Why Cyberbullying, Climate Change, #MeToo, Organic Gardening, Internet Of Things & Bringing the Jungle Back into the City are Connected.

Since 2004, in my professional capacity as a university Science Education and Public Engagement Officer, I have visited hundreds of schools providing amongst other things workshops/talks on Internet Safety and Cyberbullying Awaressness to parents, teachers, teenagers and pre-teens. Over the last few weeks, I have travelled on this mission to primary and secondary schools in Gort, Clonfert, Ballyconneely, Portumna, Castlegar, Oranmore and Galway city. 
Upskilling parents in the Online Social Media & online game sites that their children are on (next free workshop is in June); promoting ‘Digital Detox’ days/nights in the home; encouraging young people to develop a sense of community/family amongst their peers; making individuals who feel isolated/depressed due to bullying be aware of the positive role models that exist in the sport/music/acting celebrity cultures that have also been victimised but stood up to the perpetrators and become stronger in the process, and of the need to undo the hostile negativity of the Web particularly its growing objectification and sexual exploitation of young women.
But I have also over the last few years come to the realisation that the natural world is the key to our salvation. It has a fundamental role to play in helping humanity, and particularly the young generation that have grown up with smart phones allowing them to be switched on ‘24/7’, to tackle the physical and mental health issues that are increasingly a negative characteristic of modern society. We are now living on an urbanised consumer extraction-based planet where our disconnect with the rest of Nature is being shown by scientific research to be the Road to Hell for both our species and the rest of the biosphere.
Bringing back the Jungle into our everyday lives and making our cities to be both technologically Smart (Internet of Things) and Green is what we should strive for. It was the theme of my talk last September at TEDx organised by the brilliant Darragh O'Connor and Cormac Staunton.
Check out http://bit.ly/2sfRJPN
But with more and more damage being done to the planet in the form of climate change, high levels of pollution, the acidification of the oceans acidity, air toxicity, destruction of the forests, the drying up of rivers/lakes, increased instances of drought, the extinction of marine and land species, one can feel overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of the problem, become disillusioned and just give up. But taking the Green mantra of Think Global Act Local, I have decided to start a campaign, inspired by the movement in London, to make Galway become Ireland’s first ‘Urban National Park’. Just because such a designation does not exist (yet) anywhere in the world is all the more reason why we in this city need to do something. We can become part of a small group of pioneers (incl London and Glasgow) that if successful will inspire every other town and city across the globe to follow our example. The prize is the very survival of our species and of the rest of Nature.
The Galway Advertiser allowed me the opportunity in a recenthttp://bit.ly/2E7pBQh.
Over the last few weeks I have talked to many people about the concept including my very good friends (& my heroes!) in the local voluntary, community and environmental sectors as well as individuals in the political, business, education and health sectors. All have said similar things- it is ambitious, visionary but very challenging.
To me a movement drawn from all sectors with a sense of purpose and a plan of action based on this positive message could capture the public imagination. In particular the local eco-community activists in Galway city could really show leadership on this issue, drive the agenda forward and make it happen within a five to ten year period. In the interim period the changes to the city in terms of parks, nature reserves, building enhancements, planning regulations, Outdoor Classroom activities that will materialise along the way will improve the quality of life of all our inhabitants.
My full article on the subject is at http://bit.ly/2FXDZLv
edition to promote the proposal. Check out

Table Mountain: Looking down across a Sea of Clouds


A photograph I took a few days ago from the top of Table Mountain (Hoerikwaggo = Mountain of the Sea) reinforced my sense of wonder at the beauty and power of Nature as well as on how different regions and peoples of the world have been connected for far longer than we sometimes realise.
Six times older than the Himalayas, this 1085 metres high rock formation that towers above Capetown includes volcanic and glacial elements but most interestingly sandstone. To realise that this mountain was formed out of sediment that settled at the bottom of deep waters millions of years ago is truly astonishing.

