Volunteers are needed in Preparing a Community Garden for its 'Big WInter Sleep'.

Once again volunteers are needed this Saturday (October 14th) from 11.15am to help prepare the Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden for its winter sleep.
Last Saturday lots of great work was undertaken in cleaning up the facility, recognising that as the main crop of vegetables, herbs and fruits had been harvested a few weeks ago and with autumn leaves falling, the trees and plants are now going into hibernation.
 Though volunteers did an amazing amount of work last Saturday we not complete all of the tasks required. So we are back this weekend and your presence would be so much appreciated for digging, trimming, grass cutting, weeding, painting, path making and completing the dozens of other tasks that are needed to be done in order to allow the garden looking somewhat pretty before winter sets in.

As is our tradition, teas/coffee/water and salads will be provided to all attendees.

Terryland Forest Park: A Haven for Bat Species

Thanks to the great scientific research of Dr Caitriona Carlin and Dr. Gesche Kindermann of Near Health NUI Galway and their students especially Ciara Leonard as well as the Galway Bat Group and Dr Kate McAney of the Vincent Wildlife Trust, it has been shown that the publicly-owned Terryland Forest Park is now home to at least six species of Irish bats including the Leisler, Common Pipistrelle and the Daubenton.
The fact that this wildlife haven exists was only made possible thanks to the thousand of volunteers and dozens of council staff who since March 2000 have planted over 90,000 native Irish trees in what was formerly relatively sterile pasture land and converted it into Ireland's largest community driven forest park. 

Last July, volunteers placed 15 bat boxes in the trees of the Liosbaun section of the forest park. The boxes were made by members and guests at the Cumann na bhFear (Men's Shed) on Sandy Road.
The NUIG scientists now want volunteers to help monitor the boxes for bat activity via droppings etc.
Ciara Leonard will visit the Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden this Saturday to talk to the volunteers and bring this exciting Citizens' Science project onto the next level.

Trump- the wrong leader in the wrong place at the wrong time

Fifty nine people murdered and over five hundred injured in Las Vegas by a crazed killer armed with an arsenal of weaponry all probably purchased legally; a season of unprecedented destructive hurricanes in the Caribbean; and devastated US islands such as Puerto Rico screaming for federal government aid.

What hope though from a President whose campaign was funded with €24 million by the National Rifle Association and who opposes any type of gun control whilst 93 people die every day in the USA due to gun violence; who denies the existence of man-made Climate Change in spite of the evidence to the contrary presented by NASA, EPA and other US agencies; who is enthusiastically dismantling the federal government piece by big piece ensuring that the USA will not have the financial or labour resources to handle future crisis.

TEDx Talk - I survived!

What an experience! Having done the 'walk' so many times, I now had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do the 'talk'.
To say that I wasn't nervous having to take part in such a prestigious event and summarise such an important topic as I had in 18 minutes would be untrue. To be honest, I was a nervous kitten in the lead-up to the event. So unlike me!

But surrounded by professional speakers all experts in their own field in such a prestigious venue as the Town Hall Theatre in front of a sell-out audience who I knew would scan a critical eye over word I spoke and every gesture that I made, weighed heavily on me.
Anyway, I gave it my best shot on the night; thankfully I did not freeze or forget my words and so hopefully I gave justice to the hard work of all community campaigners, environmentalists and the socially aware Web/Internet of Things technologists of  Galway city and beyond.

My theme was on the urgent need for cities to be Green and Smart.
My advanced preamble was:
“As the Earth is being transformed into an Urban Planet characterised by an unprecedented growth in human population, energy consumption, technology revolutions, depletion of finite resources, huge mega settlements and climate change, the future of the human species is under threat.  So cities, the new abode of our race, have to radically transform in the areas of energy, transport, health, water, food, environment, social, housing, governance and work if they are to accommodate huge numbers of inhabitants in a way that gives them a beneficial quality of life that is sustainable.
Brendan Smith looks at the need to bring nature back into our everyday urban lives. Using Galway as an example he makes the case that, as well as relying on smart technologies, cities have to be characterised by organic farms, community gardens, rooftop/exterior building vegetation, woodlands, waterways, outdoor classrooms, Greenways and local community stakeholdership. “

The Galway TEDx talks will be up on YouTube in the next few months. In the meantime I will publish a longer written version of my talk in late October (when my travels to Africa and the Middle East are completed for this year).

Finally I would like to give a big public thank you and a traditional Irish ‘Bualadh Bos’ to two brilliant hard working creative gentlemen, namely Darragh O'Connor​
and Cormac Staunton who were the brains and brawn behind TEDx Galway. With a wonderful range of international, national and local speakers and an eclectic mix of subjects, they did a superb job. Darragh- you have a wonderful future ahead of you as a 'Master of Ceremonies' extraordinaire.

Life in the Al Zaatari Syrian Refugee Camp

Below is an article that I wrote for the Galway Advertiser earlier this week.
In ten days time I am returning to Jordan to work teaching coding to teachers in local schools and in Syrian refugee camps.

