We were saddened to hear of the passing of our great friend and local photographer Henry Wills. Henry had long documented the work of Mary Robinson from the beginning of her Presidential campaign up to the International Human Rights Lecture in 2020, shortly before his retirement.
As reported by Tom Shiels in the Irish Times, Mary’s words at the recent launch of Henry’s book ‘In All Kinds of Weather’ noted that “People are here because you had the skill, you had the heart, you had the generosity, you had the spirit, you had the sense of fun, you made people feel somehow something about themselves that you were doing by acknowledging them through your work.”
We’ll miss Henry’s keen eye and professionalism, but mostly, we will miss his sense of humour and the glint of mischief as he got to work. Our sympathies to Henry’s sister Mary, his family, friends and colleagues.
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.
Below are some fond memories captured by Henry:
November 2023 saw the start of Ballina’s Climate Action Weekend for the third year running; a local initiative to highlight progress in the promotion of sustainability and care for the environment in Ballina on a grassroots level, to raise awareness of the climate crisis and the importance of tackling the surrounding issues, and to ultimately endeavour to see Ballina earn the title of Ireland’s Greenest Town.
With the various presentations, discussions and information made available during the weekend, it was only natural that attendees were going to need a decent meal. Yet food waste is a well-documented concern of environmental activism, with supermarkets, fast-food chains and restaurants often the target of blame not only for the wastage of food itself, but also many other issues associated with how our food is produced, such as how far it has been transported, the amount and type of packaging used to protect and display food items, and whether the food’s nutritional value is truly worth the resources needed to produce it—to name but a few. Chef Ronan Fox aimed to provide an answer for some of these concerns, however, through his Zero Waste Pop-Up Dining Experience, held at the Kennedy Glasgow Centre in Ballina on Friday 24th November.
Illuminated by soft candlelight and decorated with natural foliage and pinecones, the table was all set for an evening of both new ideas and new flavours for those attending.
Chef Ronan Fox opened the event with an informative presentation to accompany the food, during which he introduced various simple steps to reduce wastage in the kitchen and beyond, and also to eat in ways both beneficial to the environment and the body; such as by using a food planner as a guide to ideal portion amounts and ingredient quantities needed, cooking in batches and freezing dishes to have on hand for later, and to identify essential ingredients to keep in stock so that they can be used to plan meals around quickly and efficiently.
Alongside this information, Ronan produced a series of three courses to taste—starter, mains and dessert—all made using ingredients that were either sourced locally, in the most sustainable way possible, and/or would otherwise perhaps have been thrown away, with as minimal wastage of both produce and packaging possible. Some examples included a colourful beetroot dish with goats’ cheese, dried dillisk and hand-picked wild berries, a refreshing salad with ginger, crab apple and locally-sourced crab meat, a magnificent Indian spiced cauliflower, chickpea and tomato risotto with a kimchi made from cauliflower leaves, and a tempting vegan apple puff with date and rum ice-cream.
Behind the scenes, the team got to witness Fox’s cooking skills up-close in the kitchen and got a first taste of some of the food on offer! It was a fun and lively atmosphere with everyone collaborating to make the evening successful while learning new methods and trying new foods, alongside waitresses Jade and Lizzie, who served Fox’s dishes to attendees with warmth and style.
A notable aspect of all these dishes was not only how wonderfully flavourful they were, but also how well they paired ingredients that perhaps might not be expected to go so well together, and full of good nutritional content to boot. Indeed, there was much to be learned, not only in being more sustainable but also in trying different cooking methods, with recipes for some of the dishes on show presented by Fox as an ideal starting point for experimentation with different produce and food preparation skills.
Overall, the event was well-attended and well-enjoyed, with all tickets sold and Fox’s food given high praise by many of those present; it was for many a welcome surprise to try such new and delicious flavours with so low of an environmental impact. If there was one key message to be taken from the experience, it was surely that eating sustainably does not have to mean compromising on taste or quality, and it was one that Ronan Fox and the team achieved to great success.
Photo Credit: Commercial Photographer
As we gear up for Ballina’s third Climate Action Weekend on November 24th to 26th, it's the perfect time to dive into the concept of responsible consumption and the circular economy. With climate change increasingly impacting our planet, it's essential for local communities to explore sustainable practices that can make a difference. In this blog post, we will discuss what the circular economy is, why it's crucial, and how it can be embraced.
