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:

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

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:

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:

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!"

Sat March 11: Free 'How to Code Websites' event for Teenage Girls.

A free coding website event for teenage girls (13-18 years) and their parents will take place in Dublin City University (DCU) on this Saturday (March 11th).
Girls Hack Ireland, which is organised by the Insight Centre for Data Analytics at DCU, includes a free bus return for Galway participants to and from Dublin. The bus will leave the NUIG campus at 7.15am on Saturday morning, returning from DCU at 4.30pm that evening.
Female participants must be accompanied by their parents to the event.

No prior knowledge of coding is required. Known as a ‘Hackathon’ it is when large numbers of people work together in teams to create assigned web projects. In this case participants will learn about high level web design through building comic strips. The event was first organized in 2015 and involves female students from all over Ireland undertaking designated coding tasks. The aim is to inspire girls to consider the career opportunities that are available in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics or what is often referred to as STEM.
Further details at
Should parents and their teenager daughters be interested, please contact me at

Volunteers Needed for Urban Community Organic Farm

Laying down concrete for a Celtic Cross themed garden pathway
Volunteers are needed once again in the Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden this Saturday (March 4th) at 11am
Myriads of garden jobs have to be undertaken, from pruning to digging and a thousand tasks in between. 
As is our tradition, teas/coffee/water and salads will be provided to all attendees.
This Saturday, there will be a focus on cutting back on the grass in the orchard in order to prepare for planting a native wildflower meadow. 

We want to make this green neighbourhood resource a wonderful friendly outdoor venue where people can socialise, grow organic fruits and vegetables as well as to learn the traditional eco-skills from composting to pruning that our grandparents possessed. The garden will continue to develop as a social, health, learning and environmental hub for the neighbourhood of Castlegar and Ballinfoile and indeed for the whole of Galway.
The latest medical scientific research is showing the mental and physical health benefits to people of all ages that comes from spending time surrounded by plants and trees. It is what doctors are now referring to as the ‘Green Prescription’.
By working with others in amongst our fruit trees, vegetable plots and herbal beds as well as by participating in our educational courses, volunteers in our community garden will be encouraged to bring this knowledge back home so that they can grow tasty safe foods in their own gardens to be served on the kitchen plate for the enjoyment of the whole family.
Growing food organically enriches the soil, reduces our carbon footprint, does not pollute the environment, helps the local economy, reduces a household’s food bill and improves personal nutrition. Just as important a well-maintained organic garden is by nature a diverse place, filled not only with food crops, but flowers, birds, insects, bees, butterflies and birds. It is a sanctuary for wildlife at a time when 25% of Ireland’s native species are under threat.
So we are asking people to join us in continuing to develop this local community and outdoor educational centre.

Tom Hyland RIP, chairperson of the Galway Science & Technology Festival.

A dear colleague and Champion of Science was buried yesterday.
Without doubt Tom Hyland was one of those legendary few individuals that can justifiably claim to have nurtured and shaped modern Galway.

As head of the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) of Ireland Western Region for much of the 1970s through to the 1990s, he helped attract high profile global investment and companies to Galway, ensuring that the city became one of the country's key hubs of industry and business.
Following on from the pioneering work of Bernard Kirk , who was supported by former science minister Noel Tracey and Dr. James Browne (now President of NUI Galway) in initiating the Galway Science & Technology Festival in the late 1990s, he in his capacity as chairperson helped steer it to become the largest annual STEM programme of events in Ireland.
As a member of the Festival board since the early 2000s, I saw at first hand how his single-mindedness and determination ensured that our goals and aspirations each year were met and surpassed.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

The photograph above that I took shows Tom (fourth from left) with fellow members of the great board of 2010 that was the team that successfully transplanted the Science Fair (the finale of the two week long Festival) from Leisureland in Salthill to NUI Galway.
This move represents one of the key milestones in the history of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Outreach in Galway. The university location brought science to a whole new audience with crowds of 22,000+ enjoying an array of exhibitions, workshops, talks and shows across the whole campus unmatched by any similar event nationwide.

Web Feb 22nd: Make Your Own Bat Box workshop

 After a lengthy closure to facilitate major renovations to the premises, Cumann na bhFear (aka Ballinfoile Mór Men’s Shed) located at Unit 1B Sandy Road Business Park is now reopened and welcoming new members.
Because of its strong environmental ethos and as a member organisation of the Terryland Forest Park Alliance, the Cumann is offering a "Make Your Own Bat Box" workshop at 7pm tomorrow (Wednesday February 22nd) supervised by Peter Finnegan. Fee is €12 which covers the cost of materials and light refreshments.
The session will be followed a few weeks later by a practical demonstration from Dr. Caitriona Carlin of NUI Galway, in association with the Vincent Wildlife Trust and the Galway Bat Group, of how and where best to place bat boxes. This event will take place in Terryland Forest Park. Should you wish to book a place on this workshop, email But please note that there are a limited amount of places available.