The biggest humanitarian crisis since the aftermath of World War Two has led to an exodus of 5 million peoples from Syria since 2012.
In an effort to help refugees living within the Middle East, a small number of individuals from Galway in February 2016 became part of an ambitious digital learning programme designed to bring computer coding skills to thousands of children, teenagers and teachers living in camps and districts across the region. Known as Refugee Code Week (RCW) the initiative, led by the German software corporation SAP in partnership with the United Nations RefugeeAgency(UNHCR) and the Galway Education Centre, has developed course content and provided teams of IT volunteers from across three continents to upskill teachers from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries in delivering coding programmes to young refugees and the youth of host nations from eight years to twenty years of age.

The Galway volunteers taking part in the programme are Bernard Kirk , director of the Galway Education Centre and co-founder of RCW, Nuala Allen (SAP in Parkmore), Niall McCormick (Colmac Robotics) and Brendan Smith (NUI Galway).

Brendan Smith, who has through his Outreach projects at the university since 2004 worked with asylum seekers in Ireland, was seconded from the Insight Centre for Data Analytics at NUI Galway to become a master instructor in RCW as well as in a sister programme, namely the highly successful Africa Code Week that has been operating since June 2015.

Here is his story.

The Middle East has experienced unimaginable devastation since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. As in all wars, civilians are the innocent victims.  In what was once one of the most modern countries in the region, it is estimated that 470,000 inhabitants have died since 2011, over 7.6 millions are internally displaced within Syria and over five million were forced to leave. Whilst approximately one million are in Europe, most are living in the neighbouring countries of Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. In spite of the severe strain on their societies and economies, these host nations have responded with amazing generosity and friendship.  Lebanon has 1.2 million Syrians (in a total population of only 5.8 million that also includes 450,000 Palestinian refugees), Turkey has 2.7million and Jordan approximately 650,000.  Many refugees have lost family, friends, neighbours, homes and jobs. Scarred by their experiences of brutality and living in poverty often in enclosed camps in a foreign country, education and careers can become impossible luxuries as they spend their days struggling to survive.

There is a genuine fear that a whole generation of young Syrians will be absent from regular schooling. 

So it is essential that they are provided with the learning skills and knowledge that can offer them some genuine hope for a better future.  Refugee Code Week is part of that vision and commitment, with qualified trainers providing computer coding training to refugees in Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan.
 I have worked in all four countries. But it was my time in the latter that introduced me at first hand to the sheer scale of this modern man-made disaster.
On my first trip on a small mini-bus packed with volunteers that left the Jordanian capital of Amman for the Al-Zaatari refugee camp located only a few kilometres from the Syrian border, I really was not sure what to expect. 
 Our destination represents the second largest refugee camp in the world. Surrounded by a deep trench, armed vehicles, military personnel, high fencing, barbed wire, with the sound of warplanes overhead, a huge mass of thousands of single-story prefabricatd wooden portacabins populated by over 80,000 confined inhabitants stretched before us.
It seemed to me then that we volunteers were but tiny pathetic dots on a human landscape where our high lofty aspirations would soon be dashed against the reality of everyday lives in an inhuman environment that was beyond our understanding.

But appearances can be deceptive. When it was hastily established in 2012, Al Zaatari was a sprawling tent encampment in a barren desert devoid of facilities, rife with corruption and violence. Most of the refugees that fled to Jordan did so to escape almost certain death or persecution in the Syrian city and countryside of Daraa which was where the uprising against the Assad regime began in March 2011. 
 But the Jordanian government, UNHCR, NGOs and donor countries working with the Syrian residents have together transformed Al Zaatari into a fully functioning city. Drill holes tapped into deep underground reservoirs provide water by way of a fleet of trucks and local storage tanks to the camp’s 14,000 families. It is expected that piped water will be installed in all homes later this year.  As well as nine schools, three hospitals, two supermarkets, and a number of sports fields, one of the most striking physical features of the camp is the large shopping street known by the camp residents as the ‘Champ Élysées’ that is populated with a myriad of Syrian boutiques, butchers, bakeries, food stalls, cafes and bike repair shops.  
The main mode of transport is the bicycle, thousands of which were donated by the Dutch government, from it seems those that they found abandoned outside railway stations across the Netherlands. 

Beautiful hand-painted murals emblazon the exterior walls of hundreds of huts extolling the message of hope, or showcasing the beautiful natural Syrian countryside that residents left behind and hope someday to return too.  But the main theme of the wall art painted by local artists is Education and the benefits that this promises.  

This belief is critical as there are serious problems for the youth of the camp.

Each family is provided with a quota of daily bread and a small monthly allowance.  But to pay for extra food and essentials a high percentage of residents work either with the UNHCR or often illegally outside the camp. Many of these illegal workers are children who can be exploited and abused.  30% of the camp’s residents are of school-going age. But 25-30% do not regularly attend any of Al Zaatari’s nine schools because they work. Hence our role in introducing computer coding into the camp’s schools and in promoting the economic benefits that this should entail for child refugees is something that we believe strongly in.

