BY BRIAN MOORE
THESE are exciting times for the pupils, their parents and the staff at St Patrick’s Boys’ National School in Skibbereen.
As a Southern Star-backed project in the Get Involved 2017 competition, the Skibb school’s garden has made the shortlist of five projects nationally in contention for the overall award.
The judging panel, led by environmentalist and broadcaster Duncan Stewart of Eco Eye fame, will be visiting St Patrick’s to see the project for themselves. The winners will be announced at a gala ceremony in Dublin on Thursday, May 11th.
The Get Involved project, run by regional newspapers’ representative group Local Ireland and sponsored by SEAI, encourages communities groups to come together to preserve the best aspects of their local areas, to protect their environment and to create local jobs.
Since 2013, projects and communities from all over Ireland have competed to share in prize fund of €10,000. However, above and beyond the competition, Get-Involved is about encouraging people to take affirmative action and to become responsible for their local areas.
This is exactly what the pupils at St Patrick’s Boys’ National School have accomplished, and they have big plans for the future.
‘We were looking at ways of using the small piece of land we had at the back of the school,’ principal Alan Foley told The Southern Star.
‘We have three classes for children with autism, so we initially planned to build a sensory garden. However, this idea soon grew into a unique experience for all the children attending the school,’ Alan continued.
So, they all set about building a garden that has become more than just a place for the children to learn about growing their own food.
‘The original idea has evolved, thanks to the vision of one of our staff members and now we have an exciting, multifaceted, organic garden which we hope will benefit not just our students but the wider Skibbereen community and will be an inspiration to schools throughout the country,’ Alan said.
So, today, as they prepare for their trip to Dublin, St Patrick’s Boys’ National School are delighted with their achievements and are looking forward to the developing their garden for the wider community.
‘We have a zen garden, an amphitheatre and a willow dome,’ Alan said. ‘Our orchard has been planted, and we have ten raised beds, which have already produced delicious organic veg, and we have grown a monster crop of tomatoes in our geodome.
‘We have created a beautiful garden which acts as both a learning environment and a peaceful and tranquil place to be enjoyed by all who visit.’
The 6m geodome is the centrepiece of the garden, and St Patrick’s is, Alan believes, the first primary school in Ireland to have one.
‘The geodome has a teaching area in the centre and has raised beds circling the interior of the dome for planting and growing,’ Alan continued. ‘This enables us to grow all year round. It acts as a nursery, where we grow all of our vegetables, plants and crops from seed before moving them to the raised beds outside. It allows us to experiment, we are growing pineapple, bananas, rice, avocado tea and much more. It provides fantastic educational opportunities, and we are also providing plants for the Skibbereen Tidy Towns committee.’
Looking to the future, the staff and pupils at St Patrick’s Boys’ National School are planning to, not only enhance the work already completed, but to encourage a stronger and even more active use of their garden with the local community in Skibbereen.
‘The garden is a resource that we want to share. We hope that what we have achieved here in Skibbereen will encourage other schools to make use of any unused scrap of land to enrich and educate, not only their pupils, but the wider communities as well,’ Alan said.
• For more on the Skibbereen geodome garden, see our Home & Garden magazine.