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Christmas Retreat

Getting Ready for Christmas

  • An Gairdin, Portumna
  • Saturday, 26th November
  • 10AM-4PM
  • Nellie McLaughlin RSM

Make a Gift to yourself of this day and time to:

Reflect anew on the meaning of Christmas

Deepen your understanding and celebration of this great Season of Wonder, Mystery, and Joy.

Cost: €50 – includes light lunch and snacks.

Book before Tuesday, 22 Nov at or phone 087 2845443

Image by on Freepik

Weave a Basket

Willow Weaving with Barry Noyce

An Gáirdín, Portumna
Saturday 25th June, 10am – 4pm

Numbers limited to 6 people.
Cost €60 including all materials.
Tea and scones provided. Lunch not included.

Booking: or 087 2845443 before Wednesday 22nd June

Over the course of the day you will weave your own basket to take home with you in the evening. You will also learn about willow and various weaving techniques. If interested in going further with basket-weaving, Barry will facilitate an additional day.

This course is partially funded.

Winter Solstice – Grianstad on Gheimhridh

We are at another peak moment on our cyclical journey around the sun. Since the Sun peaked over our heads in the sky at the summer solstice we have been noticing each day as it gradually appears closer to the horizon. As it does so the time of brightness shortens and the darkness lengthens. These days we are as far away from the sun as we will be.

We believe that our ancestors were very afraid that this time was the end of the road. The Irish translation for Winter Solstice was Grianstad an Geimhridh – the ‘pause’ or ‘stop’ of the sun. They saw life gradually disappearing – life closing down and going underground, growth ending, leaves falling, animals and birds gone to hiding, their own energy changing, fading.

In these ancient times people lived close to nature, were part of nature and not just outside observers. In the modern world it has become much more difficult for us to stay in tune with the rest of nature. However these spectacular peak moments in natures cycle act as an invitation to take time to tune in with nature.

  • As we tune into the energies of this Winter Solstice let us take time to acknowledge the hidden transformations taking place in the darkness of the depths of nature.
  • In the looming darkness of planetary destruction, large scale human suffering, pandemic, and personal pain let our belief that darkness does not exist except in the context of light be our source of strength.
  • In our western Christian Story it was in the depth of winter’s darkness that the light was born. ‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.’
    Believing that the Light triumphs over darkness let us go into this Christmas season with faith, hope, love and joy in our hearts.

A Spoonful of Sustainability

Our Saturday morning courses entitled A Spoonful of Sustainability was our first venture back after our Covid withdrawal from organising face to face events.

We went very local by inviting people from our own road, St. Brigid’s Rd and St. Brigid’s Estate to a 6 weeks course on how to be sustainable in a small garden. In fact the learning applied to gardens of any size.

‘It doesn’t take a lot to make a difference’ was a comment by Des, who facilitated the first five topics. Even in a small garden I can make a big difference. Dr. Anne Marie Mahon, local marine biologist facilitated the Wetlands session. We were lucky that we could be outdoors for all the mornings except on the last day when we had heavy rain – which happened to be the Wetlands session!

We limited the number to 10 participants, observed social distancing and wore masks.
Each day began by gathering in a circle outdoors, leading a reflection on the topic for the day and placing it in the bigger context of our relationship with Planet Earth. We then moved around the garden to wherever the topics led us. There was a great blending of practice and theory. Some participants did not wait until Spring and were implementing some of their learnings as the course proceeded! We promised to continue to support them in Springtime and throughout the gardening season.

6 Saturday Workshops



Workshop 1: Compost

Learn what compost is and how to create your own supply.

Workshop 2: Growing your Own

Find out how to grow your own organic vegetables – no matter how big or small your space – if only in window boxes or on walls.  

Workshop 3: Rainwater

Did you know that only 2% of Earth’s water is usable? Learn simple ways to harvest rainwater for your own garden.

Workshop 4: Wildflower Spaces & Pollinators

Learn how you can create pollinator friendly spaces in your garden to give bees and insects  healthy food and shelter 

Workshop 5: Native Planting

Learn how native trees and hedges can be incorporated into your garden. The birds and bees will be happy and the hedgehogs too!

Workshop 6: Pondlife

Get to know the benefits of a wet area in your garden or learn how to create a small wet area in your garden, providing a very important friendly habitat for numerous species. 


Ongoing support from An Gáirdín to help You and your Garden Grow.