The students teachers that we taught came from many different career backgrounds but all were warm, gracious, creative men, women and children that had an appetite to learn, to overcome the circumstances that had befallen them and to teach the new language of coding to the children of Al Zaatari. 

We also provided a Syrian female organisation in the camp known as the Tigers who organise social and educational projects for girls with programmable robot kits. Because of the circumstances that they find themselves in, being confined within a small geographical space, there was no doubt that many of the camp’s female teenagers were getting married younger than would been the case previously when they probably would have had the opportunity to continue on into further education.

The UNHCR personnel such as Abdul Qader Almasri welcomed us with open arms and provided laptops, rooms and translators.

There were some cultural differences though to get used too. Whilst it was okay for me to shake hands with my male students, this was not the case with regard to females.  Instead I would place my hand above my heart and gently smile when we were being introduced or when leaving. Though most young women I taught wore the veil known as the Hijab, some wore the Nijab which covers all of the face except for the eyes. As a teacher from Ireland, this took a little getting used to!

But a sobering thought for me of my time in Al Zaatari and elsewhere in the Middle East was that many of the friendly kind-hearted Syrian people that I taught, met and now consider my friends would have been tortured, enslaved, conscripted into armed groups or killed had they stayed in their country.

Note: I will be organising an exhibition of murals and paintings by Syrian artists from Al Za’atari in  Galway later this year.

Classic Games Galore for Culture Night

 25 vintage consoles, arcade cabinets, microcomputers offering nearly 1200 classic games.
Step back in time to the early days of computer gaming and enjoy the sights and sounds of the great classics of Asteroids, Space Invaders, Pong, Pacman, Super Mario, Tetris, Fifa 99 and Sonic on renowned vintage consoles such as Atari, Nintendo, Sega Mega Drive and Playstation 1.

Ballinfoile Mór Residents reactivate Community Centre protests

Please join residents from the Ballinfoile area as they protest for the second time this week outside the gates of the Ballinfoile – Castlegar Neighbourhood Centre angered that the facility is still not open for public use. The protest will take place at 9am this Friday (Sept 22nd).

Never in our worst nightmares did we expect to find ourselves in September 2017 standing outside the Ballinfoile – Castlegar Neighbourhood Centre with placards demanding its opening for use by the local community.
A number of us protesting this week had ‘hung up their boots’ last November believing the words of the council that the opening was only weeks off. We felt that our role had come to a successful conclusion and that it was  henceforth a question of administration rather than campaigning. But we are back this week because this sadly has not happened. Since last week, the facility is open for two and half days per week to gauge local interest for its use.
This is so insulting and disrespectful to members of the local community. We have shown time and time again in so many surveys over many decades that in one of Galway’s largest suburbs there is a need for such a sports and community facility amongst all ages.
After two years of campaigning, the local authority confirmed in 1989 that the centre will be built. Finally in May 2016, the long awaited state-of-the-art facility was officially opened by the Mayor. Three mayors on it is still not open for use by the local community.
In November 2016 it was confirmed at a council meeting, and later at a council meeting in January 2017, that it was to open in January 2017. It did but for only one day on January 26th to facilitate a public consultation of the Kirwan Roundabout.
At a public meeting in the Menlo Park Hotel in May we were told that the facility would be fully open by August 31st at the very latest, in time for the beginning of the school year. We were told then that it was expected that the management contract between Galway City Council and SCCUL would be signed the following week. Now we are told that there are still issues of the centre’s maintenance to be sorted out by the council before any agreement can be signed.  Understandably SCCUL will not sign a contract until they are made fully aware of maintenance costings.

There is now a breakdown of trust between local residents and Galway City Council. To us, this opening to gauge local opinion is nothing more than a delaying exercise. If the €150,000 allocated in this year’s budget is not used up by the end of the year, it could well be taken away and used by the council for something else. We are calling on all public representatives especially councillors to get council officials to rectify the situation immediately. Otherwise another year will have passed without the local community getting use of this much needed indoor resource. We intend to keep protesting every week until it is opened.

Traditional Mowing of a Meadow- the Return of the Scythe

For the second year in succession volunteers are asked to participate in the mowing of a wildflower meadow using traditional hand-held implements. As part of the Galway Fringe Festival, starting at 10.30am on Saturday July 22nd  members of Conservation Volunteers and Cumann na bhFear(Men’s Shed Galway city) will use scythes to cut the long grass in a grassland of Terryland Forest Park near the Quincentenary Bridge.

Since 2015, volunteers have planted thousands of the type of native Irish wildflowers that once light up the Irish countryside in a mosaic of colours in two former sterile lawns in Terryland Forest Park.  Planting yellow cowslip, red poppy, purple clover, pink ragged robin and other plants has created what are known as 'meadows', which were in former times fields set aside by farmers for the growing of long grass which was cut during the late summer and autumn months to produce one or two crops of hay to serve as winter food for livestock. Because no chemical fertilizers were used, these meadows became important habitats for an array of colourful native wildflowers and would be alive with the sights and sounds of many varieties of bees, moths, butterflies and other pollinators. Our aim is to re-introduce meadows back unto the city and provide nectar-rich feeding havens for bees in particular which are in a serious decline worldwide due to industrialised monoculture farming, pesticides, habitat loss, pollution and climate change. Bees and other pollinators are essential to the survival of humanity as the plants that they help to reproduce are responsible for one-third of all foods and beverages that we consume. 

