Category Archives: 2015

More home baking – Nicola Dalton and family

More home baking– Nicola Dalton and family

We are making changes to old habits, and I am definitely more aware of the waste going into the green bin. Through some small changes and a little planning, I reckon that the green bin waste is now half what it used to be six weeks ago.We are cooking a lot more fresh food,baking bread and buns instead of the packaged alternatives, it’s great because it’s healthier for the kids as there are no extra preservatives: you can’t trust a cake that has a shelf life of three months, can you?With the heels of our lovely home-made bread I am making bread crumbs in the food processor for the Sunday roast.The kids are loving all the home baking so much that I have to make two of everything,otherwise it doesn’t get as far as the lunch boxes the next day. They love to help me mix the cake mixture and putting the mix into the tins, but when it comes to the cleaning up,they always seem to disappear, but I don’t want to put everyone off because there’s generally only a bowl and spoon and a few ingredients to put away.We have had lots of really interesting school lunches, rice pudding with diced mango, fruit smoothies… In a smoothie taste is all that counts, and you can whiz up any fruit you like + ice + milk. Most are sweet enough but if not, add a teaspoon of honey or a handful of grapes.I do the same thing at the end of the week with the veg, and I call it left over veg soup. It’s delicious and kids take it to school in flasks, with some home-made brown bread,perfect for wet, wintery days. The key is to blend it up so they can’t see the veg.Our blue bin is only going out half as much as it used to. And when I’m buying I’m less inclined to purchase if I can get something without packaging or with packaging that is 100% recyclable.I got some funny looks when I removed the card covering at the supermarket a couple of weeks ago, and asked the supermarket to send it to their recycling bin!But things like that will force the shops to look at ensuring there is choice available to help reduce packaging. If there are any supermarkets happy to get involved and take back their unnecessary packaging I’ll shop there.

The Dalton kids enjoying the home-made leftover veg and potato soup, and white soda – no packaging in sight and we used all those bits of veg that would have gone to waste in a few more days.
The Dalton kids enjoying the home-made leftover veg and potato soup, and white soda – no packaging in sight and we used all those bits of veg that would have gone to waste in a few more days.

Packaging– Orla Dynes

One of the beauties of this project is that for every problem you encounter, someone out there will have a solution – if you just ask. For example, we have five cats and when I started the project I decided I had better wash out the cat food tins so that they could be recycled.As anyone who does this job knows, it is pure gross – I would prefer to change nappies any day.But when I complained to a friend of mine who once had a 21-year-old cat, she said:“Give them the food in boxes! You can recycle the cardboard and it’s far better for them anyway.”Now I can assure you that five out of five cats do not prefer this method but they and the planet are better off.Another problem I encountered was the whole issue of organic food. I am prepared to pay a little bit more for organic produce but am really against the fact that it comes in packaging which leaches gases into the food and has to be disposed of afterwards.Some plastics can be recycled but a lot are destined for landfill.One night at a Westmeath EnvironmentalGroup meeting, we were all allowed one moan per person. Mine was about packaging.Someone suggested the Fairgreen market on Thursday mornings. All of the produce is organic and you can bring your own bags.Now I can assure you that four out of four people in my family prefer this method as the food at Fairgreen is nutritious, delicious and great value!Some 15 per cent of the price of every product we buy goes on the packaging. Then we have to consider all of the resources used in both the manufacture of packaging and its eventual disposal.Our national waste would fill nearly 500,000 trucks every year. Put end to end,those trucks would form a convoy that could stretch from Malin Head to Mizen Head 17times.As the participants in this project will testify,there are alternatives to this mess. All you have to do is ask a little, and read a little.Hopefully, one day the saying ‘good things come in small parcels’ will be changed to ‘good things come with no parcels’!

Orla’s cats are adjusting to a new way of eating.
Orla’s cats are adjusting to a new way of eating.

