfalls and issues associated with the latest social media and gaming sites popular for young people. I used the knowledge gained from them to make my own Internet Safety sessions more powerful, more meaningful, more current. Now that my sons are in their 20s and 30s I no longer have that family resource to call upon. 

So I have to make extra effort to see the Web through the eyes of a child. For in the world of technology, change is constant and one has to keep one’s finger on what is popular today as it becomes history tomorrow.

The Fascinating History of Computing and Communications Technologies in Galway


On Tuesday night in the wonderful Portershed, I was guest speaker at the launch of  the GIT (Galway IT) group, a gathering of tech enthusiasts who range from veteran developers to young passionate beginners. Thanks to the hard working Liam Krewer for seeing the need for such a club and doing something about it.

My presentation gave an overview of the proud heritage that Galway has in communications and computing from the establishment of the Marconi transatlantic radio station near Clifden in 1907 (the birth of the Global Village), onto the arrival of the world’s second largest computer manufacturing company to Mervue in 1971 (the birth of Ireland’s first ‘digital city’), to the opening of computer stores in 1980, to the establishment in 1983 of an interlinked network of computer labs in the city’s secondary schools (the birth of ‘cloud computing’ and ‘online social media’ in Ireland), and onto the setting of the West of Ireland’s first mobile computer classroom (2008).
For a deep dive into the fascinating history of such technologies, their Galway connections and much more besides, come along to the Computer and Communications Museum of Ireland, that is supported by the Insight Centre for Data Analytics, between 7pm and 9pm on Culture Night (this Friday Sept 22nd). Eircode H91 AEX4

“Shannon” the first ‘Push Button’ Phone for Irish homes

The museum recently took delivery of a classic telephone familiar to domestic and phone users in Ireland during the 1980s.

In 1982, the government’s department of Post & Telegraphs, launched the first push button telephone for the Irish domestic market. The “Shannon” phone came in four colours and was manufactured by Ericsson, the Swedish telecommunications corporation based in Athlone.
Previously, domestic and business phones provided by the state telephony service were based on the 'rotary dial' and were primarily made by Northern Telecom (NT) in Galway city.
Getting a phone installed in one’s home in the 1970s or early 1980s was not easy- the state’s department responsible for the provision of telephones in 1982 had a waiting list of over 80,000 new subscribers which it was expected would not be cleared until the following year.
As well as the push button, the Shannon had features that would have been new to most Irish domestic telephone users at the time including a plug that could easily connect/disconnect the phone to/from a wall socket, and an electronic ‘tone’ ring rather than the ‘bell’ ring of the traditional rotary phone.
Interestingly the government also announced at the launch that they would be providing by January 1983 new style NT rotary phones that would have with a dial built into the handset.

The 'Shannon' telephone can be viewed any Saturday between 2pm and 4pm when the museum is open to the general public.

Connemara Greenway begins at Terryland Forest Park!

Photo shows the lovely painting of the Connemara Greenway by the great artist Helen Caird at Tuatha's "An Nead" HQ in Terryland Forest Park. The long overdue 77km Galway city to Clifden Connemara Greenway (only 16km completed) will begin at the Dyke Road beside the Terryland Forest Park and include a new pedestrian-cycling bridge over the River Corrib at Woodquay. 

The painting with its portrayal of Twelve Bens(Pins) mountain range was designed to show that the Greenway exists for walkers as well as cyclists. 

Photo also shows some of the Saturday morning volunteer crew (Julie, Victor, Ailbhe, Tobias Baum, Paul and myself) involved in our regular litter pick of the forest park.

Live on the Ray D'Arcy Show!

I really enjoyed being interviewed on RTE's Ray D'Arcy Show by the great man himself about the Computer & Communications Museum that I curate.

I have to say in all sincerity that I was struck by not only the professionalism but also the friendliness, humour and down-to-earth nature of Ray and his assistant Niamh.