Scientific research in Britain is also showing that animals which graze on meadows of herbs, wild grasses and flowers eat far more minerals, amino acids and proteins are therefore a lot healthier. With their meat more nutritious, the benefits to consumers are obvious.
We hope that our actions will encourage other local community groups and schools nationwide to start re-establishing the meadows as a key part of Ireland’s countryside and natural heritage.
Cumann na bhFear is also committed to preserving and re-educating the public in traditional Irish rural skills and crafts that still have an essential role to play in today’s farming because of their social, health, economic and environmental aspects.
So we are asking people to come along on Saturday July 22nd to take part in this ancient rural hay-cutting in action and to take part in planting nearly a thousand more wildflowers. Light refreshments will be provided to all volunteers. 


30 year Struggle for Opening of a Local Community Centre continues

As someone who actively campaigned for the Ballinfoile – Castlegar Neighbourhood (& Sports) Centre from 1987 until late 2016, I am frustrated and annoyed this much needed facility still remains closed.
I did not put my name forward for election in November 2016 to the new (with its inclusive representivity constitution) community centre committee as I (and indeed all local activists) felt that the campaign to secure its opening, after years of community activism, protests/lobbying, was finally completed as local residents and councillors were publicly informed by the CEO and other city officials at that month's council meeting in City Hall that the this neighbourhood and sports facility would be open in January. So I expect that all members of the excellent newly elected committee thought the same and were probably expecting to be working primarily on management and operational issues.
In fact it is worth noting that the facility was officially opened by Cllr Frank Fahy as Mayor of Galway City in May 2016. Frank was optimistic then that it would be available to the local community soon thereafter.
Yes, the centre did indeed open in January 2017 but only for ONE day (to facilitate a public consultation on the Kirwan Roundabout). Local residents heard nothing for months, though of course we expected that the community committee were working hard behind the scenes. Then at a public meeting in the Menlo Park Hotel on May 9th, residents and councillors were informed by a city council official that the terms of a management agreement had finally been agreed in principle with SCCUL and that it was expected to be signed off the following week with an opening date in late August at the very latest. So will this new date be honoured? At this stage there is no reason that I know off why there should be delays by the council’s solicitor in agreeing to have the contract signed. If it does not happen soon, I feel that this represents a breakage of trust with the Ballinfoile – Castlegar community and that the protest/lobbying campaign may need to be immediately reactivated.
Photo is from one of a number of regular resident protests on the centre held outside City Hall and the Ballinfoile - Castlegar Community Centre from autumn 2014 until winter 2016.
City Hall, Summer 1989

The Athenry Castles Heritage Looped Cycle Trail

A delightful journey of discovery through a beautiful hidden landscape
of east Galway.
Country Fair Day, Monivea
Tour Times/Dates: 9.30am, Athenry Castle, Sunday June 11th 
Duration: circa. 7hrs

Start location and route: Athenry Castle, continue onto Monivea Bog, to Monivea village, then onto Castle Ellen and finish up at Athenry Castle. 
Organiser: Cumann na bhFear (Men's Shed, Ballinfoile).
Contact: Brendan Smith, speediecelt@gmail.com 
The event is being organised in assocation with Galway Bike Festival and the national Bike Week.
With its largely unspoilt landscape of small farms, hedgerows, stone walls, lakes, bogs, rivers, castles, Gerogian mansions, network of botharíns and villages, east Galway is a largely unknown landscape waiting to be discovered by walkers and cyclists. 

The aim of this pioneering heritage tour is to open up a new heritage route that will allow visitors to experience these wonderful timeless features and environment by way of a leisurely cycle through a representative section of east Galway that could  act as a catalyst in the development of  a network of Greenways.

The circa 30km looped cycle tour will start at Athenry where we will have a guided tour of the Castle (above) followed by walk through medieval AthenryAfter our interest of the town's local history is satisfied we travel onto the Monivea Road before turning right approximately two kilometres outside Athenry in the direction of Graigabbey
The participants will then cycle through the farmlands and bogs of Bengarra, (above) on into the village of Newcastle, along a botharín through the Monivea Bog with its fascinating flora and fauna; to the Monivea demesne with its collection of historical sites that was for centuries the home of the renowned Anglo-Norman fFrench family, one of the famous merchant tribes of Galway. 

fFrench Mausoleum
This will be followed by a stopover in the quaint plantation village of Monivea. 

From there the tour will continue onto Castle Ellen (above) for a picnic on the lawns of the famed Georgian mansion that was formerly the residency of the Anglo-Irish Lambert family. After a guided tour of the demesne by Its owner Michael Keaney, participants will cycle onto towards the town of Athenry to finish up at Athenry Castle. 
Abaondoned farm, Currantarmuid

Monivea Wood

Guided Bat Walk: Terryland Forest Park on Sat May 27th

The Galway branch of the Irish Wildlife Trust in association with the Galway Bat Group will host a public guided bat walk in Terryland Forest Park this Saturday (May 27th).
Rendezvous: 9.30pm in the Dunnes Stores (Headford Road) car park.