Looking down across a never-ending sea of clouds (part of Capetown appears at bottom of photo) I could in the aerial gaps catch glimpses of Robben (‘seal’: Dutch) Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years, and surviving architectural heritage from Dutch, English and Asian urban settlements, evidence of its colonial past and rich diverse ethnicity that makes it still one of Africa’s most vibrant and cosmopolitan cities. Both the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean are visible; hence the reason why it was initially developed by the Dutch in the seventeenth century as a strategic stop-off refuelling port along the European-Oriental spice trade route. 


But even more interestingly I could gaze from possibly the world’s oldest mountain (240million years) towards the location of the world’s oldest evidence of the human species (‘homo sapiens sapiens’) that dates back 100,000 years old. Is this place the cradle of humanity?
Traveling to nearby beaches to witness colonies of Africa’s only penguin species should not come as a surprise when one realises that this region was once joined to Antarctica. 


Table Mountain also looks onto landmarks and localities of Capetown that are from my own country. Bantry Bay, Athlone and Clifton beach are reminders that both Ireland and South Africa were once colonies of a British global empire whose rulers often transplanted the names from one region to the next.
I am presently in South Africa to take part in an amazing life-changing project initiated by renowned philanthropist Sabine Plattner that aims to develop a conservation educational curriculum for schools across Africa. Spearheaded by Claire Gillissen supported by an expert team of Ibrahim Khafagy, Bernard Kirk and Julie Cleverdon amongst others, it is another pioneering project to replicate in environmental learning what Africa Code Week did for coding learning across a whole continent.
But that is another story (to follow shortly!).

American Youth do what mainstream politicians are too scared to do- stand up to the NRA.

It is so heartening to see hundreds of thousands of young Americans demand gun control and an end of the big money power of the National Rifle Association(NRA), something that the cowardly spineless leadership of both the Republican and Democrat parties have never had the courage to do.

Mainstream US political parties have been corrupted by the monies provided by the NRA who by their policies have helped kill more Americans (by guns) that all the wars involving the USA since its foundation combined.
The destructive hold of the NRA over US society is only matched by the destructive control of the fossil fuel corporations (who are promoting Global Warming and the extinction of so much life on the planet) and the right-wing Israeli lobby who along with the Christian fundamentalists and the Saudi Arabian Wahhabi elite are turning the Middle East into a cauldron of death.
These groups control American politics to the the detriment of the American public and life on the planet.
The NRA keep talking about the their role in defending the Second Amendment even if its origins have nothing to do with machine guns and killing machines. Yet it must be remembered that the 'right to bear arms' in the 18th century America grew out of a war of genocide waged by the European colonists against the native Indian population. Guns gave the invaders pf Indian lands the technological advantage over the bows, arrows and spears of the indigenous peoples.

Volunteers Needed Tomorrow (Sat) in preparing a Food Garden for Humans and a Food Meadow for Bees.

Do You Want to Save the Planet?
Of course you do! So we are giving you the opportunity this Saturday to become involved in this great global mission by doing something positive at a local Galway level that involves preparing a Food Garden for Humans and a Food Meadow for Bees.


We welcome all lovers of locally grown organic foods and wildlife to join us for an exciting double nature project in the community organic garden and a wildflower meadow of Terryland Forest Park. 

We will meet at the Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden at 11.30am to undertake the digging and laying out of vegetable beds. Then, after a nice social lunchtime break of good healthy food and beverages, we will continue onto a nearby meadow in the forest park to plant an array of native Irish wildflowers. Google map location for the garden is at http://bit.ly/2AkJph3
Working with others in an urban community garden provides wonderful opportunities for people to plant nutritious foods that can be enjoyed later in the year at harvest time. Volunteering in our garden entitles people to a share of the vegetables, fruits and herbs grown and to learn how to transform Nature’s bounty into delightful tasty foods such as jams and chutneys.


