On the RTE news recently I was struck by a report on climate change presented by George Lee. Referring to a beautiful old forest just outside the picturesque village of Enniskerry in Co Wicklow, George Lee said that it is “easy to forget just how connected we are to nature and how truly dependent we are on the biodiversity and the interconnections we see in simple places like this forest.” We live largely in the midst of concrete and spend most of our travel time enclosed in cars. However, he went on to point out that the connections found in a forest such as the Enniskerry one are “fundamental to everything we rely on – fundamental to our food, our mental health, the air we breathe, the water we drink. All of this stuff comes from nature.” All that makes us well comes from nature.
Reporting on climate change is no longer new but linking it with the loss of biodiversity is. This is something that the stark new report by the UN has brought to light. Species of all kinds — mammals, birds, amphibians, insects, plants, marine life, terrestrial life — are disappearing due to human activity.
There is a timely connection here to the recent marking of the transitioning of Páirc a’ Tobair to Green Sod Ireland.
Páirc a’ Tobair is a Southern Province response to the devastation of our planet with a primary focus on the protection of biodiversity and the well-being of the whole community of life.
Green Sod Ireland www.greensodireland.ie is a Land Trust whose vision is to establish ‘Wild-Acres’ in every county in Ireland. This is to ensure the creation of safe habitats and the facilitation of the free movement of wildlife. These are vital for biodiversity.
Páirc a’ Tobair has been written about before on Mercy Alive. However this beginning of a new chapter of its journey makes it worthwhile to write of it again.
In many ways it can be said that Páirc a’ Tobair began as a dream in response to two main things happening to creation at this time:
- the terrible devastation of our planet and in particular how that is manifested in the loss of so many species and interference with habitats – poignantly described by the conservationist John Feehan as ‘the dimming of the rainbow of diversity which has characterised our planet particularly for the past 65 million years.’
- the need to ask the critical question ‘what might all of this mean at a deeper level – at a spiritual level?
The growing awareness that we live as part of one evolving, unfolding event – the universe as story– was the context out of which this dream emerged.
Back in the late 1990s – about 20 years ago – the dream began to manifest itself – what if a piece of land could be put aside, allow it to be used in some way as a response and allow that response to evolve.
Páirc a’ Tobair – then a large green field in Rosscarbery West Cork – was put aside for this purpose. Kathy Cunningham and Maria Hayes were asked to facilitate that evolution. They were always backed and supported by the Province, helped in no small measure by the local Fás scheme and others including some who worked in a more formal capacity, and still others who came for a while, made a contribution and moved on. All of this was done with love and expertise.
Trees were planted in abundance, wildflower banks were actively created and encouraged to develop. Vegetables drills and patches, fruit trees and fruit bushes were grown. The green field site began to be transformed and more diverse habitats began to emerge. A pond was put in to encourage another kind of wildlife.
A tunnel made some of the vegetable growing easier and later it helped with the development of the community garden –an aspect of the place that has contributed greatly to the links with the local community.
Over the years rituals to mark those moments of seasonal change that affect all of life, not just human life – the solstices and equinoxes – took place, attended and indeed created, by people from all different backgrounds whose faith experiences – whose sense of spirituality – differed perhaps considerably but all drawn together in this place out of a concern for planet earth, out of a realisation that spirit and matter are one. Unity is at the core of reality. Páirc a’ Tobair facilitated this.
People visited the place, some stayed a few days, some longer, and others just passed through, all contributed to an understanding of the project, sharing their wisdom and expertise. And we ourselves said, the spirit of the place left its mark on everyone and everyone contributed to that spirit.
I mentioned earlier the context out of which the dream emerged – the growing sense that we are all part of an unfolding, evolving event. For many that was first expressed in the pioneering thought of the American Passionist priest Thomas Berry who died a few years back and his great friend and colleague Brian Swimme.
Another highly influential figure in the life of Páirc a’ Tobair was Anne Primavesi, who, with her husband Mark, visited a number of times and who over the years shared her wisdom with Mercy Sisters across the country. Anne’s Gaian worldview – the sacredness and giftedness of the Earth – and the need for our theology and spirituality to embody such a sense of Earth, can only be seen as a forerunner to much of our Eco-spiritual thoughts today. Anne too has very recently ‘joined the ancestors’. May she rest in peace as we give thanks for the great gift she has been. For her as for Páirc a’ Tobair it is always all about the whole community of life.
Now as Páirc a’ Tobair enters a new phase of its evolution – a new chapter of its story – the desire of all concerned is that the community of life remains at the centre. Those who have held the vision over the past 20 years and Green Sod Ireland are of one mind in this.
I am part of the sun
As my eye is part of me
That I am part of the earth
My feet know perfectly
And my blood is part of the sea
Margaret Twomey rsm