A scientific survey by students from NUI Galway undertaken under the stewardship of Dr. Catriona Carlin found six species of bat living in the park - Leisler, Daubenton, Brown Long-eared, Nathusias pipistrelle, Common pipistrelle and Soprano pipistrelle

The walk is free and all are welcome to attend. 

Bat detectors will be available for participants. For those taking part in the walk, please remember to wear suitable walking shoes and clothing.
The walk will commence in the section of the Terryland Forest Park behind Dunnes Stores, moving towards the woodlands adjacent to the Liosbaun business park.

Making Homes for Bats

Photograph shows participants from Men's Sheds of Oughterard and Galway city at the recent bat making workshop mentored by Peter Finnegan at the Cumann na bhFear premises.

Twenty of these bat boxes will be installed by volunteers on Saturday (May 27th) in the Terryland Forest Park under the auspices of Caitriona Carlin and Kate Mc Aney.
Meet up will be at 11am in the Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden.

Food Preservation at Community Garden

Learn how to transform your raw vegetables and fruits grown in your kitchen garden into delightful tasty foods such as jams and chutneys. Fruits, vegetables, spices, flavourings will be provided at a workshop at 11am on Saturday next (May 20th) in the Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden mentored by the renowned Kay Synott of 'Living Gardens'
Advanced booking is required. Email: speediecelt@gmail.com

Discover the Beautiful Hidden Green Spaces of Galway City

The Terryland Forest Park Alliance is joining with the HSE and the Galway City Partnership in calling on the people of Galway city to take part in a ‘Reclaim the City’s Green Spaces’ walk to increase public awareness of the wonderful rich mix of natural landscapes that exist in the heart of the city. The walk will begin at 10am on Saturday May 13th at the Plots hurling/football playing pitches on the Dyke Road.

Galway is unique amongst Irish cities in possessing a diverse range of natural green spaces so close to its urban centre. This is particularly true of the Dyke Road catchment area that connects the wetlands of the River Corrib to the grasslands and woodlands of the Terryland Forest Park as well as to the rural farmlands of Menlo and Castlegar.
These habitats abound with a rich biodiversity comprising thousands of wildlife species from meadow flowers such as the ragged robin to raptor birds such as kestrel, mammals such as bats, fresh water creatures such as shrimps to tiny arthropods with delightful names such as the devil’s coach horse.  

Unfortunately these beautiful ‘green jewels of the city’ have not been experienced at first hand by the majority of the city’s population. So we want citizens of all ages to join us on an exciting journey of discovery into the wonderful nature that exists on our doorstep. This will include the mosaic of waterways from streams, rivers to canals that could make the city the ‘Venice of Ireland’, to the bee friendly wildflower meadows, grasslands and the woods of Terryland Forest Park with its 90,000 native Irish trees planted by the ordinary people of Galway working with council staff since March 2000, a green zone that covers approximately 70 hectares and stretches from Woodquay to as far as the village of Castlegar.  

In the year of the European Green Leaf status for Galway, we have to give due recognition to the fundamental importance of green space particularly forests to human wellbeing and health, a fact that is being increasingly borne out by science as Earth becomes an Urban Planet with more and more people living in crowded cities covered with concrete and tarmac. Scientific research shows the beneficial impact that walking in natural landscapes and amongst trees has on lowering stress, inducing calmness and improving physical health.  The Japanese have long known this and practice ‘Shirin-yoku’ which is about taking in the forest atmosphere or ‘forest bathing’ to alleviate fatigue, aggression and feelings of depression. But trees also have another health bonus; they are the most effective way to tackle air pollution by filtering out the toxic particles that emanate from motorised vehicle traffic which can contribute to cardiovascular, respiratory, nervous illness and death. This is most critical in Galway city which has one of the highest levels of air pollution in Ireland.
Sadly though our young people are experiencing an alarming disconnect with nature with only 5% of children having ever climbed a tree compared to 74% of their parents’ generation With 20% of teenagers experiencing some form of mental health illness and with 25% overweight or obese, we need to get out and enjoy the natural environment more so than ever before in order to counteract the hectic fast pace lives that so many of us find ourselves in. By so doing we are implement low cost enjoyable preventive health rather than expensive reactive medicine.
By taking part in this walk, we hope that the citizens of Galway will start to become cognisant of the health, social, and environmental benefits in protecting and connecting the city’s areas of natural beauty and biodiversity. We need to convince central and local government to follow the examples of other cities from New York to Dublin in investing the resources required to set up park wardens-guide staff unit as well as a Terryland Forest –Dyke Road visitor centre compelte with café, toilets and gallery.

Mosaic Tiling course, 7pm, Monday May 22nd

Learn the craft of making mosaics, ranging from chessboards, to picture frames to lamp holders.