Because of vampire novels such as Dracula, these nocturnal flyers are sadly misunderstood. In fact bats which are protected under Irish law should be viewed as a gardener’s best friend. For the world’s only flying mammals act as natural insect control agents, as key pollinators with their droppings being prized as an excellent organic fertilizer. So gardeners should attend this workshop in order to learn how to attract more bats into their gardens.

The primary role of Cumann na bhFear is to encourage retired, working and unemployed men and women of all ages to help each other develop, learn and/or teach skills and crafts that can benefit themselves and the wider community. There is a focus on the provision of practical skills whose existence was endangered by a modern society where the ability to make or repair everyday items was been devalued. Hence the members provide courses and workshops on traditional Irish heritage crafts from woodturning to blacksmithing to beekeeping.

Photograph shows Kevin McLernon with some of the bat boxes made at Cumann na bhFhear which were donated to schools and community gardens in Galway city and county

Community Garden to become major Environmental, Social, Health & Education Hub

After the winter break, the Ballinfoile Mór Community Garden will reopen this Saturday (February 18th) at 11am. 
We need as many people to volunteer on this day as is possible in order to start the process of making this great green community resource a success in 2018. 
The organising committee of the garden, which is located behind Lus Leana on the Headford Road in the Terryland Forest Park, have ambitious plans for the year ahead ranging from a children’s Scarecrow Festival in April, to crafts workshops in the summer to the turning of the soil by a horse-drawn plough in the autumn.  

We want to make this green neighbourhood resource a wonderful friendly outdoor venue where people can socialise, grow organic fruits and vegetables as well as to learn the traditional eco-skills from composting to pruning that our grandparents possessed. The garden will continue to develop as a social, health, learning and environmental hub for the neighbourhood of Castlegar and Ballinfoile and indeed for the whole of Galway. 
The latest medical scientific research is showing the mental and physical health benefits to people of all ages that comes from spending time surrounded by plants and trees. It is what doctors are now referring to as the ‘Green Prescription’.
By working with others in amongst our fruit trees, vegetable plots and herbal beds as well as by participating in our educational courses, volunteers to our community garden will be encouraged to bring this knowledge back home so that they can grow tasty safe foods in their own gardens to be served on the kitchen plate for the enjoyment of the whole family.

Growing food organically enriches the soil, reduces our carbon footprint, does not pollute the environment, helps the local economy, reduces a household’s food bill and improves personal nutrition. Just as important a well-maintained organic garden is by nature a diverse place, filled not only with food crops, but flowers, birds, insects, bees, butterflies and birds. It is a sanctuary for wildlife at a time when 25% of Ireland’s native species are under threat.
So we are asking people to join us in continuing to develop this local community and outdoor educational centre.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump's Ban, Palestine & My Galway Workplace.

Recently my friend Ihab Salawdeh gave a highly illuminating talk on his homeland of Palestine as part of our institute’s “My Country” series. The idea is for staff/students working at the Insight Centre for Data Anlaytics to present informative but light-hearted overviews of their country to their colleagues. With over 30 nationalities represented at our university research centre, we have had some excellent insights into places far and near. 

The jovial Ihab introduced us to a Palestine that not too many outsiders are aware off; a land where, in spite of Israeli military occupation and colonial settlements, is rich in natural beauty, culture and history. The inhabitants of the Holy Land are proud of their ethnic cuisine, folk dances, vibrant musical heritage, traditional dress, scenic hillwalking routes, churches, mosques, synagogues as well as ancient Roman/Greek/Jewish and Byzantine ruins. Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem are great world centres of tourism and religious pilgrimage.
Thinking about Ihab’s talk and the ‘United Nations of Galway’ that is my research institute at NUI Galway, I have come to the conclusion that Trump’s decision to ban travel to the USA for refugees and people from seven countries that have majority Muslim populations will have enormous and immediate negative ramifications not just socially, economically and politically but also scientifically.
Some of the researchers at our university centre are respected scientists from Syria and Iran who often as part of their work attend research conferences in the USA and elsewhere. America is now off limits to them and the research community of Galway, Ireland, Europe and the world will suffer as a result.
Trump will I feel extend the ban to other countries with Palestine probably at the top of the list.
With Trump promoting his newly discovered Christianity (of the conservative strand) and his support of American business entrepreneuralism, I should remind him that Steve Job’s father was Syrian and that the family of Jesus Christ fled to Egypt as refugees to escape probable death at the hands of a despotic ruler.
Trump is bringing a coldness and darkness to a United States that has such a proud bright history of welcoming immigrants escaping religious, racial and cultural persecution.

