I recently found myself in Newmarket, Co Cork, where I had been invited to open the seniors conference organised by IRD Duhallow’s Active Retirement Network, which represents 21 active retirement groups throughout the Duhallow region.
I was there to talk at the conference about the benefits that gardens and gardening can bring to all of us and the important messages of the green environment’s ability to offer help with the serious challenges of mental health issues, climate change and species extinction.
As we get older, loneliness and isolation can become serious issues and whilst these challenges are not exclusive to the older generation, they are certainly issues which face many as we age. The garden, just connecting with the soil, the universe, God or whatever way you want to refer to it, helps to ground us, helps to balance us, I can’t tell you how many times, I have gone out to do a quick job in the garden, “I’ll be back inside in 20 minutes” and then when I look at my watch, four hours may have passed in the blink of an eye.
Gardening with your friends and neighbours in the form of community gardens and allotments is another way to stay connected and feel less isolated.
I was blown away by the facilities, the set-up and the mindset at the James O'Keeffe Memorial Institute in Newmarket which is where the event was staged. There is so much going on up there and it is a true testament to what can be achieved when people pull together within a community.
We can all feel impotent when we see the damage and destruction of the green environment throughout the world, damage caused by humans in the form of deforestation and forest fires leading to critical problems for humanity.
It’s easy to think that we can do nothing, but each of us in our own garden can play a role and when many people act together and do something small, then before too long that becomes something big.
This is epitomised by IRD Duhallow, a community-based integrated rural development company established in 1989 with a focus on social inclusion, rural development and the importance of the environment. Upwards of 3,500 people now participate from the bottom-up approach in the organisation.
In our gardens, we can use berried plants which will help to sustain birds and small mammals, we can leave habitats such as logpiles, and fallen leaves untouched and these will provide refuge and safe places to hibernate for hedgehogs and other garden friends.
We can have further positive impacts by fitting green walls on buildings and garden walls and roof gardens will further help to promote biodiversity and reduce water running into our drainage system.
Wildflowers and rewilded areas are well documented now and are an intricate part of the jigsaw for plant conservation and helping bees and other pollinators.
Now, more than ever, there is an awareness amongst young people of the importance of the natural world and whilst, in previous generations, gardening and being “into the garden” may have been dismissed by young people, that’s not the case nowadays and there is a tremendous thirst for knowledge among younger people.
In Irish culture of times gone by, older people were honoured and revered in their communities for the knowledge and wisdom they had accumulated from their long experiences of life. “Saoí” was the term used to describe an old person, with wisdom to impart and so it was against this background that IRD Duhallow called its support network for older people the Duhallow Saoí Network.
Among other gifts that I received at the event, was a jar of Duhallow honey — not a word to my dentist! Nestled behind the iconic James O'Keeffe building, the honey originates from the bustling apiary managed by the esteemed Duhallow Beekeepers Association. This apicultural haven serves as more than just a honey haven; it's a hub for training and educating novice and experienced beekeepers alike.
The association, with a collective beekeeping experience surpassing a century among its members, stands as a testament to the enduring tradition of beekeeping in the community.
As the bees diligently gather nectar from the surrounding blooms, they contribute to a legacy of knowledge and skill that has been passed down through generations.
According to Stephanie Moynihan, development officer at IRD Duhallow: “Each jar of honey harvested from this apiary not only embodies the unique flora of our region but also carries with it the wisdom and dedication of a community committed to the art and science of beekeeping. It's not just honey; it's a sweet connection to a century-long heritage buzzing with expertise and passion.”
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