A series of four two hourly workshops will commence on May 22nd at Cumann na bhFear premises at Unit 1B Sandy Road Business Park Galway city..
Tutor: Anne Richardson.

Advanced booking is required.
Email Felicity at felicity.gillespie@gmail.com

Part 2 of "Save the Bees & Help Create a Wildflower Woodland"

Please help us this Saturday (April 8th) in creating another wildflower-rich woodland habitat in Terryland Forest Park for native Irish flora and for pollinators such as bees, butterflies, moths, beetles and bats whose existence is threatened by pollution, invasive species, urbanization, loss of habitat and the use of pesticides and herbicides in modern farming.
Flora and fauna species are declining alarmingly as a countryside, that was once populated with flowers representing all the colours of the rainbows and throbbed to the sounds of a wide of variety bees and birds, is sadly becoming a thing of the past.

We asking lovers of Nature in Galway to be part of a local, national and international movement that is trying to reverse this worldwide problem by transforming what were once biodiversity-poor fields, in what has been a community-driven 180 acre urban forest park project since 2000, into lush colourful meadows, hedgerows and woods that are alive with the sights, smells and sounds of birds, mammals, insects and plants.
Under the expert tutelage of Padraic Keirns, Conservation Volunteers Galway and Conservation Volunteers Terryland Forest Park are once again organising another major re-flowering and litter pick within Terryland. This time it will be in woods near the Quincenntennial Bridge-Dún na Coiribe-Headford Road junction.
Rendezvous: 10am near the Curry's (Galway Retail Park) entrance to Terryland Forest Park.
Google Map link: https://goo.gl/maps/Xo3AUoXC8aS2

Save the Bees: Help Create a Wildflower Woodland tomorrow(Sun)

Join Operation Bláthanna (Irish = Flowers). and help in the ongoing efforts to create a Wild Garlic Wood in Terryland Forest Park tomorrow (Sunday) at 10am.

Hundreds of 'wild garlic' flowers will be planted at this event as volunteers continue to create thematic flora areas in certain locations within this 180 acres nature and farmland reserve.
So we ask you to please join us and be part of the campaign to establish habitats for bees and other pollinators.

Rendezvous: 10am near the Curry's (Galway Retail Park) entrance to Terryland Forest Park.
Google Map link: https://goo.gl/maps/Xo3AUoXC8aS2

The Non-Irish Origins of St. Patrick's Day & 'All Things Irish'!

St. Patrick’s Day is Ireland’s national holiday and understandably St. Patrick himself is looked on as the personification of all that is Irish.
It is probably the only holiday specifically associated with one nation that is celebrated with gusto in countries across the globe, with prominent streets and buildings on so many continents being decked out in Emerald Isle Green.
Yet St. Patrick himself and so many of the traditions associated with the Festival have their origins far beyond our green shamrock shores.

So for instance:
1. St. Patrick- British & Roman!
St. Patrick himself was actually Romano-British, the son of a Roman official that was taken as a slave by Irish sea raiders probably from near Carlisle (at Hadrian’s Wall) in northern Britain in the early 5th century. Even his adopted name is not Gaelic, coming from the Latin term ‘Patricius' (noble).
Yet, as we say in Ireland, the invader/foreigner oftentimes becomes 'more Irish than the Irish themselves' (except for a few Northern Unionists!). Though sent as a prisoner to Ireland & forced to work as a slave looking after sheep in the mountains, Patrick decided to voluntarily return to Ireland as a Christian missionary years after his escape from captivity.

2. Guinness- Invented by Londoners & with some later support from the British Army!
'Guinness' was copied by Arthur Guinness from an 18th century London drink made out of roasted barley. The beer was known as ‘porter’ because it was originally popular with the porters (carriers) in Covent Garden. Arthur Guinness switched from producing the more common ale at his Dublin brewery. However Guinness was initially not well received with Dubliners because of the owner’s support for the British colonial regime and his opposition to the republican United Irishman during the rebellions of the late 1790s.
Guinness’ international reputation had also a lot to do with the British Army! In WW1, the high-energy consumption ‘porter’ breweries in mainland Britain were closed down by the government to concentrate the national energy resources on the armament production factories. However Guinness and the porter breweries in Ireland were allowed to stay open thus giving them a virtual trade monopoly in the then British Empire that stretched across five continents.

3. Irish Pub- Viking roots!
The 'Irish pub' was actually created by Viking invaders in the 9th century in their new slave-trading settlements of Dublin, Cork, Limerick etc. Common to all these Viking cities was the presence of a 'tavern' where Vikings, after grueling days or months spent fighting, raiding, pillaging or trading could come to enjoy the delights of beer, music and food served by gorgeous-looking Celtic wenches.
Over a thousand years later (in 1996), I returned the favour to our Viking brethren by managing the first Irish pub in Iceland- ‘The Dubliner’ in Reykjavik! (pubs were only legalized in that country in 1989)

4. 'St. Patrick's Day Festival Parade’ -an American invention!
It originated in the mid-18th century American cities of Boston and New York where it was created by Irish Americans longing for their homeland and an opportunity to promote their heritage. The first parade took place in New York on March 17th in 1762 when it was led by Irish soldiers serving in the British Army! By the 19th century, it had became a powerful expression of Irish nationalism and the struggle against British colonial rule in Ireland.