Lost Treasures

Once upon a time, but not too long ago, from early Spring through to late Autumn our headlands, laneways, roadsides, woodlands, wetlands, bogs and hay meadows were great
colourful scenes of diverse flowers. We remember with fondness picking the Mayflower,
also known as the Cuckoo flower, for the May altar. We did appreciate them then, but
perhaps it is only in their absence that we realise what an idyllic landscape we inhabited.
We had more than the beauty of flowers to nourish our spirits. There was also the great
diversity of insects and birds that depended on the flowers for survival and on which in turn
the flowers depended. The decline in bees and other pollinators at this time is attributed
mostly to the decline of wildflowers.
And now! ‘Where have all the flowers gone’ and what is it that has happened to us at all?
When did our language change? When did we invent the word ‘wildflower’? Was it when
the laboratory took a flower from the meadow and manipulated it into a new species? The
purpose of course was to sell it and in a relatively short time a major global industry grew up
around it. Now we needed a new language, so we coined new words to make the
distinction when referring to flowers: ‘cultivated’ and ‘wild.’

The late Anne Primavesi in one of her talks here in Ireland once pointed out that we make distinctions in order to degrade.
So the beautiful flower in the meadow became ‘only’ a wildflower, and in our minds lesser
than the flower we purchased in the garden centre.
We are well aware of all the other indirect ways that have contributed to the disappearance
of wild flowers and their dependents from our landscapes, especially since the latter half of
the twentieth century – pollution, pesticides, intensive monoculture farming, industrial
pollution from use of fossil fuels, destruction of wetlands, transport infrastructure,
deforestation, explosion of human population, to name some.
Hindsight is often insight! Perhaps another way of saying this is that ‘we evolve’, we move
on and we better understand the past from the present stance. But it also seems that very
often among us are people who see into the meaning of the present more clearly, see the
nuances, see the bigger picture in time and space. Poets and creative people come to
mind. Sometimes we label them ‘eccentrics’.
One of these people is Sandro Cafolla, now living on the borders between Carlow and
Kilkenny. As a young boy Sandro had an instinct for wild flowers. At a very young age he
began to save wildflower seeds and has spent his life trekking in and out, up and down the
byways of the country collecting the seeds of our native wildflowers. Because Sandro
pursued his passion we now have in Ireland a great seed bank of probably close to a 100% of
our native wildflowers and so we can begin the healing journey.

The first step of this journey is to be able to hear the patch of earth that I inhabit, big or
small, pleading to leave it alone. In time it will heal itself, each year offering more variety of
the old flowers and grasses whose seeds have lain dormant for years. This means that I
have to let go of the preconceived stereo-type image of a flower bed or lawn!
The second way we can do something is to sow native wildflower seeds. It is crucial for the
flower’s pollinators that the seeds are native Irish seeds. We need to distinguish between
‘Native’ and ‘Native Irish Seed’. Irish wildflowers are genetically different from the
wildflowers of the rest of Europe. The plant/flower, insect and bird life in a given niche have
co-evolved over thousands of years. The native flower will open exactly at the time when its
dependent larvae, caterpillar, or mature insect is ready to feed. Timing is everything in the
seasonal cycles of nature. A non-native flower will open at a different time from our
indigenous native flowers, thus leaving its hosts without its food source. Besides, in time the
native and the non-native are likely to cross-pollinate or cross propagate and then we have
a new species, causing a further sundering of that fragile web, a tearing through the natural
balance that has been established over thousands of years.
Wildflower patches can ‘look’ attractive and have even become trendy. Perhaps we all at
some time have scattered a packet of wildflower seeds which we picked up in the local
hardware shop or supermarket or even the cheaper one in Aldi or Lydl and ended up with a
very colourful patch of flowers. We can also be lured by videos of wildflowers being
streamed all day long in some garden centres, and are usually labelled as native. The
individual flowers e.g Cornflower, Poppy may have the same names and look the same but
are not ‘native Irish’ even if it says ‘native’ on the packet.

There is the only one supplier of Irish Certified Native Wildflower Seeds in the country,
Sandro Cafolla of and email: They supply seeds
suited to every type of landscape and soil type. They have a few outlets in the country.
A few tips: If we do not have access to a sizable piece of land we can sow wildflower seeds
in pots/boxes, small gardens, headlands any place where there is a little soil. They do not
need rich soil. When preparing, loosely rake the soil, remove weeds, scatter the seeds and
very lightly rake over. Nature will take over from there. There will not only be a summer
harvest but one that goes on into the autumn and winter as the seed-heads provide food for
birds especially finches and tits. Also small birds like wrens and robins will forage through
the undergrowth. We must to some degree let go of our preconceived images of a
wildflower patch, like those displayed on the packet. We will have that for a while in
summer and then it changes as we go into the autumn and winter. We must let go of our
urge to ‘tidy up’ and have it looking as we would like it! We are doing it for wildlife to enjoy
and to survive while we experience the joy of having re-established a further connection
with the larger community of life.

