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Connacht Tribune

An Gaírdín celebrates 25 years a-growing

Judy Murphy



Noreen Lyons at the Gaírdín, Portumna.

Lifestyle – An organic and ecology centre set up in Portumna in 1994 by a small group of Mercy nuns, is now a focal point in the community. Rooted in its own area, this garden is also part of a bigger environmental movement. JUDY MURPHY hears how it’s evolving.

When the Mercy order of nuns allowed Noreen Lyons and three other Sisters from the Clonfert Diocese, “to follow our dream” back in 1994, they gave the green light to a project that was way ahead of its time.

The vision involved a small group of nuns – former teachers – opting to live in harmony with the land and the seasons, cherishing the Earth and all its inhabitants. They developed a centre in Portumna on two-and-a half-acres of land belonging to the Mercy order, where people could live and work with nature.

“It was to rediscover our relationship to the land and the earth,” explains Noreen, a woman with a warm nature, a quiet spirituality and the air of someone who gets things done.

Their site had formerly been the garden of Portumna’s Domestic Economy School, an institute the Mercy nuns 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, while its gardens are home to An Gáirdín Organic and Ecology Centre. It plays a vital role in Portumna, where it’s used by groups from schoolchildren to creative writers, while produce from the organic garden is sold locally.

When Noreen and other members of the fledgling Centre ran their first organic gardening course in 1993, they struggled to find tutors who had any knowledge of organic gardening. She recallst his as she, her fellow Sister Anne Mills, gardener Des and several volunteers give the Connacht Tribune a guided tour of An Gáirdín.

That’s not a problem today, thanks in large part to their work. An Gáirdín has become a hub for educational courses including organic production, bee-keeping, cooking, composting, cosmology and more besides.

For 25 years, it has played a vital role in educating people about making choices that benefit the Earth and all its inhabitants – including human beings. This is done in a hands-on, positive way that encourages and engages people. Children, especially those from the local primary school, love coming here, foraging and enjoying a variety of teas made with herbs from the garden, says Róisín, one of the volunteers who helps out with the comprehensive Schools Education Programme.

Recent warnings from the United Nations about global warming have focused on the urgent need to care for the natural world.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Exploring the merits of moving into the west

Dave O'Connell



Mary Kennedy with Carol Ho, one of the Galway interviewees for her new TG4 series, Moving West. Photo: Joe O’Shaughnessy.

Broadcaster Mary Kennedy has an abiding image of those early mornings when she’d set out from Dublin at the crack of dawn to begin work on another day’s filming down the country with Nationwide.

“I always liked to go in the morning rather than stay there the night before – so I’d be on the road early. And from the moment I’d hit Newland’s Cross, all I’d see was a line of traffic of people trying to make it from home to their workplace in Dublin,” she says.

These were people whose day began before dawn to get their bleary-eyed kids ready to drop at a childminder along the way, so they could be on time for work – and then race home to hopefully see those same kids before they went to sleep.

But if the pandemic had a positive, it was the realisation that work was something you did, not a place you went to. As a result, many people finally grasped the nettle, moving out of the city and sometimes even taking their work with them.

Which is why Mary – busier than ever since her supposed retirement from RTÉ – is presenting a new television series called Moving West, focusing on those individuals and families who have, as the title, suggests, relocated to the West.

One of the programmes comes from Galway, where Mary met with Stewart Forrest, who relocated with his family from South Africa to Oughterard, and Carol Ho, a Hong Kong native who has also settled in Galway.

The TG4 series also stops off in Sligo, Mayo, Kerry, Clare, Roscommon and Leitrim.

Read the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download our digital edition from

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Connacht Tribune

Community’s tribute to one of their own – saving final cut of turf after his passing

Dave O'Connell



Well saved...members of St Brendan's GAA Club honour their departed stalwart, John Geraghty, after a record-breaking evening saving his turf.

A local community responded in force to the death of one of their own – a man who had given so much of his life for the good of the parish – by paying one last practical tribute to him last week.

They lifted and footed his turf.

John Geraghty – or Gero as he was known – lived for Gaelic football and he’d filled every role imaginable with the St Brendan’s GAA Club since he came to live in Newbridge in 1983.

He’d cut the turf before he died last Tuesday week, but there it lay, until his old GAA friends organised a bunch of guys – made up of the football team, friends and neighbours – to meet in the bog last Wednesday evening to lift and foot/clamp John’s turf.

“Upwards of 50 fellas from the community showed up,” said St Brendan’s chairman Gerry Kilcommins.

Which was just as well, because, as Gerry acknowledged, John – himself a two-time chairman of the club in the past – had a lot of turf cut!

“It took up an area around three-quarters of the size of a standard football pitch,” he said.

Not that this proved a problem, given the enthusiasm with which they rolled up their sleeves for their old friend.

They started at 7.30pm and had it done at 7.55pm – that’s just 25 minutes from start to finish.

Read the full, heartwarming story – and the St Brendan’s GAA Club appreciation for John Geraghty – in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download our digital edition from

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Connacht Tribune

Liver donor dad would do it all again in a heartbeat

Denise McNamara



Daddy’s girl…Sadhbh Browne with her very special message on organ donations. Photo: Joe O’Shaughnessy.

It is nearly two years since Paddy Browne gave his daughter Sadhbh part of his liver to save her life. And just ahead of Father’s Day, he reflects on how he would do it all over again in a heartbeat, without a single moment’s hesitation.

After an initial testing time in the first six weeks when they beat a path to the intensive care unit after the operation in St King’s Hospital in London, Sadhbh has never looked back.

“She’s thrived and thrived and thrived. She skips out to school every day. She loves the normal fun and devilment in the yard. She’s now six and started football with Mountbellew Moylough GAA, she loves baking, she’s a voracious reader – she’ll read the whole time out loud while we drive up to Crumlin [Children’s Hospital].”

But it could have all been so different.

Sadhbh from Mountbellew was diagnosed with Biliary Atresia shortly after she was born. She quickly underwent major surgery to drain bile from her liver. It worked well until she reached three years old when an infection caused severe liver damage and she was placed on the liver transplant list.

She was on a long list of medication to manage the consequences of advanced liver disease. While she lived a full life, she would tire very easily.

Paddy was undergoing the rigorous process to be accepted as a living donor when one of the tests ruled him unsuitable. His brother Michael stepped forward and was deemed a good match.

Then, further tests revealed that Paddy was in fact eligible for the operation and the previous result disregarded as a false positive.

Read the full, uplifting story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. Or you can download our digital edition from

Organ Donor Cards can be obtained by phoning the Irish Kidney Association on 01 6205306 or Free text the word DONOR to 50050. You can also visit the website or download a free ‘digital organ donor card’ APP to your phone.

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