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

-->
'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?

-->
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.