Restore Earth – International Earth Day

Thursday April 22nd is International Earth Day. The theme this year
is Restore Earth. The word ‘restore’ conjures up something that has been
damaged or lost and we all know that this is true in relation to Earth. We ask
‘Where have all the Flowers Gone’ and as the Irish song says: ‘Tá deireadh na
coillte ar lár’ – all the woods are cleared, meaning native woods.
At this time Restore Earth might seem a mammoth task. The sentiment from
the great environmentalist, John Seymour can be encouraging: “I am
only one. I can only do what one can do. But what one can do I will do!”

I can plant a native tree or sow wild flowers creating habitats for multiple insects,
birds and small mammals. I can leave verges, headlands or patches of ground
to allow nature to restore its lost habitats. I can send out healing energy to the
threatened land, animals, birds and plant life. I can send a blessing to all those
people who have dedicated their lives to healing Earth. Spending time in
nature, absorbing her qualities and moods can be renewing in body, soul and
Earth Day was largely inspired by what is known as the Earthrise photograph.

It is the first image of Earth from space taken by astronauts during the Apollo 8
mission to the moon in 1968. What a moment, a transformative moment that
was to be viewing planet Earth from the outside for the very first time.
There is another photograph, a very different one, a black and white one,
dating from the first Earth Day 1970 in New York city. It shows people out on
the streets marking Earth Day. They are masked just as people are on the
streets of New York today. The only difference between the 1970’s photo and
a photo taken today is the colour. The masks are identical.
Could it also be said that because we masked the earth issues being
highlighted then that we are now very seriously masked.

Spring Equinox

We can visualise the beginning of Spring as being like the outline of a picture in a children’s colouring book, waiting for the child’s imagination to fill it in with colour. During the winter months nature has been drawing the outline of the picture and from Imbolc (St. Brigid’s Day) to the Autumn Equinox she is filling in the details and colours. Each day brings a variety of hues and colours in flowers, trees, insects, mammals and birds. Unlike the paper picture outline which is limited to the visual we also have the added cinematic and sound dimensions!

A lot of us during lockdown have become more aware of the natural world around us. In that way maybe we are becoming more like our ancestors who were very close to nature and deeply connected and intimate with nature. Because they were so connected it seemed natural to them to take time out to celebrate the peak times of the yearly seasonal cycle. Spring time was one of these peak moments, a time of great hope. From the Winter Solstice onward they were taking stock of the sun as each day it travelled higher and higher in the sky until it reached the point of balance of equal day and night – Spring Equinox.

See Gerry Davis’s poem below. They stopped and celebrated this time of renewal, growth, light,
balance and colour. They were deeply aware of how dependent they were on the sun so their celebrations were basically solar rituals and fire was always at the centre of their celebrations. They were aware that their lives and all life depended on the dance of sun,
soil, water and air.
The question!! When will we as communities and cultures spontaneously burst into such ritual celebrations of nature ?

Night and day is one.
The same darkness
The same light,
The same length time
in the two.
And as they fade into
each other
They give us Sun rise,
Sun set,
These two opposites
Work together to give us the
Perhaps it is a lesson
For us all to look at….. 

-Gerry Davis



A New Dawn: Corona Challenge


I gaze half-dazed out of sleepy eyes wondering
When will the new dawn break?
The sky shimmers with morning freshness
While I search for the dawning –
Restlessly, fearfully, resolutely, wholeheartedly –
How could I have missed it? Again?

A new year begins with renewed vigour from Covid-19 and added restrictions.
There is fresh optimism too with the early emergence of vaccines.
Dedicated scientists are tirelessly creating glimmers of relief for all,
as a tentative sense of emerging light at the end of this long tunnel dawns.
‘Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us
what we need to know’(Pema Chodron)

Deep within Earth’s sacred cradle of wisdom I sense rumblings:
We-humanity- may eventually control the virus and with vaccines overcome it
What if only then – and too late –
We realise that we have silenced the messenger
But missed the message?

Earth, our Common Home, is undoubtedly trying to communicate with us
but our collective amnesia is alive and well.
Covid-19 may be gone this year or next but there will undoubtedly be others.

