From the 5th to the 9th of July 2017 the XVIIIth version of the International Symposium in Medical/Health Geography was held at the University of Angers in France, along the banks of the River Loire (Figure 1). This bi-annual conference brings together around 200 of the world’s leading medical/health geographers and in keeping with the tradition of the conference there was a strong Maynooth University presence, nine in total, consisting of both current and former researchers. There were six current staff/students and an additional three former colleagues, along with a number of other Irish presenters from Edinburgh and Canterbury Universities. From the current staff, Jan Rigby, Martina Roche and Ronan Foley attended and presented, while postdoctoral researcher, Dunsin Arodudu and PhD students Hannah Grove and Darren O’Rourke also attended and/or presented. In addition it was really good to see former Maynooth University colleagues that included; Melanie Tomintz (Canterbury, former NCG), Andy Power (Southampton, former Geography/NIRSA) and Niamh Donnellan (Canterbury, former Geography MA).
The subjects the Maynooth presenters covered were wide-ranging, reflecting the breadth of work currently taking place in the department. These included two appearances by Ronan Foley, the first of which was an organised session co-organised by Ronan and Sarah Bell (Exeter) on the current state-of-the-art in therapeutic landscapes. This included a co-presentation with colleagues from Exeter and McMaster and a response from key researchers in the area, incorporating a remote contribution from the concept’s original founder, Wil Gesler (Figure 2). A second paper was co-presented with Dunsin Arodudu on their current EPA funded-project on Green and Blue Infrastructures and health outcomes. Hannah Grove, a SPHERE-funded scholar (supervised by Jan Rigby) presented a very well received poster on her research on healthy activity and enabling spaces for older adults in County Kildare (Figure 3). Our former colleagues are engaged in a wide range of work related to Smoking, GIS and Active Transport, Health Services and Geographies of Care. In addition, a new key textbook on Critical Health Geographies, of whom Andy Power was one of six co-authors, was launched at the conference to considerable acclaim.
From a social and networking perspective the conference was, as always, a joyful event and the conference was very well-organised by a team of French colleagues led by Sebastian Fleuret, who in addition to the formal meetings, also organised field-trips to local vineyards, troglodyte caves and a typical Chateau, home of the current Duke of Anjou. There were also receptions at the start and a conference dinner in a local church and many old friends were re-met and new friends made during the event and as to be expected the French cuisine was appreciated by all, in including the Maynooth visitors (Figure 4).
The content of the conference was incredibly rich, with the six or so parallel sessions making the choice of session always difficult. Equally the strength of the subject was evident across a wide range of important topics of public concern and covered everything from the health effects of climate change and a huge range of papers on the value of the natural environment to health and wellbeing, while other especially interesting work covered themes and methodologies like geo-narratives, health across the life-course, emergent diseases and the ongoing duty of health geographers to draw attention to disparities and inequalities in health outcomes across a range of urban/rural and global north/south settings.
The XIXth Symposium is planned for Queenstown in New Zealand in July 2019 and there is every reason for us to hope for a similar and possibly expanded Irish attendance. From Maynooth, there are new projects being developed on elder orphans and geographies of care, farmer’s health and wellbeing and spatial decision-making in Irish health care politics alongside ongoing work on green/blue space and health and mortality as well as some newly developing relationships with British and European colleagues. We have also begun discussions with the Medical Geography Commission of the IGU around organising an event in Ireland in the lead up to the 2024 IGU Congress in Dublin. The subject remains a strong one not just in Maynooth, but also through some excellent individual researchers in Galway, Limerick and Dublin and we see this as a real growth area in Irish geography more broadly.
By Doctor Ronan Foley, Senior Lecturer in Geography, Maynooth University