Yesterday saw the official launch of the Solidarity Garden by the Lord Mayor of Cork City, Cllr. Deirdre Forde. The garden was set up on the front lawn of Ardfoyle towards the end of last year.
The Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles, Ireland, were approached earlier in 2021 by Dr Naomi Masheti of the Cork Mirant Centre about using a piece of land in order to create an international garden. We didn’t have to think twice before agreeing.
On Saturday 29th November 2021, all the parties involved gathered in the field adjacent to St.Bridget’s, on the grounds of Ardfoyle, and measured out the plot, 127 metres by 7 metres, and made plans for the months ahead.
Seeing what has grown from a simple, rectangular patch of grass, has been both illuminating and humbling.
This initiative began with seven migrant families as a pilot project last year and has grown to create a safe space for migrant families from around the world. These are families who are living in Direct Provision Centres, involved with the Cork Migrant Centre and Nano Nagle Place, as well as newly arrived Ukranian refugees, who come together to grow food crops from their home countries.
Some may think it fortuitous that the LTI (Local Training Initiative) Horticulture Programme that was previously in Bessborough, now runs their annual training programme from the old Laundry Garden in Ardfoyle. We believe that Larry and his team were directed to us through an act of providence. The students and team have provided valuable assistance and expertise in the international garden, enthusiastically passing along their own learning to these new gardeners. They also helped to build a fence for the garden when foxes wandered in, causing mischief and digging up the seedlings.
However, it’s about so much more than gardening. With childcare always a challenge and often a barrier to participating in activities and learning initiatives, the garden allows for family participation. “Witnessing the pleasure of the children laughing and playing as their parents garden is an unexpected and delightful reward,” said Sr Maura Cranney OLA at the launch.
Fionnuala O’Connell, a youth project worker at the Cork Migrant Centre, and organisor of yesterday’s event, agrees. She says that that it has really helped to create something positive for the families that they work with. The positive impact of being able to grow familiar foods, and then provide that food to their children not only helps them to keep their own culture alive, but also assists them with integration into life in Ireland.
Gardening with other families and volunteers is a wonderfully social interaction and allows for a sharing of skills, an exchange of cultures as well as providing an opportunity to practice speaking English.
For over 130 years, the OLA have sent Irish sisters, from our house in Ardfoyle, to the African continent. We are well aware of the hardships faced in a foreign land. We are no strangers to feelings of homesickness and a yearning for what is familiar. Now, 136 years later, we have the pleasure of witnessing the full circle of our mission in welcoming sisters from all over Africa to Ireland.
The lives of the OLA sisters have always been linked to Africa, and particularly to the championing and empowerment of women and children, and those who are most vulnerable, and so we see this garden as an extension of our mission and a part of who and what we are. It is representative of all that we stand for.
We are delighted to play a small part in this collaborative effort and continue to pray that migrants and refugees will be welcomed with open arms and with justice not only in Ireland, but throughout the world.
We give thanks for the Cork Migrant Centre for this initiative and to all the partners and collaborators who have come on board to make it a reality – SHEP, LTI Horticulture Programme, Johnson Controls Cork, Remitly Cork, Green Spaces for Health, Community Garda, Cork City Council Social Inclusion office and UCC. Apple International Cork has just recently joined the partnership.
It is the hope of all involved that this project will grow and that the resources will be made available to create similar spaces for those living in Direct Provision Centres elsewhere in the country.
See also: Foods from afar: Convent garden project brings migrants’ taste of home to Cork – EchoLive.ie Cork convent launches garden project in solidarity with refugees – Irish Examiner