What is the Circular Economy?
The circular economy is like a way of taking care of things better. It tries to make sure we don't throw things away too quickly and use products more wisely. In a regular system, we make things, use them, and then throw them away, which creates a significant environmental burden. On the other hand, in the circular economy, we try to make things that last longer and use them again and again, so there's a reduction in waste.
Ballina already offers a good range of services which encourage the circular economy. One good example is shoe repair. These shops such as Harry’s Shoe Repairs or Shoe Hospital fix and refurbish shoes for customers, allowing people to wear them for a longer time instead of throwing them away.
Another good example would be shops where you can get a refill for bottle products such as liquid hand wash and shampoo. A shop like Wild Rocket actively promotes the principles of reusing, reducing waste, and encouraging more sustainable and responsible consumption habits.
Why is it Crucial?
Environmental Benefits: The circular economy helps nature, makes less pollution, and cuts down on carbon emissions that cause climate change. When we reuse our goods to make them like new again, or recycle them, we help the environment and make less of a mess.
Economic Opportunities: A circular economy can create new business opportunities, jobs, and new ideas. When we keep using products and materials again, it fosters local industries related to repair, refurbishment, and recycling.
Resource Security: As more and more people live on our planet, the demand for resources is increasing. A circular economy makes sure we use our valuable resources wisely and keep them for the future. This way, we can make sure there's enough resources for future generations.
How Can We Embrace the Circular Economy?
Reducing and Reusing: Start by reducing unnecessary consumption and reusing items whenever possible. Repair and maintain your possessions rather than replacing them. Here in Ballina, you can repair everything from clothing to electricals to technology to lawnmowers – all in local businesses.
Recycle Right: Proper recycling is essential for the circular economy. Sort and dispose of waste according to local guidelines to ensure materials can be repurposed. If you’re not sure what bin to use, check out Repak. Rathroeen Civic Amenity Centre (view map HERE) has recycling facilities for everything you can think of, and it costs just €4.00 per car to bring your recycling in.
Support Circular Businesses: Engage with businesses that prioritise sustainability and circularity. By choosing products and services from these companies, you are contributing to the circular economy. Check out our list of Ballina’s circular economy businesses below!
Our top ten tips to get you started –
To sum it up, being careful about what we use and following the circular economy idea isn't just needed around the world, but also right here in Ballina. As we get ready for the Climate Action Weekend, it's very important for our community to work together and help businesses and projects that care about the environment and cutting down on waste. If we buy goods thoughtfully and support circular businesses, we can help make our town cleaner and our future better. So, let's use the chance during the upcoming event to promise we'll keep looking out for the environment in Ballina and everywhere else too.
Non-exhaustive list of other businesses which embrace responsible consumption and the circular economy in Ballina:
Mayo Roscommon Hospice Shop
Killeens Lawnmower repair
A Stroke of Magic
The diversity of content at the recent Mary Robinson “Communities Creating Change” Climate Conference was obvious from the well-curated programme. Over two days, information, emotion and frustration were shared by both speakers and audience. A sense of how far into climate breakdown we find ourselves, and how little is being done globally to mitigate against it, pervaded the conference. Young climate activists passionately expressed their views and discontent, holding up conference proceedings for a time. They had the right; after all, they will be the ones holding the fort and slogging through the consequences of climate breakdown well after the rest of us are able to.
Two talks particularly stood out for me. Results of the EPA report “Climate Change in the Irish Mind”, presented by Eimear Cotter, showed a strong belief among Irish people that climate change is happening, with very high levels of trust in scientists as a source of information about climate change. In contrast to this was the frustration expressed by seasoned environmental campaigner Oisin Coghlan that governmental action could be so slow despite evidence of the effects of global heating being repeatedly presented to our political leaders for more than a decade. A heartfelt call for more radical expressions of our discontent with the current level of action on climate breakdown nationally hit the right note.
Events such as the Mary Robinson Climate Conference educate and inspire. Now it remains for us all to translate knowledge and inspiration into meaningful action.
Dr Cathy Burke, a native of Ballycastle, Co Mayo and graduate of UCG, is a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Cork University Maternity Hospital. She is a consultant representative with Irish Doctors for the Environment and is chairperson of the Green Group at Cork University Maternity Hospital.
