The Story of Brigit's Garden by its founder, Jenny Beale
There's a lot of weaving in Brigit's Garden: a woven fence of living willow, hand-crafted basketwork swings and symbolic harvest baskets surrounding thyme-covered mounds. Most of all, the garden is a weaving together of many people's creativity, a rich tapestry of individual threads that together create something unique and magical.
The creation of Brigit's Garden has been a great adventure from the idea popping into my head in 1997 to opening to the public in July 2004. The vision was twofold: to create special gardens where people could reflect and relax in beautiful surroundings, and also to provide imaginative environmental education for all ages. I asked Mary Reynolds to design four interlinked gardens, based on the Celtic festivals of Samhain, Imbolc, Bealtaine and Lughnasa that would provide beautiful and tranquil reflective places and a celebration of nature and the cycle of life. She came up with an inspired design, itself a weaving of old wisdom with a contemporary consciousness. We commissioned artists Linda Brunker, Ronnie Graham and Mick Wilkins to respond to Mary Reynolds' design by creating sculpture for the gardens in bronze, bog oak and carved stone. Local stonemasons built the limestone walls that circle and spiral through the design and craftspeople from West Cork, Wexford and Connemara added detail in thatch and wood. At the centre of the four gardens is a circular stone building thatched with reed that provides a focal point and a quiet space. The project is an educational trust with charitable status, and many people have contributed their help and expertise on a voluntary basis. Galway Rural Development provided a vital Leader grant to help us along.
The inspiration for the garden came out of three of the threads in my own life: a love of nature that has always been with me since my childhood on a farm on the Sussex coast in England, an interest in the arts, and a spirituality re-awakened through weekends celebrating the festival of Brigit. I found the stories and traditions associated with Brigit fascinating, as the two inseparable Brigits - goddess and saint - are closely associated with the powers of nature and the life cycle. The Celtic festivals mark the divisions of the agricultural year, and I found great richness in their symbolism. It seemed appropriate that this should be Brigit's Garden. But this is not a nostalgic place, a harking back to some mythical Celtic dreamland. It is a contemporary garden, designed to speak to the needs of the 21st Century. It is intended as a contribution to a new environmental awareness, a place where people can engage with the natural world.
The enjoyment and educational aspects of the project are not separate. The heart of Brigit's Garden is the four seasonal gardens, but the project is more than that - 10 acres more, in fact. A nature trail winds through hazel and ash woodland and restored wildflower meadows to new plantations of oak and other native species, planted by volunteers over the last five winters. Mary Reynolds' design cleverly reflects the West of Ireland landscape in its use of local stone and native (or near-native) plants, so the gardens fit seamlessly into the surrounding fields and woods. Both gardens and nature trail invite visitors to slow down and appreciate the detail in nature: a dragonfly by the lochán or a butterfly on a clump of knapweed; ripening hazelnuts and blackberries and the pleasure of seeing how much young trees have grown since the spring. And trees grow fast here, thanks to the climate and the rich glacial soil. The site is mostly well drained and is decorated with magnificent glacial drop-stones; water-shaped boulders plucked from nearby limestone paving and left scattered over the landscape as the glaciers retreated.
The future beckons with many exciting possibilities, from outdoor exhibitions to nature conservation projects, from celebrations of the seasonal festivals to poetry under the trees. We look forward to welcoming you.
Jenny Beale's talk at Tedx Galway 'Nature, Celtic mythology and the human spirit: the story of Brigit's Garden'
Click below to see the founder of Brigit's Garden, Jenny Beale, speak at the first Tedx Galway event, a local version of the famous Ted lectures (http://www.ted.com/) where people are invited to speak on 'ideas worth spreading'.