In sunshine or showers, the garden of the Ringsend and Irishtown Community Centre is blooming gorgeous in Summer. Thanks to 19 years of hard work by a small team of self-taught workers, it has scooped gardening awards every year since 2005. Its running water, fruit trees, vegetables and fragrant flowers draw local office workers for lunch and a few areas have memorials to deceased RICC workers and locals.
Head gardener Jack O’Brien was, “not happy at all,” when his 66th birthday meant he had to retire in April, although other Jobs Initiative scheme workers will soon be allowed to work until they are 68. “I felt sick,” Jack remembers.
The garden has shifted its shape and location since it was started in 1994, in what is now the car park at the front of the centre. “We started at the front and then we planted climbing shrubs along the side walls. It’s all been done by local people,” he explained.
At the heart of the garden is an unusual tree with shiny black leaves, which was planted in memory of John Devoy, a RICC computer teacher who died suddenly in September 2009. John is much missed by former colleagues.
Paul Madill was an RICC Cook who helped Jack to move the allotments and the garden to their present location by the river. Paul is remembered by a plaque on the rose arch and by a cherry tree planted in his memory. Paul’s cherry tree is surrounded by the herb garden, which grows chives, sage, mint and rosemary.
The land on which the garden is located used to be the Hammond Lane scrap yard when Jack was growing up. “Barges used to bring scrap metal into the dock right in front here,” he remembers.
Jack handed over his job as head gardener to Philip McDonagh, 55, who has been at RICC for six years now. They have just repaired the stone water feature they built in the goldfish pond, after it was knocked over by boisterous kids during the May Day procession. It’s now higher and has a stronger pump. Jack still works here as a volunteer. “I’ve done too much work here to just allow it to go to wrack and ruin,” he explains.
The garden includes 12 allotments, two tended by Philip and Jack, which grow gooseberries, rhubarb, strawberries, apple and pears, and a mini-meadow with strong scented wild flowers, which is great for attracting insects. There is a gorgeous salix flamingo tree with pink leaves which was planted in memory of local teenager Niamh Walsh, who lived in a cottage on Pigeon House Road. Another cherry tree was planted opposite the memorial to asthma sufferer Jessica Delany Smith who died in 2011, aged just 18.
Jack is pictured in the Bloom-winning Recession Garden, beneath an odd-looking shed roof that is designed to catch water and direct it into the water barrel underneath. The idea of the Recession Garden is that it has enough space to grow everything a couple needs to live, including a compost bin and some funky art. It was donated to RICC in 2011 by a foreign designer after it won her a Gold medal at Bloom.
By Shan Kelly