Anyone have more suggestions?
Veronica Lynam

This last month has been quiet, just continuing what I’ve already stared, like shopping for ingredients with meals already planned in my head. Apart from no waste, I’m feeling more organised and that’s a welcome step for me. I’m still using the coconut oil for hands, face and hair. It’s lasting for ages.I have discovered my small dog likes my food even though it’s all vegetarian, so I cook a little extra for her. Today it was just cabbage and spuds added to her nuts. She loved it.This means the bag of nuts lasts longer and just as important – fewer non-recyclable bags in the waste bin.I’m using bread soda with a few lavender drops to get rid of smells in the car – just think of wet dog smell. It’s also a lovely scent to have anywhere in the house and there’s absolutely no need for artificial air fresheners.My sink was blocked the other day. This timeI put vinegar and bread soda (again) with hot water down the sink and then used a plunger.Problem solved. Why didn’t I think of these things before?So far, all the changes have been so incredibly simple. I think it’s really just a matter of trying to live more simply and acting on it day by day.What did our parents and grandparents use before we had all the plethora of household cleaning products and cosmetics.I’d love if some readers would help us out and give us some more ideas. I’m sure the Westmeath Examiner would love to publish them and then we’d all benefit. Finally Christmas, a lovely time for family and friends and for giving. But many of us get caught up in the shopping frenzy and there’s so much stuff out there.If you want to keep it simple, why not doKris Kindle for family, where every family member just buys for one person. It’s only one gift you have to buy and you can put thought into that gift and make it special. It means less stress, less stuff and less packaging and there’s still a gift for everybody under theChristmas tree.

Ballycroy National Park & Wild Nephin to become a dark-sky park

  1. Description of  project including specific location and associated newspaper (100 words max)

Our project seeks international recognition for Ballycroy National Park & Wild Nephin to become a dark-sky park.  The issue of human health, effects on wildlife and a general waste of valuable energy are important reasons to take light pollution seriously.  By designating dark-sky places, we can raise awareness of light pollution and at the same time develop educational/science based programmes through related interests in Astronomy.

We plan to work with local communities on an environmentally friendly light management plan and encourage appreciation for our pristine night-time skies.  This would be a niche attraction for Mayo and is a sustainable eco-tourism project with an environmental conscience.

  1. Rationale and objectives of project ( 100 words max)

How did the project originate?

The project began as a student dissertation research as part of a BA in Outdoor Education at GMIT Mayo entitled “Preservation of our Night-time skies” ; a study on the impact of light pollution and the potential for establishing a dark-sky park in county Mayo.   The study established that Ballycroy National Park had strong potential to qualify as an official dark-sky place and this was not just of interest to astronomers.  By building awareness of light pollution (a growing problem in economically successful countries), the West of Ireland can help to reduce wasted energy in excessive lighting, improve functional lighting where needed, reduce impact on wildlife and save costs.

  1. Phased plan of project

Please present this in bullet form style (6/7 bullet points should be sufficient)

April 2015 – GMIT Study was completed

June 2015 – Community steering group established “Friends of Mayo Dark Skies”

July 2015 – Establish project plan and key milestones for Application submission to International Dark-sky

August 2015 – Meteor Shower Watch evening

Sept 2015 –Gallery of Astro-photographs launched at Ballcroy Visitor Centre with Guest Speaker Secretary of Galway Astronomy Club on Aurora Borealis

November 2015 – Guest Speaker Prof. Brian Espey of Trinity College Dublin – What is Light Pollution & We should we care about it?

10 December – Collaboration with GMIT “Appreciation of the Night Skies in an Urban Setting”; student works themed on dark-skies at Lough Lannagh. Kayakers & Canoeists on a night time paddle with candle lit lanterns for a visual spectacle.

October – purchase of new equipment for measurement of Sky Quality of surrounding area.

October – December  – Updated Sky quality measurements taken

November – First draft of Application submitted to the International dark-sky association (awaiting comment)

December/January – collate all data and submit application to International Dark-sky Association.

  1. Planned benefit of the project to the community and environs? (100 words max)

Sustainable local communities require the development of a low-impact on the environment and reduced resource use. Both of these topics can be addressed through the light pollution theme which will not only increase awareness, but also identify and quantify the dominant offenders, serve as a baseline for future work undertaken nationally and, hopefully, save council and private money through identifying areas where more efficient lighting installations or practices could be introduced.