Photo shows Ray using a 1980 Sony Walkman and me holding a 1980s Motorola mobile phone (aka the 'Brick') whose inventor Martin Cooper was inspired to create this fantastic hand-held piece of communications technology by the 'Communicator' device ("Beam me up Scotty" says Captain Kirk!) from the 1960s children's science fiction television programme Star Trek. Thankfully as a diehard Trekkie fan since my childhood, I am so happy that this series is still with us!

I am glad to report that this great technology heritage facility, that was co-founded by myself and my dearly departed friend Chris Coughlan whom I miss so much, and which has been available for school, university, digital maker, community, heritage and business group visits since 2012, is now open to the general public from 2pm to 4pm every Saturday.
Well worth a visit!

I also enjoyed an interview earlier this week on the same subject with Pat Coyne on Connemara Radio- local community radio at its best.

Supported by the Insight SFI Research Centre for Data Analytics (previously DERI) at the University of Galway since its inception, the museum is now managed by an independent board of wonderful experienced techies under the chairpersonship of Philip Cloherty whose members are Frank McCurry, Liam Ferrie, Pat Moran, Alanna Kelly and Tom Frawley.

My Friends, President Michael D. and Sabina Higgins

In a marquee filled with 500+ fantastic caring people from across Ireland that have done great things for Irish society, I was very surprised and embarrassed to be mentioned by President Michael D. Higgins in his speech last Sunday at the Garden Party in Áras an Uachtaráin held to celebrate Irish Heritage.

The event marked the 75th anniversary of An Taisce with the President also acknowledging the work of my good friend and Galway heritage stalwart Derrick Hambleton.
It was a unique experience to sit beside him (with his aide-de -camp on my other side!) and, along with my dear wife Cepta and my other dear friend Duncan Stewart at the table, to witness the President's friendliness, patience and compassion towards the numerous guests who came up to him over the course of the evening wanting to speak, share ideas and have their picture taken with him. The fantastic live entertainment (dance and music) on offer reflected too his indigenous and cosmopolitan interests and causes with Irish (incl Lisa O’Neill and Shaskeen), African and Cuban musicians performing on stage.

I have spent more decades than I care to remember working on many projects related to heritage, education, community, social inclusion, human rights and environmentalism. But getting mentioned for my work, I felt completely reinvigorated and have promised myself that in the months and hopefully years still left to me, I will strive even harder to do more.
For, as our time in the bigger picture of things is short, we should in my humble opinion make a personal commitment to give more back to the planet that gave us life than we take from it during our lifetimes. So for me, as well as prioritising educational technology projects both in Ireland and in Africa as well as on heritage, I want to devote more efforts in tackling the man-made catastrophic Climate and Biodiversity Crises through the Terryland Forest Park and in the highly ambitious Galway National Park City initiative.
Michael D. is patron of the Galway National Park City(GNPC) initiative which has, in spite of the short-sighted decision of the majority of Galway City councillors and senior executive not to integrate it into the Galway City Development Plan in a time of unprecedented Climate and Biodiversity Crises, achieved a number of crucial successes in protecting and promoting natural heritage through local intersectoral collaborations such as the Outdoor Classrooms, the Climate Youth Assemblies, and the seminars on international experiences of promoting green and blue sustainable development. I have now got an even bigger 'spring in my step' to do more through even more innovative partnership projects for the GNPC and the forest park.

Michael D has transformed the office of Presidency and built on the great work of his predecessors Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson. He has thrown open the gates and doors of what was once the official residency of the representative of the British monarch visited only by the colonial elite and wealthy classes, to the people of Ireland from all sectors especially those grassroots volunteers involved in local communities, environmentalism, sports, arts, health, human rights, heritage and the socially disadvantaged. 4000 people attended the eight garden parties held this summer in Áras an Uachtaráin.
He has brought the Presidency to a new level by speaking out forcibly and honestly on the crucial issues that impact on Ireland and the world such as the Irish housing crises, migration, democracy, neutrality and the interlinked Climate and Biodiversity crises. He is in so many ways served as the ‘Conscience of the Nation’.