Dr Burke has contributed to the upcoming HSE strategy on healthcare decarbonisation and has worked with the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland in drafting their Position Paper on Climate Breakdown. She is part of a working group recently established by the Institute of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Ireland which aims to reduce the carbon footprint of maternity hospitals and gynaecology units in Ireland. In her spare time she enjoys cycling, hiking and spending time with her family and friends.
On Thursday 6th of July 2023, we had the pleasure to welcome Oisín Coghlan, Chief Executive of Friends of the Earth, Ireland, one of our guest speakers to The Mary Robinson Climate Conference.
Oisín talks about how he's personally struggling with the growing seriousness of climate change. He's been an environmental activist for a long time, and now he's openly admitting that he's scared and worried about the worsening climate situation.
Oisín thinks about how he's been trying to talk to people about climate change using logic and communication, but he's realising that's not enough. He talks about the real effects of climate change happening now, such as extreme weather, and how these events show that the crisis is not something far away anymore.
Oisín is frustrated with slow progress and wants bigger, more dramatic actions to match the big problem. He compares this situation to times in history when people took strong actions for important causes, and he says it's time to go from just hoping for change to actually doing things to make a difference. He wants people to do things that might seem unusual or extreme, to get everyone working together to fight climate change more urgently.
Below is the full transcription of Oisín’s speech:
This year, on June 12th, the Sixth International Human Rights Lecture was held at the Ballina Arts Centre where people gathered around our guest speaker, Ernesto Zedillo, who followed in the footsteps of Hina Jilani, Graça Machel, Senator George Mitchell, Kumi Naidoo and Professor Muhammad Yunus - many of whom have been members, alongside Mary Robinson, of The Elders group of independent global leaders established by the late Nelson Mandela to work together for peace and human rights.
The International Human Rights Lecture series serves as a powerful platform to highlight global human rights challenges, fostering an environment of dialogue, inspiration, and empowerment.
As the event started, the stage was set for an engaging and enlightening experience. Terry Reilly, local Historian and Author was MC for the event, welcoming the audience with warmth and grace.
Among the speakers were Dara Calleary TD, Peter Hynes - Board Member of The Mary Robinson Centre, and Susan Heffernan - Project Manager of The Mary Robinson Centre, giving context to the lecture, and extending a warm Ballina welcome to our invited speaker and distinguished guests.
Traditional music performances by local talented traditional musicians Deirdre & Sylvie Golden opened and closed the event.
The main highlight of the event was the guest lecture delivered by Ernesto Zedillo. As the former President of Mexico, Mr. Zedillo's vast experience in politics and governance shone through as he eloquently spoke about the challenges faced by marginalised communities in the global war against illegal drugs, and the pressing need for international cooperation to protect human rights in the face of this global crisis. His call for solidarity and compassion challenged and resonated with all in attendance.
Below is the full transcription of Ernesto Zedillo’s speech - a video of the event will be made available soon.
Ernesto Zedillo's speech was followed by an engaging conversation with Mary Robinson, moderated by Olivia O'Leary. The exchange of ideas between these eminent personalities provided the audience with deep insights into the complexities of human rights and the importance of collaborative efforts on a global scale.
Local students from Lisaniska Primary School presented thank you gifts to Ernesto Zedillo and Olivia O'Leary to conclude the event. It was a particular pleasure to have these young students and their classmates in attendance, reminding us all of the profound impact that human rights education can have on future generations, instilling values of empathy and compassion.
As the event concluded, it left attendees inspired and motivated to be leaders at a community level. The discussions and interactions during the Sixth International Human Rights Lecture not only raised awareness about human rights issues but also instilled a sense of responsibility within each person present to create positive change in their communities.
By Rosie Dore
For anyone walking through the rainy streets of Ballina on Thursday, 6th July, the climate conditions were surely not far from thought in some way or another—particularly if you had forgotten your umbrella. Yet as explained by the speakers of that day’s Climate Conference, held in the Ballina Arts Centre and Civic Offices in partnership between The Mary Robinson Centre, Ballina 2023, Mayo County Council and University of Galway, the current rate of climate change is already bringing vastly greater hardships than merely damp clothes, and these will continue to worsen if action is not taken, for Ireland and all around the world. Spending much of the day volunteering within the Mary Robinson Centre building, I was unable to attend the conference as an audience member myself, but the event was well-attended and from what little I was able to catch of the end of the day’s final topical session, these conversations made for highly illuminating yet sobering listening.