No to Forest Road, Yes to Forest Classroom & Greenway

In advance of the public consultation (Jan 25th) on the proposed changes to the Kirwan Roundabout, we are asking the people of Galway to attend a public information event on Monday (Jan 23rd) on the Terryland Forest Park which will outline the health, educational, environmental and social benefits of Ireland’s largest community-driven urban forest park project.

It is important that the public are made fully aware before it is too late of the need for council investment, protection and promotion of what is known as the ‘Lungs of the City’ and the damage that a proposed road construction through the park will do to its status as an Ecological Corridor, as a major carbon sink in combating climate change, as an Outdoor Classroom for the benefit of schools and colleges, as a tourist amenity and as an Outdoor Gym and Greenway for the citizens Galway city.

At the meeting we will outline a programme of social, learning, crafts, health, gardening and environmental projects being organised for 2017 by teachers, heritage enthusiasts, scientists, gardeners, medical professionals and community volunteers in this urban forest. These activities include meadow-making, wildflower plantings, a traditional scything festival, bat walks, nature trails, walking/cycling tours, a scarecrow festival, bee keeping, organic gardening and citizen science events.

The lack of opportunities for today’s urban youth generation in particular to enjoy woodlands and the wilderness is having serious negative learning and health repercussions. The need for children to experience the magic of forests and the wilderness is borne out by the latest scientific and medical research worldwide which shows the fundamental importance of integrating woodlands, trees and wetlands into the fabric of our cities. Building a road through the park would not only destroy wildlife as well as a tranquil greenway for walkers, it will directly damage people’s health by introducing high levels of pollution. For vehicle emissions are associated with rising levels of dementia, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses. The Environmental Protection Agencey (EPA) recently stated that 1,200 people die prematurely every year in Ireland due to air pollution with the World Health Organisation listing Galway as one of the worst offenders in Britain and Ireland for breaching air safety levels.

It is accepted that trees are the most cost effective way to tackle urban pollution, absorbing between 7% to 24% of atmospheric contaminates.

On a biodiversity level, Terryland was initiated as an ecological corridor for flora and fauna by providing a green link to connect the Corrib waterways to the farmlands of east Galway, a key development at a time when the status of over 60% of Ireland’s native species is precarious. 

We welcome the fact that two days after our meeting, engineers from Halcrow Barry Consultants will host a public consultation on the proposed changes to the Kirwan Roundabout in the new Ballinfoile Castlegar Neighbourhood Centre

But our fear is that the views of the engineers as well as of senior officials in City Hall fail to fully understand Terryland’s role in citizens’ health and biodiversity protection, a situation that seems unbelievable considering that Galway is the designated Green Leaf or Green Capital of Europe for 2017.  For at last week’s council meeting when plans were unveiled for the first time of the six design options on revamping the Kirwan Roundabout, not one of the engineers either in their written or oral presentations made reference to the ‘Terryland Forest Park’ by name.  This in spite of the fact that three of the options are based on dissecting the lands of this key recreational and ecological zone.  This negative stance was similar to City Hall’s recent bye-law recommendation to ban children from climbing trees in parks as well as when the council’s CEO in September introduced the forest road development via a Material Alterations to the Galway City Development Plan, where the construction was (under)stated as just a “link road between Bóthar na dTreabh (N6) and Liosbaun Estate. They are by this approach devaluing the fundamental importance of forests and other green spaces, treating them as land banks to be used for built development and expansion when they want.  

There is no doubt that the Kirwan Roundabout and access roads infrastructure needs to be revamped to support motorised and non-motorised vehicle users. But it is going against the trend of other European countries that the engineers are not being given the wider holistic remit to consider the installation of a proper pedestrian, cyclist and public transport infrastructure nor to review the synchronisation of the traffic lights which are presently leading to tailbacks on the Kirwan roundabout. Likewise as with other countries’ such as the United States, Netherlands and Britain, there is no consideration given of building Green (wildlife) Bridges to connect the different sections of Terryland Forest presently separated by Bóthar na dTreabh (N6) and the Quincentennial Bridge Road.

The Terryland Forest Park project was established as a partnership between City Hall and communities in 1999 and with its 100,000 native trees is officially recognised as the Lungs of the City. Such a proposed road construction punctures these lungs, goes against council’s own environmental policies and is a betrayal of the trust of the people of Galway who in their thousands have planted tens of thousands of trees and native wildflowers over the last two decades.

We want the citizens to reclaim their forests and do what the council signage says at the main entrance to the park, “Citizens of Galway, This is Your Park, Take Ownership of our City’s Cultural Woodland”. The council have no right to renege on their written promises and to steal what was planted and nurtured by the ordinary citizens of all ages. We need investment not destruction.