Mealtime will be followed by a short walk to a forest meadow to plant, under the expert tutelage of Padraic Keirns, hundreds of native wildflowers that will provide food for the moths, butterflies, bats, beetles and bees that, thanks to previous plantings by volunteers over the last two years, now call this locality home. 
These pollinators have been in serious decline in Ireland and elsewhere over the last few decades due to pollution, invasive species, urbanization, loss of habitat and the use of pesticides and herbicides in modern farming. So our efforts are helping at a local level to reverse this calamitous trend and ensure that once again our countryside is populated with flowers representing all the colours of the rainbow and will throb to the sounds of a wide of variety bees and birds.

31 Years later: All Smiles at Our Neighbourhood Centre's First Open Day.


I was delighted to be present at today's very well attended and most enjoyable 'Open Day' for the Ballinfoile - Castlegar Neighbourhood Centre, six weeks after it opened its doors to the general public and 31 years after local community activists started a campaign to secure indoor and outdoor recreational facilities for the residents of the Ballinfoile Mór and Castlegar area.

The top photograph shows a happy bunch of politicians, community campaigners and local residents in the foyer of a very impressive state-of-the-art sports and community facility.
The bottom photograph shows a demonstration of people of all ages outside City Hall in June 1989 as a meeting of Galway City Council (then known as Galway City Corporation) voted on a proposal to provide outdoor and indoor recreational facilities in our neighbourhood. 

As a result of our campaign from 1987-1989, that evening the councillors (including Michael D. Higgins, now President of Ireland) voted in our favour. Within a 12-18 month period two playing pitches, changing rooms, a tennis court, a children's playground, car park and a most beautiful nature park with karst limestone outcrops and walking trails were provided.

Sadly we failed at the time to secure the construction of a sports and community centre. 
 
But over the next three decades in different shapes and guises we kept fighting and finally after many false promises and starts, January 2018 saw the fine building that we were in today open. In its short few weeks of existence under the auspices of the social enterprise entitiy SCCUL and supported by the community representative umbrella grouping Croí na Tuath (heart of the people/land) and Galway City, it has spawned and become home to a myriad of sporting, artistic, health and learning activities.
So many people have helped along the way; sadly some of them did not live to experience this afternoon's joyous coming together of a community. Today though was the start of the next phase in the ongoing development of the Ballinfoile Mór - Castlegar district. So we must grasp the positivity that today has meant to everyone living locally and build on this wonderful celebration of community to foster a true Sense of Place and a Sense of Purpose.
So, as they say, watch this space!

Storms & Snow - Rediscovering a Sense of Personal Worth & of Togetherness

Spurred on by my son Dáire, Cepta and myself helped him build a lovely beehive Igloo in the back garden that as you can see from the photograph became a home for an owl, a hedgehog and a squirrel! 
The forced closure of schools, colleges and workplaces over the last two days was a reality check for many of us as it presented a rare opportunity in our fast-paced lives to reconnect with family members and close friends. It was a blessing in disguise. Confined to our homes and localities, we got the chance to do things together such as take a walk in the local woodlands, play cards and build snow people. 
Rather than being stuck at a computer, trying to get reports completed and met business targets in sterile air-conditioned offices, we managed to get outside and take advantage of Mother Nature's gift of snow. With so few cars on the roads, we could hear again the wonderful melodic sounds of the birds in the trees. We became caring concerned community people again as we called to our older neighbours to ensure that they were safe. We became Nature lovers again as we left out food for the birds. We learnt to use our hands again, to rediscover the art of our childhood and to collaborate as a family or as a group of friends in creating the most creative sculptures out of snow. 

Have you ever seen the countryside look more beautiful, have you ever seen so many smiles and heard so much joyous laughter as experienced in the last few days as you watched others or participated with others in the construction of snow people and snow animals?
Maybe these types of storms should come more often!