Following on from the topics discussed throughout the day’s conference, the ‘What We Stand To Lose’ exhibition was a chance for regional Irish artists to respond to the subject of climate change as a subject of such utmost relevance across all demographics, communicating their individual perspectives as a piece of artwork for public viewing. I was lucky enough to have been selected as one of these artists, and so was very excited to see my works on display in the gallery space within the Ballina Civic Office; this comprised of a collection of pieces made specifically for this exhibition focussing on the Bramble Cay melomys, an extinct rodent species and notably the first mammalian extinction to have directly resulted from human-induced climate change.
Yet in looking around at the works submitted by other artists within the exhibition, what I perhaps hadn’t expected to see was the sheer diversity of different ideas and viewpoints on show; from the moody, monolithic abstract shapes in Jo Killalea’s ‘not yet saved’ to Gordon Bromley’s beautifully-drawn depictions of icy mountainsides, the crackling, foaming acrylic texture of Ciara McKelvey’s ‘Cracking Coasts’, the swirling wool and intricate embroidery of Karena Ryan’s textile works and the lively scattering of colour—reminiscent of confetti or rain—in the handmade paper background of Jill and Gill’s striking portrait of Greta Thunberg, it was an enlightening experience to see so many different angles on this most pressing topic, each artist having something different to say through their work.
The attendance of the exhibition reception was also very encouraging; it was great to see the amount and range of people engaged with the artwork and the artists’ speeches that accompanied them, and fantastic for artists such as myself to have been given this space to connect with the wider community.
All in all, it’s wonderful to have this kind of event held not in a big city, but on my very own doorstep in the town of Ballina, and for this I can only commend the team at the Mary Robinson Centre, Ballina 2023, the University of Galway, Mayo County Council and all the speakers, volunteers and everyone else involved in the preparation of this exhibition and the Conference itself. This dedication to opening people’s eyes and minds to the reality of our world’s situation and inspiring action is something that is much-needed right now; and indeed, just as this event was made possible by the collaborative efforts of the community both in the local area and further afield, so might other positive changes be made, if only we are willing to work together.
We want to extend our deepest gratitude and appreciation to all the incredible individuals and organisations that made The Mary Robinson Climate Conference a great success!
Thanks to our esteemed partners – Ballina 2023, Mayo County Council, and University of Galway – for their collaboration and commitment to making this conference a reality. Your expertise and support have been invaluable in creating a platform for meaningful discussions and actions on climate change.
We extend our heartfelt appreciation to our sponsors, IPB Insurance, EirGrid, and CARO Atlantic Seaboard NorthWest, for their generous contributions that made this conference possible. Your belief in our mission has enabled us to gather influential speakers, experts, and thought leaders to share their insights and innovative solutions and to achieve our ambition of connecting communities for change.
A special thank you to all our inspiring speakers, panelists, and session chairs who shared their expertise and knowledge, sparking important discussions and bridging the gap between scientists and experts in climate change and sustainability and the community.
To all the delegates who participated and engaged actively throughout the conference, thank you for lending your voices and perspectives. Whether you were attending out of curiosity or out of your passion for sustainability, we hope that through these meaningful discussions and knowledge sharing, the Conference helped you get a deeper understanding of the challenges we face and inspired you in creating change.
We are immensely grateful to the Ballina Arts Centre, the Ballina Civic Offices, the Newman Institute, and the Jackie Clarke Collection for providing us with exceptional spaces and support, ensuring the event ran smoothly.
Last but certainly not least, a very special thanks to our devoted volunteers! Your selfless dedication and hard work behind the scenes have been the backbone of this conference. Your enthusiasm and willingness to contribute your time and energy have been instrumental in creating an unforgettable experience for all participants - and your warm welcome and smiles were a highlight for our delegates.
Once again, thanks to you all who played integral roles in making The Mary Robinson Climate Conference a transformative event. Your firm commitment to our shared vision gives us hope and reaffirms our belief that together, we can build a sustainable future for generations to come.
We look forward to welcoming you back to Ballina in 2024!
One of the most interesting features of the Mary Robinson Centre is the swift boxes located on its grounds.