There are also educational benefits in programmes that will be established as part of the project – astronomy encourages students in physics, maths, heritage and natural sciences.

  1. Who is or will be involved  in the project (please give details of approximate numbers

The steering group includes 12 members from community groups in Ballycroy, Newport and Mulranny, also the Ballycroy National Park, Mayo county council, Mayo Development, local astronomers and physicians and project management team (ex GMIT students who developed the project initially).  The number may grow /shrink as the project develops.

All acting in voluntary capacity.


benefits of DS photo brian espey talk brian Wilson gallery matchoo on light meter posterfor gallery rockfleetcastlesteve suspensionbridge

Mulranny’s new kids on the block

BY MICHAEL GALLAGHER Their plans had read well and there was no doubt about their desire and determination, but I often wondered what the Old Irish Goat Society was actually going to achieve in a physical sense. They were making people aware a rare breed of goat lived in the hills overlooking Mulranny and explaining what a special resource the breed was for the Irish state. I really appreciated that and admired their unstinting work but a conservation-heathen such as I needed to see something solid.

I needed to look a goat in the eye and say, “This is what the Old Irish Goat Society are actually achieving.” Then I took a trip to Mulranny to see the results of their captive breeding program and everything changed! Wonderful little goats gamboled around my feet as their regal heads surveyed the visiting humans with a lot of interest and no fear. Their patterned coats provided a colour palette that was food for both the eyes and the soul as the sun danced invitingly in the heavens.

The kid goats were historic creatures – the produce of nine females and three males, all excellent examples of the Old Irish Goat. The 12 prospective parents had entered the pioneering captive breeding program a few months earlier and the fruits of their efforts were there for all to see. The kids had all been given names – Colleen and Davideen were the most prominent of the new arrivals, but there were other wonderfully- christened youngsters lurking in the background.

Their parents were also given regal-sounding branding with Croaghaun, Richard and Ned the three father figures of the group. Accompanying me into the midst of the goat families were Maeve Foran, a talented young conservationist, Carol Loftus of Mulranny Tourism and Sean Grady who works with the program on a daily basis ensuring that the goats have everything they need. Sean’s wok involves twice daily visits to water and feed the goats various oat and beet pulp mixes along with straw, hay and leaves and he displayed great knowledge and care for his four-footed friends. Maeve’s enthusiasm for the project is quickly gaining legendary status.

The Cork woman arrived in Mulranny as an intern and remains immersed in the project even though her internship is now over. “It’s such an exciting program. There’s something about the Old Irish Goats that draws one in. To prove that the breed is a rare one that stretches back through time is just wonderful and to work with the new breeding program, even in a voluntary capacity is very exciting,” she explained before Carol quickly cut in to add another dimension to the whole thing. “Maeve came here to work as an intern on the project and before her we had Rob (Corrigan). Both of them have been absolutely invaluable to us but they have also fallen in love with Mulranny and are now living among us with their partners. That’s just another wonderful aspect of the whole program – the Old Irish Goat is already attracting new people into our community,” she added enthusiastically.


Carol’s spirit of excitement was infectious and the goat project was wonderful from a scientific viewpoint but I wondered how it would benefit Mulranny on a day-to-day level into the future. “These goats were once domesticated here in Mulranny. They were the poor man’s cow, but that all changed in the past century and they moved to become a feral race for a time,” Carol added. “We hope to continue this breeding program and eventually come to the stage when we can have a Mulranny goat farm where they can alternate between their time on the hill and in the farm.” The possibilities of domesticating the goats are very strong if my visit to the breeding program is anything to go by.

