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.