I have known Michael D and Sabina since I arrived as an idealistic young teenage student to Galway. Both of them form a great team that have never shied away from getting actively involved and taking leading roles on human rights issues in spite of the personal abuse and harassment that they too often encountered. I campaigned and protested with them on the streets and elsewhere on many issues including against the IRFU over the visit of the Springbok rugby team from apartheid South Africa, the conferring of a honorary law degree by my university to President Ronald Reagan when he was breaking international law by bombing the ports of Nicaragua, against the Iraq War led by Bush and Blair which directly led to the deaths and ethnic cleansing of millions of innocent people and the near annihilation of ancient cultures such as the Yazidis and Assyrian Christians, for Palestinian statehood and an end to the ongoing illegal occupation and colonisation of their lands, for gay rights, women’s rights, students’ rights, workers’ rights…… The list is long!

When we in Galway first campaigned in early 1996 for the development of what was then called the Terryland River Valley park that we wanted to include woods, river walks, meadows and a city farm, it was Michael D as the first Minister appointed for the Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, that gave us the morale boosting public backing that we needed.
His legacy as Minister is strong. For instance, he lifted the broadcasting ban on Sinn Féin, was instrumental in transforming the Irish film industry, established TG4 (Irish-language television), and he enacted key legislation to protect endangered wildlife and their habitats in Ireland and to reverse the millennia old destruction and exploitation of our natural heritage.

In my own small way I did what I could when I could to support Michael D. For instance in 1990 (I was wealthier then!), I co-sponsored along with the Arts Council his first book of poetry ('The Betrayal').

Everywhere I travel for my work in the Middle East, Africa, mainland Europe and the Americas, I encounter people who praise our president for his humanity and progressive stance.

I myself agree with him and Sabina on nearly everything. We have some small political differences but that is not unusual as I have never met anyone that agrees with me 100% and more than likely never will!
Compare him to other presidents and political leaders of recent times, such as Putin, Trump, Netanyahu, Erdogan, Duarte, Xi Jinping, Ali Khamenei and Bolsonaro who sow the seeds of division and hate.

I am proud to call President Michael D and Sabina my close friends.

Fond Memories of Christy Dignam in early 1990s Galway.

I have fond memories of Christy Dignam when he, along with Conor Goff, played a number of times for me when I had Club Rapparees in Monroe's Tavern in the early 1990s.
He was a true gentleman with a voice that was so emotional, so spell-binding.

His addiction with drugs though at the time was obvious and so sad to see. Something that couldn’t be defended nor tolerated. It was why his fellow band members and friends in Aslan had to get him to quit the band in the late 1980s.
But he never lost his friendliness and indeed kindness.
The last gig 'Dignam and Goff' played Club Rapparee Monroes was in July 1992 (see photo and extract of Christy at Club Rapparee from our inhouse music newsletter). The two lads were a fantastic acoustic duo but light years away from the frenzy electric dance rock of the 1980s Aslan.
Still songs such as 'Feel It In My Heart' always captured the hearts of the Rapparee audiences. 
Two years later in the summer of 1994 he played again for me, this time in 'Setantas' Salthill as part of the reformed Aslan.
That too, as with all his gigs, was a magical experience. I will never forget that night- the venue was packed with working class Dubliners and boy! did they hero-worship in a way that I have never witnessed before or since.