‘Back to the Future’- Online Social Media, Video Conferencing & Cloud Computing in 1980s Galway

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'Computer Society' stand on Student Societies Day UCG (NUIG), Sept 1980
Technology innovation, communications and learning is so much part of the fabric of modern Galway. Children and their parents are together attending Saturday morning classes to learn how to code; people of all ages are daily accessing online services for hotel bookings, banking details and information services; teenagers are flirting online with their boyfriends and girlfriends in different schools during class time; robotics are taught in our third level colleges; our pre-teen and early youngsters are becoming renowned digital makers who are demonstrating their own programmable automated devices at the Young Scientist Exhibition in the RDS; a multi-national Mervue-based company employing over one hundred college graduates is developing a revolutionary new type of search engine; Galway’s high tech industry is creating thousands of jobs that is earning the city a worldwide  reputation for business and responsible for a large slice of Ireland’s export trade. Mobile phones and video conferencing communications are changing the way we socialise and do business.
 
Whilst these details could define Galway city in 2018, there are in fact stories of Galway as it was during the 1980s! 
Test of PDP-11 computers in Ballybrit Galway, 1975
Find out more about the city’s proud digital heritage at a fascinating talk by Brendan Smith, curator of the Computer and Communications Museum of Ireland based at the Insight Centre for Data Analytics at NUI Galway, that will take place at 2.30pm on Saturday February 24th in the Galway City Museum.
Colin Laferty at the 'Computer Society' stand, Student Societies Day UCG (NUIG), Sept 1980


Online Learning in 1940s Ireland!


Whilst most of Europe was experiencing the horrors and carnage of World War Two, Radio Éireann, the Irish state radio broadcasting service, launched a series of bi-weekly lessons to help people across the country to learn the Irish language.

The innovative creators of this eLearning teaching initiative realised that learning a language was primarily about unconsciously assimilating sounds. Pronunciation and fluency comes from the spoken word.
It is lovely to know that eLearning has a strong tradition in Ireland that predates the Internet and television by decades,
The 'Listen and Learn' booklet that accompanied the broadcasting lessons was recently purchased as a very welcome addition to the memorabilia of the Computer & Communications Museum of Ireland.

Could Galway become Ireland's first Urban National Park?

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A call for the political, community, environmental, business and sports sectors to work together in transforming Galway into Ireland’s first National Park City has been made by a local science, environmental and community advocate. Brendan Smith, Galway’s current Volunteer of the Year, has said that the city should follow the recent example of London where Mayor Sadiq Khan has put his full support behind ambitious plans for London to become the world’s first urban national park.

“Such a status would not in any devalue the traditional designation of a National Park which is about protecting wildlife in natural environments located in rural countryside or marine areas. It would be a new type of park designation in which people and biodiversity could live in mutual benefit. Galwegians could become world pioneers in helping to create something this is so urgently needed as we are becoming an increasingly urbanized planet with over half of the global population now living in cities and where scientific research is clearly showing that our disconnect with Nature is impacting negatively on our wellbeing as well on the health of the planet.  Many of the serious challenges facing Galway as with many other cities such as obesity, mental health, low community cohesion, poor air quality, pollution, high waste levels, illegal dumping, car-based traffic gridlock, urban sprawl, sterile green spaces, flooding, biodiversity loss and the negative impact of climate change could be overcome by becoming an Urban National Park.