The swift is a migratory bird that visits Ireland between late April and August each year before making their way back to Africa. They are fast fliers, hence their name, and are known for their distinctive forked tail. Swifts spend most of their lives in the air and only land to nest and raise their young. Unfortunately, swift populations have been in decline in recent years due to loss of habitat and changes in climate patterns.
According to Swift Conservation Ireland, swifts are particularly vulnerable to changes in the built environment, such as the removal of old buildings and the sealing up of gaps and crevices in newer buildings. This can leave swifts with fewer nesting sites, which can have a significant impact on their populations.
To help address this issue, The Mary Robinson Centre installed twelve swift boxes along with attraction calls on their grounds to provide safe nesting sites for swifts. The attraction calls were first switched on May 2023.
These boxes are specially designed to mimic the natural nesting sites that swifts prefer, such as the nooks and crannies of old buildings. By providing these boxes, the centre is helping to protect and promote the conservation of swift populations in the area.
The installation of these swift boxes is also an important way for the centre to promote environmental awareness and sustainable living. By encouraging the public to learn about swifts and their habitat needs, the centre is helping to foster a greater appreciation for the natural world and the need to protect it.
Several swift boxes have been installed around Mayo, including 18 in Ballina.
BALLINA NEST SITE REPORT from Swift Conservation Ireland – updated 2021
Their home is the nest site where they breed every year, and the months they spend in this place are crucial for the future of the species since they come here specifically for breeding, and this place should be regarded as their home.
Overall, the swift boxes at The Mary Robinson Centre are a small but important way that the Centre is contributing to the conservation of biodiversity and the promotion of sustainable living. They serve as a reminder of the importance of protecting our natural world and the many species that call it home.
If you would like to learn more about the swifts, check out these following videos made by Mayo Changemakers:
Many thanks to Linda Huxley and Swift Conservation Ireland for their invaluable help and advice.
On April 14th, Ballina became the centre of attention as it welcomed the President of the United States, Joe Biden.
The atmosphere in Ballina was electric, with locals and visitors alike lining the streets to catch a glimpse of the President. The town was decorated in American flags and bunting, landing to the feelings of excitement and anticipation. The crowds were enthusiastic, and despite the cold and the rain, spirits remained high.
The event was full of musical performances by The Academic, The Coronas, and The Chieftains, and a spectacular display of lights which could be seen lighting the sky for miles away!
Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, gave a heartfelt speech that resonated with the people of Ireland and beyond.
The Light in the Window was a prominent feature during her speech. President Mary Robinson placed a Light in the Window of Áras an Uachtaráin to welcome home Ireland’s emigrants, resulting in Ireland’s embrace of its over 70 million global diaspora. Last Friday night, that light was shining across the River Moy from The Mary Robinson Centre, welcoming Ballina’s other President, Joe Biden, back home.
Joe Biden himself started his speech by pointing out the Light in the Window in saying “Mary, I see the Light!”
Mary also read the poem "The Emigrant Irish" by Eavan Boland. The reading was a poignant moment that added to the emotional significance of the occasion.
Here is “The Emigrant Irish” by Eavan Boland in full:
Like oil lamps, we put them out the back --
of our houses, of our minds. We had lights
better than, newer than and then
a time came, this time and now
we need them. Their dread, makeshift example:
they would have thrived on our necessities.
What they survived we could not even live.
By their lights now it is time to
imagine how they stood there, what they stood with,
that their possessions may become our power:
Cardboard. Iron. Their hardships parceled in them.
Patience. Fortitude. Long-suffering
in the bruise-colored dusk of the New World.
And all the old songs. And nothing to lose.
The Mary Robinson Centre worked closely with the US Embassy, White House team, Department of Foreign Affairs, and the Taoiseach, as well as local partners and the University of Galway to help in the running of the event.
A display of some of Mary’s Archive was put together in Mary’s childhood bedroom for the occasion by The Mary Robinson Archive at the University of Galway.
The Centre also played an important role in providing a hub for media coverage of the Presidential address.
Overall, the visit of President Biden to Ballina was a historic moment for the town and the country as a whole. The atmosphere, crowds, and displays all showcased the warmth and hospitality of the Irish people, and the collaboration between local partners and international teams resulted in a spectacular and memorable visit. As Mary Robinson said, “you have two Presidents who love Ballina, what else could you ask for!”