Rest in Peace Christy- Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam

Back under an African Sky: South Sudan


After an absence of 7 months, I have happily returned to Africa to continue teaching technology programmes to teachers and students in schools across the continent.
For 8 exciting years, I was a master mentor and course content developer for the Africa Code Week(ACW) initiative. 
Founded by the SAP corporation in association with Camden Trust, UNESCO, Irish Aid, African governments and 130 implementing partners across 54 African countries, ACW represented the largest educational digital movement in the history of the continent.
Now that this wonderful initiative is being transitioned to the African governments and learning from the experiences gained over these years, I am now part of the Camden Trust team, that with Irish government support, led by the visionary Bernard Kirk and working alongside the wonderful Linda Cardiff is helping to continue bringing more much needed technological projects and resources to African education in order to empower its youth especially females, on the youngest continent in the world, to become digital creators and innovators in order to create a better more sustainable egalitarian future for its peoples. 
Our first mission was to the Republic of South Sudan to organise a pilot World Robot Olympiad in a girls secondary school in the town of Rumbek. Such an initiative is needed in a country where there are huge cultural and economic obstacles to female education. Only 17% of girls finish primary school and only 4% complete a secondary school education. Few children can afford books and the classroom blackboard remains the primary means of delivering education.
Our task was only made possible by the fantastic hard working determined ground-breaking pioneering principal of the Catholic Loreto convent compound with its circa 1200 students, its primary and secondary schools, its community medical clinic and farm. Sister Orla Treacy from Bray in county Wicklow is a force of nature. Working in Rumbek since 2006, she has helped transform the hopes and aspirations of young South Sudanese women, creating educational routes that never previously existed, securing funding for them to continue university studies in Juba, Nairobi Kenya and elsewhere before returning to their homeland after graduation to help in developing the youngest country in the world. South Sudan only came into existence in 2011 after securing independence from Sudan. From 2013 until 2020, its people suffered a brutal civil war that led to the death of 400,000 civilians. 
More stories to follow over the coming days now that I am back in Ireland.

Meet the Defenders of the Earth against the Alien Invasion!


Photo shows Paula Kearney (Galway City Council Biodiversity Officer), Conor Ruane and Michael Sheridan from LAWPRO with Tuesday's Tuatha volunteer crew from the ARM corporation ready to begin the campaign to eradicate invasive species from Terryland Forest Park.
Paula, Conor and Michael give us very informative talks on the invasive species prevalent in the West of Ireland, Galway and Terryland Forest Park, the damage that they cause and how they can be eradicated or, at the very least, controlled.
After the talks came the hard work as the volunteers, under the supervision of Paula, used 8 tonnes of mulch and ample amounts of cardboard (donated by Smyths Toys, City Council, ARM and University of Galway) to cover an area of woodland infested with Winter Heliotrope. This result will be monitored by us and city council over the next few months and will serve as a pilot on how the scourge of this plant can be tackled in a non-chemical way.
Winter Heliotrope flowers from November to March and for that reason it seems to have been originally brought into Ireland to provide winter feed for bees and was planted near bee hives. But sadly it now has spread like wildfire across the country covering huge areas of ground with a giant carpet smothering any possibility of growth by other fauna. Two weeks ago I spent a few day working in Dublin and was shocked to see it covering much of the embankments along much of the DART line from Dun Laoghaire to Killiney.

Finally it was great to have Kieran Ryan participate in today's activity. Kieran is involved in a significant reafforestation and rewilding project near Kiltimagh. The Tuatha volunteers hope to visit this Mayo initiative over the summer period.

The Aliens have landed!

Winter heliotrope, one of the invasive species within Terryland Forest

morrow (Tuesday) volunteers are tackling the alien species that have invaded Terryland Forest Park and which are colonising large areas within the park forcing out the native plant life.

As part of Invasive Species Week 15th – 21st May, Galway City Council, LAWPRO and Tuatha (volunteers) of Terryland Forest Park are conducting a walk through Terryland Forest Park tomorrow May 16th to areas infested with terrestrial and aquatic non-native Invasive Alien Species (IAS). IAS are extremely difficult and costly to control and eradicate, and their ecological effects can be irreversible.
All are welcome.
We will look at the identifying the species, risks to the environment and infrastructure, management measures and best practice such as the ’Check Clean Dry’ protocol for water users to minimise the spread of aquatic invasives. Working with volunteers, we will trial a herbicide free method of controlling winter heliotrope (see photo) within the woodland.
The invasive species being discussed include Japanese Knotweed (Reynoutria japonica), Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) and Canadian Waterweed (Elodea canadensis).
Invasive Species Week is an annual national event to raise awareness of the impacts of invasive species and to celebrate action being taken to prevent their spread. Organisations across the UK, Ireland, Jersey, Guernsey, and Isle of Man join together to lead activities and share information on the simple things that everyone can do to help prevent the spread of invasive species. Each day will involve focusing on a different theme:
The walk will commence at 11am Tuesday 16th May at the Sandy Road entrance to Terryland Forest