“A ‘Green’ identity for Galway would complement our Arts and Science-Technology characteristics.  The city already has enormous advantages due to its physical and human geography. It is located at the juncture of the Atlantic Ocean, the world famous natural landscapes of Connemara and the Lough Corrib/Mask waterways that reach deep into the hinterland of rural Mayo. It will become the terminus for the proposed Dublin-to-Galway cycleway and the starting point for the Connemara Greenway which is garnering enthusiastic support in the west of the county.  With twenty per cent plus of its landmass classified as green space that comprises wide range of natural wildlife habitats including coastline, woodlands, bogs, hedgerows, farmland, karst limestone outcrops, wetlands, lakes, rivers and canals. There is also still in existence a plethora of almost forgotten rural laneways or botharíns on the outer perimeters of the city, a remnant of its rural heritage that could easily become a network of walking and cycling trails. Just as importantly the city has a proud tradition over the last few decades of community environmental activism that has led to major successes that have helped protect biodiversity and enhance the quality of life of its citizens. 
 During the early part of the last decade, Galway was at the forefront of urban ecology initiatives in Ireland due to an active collaboration based on mutual trust between a diverse range of stakeholders that included Galway City Council, third level colleges, ecologists and local communities. This partnership led to the city in 2000 creating Ireland’s largest urban forest park in the Terryland-Castlegar district that with over with 90,000 native Irish trees has become a major natural ‘carbon sink’, the rolling out of the country’s first three bin pro-recycling domestic waste system in 2001 and in introducing the first municipal cash-for-cans scheme a few years later. 



Other eco-initiatives soon followed including a mapping of the city’s diverse habitats, a growing neighbourhood organic garden movement and the mapping of a 25km looped heritage cycle trail along its rural perimeter. Over the last few years eco-initiatives such as Outdoor Classrooms for schools, development of wildflower bee-friendly meadows, restoration of traditional drystone walls and the creation of a series of roosts for bat colonies have occurred due to the energetic work of volunteers. We can continue to harness the enthusiasm and power of local communities, schools, retired associations and youth groups through novel schemes such as a volunteer park rangers and nature trail guides to make the vision of an Urban National Park a reality. But we need to do more if we are to create a sustainable green city of the future. We must become a laboratory for new smart sensor technologies and transform our planning policies in order to integrate renewable energies, a safe walking/cycling/public transport infrastructure, rainwater harvesting, green roofs, neighbourhood farming and urban villages of cohesive communities into our city’s fabric.
Following the example of London, taking advantage of our Green Leaf designation and realising our city must do something radical to protect biodiversity, absorb population growth and secure a quality of life for its citizenry in a time of climate change that could be devastating to the planet, the drive to create a Urban National Park could be our salvation.  
 “At a Green Leaf themed meeting last week attended by city officials, environmentalists and community activists, the idea was very well received. There is a need now for all stakeholders to come together to plan out the principles for such a designation and put together a multi-sectoral team with a unity of purpose to start implementing the process."
 

Voice of a Celtic Angel is no longer with us

Like so many people across the world. I was shocked to hear of the death last night of Dolores O'Riordan.
On American Thanksgiving Day (July 4th) 1993, the Cranberries played Club Setanta in Salthill, a nightclub that I had named and co-set up in 1991.
The gig was part of a series of 'Indie Rock Nights' organised with my dearly departed and much loved friend Sean Puirséal (Purcell).
The band were starting to chart in Britain by this time but they were still relatively unknown and it was the following year that they achieved international success.
When the Cranberries came on stage, the venue was full of mainly young Irish-Americans and Irish that were merry, boisterous and loud.
The sounds of guitars and drums permeated the hall. Nothing out of the ordinary for a live music rock venue. The lead singer was a small very young looking female with short cropped hair who seemed somewhat out of place in the large, dark cavernous hall. Then Dolores started to sing. Her voice instantly captivated the audience. Melodic, raw, haunting, it delved deep into our Celtic souls. The banshee wail seemed to transport us back in time to the music, songs, bards and rituals of a dim and distant past whilst also giving us a taste of the sounds of the future.
We were spell bound.
Dolores had a powerful magnetic singular presence on stage that night. But afterwards as we sat down and chatted, I found her warm, shy but very friendly with an engaging smile.

Farewell Dolores, you are a legend that will not be forgotten.