New York's Parade for Indian & Irish Independence  
Interestingly, the New York Parade of 1920 took on a more cosmopolitan anti-imperial flavour as it became a huge demonstration for Indian as well as Irish independence with Indian republicans carrying large banners emblazoned with messages such as '315,000,000 of India with Ireland to the Last'and 'President De Valera's Message to India: Our cause is a common cause.'

5. Irish Whiskey -the essence of the Middle East!
The process of creating whiskey(from the Gaelic 'uisce beatha' = 'water of life') - 'distillation' was learnt from Coptic or Arab alchemists by studious Celtic monks. The former used it for medicinal purposes. However, we Irish soon saw its greater significance in the hospitality and entertainment sectors!

6. Sexy Irish Traditional Dancing- another American invention!
Traditional Irish step dancing only gained an international appeal in the 1990s thanks primarily to the efforts of an American, Michael Flatley.
This Irish-American from Chicago created the choreography for the 'Riverdanceshow and, with fellow lead dancer Jean Butler, led the show to amazing success as the intermission act in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1994. Irish step dancing has never looked back since and Riverdance has generated a myriad of successful offshoots. Not only that, but the dour unsmiling
Irish dancers of previous eras were transformed into vivacious high-kicking Irish cailíní and buachaillí in figure-hugging attire. Furthermore, modern Irish dance now unashamedly embraces elements from other cultures (Russia, Arabian) increasing its international appeal even further.
Michael Flatley portrayed all that was good and important about Irish-Americans. When Irish traditions were dying out in the Emerald Isle, it was they that for centuries nurtured and kept alive the flame of Celtic culture.

7. There is no such thing as Irish 'Craic'!
The term 'Craic' is looked on today as an Irish word denoting a quintessentially Irish form of fun (drink, music, amusing & friendly conversation).
In fact there was no such word in the Gaelic Language until the 1970s. It is actually an old English(!) word spelt 'crack' that meant in  Elizabethan times 'to boast', 'to banter' or 'to tell a joke' as in the term 'to crack a joke'.

8. 'Irish Coffee'- invented for the benefit of American tourists suffering from the Irish weather!
On one cold evening in 1942 at a small windswept airport terminal on the west coast of Ireland, the local chef felt pity for the tired and freezing passengers who had just embarked from a seaplane that had to turn back from its trans Atlantic journey due to atrocious weather conditions.
Being Americans, he knew that they would enjoy a cup of hot coffee (not then much consumed by Irish people) topped with fresh cream. But because of the freezing conditions, he decided to spice it up with a shot of Irish whiskey. Legend has it that one of the passengers, remarking on the unusual taste of this drink asked, "Hey Buddy, is this Brazilian coffee?", to which the chef Joe Sheridan replied, 'No, that's Irish coffee'. And so, history was made!

9. Irish Songs-written by English, Americans, Scots & Australians!
Many of those great 'traditional Irish' ballad songs that are sung with such gusto every night by broken-hearted inebriated Galwegians or Dubliners in some Irish pub across the world were in fact written by English, Scotch, Australian or American!
(Click on song title below to hear the song)
For instance Dirty Old Town (that many mistakenly believe refers to Dublin) was written by the (Scottish-) English socialist folk singer Ewan MacColl; From Clare to Here by English singer songwriter Ralph McTell; Willie McBride/Green Fields of France by Scottish Australian Eric Bogle; Danny Boy by English lawyer Fred Weatherly; My Wild Irish Rose and When Irish Eyes are Smiling by New York Broadway star Chauncey Olcott; and the late great Johnny Cash wrote Forty Shades of Green

10. Irish Traditional Music- reinvented by British Punks
It was a London-based Punk group of mixed English & Irish background that shook Irish music to its foundations and re-invented it for a modern Western youth audience. The anti-establishment Pogues, led by their brilliant lead singer and lyricist Shane MacGowan, that revitalised Irish music and brought vibrancy, youthfulness, relevancy and radical politics back into a staid Irish music scene.
Formed in 1982, the inventors of Celtic Punk fused traditional Irish folk with contemporary English punk and rock.
The name 'Pogues' comes from Pogue Mahone, the anglicisation of the Irish 'póg mo thóin,' meaning "kiss my ass".
As with Riverdance, their music was oftentimes condemned by the native Irish purists who preferred to keep Celtic culture in a sealed box untainted by outside forces.
Silly people! Like all cultures, Irish traditions are ever-changing, are constantly borrowing and being re-shaped by external influences.