Goats that were captured on the hill for characteristics such as stocky build, long dish face, small ears, long coat, cashmere undercoat seemed well accustomed to their new surroundings and Maeve was delighted with their progress. “We monitor everything here from their dung samples to their feeding patterns and it has been a great success. The project can now continue, safe in the knowledge that a healthy breeding population is being fostered that’s genuinely representative of the Mulranny Old Irish Goat,” she concluded and I was convinced that our regal friends were in safe hands with a wonderful future guaranteed in the hills over one of Ireland’s truly magical communities.3 4 5 6

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A simple way to look after amazing birds

Swifts can fly as fast as a Ferrari

SWIFTS are extraordinary birds and really have the ‘Wow’ factor. When Lynda Huxley, of Swift Conservation Mayo, gives talks at schools she finds that the children are mesmerised by the the story of this amazing bird. Especially when they learn that swifts eat, drink, preen and sleep on the wing, and that they can fly as fast as a Ferrari! It’s impossible not to be impressed when you learn that they are are the fastest bird in Ireland’s skies. As Lynda explained: “Swifts look fast and they are, they can reach speeds of around 130 mph when flying around in one of their ‘screaming parties’.”

Pupils of Breaffy National School showing their support for the swift conservation programme.
Pupils of Breaffy National School showing their support for the swift conservation programme.

Another amazing fact about them is that swifts never land except to breed. They fly about 500 miles a day which means they any easily fly from Castlebar to Dublin and back in a day. This is really useful for them because on a wet, windy day here when there are few insects flying around they can fly off to somewhere where the weather is better. The journey between Ireland, where they breed, and Southern Africa, where they spend the winter months, is a round trip of around 14,000 miles. In a swift’s lifetime it will fly around two million miles which is the equivalent of more than four trips to the moon and back which is an amazing thought. You’ll be delighted to learn that one of their favourite foods is midges.

A little insect that drives us all mad and which is in plentiful supply here it the west. The parent swift will collect up to 500 flying insects in a ball or bolus in its throat pouch and take this back to the nest to feed the chicks. When the swifts are with us in summer each pair will consume over half a million insects, just think what our lives would be like if they weren’t here hoovering up the midges! In the summer of 2015, students at GMIT were helping Swift Conservation Mayo to study how often the parents were able to bring balls of insects back to the chicks. This was done by watching recordings from the live-streaming cameras in campus nest boxes.

It’s the first time such a study has been done in the west of Ireland. On a day of good weather, the parents would bring a bolus to the chicks every 40 minutes. However, on a day of poor weather, heavy wind and rain, the chicks would have to go without food for 24 hours. You would think that a chick going without food for 24 hours would die. But here is another amazing fact about swifts, their bodies can go into a torpor if they are without food.

This means that their metabolism slows down and they are in a sort of coma, which enables them to survive a day or more without food. Swift chicks are somewhat unattractive when they first hatch. It’s six days before their eyes open but from then on they develop into beautiful chicks which have large dark eyes with white eyeliner. Lynda explained: “The development of the chicks takes about six weeks, which is three weeks more than most other birds.

As they grow they exercise in the nest by doing push-ups, using their stiff wings, to strengthen their flight muscles. This is vitally important for their survival because once they take that leap of faith from the nest they have to be able to fly non-stop for the next three years.” Swift Conservation Mayo has been raising awareness and setting up nest box projects for the past five years. Everything that has been achieved so far has been made possible through grant funding and donations plus many hours of voluntary effort and support.

These days, swifts nest almost exclusively in buildings in our towns. Before this, they would nest in holes in trees or in cliff faces. In fact, there are still some swifts nesting in cliffs in Co. Antrim and Co. Sligo whilst, in Scandanavia and Scotland, there are a few birds still nesting in trees. This reliance on our buildings, which to swifts are in effect ‘man-made cliffs’, has led to a serious decline in the swift numbers due to renovation and demolishing of buildings and thus the loss of nest sites.

So, installing nest boxes which have been specially designed for swifts has been a major part of Swift Conservation Mayo’s efforts to help reverse this decline. Since swifts nest for life in their chosen nest site, and this could be for up to 14 years, it’s important to ensure that that nest site is there for as long as possible. So a box made of wood crete (mix of woodpulp and concrete) with a guarantee of 30 years is used.