Fungi working hard at Christmas in Terryland Forest Park

As this photo shows there is a stunningly unique beauty about mushrooms and other fungi living in Terryland Forest Park. Their colours, variety and texture are truly spectacular.
To me fungi are the often forgotten and unsung heroes of Nature. They are the ones that break down dead trees and other organic material to convert them into nutrients that are essential to plant growth.
They are the dominant decomposers that can be said to transform death into life.
Fungi also act as a communications network for trees.

I took this photo of Velvet Shank fungi living off a stump of a tree in Terryland.

Terryland Forest & Garden Highlights 2017


Lovely to have Felicity Silverthorne and her fellow students, as part of their NUIG studies, undertake a few weeks ago a film documentary entitled (Galway) City of Nature on the importance of nature to urban environments. There was a nice focus on Terryland Forest Park and the Ballinfoile Mór Community Organic Garden that included interviews with Ruth Hanniffy(Vincent Wildlife Trust), Pauline O'Reilly (Galway Green Party) and myself.
I am so impressed by the fact that Felictiy and other concerned young people are prepared to highlight the need to safeguard the wonderful wildlife and green spaces that exist on our own doorstep but are sadly under threat like never before due to built development, pollution and climate change. 
The link to the film is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-ktQ0u4KyU&spfreload=10.
Well worth watching (says I unashamedly!!).

Christmas 2017: Galway's 'Green' Santa


One of the annual highlights at my workplace is the multi-cultural Christmas festival.
For the event, family members and friends are invited along to see and enjoy ethnic cuisine, beverage, dress and images provided by the students that come from across four continents.
A key highlight of the fest is the appearance of Niall O Brolchain as Santa who aided by his trusty elves Anh Thu and young Daniel, happily dispenses gifts to and from students in the lovely tradition of Chris Kindle.
The smartly red-attired Niall was of course Galway city's first Green (environmental) Mayor back in 2006.

Christmas 2017: Our Son’s very special Birthday


On December 23rd we celebrated the 18th birthday of our youngest son.
The beginning of Dáire’s adulthood meant that his male and female friends gathered together at our home to enjoy a lively garden and house party. For the first time ever, we allowed alcohol to be consumed in our place by school-going (18 year old) teenagers. Yet in spite of dire warnings from some parents who had survived and lived to tell the tale of their sons and daughters coming-of-age party nights his friends, whilst loud, boisterous and merry, did nothing untoward and were in fact astonishingly very good. The furniture was not broken up, the house was not destroyed by fire and the neighbours were not attacked.
Whilst proud that Dáire had reached manhood, I was at the same time sad. Both my sons have contributed so much to my learning and development over so many years. Their knowledge, expertise and first hand experience of classroom subjects, pre-teen/teen online social media, films, cartoons, fairy tales, sports/pop stars and the latest fabs played an essential part in shaping the content and deliverability of my Science and Technology school initiatives. I took on the role of a ‘sponge’ soaking up what they said and did without them consciously knowing that I was doing so.
Thanks to Dáire and Shane I saw all the in-vogue films of the DC/Marvel super heroes, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Hobbit, Harry Potter, Star Wars, James Bond, Wreck it Ralph, War Horse...
As children they took part in my never-ending cycle of community campaign protests, science exhibitions, coding sessions, retro-gaming nights, gardening digs, forestry plantings, litter picks, art in nature projects, heritage tours and bike excursions. Taking on the regular chores of parenthood along with my ‘O so good wife’ Cepta, I in return chaperoned them to kayaking, hurling, rugby, soccer, art, guitar and school musical concert sessions. I joined in their delight when they excelled in some of these activities and was a shoulder to cry on when things went sour. I empathised with them when, after an initial burst of enthusiasm, their interest in one sport or another waned.
Over many summer holidays spent by our family visiting water-themed parks, I gritted my teeth, closed my eyes and pretended to laugh (in reality it was nearly always a scream!) as I fell from the highest, most death-defying dangerous parent-unfriendly water rides that mankind has ever devised. On a more gentle note there were the regular voyages of discovery to the marine world that is Atlantaquaria, to seashore rock pools, to woodlands, to the Dublin Zoo and on trips to destinations across Ireland.
When they became teenagers, I perfectly understood why they no longer considered it ‘cool’ to pal around with dad or take part in his off-the-wall activities or even to acknowledge my presence when I came into their schools. It has thus been the way of teenagers since time immemorial.
However I was thrilled every time they wanted me to go with them to the latest cinema blockbuster, to the gym or to a football match.
After twenty six years the Age of Childhood in our home has finally come to an end. In spite of the few normal bouts of tantrums, disagreements, upsets and pain along the way, I will miss it so much as it has kept me Young at Heart for so long. I have been blessed in being a father of two fine boys.
Photos show Dáire at his second birthday and with his mom Cepta on his eighteenth birthday