11. The Irish Potato- Brought to Ireland from North America by English colonists
More than any other food item, the potato is associated with Ireland. Today it is a central element of Irish cuisine with a myriad of traditional recipes associated with this root crop, ranging from Boxty (Irish Potato Griddle Cakes), potato soup, Dublin Coddle to Colcannon. Particularly from the early 1800s, it became the staple diet of the Irish people. Because of its high nutritional value and its ability to be grown abundantly on poor soils, the majority of the impoverished native peasantry planted this vegetable  on the miserable patches of lands left to them by their new lords and masters, the British ruling elite, who had conquered and colonised Ireland  during the wars of the 16th-18th centuries,  transforming the countryside in the process into grazing and tillage lands to provide livestock and grain for the British market. Over dependency on the potato in the 19th century sadly had dire consequences when potato blights led to mass starvation, death and emigration particularly in the Great Famine (an Gorta Mór = the Big Hunger) of the 1840s.

However the potato was introduced into Ireland only in the late 16th century from North America, probably by English soldier and adventurer Sir Walter Raleigh on his estates in county Waterford that had been awarded to him from lands seized from Irish rebels. Raleigh is mostly remembered today for popularising another crop from the the New World, namely tobacco. However his legacy in Ireland is somewhat different and will be forever associated with colonising Irish lands with English settlers and American spuds.

12. Claddagh Ring- African Origins of the Irish Symbol of Love
The Claddagh ring (Fáinne Chladaigh in Irish) is internationally renowned as a traditional Irish token of friendship, love, or marriage. It is called after the fishing village of Claddagh ('Cladach' = stony beach in Irish), now a suburb of Galway city on the west coast of Ireland.
Each element of this distinctive metal ring has symbolic meaning: the hands represents friendship, the crown loyalty, and the heart love. If the ring is placed on the right hand with the heart turned outwards, it means that the wearer is "unattached". When the heart is turned inwards, it is a sign that  he or she is married or in a permanent relationship.
Many famous people have worn it including the British Queen Victoria, Hollywood actor Gabriel Byrne, film producer Walt Disney and US President Bill Clinton.
It has appeared in popular television programmes including Friends, and in Buffy the Vampire Slayer where the character Angel (who was an Irishman in a previous life) presents Buffy with a Claddagh ring on her birthday saying “My people – before I was changed – they exchanged this as a sign of devotion. It’s a Claddagh ring. The hands represent friendship, the crown loyalty…and the heart….well you know…..wear it with the heart pointing towards you it means you belong to somebody."
All wore the ring in the belief that it is a authentic Love Symbol from ancient Ireland.
Yet its origins probably lie in North Africa, in the white slave trade practiced by the fierce Moorish pirates in what was then known as the Barbary (Barbarian) Coast.
According to legend Richard Joyce, from British occupied Ireland, was captured by Muslim pirates on a ship traveling to the slave plantations of British West Indies. Sold like many hundreds of thousands of captured Europeans in a slave market in Morocco or Algeria, he was bought by a kindly  goldsmith from Algiers who taught him the skills of his trade during his 14 years of captivity.
Under a peace treaty during the reign of King William III, Richard was released along with all other British prisoners. In spite of being offered riches and a daughter in marriage by his former master. Richard returned to Galway. Equipped with his new metalwork skills and designs, he became a successful goldsmith. It is said that he presented the first Claddagh ring to a lover that had remained faithful to him during his long years in captivity.

13. Easter 1916 - Ireland's greatest rebellion against British Imperial Rule- Led by a Scotsman, an Englishman, an American and the English-born wife of A Polish Count
The Easter 1916 Rising is probably the most celebrated rebellion against British colonial rule in Ireland. Though it ended in failure, it was the catalyst for the larger scale guerrilla warfare campaign of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) that commenced in January 1919 and became known as the War of Independence which led to the establishment of the Irish Free State and the end of British rule in 26 counties of the 32 counties of Ireland.
Yet interestingly, many of the rebel leaders were foreign-born, evidenced of the extent and influence of the Irish Diaspora. The chief planner of the rebellion, Tomas Clarke was born in the Isle of Wright, England; James Connolly the internationally renowned socialist and overall commander, was born in Edinburgh ScotlandÉamon DeValera, commandant of the Boland Mills unit, was born in New York to a Cuban father; Constance Georgine Markievicz (neé Gore Booth) second in command of the St. Stephen's Green rebel forces was born in London and married a Polish aristocrat Count Casimir Markievicz from what is now Ukraine. The father of Pádraig Pearse, the Commander in Chief of the overall rebellion and the person most associated with the Rising was from Birmingham.

14. Ireland's Picturesque Landscapes of Green Fields & Stone Walls - A Product of British Conquest & Colonisation

A rural landscape comprising a mosaic of little green fields and a network of drystone walls is the image that many foreigners have of Ireland and its ancient Celtic past and rural traditions. In fact the fields and walls were largely created by British colonists and merchants from the early seventeenth century onwards when, after the defeat of Gaelic clans, the huge forests that covered much of the country were cut down to provide fuel for the English ironworks, timber to build ships for the imperial navy, tillage and pasture lands for the production of crops and livestock for export to the English homelands.

A traditional Irish (honest!) Toast
In honour of the day itself, may I send you all an old and heartfelt Irish blessing:
"May your glass be ever full,
May the roof over your head be always strong,
And may you be in heaven
half an hour before the devil knows you're dead!"