Traditional swift nest sites and nest boxes are located at an elevation of over three metres so that when they leave the nest they can launch themselves just as a hang-glider does when he jumps off a cliff. This enables them to get the necessary aerodynamic life for flight. Swifts are faithful to their nest site and to their partner with whom they will mate for life. But, they only come together for their time in Ireland when they will breed. For the rest of the year and for their migration to Africa they live apart.

Community and student spirit sees Westport Forest Garden initiative take life


WHEN we last caught up with Paula Cannon and Caithriona McCarthy from Westport’s Edible Landscape Project, they were taking the fi rst tentative steps towards work on a Forest Garden Project, and on October 16, in glorious conditions, the plan went into action at Westport Quay and the fi rst steps were taken on the initiative. Joined by a dozen volunteers from the local community and students from the horticulture course at Westport College of Further Education, three apple trees were planted on ground the two women had prepared adjacent to the Quay Community Garden, and the Edible Forest Garden was taking hold. The trees planted were ones that were grafted from trees at Westport House, the convent site on Altamont Street and the old Bank of Ireland garden, and were fi rst dug up by the group, before being re-planted at the Forest Garden site.

DONE The fi rst tree at the new Forest Garden is successfully planted.
DONE The fi rst tree at the new Forest Garden is successfully planted.

But this was much more than just planting a tree, there was a classroom presentation beforehand where Paula outlined her CAD drawings of the site, and Caithriona – a lecture in horticulture explained the steps that would be taken and the importance of each – information that those present would be able to use to aid them in their own gardens. There was questions and answers, suggestion and realisations, and then it was time to roll up their sleeves and don the wellies for the practical aspect of the workshop.

TOIL Pat Kearns gets stuck in with his trusty spade as an apple tree is dug out in order to be replanted at the Forest Garden site.
TOIL Pat Kearns gets stuck in with his trusty spade as an apple
tree is dug out in order to be replanted at the Forest Garden site.


“IT is a system designed around the inter-relationship which exists between trees, shrubs and perennial plants, all planted in such a way as to mimic a natural, temperate woodland,” according to the two women. “Ultimately this results in the formation of a very sustainable and stable ecosystem and the Edible Landscape Project is about food security and sustainability, planting, not using chemicals and not wasting water. Whatever we do is locally based and sourced… and we also have fun,” they explained previously.

Already with several successful workshops hosted and with work now underway on the Forest Garden, Paula and Caithriona hope that the template currently being worked on at Westport Quay will sow the seed for many such planting systems at suitable and appropriate locations around Westport. Edible forest gardening is the art and science of putting plants together in woodland like patterns that forge mutually benefi cial relationships, creating a garden ecosystem. You can grow fruits, nuts, vegetables, herbs, mushrooms, other useful plants, and attract animals in a way that mimics natural ecosystems.

TEAMWORK The group are pictured hard at work on the Forest Garden site.
TEAMWORK The group are pictured hard at work on the Forest Garden site.

Crucially, there is very little maintenance required and a successful Forest Garden Landscape should grow and regulate itself. Plenty of plants have been trialled at the site and there is also ongoing discussions about installing a bee hive and an edible hedge, while there is an abundance of other natural growth, insects and animals that will benefi t from the Forest Garden. TÚS workers will build a bank to offer more shelter and the students will work on a hedge, at the site which has been transformed from rubble.

FERTILISER Cutting up Comfrey plant to be used as fertiliser when the trees were planted
FERTILISER Cutting up Comfrey plant to be used as fertiliser when the trees were planted

The intricacies of planting were explained by Paula and Caithriona at the workshop, with factors such as the direction of the wind, depth of the hole and amount of Comfrey leaves, cut up on site by the group, that should be used as fertiliser, all explained by the duo, whose passion for the Edible Landscape Project runs deep. MORE The Edible Landscape Project (ELP) is the brainchild of Caithriona McCarthy who got the project off the ground in 2012, and she was soon joined by Paula Halpin. Both women have a passion for sustainable horticulture and their initiative continues to capture the attention of like-minded people far and wide.

DELICATE Caithriona explains the art of grafting plants and trees.
DELICATE Caithriona explains the art of grafting plants and trees.