Characteristics of a Future City – Wilderness, Farms & Smart.




Thanks to Darragh O'Connor and Cormac Staunton, I recently fulfilled a cherished ambition of mine by getting the opportunity to give a TED talk. 
My TEDx Galway presentation was entitled Characteristics of a Future City – Wilderness, Farms & Smart.
Click here to view it.
 
The talk is based on my personal experiences of living and working in Galway. It is about the urgent need for humanity especially urban dwellers to bring the rest of Nature back into our everyday lives. We have allowed 'civilisation', urbanisation, industrial farming, mineral extraction, consumerism and technology to scar the planet and to destroy so much of its species and their habitats. 
But even now in a time of accelerating destructive man-made climate change, I see hope in what ordinary individuals and communities in Galway and elsewhere are doing in order to bring the 'Jungle' into the Cities. 
For the first time in our history we should judge and develop technologies primarily on how they improve the Earth, its countless fascinating lifeforms, our own wellbeing and not on such requirements as 'efficiency', 'speed' and 'profit'. Nature is in our genes, and for 99% of our species existence on this planet we were more or less a benign planetary force. It is only relatively recently when we became 'civilised', circa 10,000 years ago with the development of urban settlements, that we started to become a self-centred malign phenomena. 


But if used wisely our human intellect can undo the great harm we have caused.
I hope that my talk will go some way to inspiring people to ensure that the Cities of the Future will not only be Smart but will also contain forests, wetlands, rivers, lakes, wildflower meadows and organic farms.