We don’t have to look far with the twin viruses of climate emergency and
biodiversity depletion breathing too close for comfort. We ARE in crisis!

Science, which is guiding us through this darkness, tells us that our planet is a
living organism, a sentient being, with4.5 billion years of evolutionary
experience.Among others, our young people, have intuited this as they caution
us in our global climate emergency – there is no Planet B.There is no time for
delay:unwavering political will and concerted action by all of us is more urgent
than ever before. We need to wake up to this fact and listen to Earth before
we destroy our common home and all therein.There is NO vaccine for this
The corona virus is surely challenging our provocative intrusion into the
habitats of others in the community of creation for monetary gain and will
continue to do so until we change our ways. The challenge is to collectively
wake up to the mystery that we are part of the awesome community of life,
interdependent and kin with all. There is room for all, our early ancestors
respected this as do indigenous peoples and a growing nucleus of others

In this epiphany moment let us pause and reflect:

What if we were to dream of a hitherto unattained planetary awakening and
feel that visceral excitement that it is possible?
What if we were to acknowledge our vulnerability and need for companionship
within the community of all creation?

What if we collectively were to put our hands up and admit that we have

strayed from our kin-consciousness and commit to living more sustainably
within the earth economy of abundant but finite resources to be shared with
What if we could cherish the mysterious gift of togetherness creating that
resilience needed to courageously weave enduring tapestries of healing, hope,
equality, justice, love, peace and wellbeing for all in our Common Home?
What if a profound acknowledgement of our innate goodness and fresh sense
of the oneness of all life were to shape our futurepost-Covid;thereby
respecting inclusion for alland that basic right to be and to flourish in the
community of creation?
What if we fail to learn emerging lessons?
Will wepersist in gazing half-dazed
Out of sleepy eyes wondering,
When willthe new dawn break?
The sky shimmers with morning freshness
While we search for the dawning-
Restlessly, fearfully, resolutely, wholeheartedly-

 – Nellie Mc Laughlin, January 2021

Photo of Brigid's Cross


Have we ever been so alert to the signs of Spring springing around us in nature, or when have we so welcomed these signs? Here at An Gáirdín we noticed the first signs of colour in early January with the blossoming of the Winter Heliotrope- an invasive! – and a day later came the first of the Lesser Celandine.

Winter heliotrope photo

Winter heliotrope

Since then new life in abundance has been peeping out of the ground all around us. How wonderful and what a source of hope. We have the flourishing of the indomitable Snowdrops, of Hellebores, Catkins – each day new emergences. The birds too are in their spring mode – the thrush’s mating call can be heard from the high branches. We see the blackbirds competing for partners, the robins marking out territory, goldfinches swarming on the teasels and chaffinches sneaking in on the hen’s fare.

Lesser Celandine photo

Lesser Celandine

And now on Monday next Feb 1st we have Brigid heralding in the Spring – as it were officially and formally – as she has done for 6000 years. Brigid goes back in the Celtic tradition as the Triune Goddess of Poetry, Crafts and Healing and merges into the Christian era in the 5th century a.d. when we have St Bridid. Brigid’s attributes speak poignantly to us in these Pandemic times. The separation, silence and pain have led many people inwards to discover their unique creative source and most of us have had to call out for healing at various levels. Brigid has been honoured as the great healer, and Brigid’s wells were the focus of her healing. She is mostly associated with the healing of blindness. At this time we can call on her to open our eyes. We can call on her too as we dip into our creative resources in search of a new future as planet Earth.

Brigid is also strongly associated with the land, with fire, with the hearth and with great generosity, abundance and hospitality. We have a rich store of stories, myths and legends about her. The weaving of Brigid’s cross is a custom that has lived on. It is thought to have originated as a solar symbol and used to protect the land and animals. The Brat Bríde custom has also come down to us intact – the placing of a piece of blue cloth outdoors on Brigid’s eve and as Brigid passes over the land during the night she blesses it. It is then used as a healing cloth.

Christmas Treat – Gift to Oneself

Saturday 30th November, 10am – 1pm

Christmas can have many different connotations and meanings for us all.

We thought it might be a good idea to take some time to think about that. So we decided to invite Nellie MacLaughlin to come and facilitate a day’s reflection on how the knowledge we now have about the Universe and Earth has the potential to deepen and enhance our understanding and experience of Christmas. Nellie is a well-know teacher of Creation Spirituality and Retreat Facilitator. We are suggesting that this day’s quiet reflection be a precious gift to oneself.

The cost for the day is €20 and this includes lunch and tea-breaks.

Booking at or 0872845443