Organic Garden and Ecology Centre
In 1994, a small group of Mercy Sisters in Clonfert Diocese, Galway came together to find new ways of expressing commitment to the Earth. We were awakening to the vision of Earth as a living organism, a great web of interconnectedness and interdependent life. We shared the desire to rediscover together who we humans are as a strand of this magnificent web. You could say we shared the desire to ‘come home’ to Earth after a long absence. And so An Gáirdín came into being!
The site had formerly been the garden of Portumna’s Domestic Economy School, an institute the Mercy Sisters had set up in the late 1800s, to teach women crafts and agricultural skills that would help them earn their living as farmers’ wives. The school closed down in the late 1980s after almost a century of providing this service. Its building now houses apartments, the farm land is in the ownership of the local community school, while its gardens are home to An Gáirdín Organic and Ecology Centre.
The garden needed some rest and healing following its years of generous giving and had time to lie fallow and renew itself before some organic growing began. Hens and ducks were welcomed back and poly tunnels were set up.
When the Sisters built their home here, on the site of an old dairy, they chose ecologically friendly materials and installed a geo-thermal heating system – only the second one in Ireland. Plants in the garden are watered using harvested rainwater. Solar panels have been installed and a meeting space, the Iontas Centre, was built using completely recycled materials. These included timber pallets from Holland and roof tiles made of recycled plastic from cars. The Iontas Centre was built over the course of a weekend in the early 2000’s, a community project involving local volunteers who learned about eco-building during the process. All the insulation in this spacious meeting area is natural and almost all the furniture has been upcycled.
The Iontas meeting space was built using recycled materials as a volunteer project
Currently, the Education and Organic Growing Programmes are facilitated by a team of six people, two of whom are Mercy Sisters. As the need arises volunteers can be called upon. A small group of those who share An Gáirdín’s vision meet regularly for support, study and reflection.
At An Gáirdín we no longer feel at ease with our machines – lawn-mowers, strimmers and hedge cutters. There are probably a few factors which led to our decision to go fossil fuel free in the garden. Perhaps one reason is similar to that which led us to using the ‘no-dig ‘method in the growing area – a heightening awareness of our connection with the soil and of sensitivity to the multiplicity of life there. Also the noise of those machines somehow were an intrusion on the energy and ambience of the place. Then there was, in our case, the unnecessary use of fossil fuel. There is something too about working with one’s hands as opposed to just following a machine so the scythe and hedge clippers needed to be dusted down!
Produce for sale from An Gáirdín
An Gáirdín plays a vital role in Portumna, where it’s used by groups from school children to creative writers, while produce from the organic garden is sold locally.The gardens here are designed in such a way that promotes diversity, with permaculture – working in harmony with nature – a driving force. A nearby field has been planted with native trees with a Dedication Grove, where people can plant a tree in honour of a loved one or as a gift for a special occasion.
An Gáirdín Organic Garden & Ecology Centre
St. Brigid’s Road