Tanzania – A Tale of African Girl Coders, an Irish Minister & an American Corner

Africa is changing at an unprecedented level. We associate the continent with the big fauna such as rhinos, giraffes and lions; with tropical forests, deserts and savannah; with rural villages and pastoral farming.
But that description would be alien too much of today's African youth who live in mega cities that have sprung up over the last few decades. Lagos and Cairo have populations of circa 20 million inhabitants. Such city dwellers too often only experience the fast pace of a man-made environment of concrete, tarmac and traffic rather than the slow movement of the wilderness and small traditional tribal hamlets.
As a lead mentor of the SAP-funded GEC-supported ‘Africa Code Week’ (ACW) initiative, I have spent much of the last two years working in this new Africa of Cape Town, Addis Ababa, Kampala, Kigali, Cairo and Gaborone. Our task this year was to partner with local NGOs, governments, third level colleges and innovation hubs to upskill teachers and bring coding workshops to 500,000+ children and youth in order to fulfill our mission of helping to empower future generations with the creative technology tools and skills they need to thrive in the 21st century workforce and become key actors of Africa's economic development.
My final destination in Africa for 2018 was Dar es Salaam. With a population of nearly 6 million people, it has all the strengths and weaknesses of a fast growing African urban conurbation. Amongst its key assets are a youth with an insatiable appetite for education who populate the clubs and centres where technology creativity is promoted, coding taught, products made and sisterhood blossoms. This was characterized at my last training session in Tanzania organised at a volunteer club for young women known as ‘Apps & Girls’ in a venue called the American Corner. Funded by the US embassy in partnership with a local educational institution, the corner is a learning, information and programming space located in a public library. Though we mentored coding workshop taht was well received by the participants, we also got to enjoy as spectators a demonstration by enthusiastic young teenagers of a programmable robot used in a clean water project. The guest of honour was our very own Irish Minister of State Ciaran Cannon. I have great time for Ciaran. He is a politician and government minister who truly understands the need to integrate technology innovation into education. He is a coder himself that has over the last four years co-founded many Coderdojo clubs in rural villages and towns in the west of Ireland. He has taken to both his new ministerial roles, namely that of the Irish Diaspora and of International Development, like a fish to water. In the case of the latter, Ciaran sees Africa as a key focus of his ministry.
On my final night in Tanzania I was at a truly remarkable Africa Code Week launch officiated by Dr. Joyce Ndalichako, Tanzanian Minister for Education, Science & Technology, and Minister Cannon attended by the Ambassadors of Ireland and of Germany, the US Press Attaché, Liam Ryan and Sunil Geness of SAP, young innovators and school kids. The words of one young female teenage speaker and panelist will stay with me for a long time. When asked by the MC what has the technology education provided by Apps & Girls mean for her, Lisa said that the girl that she is now is so different to the girl that she was six months ago. Thanks to her found skill of programming she is now full of self confidence, empowerment and positivity.
The music on the night was provided by a steel drum (pan) band from the Debrabant School Saku whose musical renditions, including the German and Irish National Anthem, stirred the heart of many listeners. This educational institution, which I worked in last June, was founded by the current principal Sister Annette, a hardworking Catholic nun from Kilconnel in county Galway. Whilst the Catholic clergy in Ireland has suffered a dramatic fall from grace over the last few decades due to child abuse and other scandals, nevertheless their Irish compatriots in Africa are still held in high esteem due to their educational and community programmes with the less privileged stretching back to the 19th century. Teachers, civil servants and NGO personnel of different religious faiths in South Africa, Uganda and Tanzania proudly told me of their affection for the Irish clergy that provided them with schooling. Being enslaved and colonised ourselves we Irish have a special affinity with the indigenous peoples of the continent. As a member of the anti-apartheid movement in Ireland during my youth, I was inspired by contemporary Africans such as Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko, Joe Slovo, Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah and Desmond Tutu.
On a personal note I myself was proud to be part of a very special ‘Team Tanzania’ which included Julie Cleverdon (great organizer and worker), Bernard Kirk(great inspirational speaker), Clara Betis (great social media expert & journalist). Liam Ryan (great visionary), Sunil Geness (great enthusiastic commitment), Davide, Hercules and my two top quality fellow teaching colleagues namely Cristina Antelo and Thais Muniky

Teaching Coding in Al Balqa Applied University, Amman, Jordan


As part of my regular delivery of coding workshops in the Middle East, Africa and Greece within the wonderful Refugee Code Week initiative, I am not only sent to teach in refugee camps but also to the schools and colleges of the host countries. So during this week's schedule, I was assigned to provide Scratch coding sessions in the Al Balqa Applied University in Amman.

It was and is a fascinating experience. The administrative staff, lecturers and students are so enthusiastic in learning this branch of coding and delivering it to schools in Amman and elsewhere as part of assigned internships later in the year. 

One interesting thing that has impressed me in my work visits to the country is the high number of women undertaking engineering at universities and colleges. The attached photo from today of one of my workshops of engineering students provides ample proof of this.
There are a number or socio-economic factors why this is the case. But it is uplifting to see something so different to my own country Ireland where the numbers of females in engineering is still very low. We can learn from Jordan. So well done to Shoroq Trad, Haya Al-Omari ʚɞ and the other young Jordanian, Palestinian and other Middle Eastern women here in Jordan for taking on engineering and computer science as a future career!

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.