Locals reclaim Fairview Park with a little creativity

Dublin council project enables northside women to turn their park into a Zen garden


Public parks are supposed to be oases of calm in urban centres – open spaces where people can walk, run, play, meet friends and spend time. But what happens when your local park is no longer a safe place to go? And how can local people claim back these spaces as their own?

City councils have often struggled to combat anti-social activities in urban parks but a recent initiative funded by Dublin City Council is enabling one group of north Dublin women to reclaim Fairview Park as a safe space for all ages to spend time in.

Organised by Dublin Culture Connects as one of its National Neighbourhood projects, a group of women from the Ballybough Craft group and the Fairview Art class have come together to create circles of living willow arches in the park. The result, the Willow Zen Garden in Fairview Park, will be officially opened on Saturday, March 24th at 1.30pm.

Women who were involved in the project say it was a constructive way for local people to reclaim their park. “A lot of women grew up in the area or moved to the area and raised their children here,” says Evelyn Healy, who leads the Ballybough Craft Group.

“Many of these women brought their children to the park or used to play in it themselves when they were younger. But, as they got older, there were issues with bad behaviour and recreational drug-taking which made some people feel vulnerable about going into the park.”

Safer place

Healy says a lot of people feel safer walking through the park now since some trees were cut down. The hope is that the living willow arches, which are close to the children’s playground and skateboard park, will provide an attractive place for people to linger and enjoy the park again while their children and grandchildren play nearby.

Laura Larkin, north central project manager with Dublin’s Culture Connects, says the project brought together the craft of weaving with nature and biodiversity [willow is one of the plants which encourages the largest range of insects and birds]. “The women wanted something open rather than an enclosed space so that people could walk through the arches and feel free and relaxed,” says Larkin.

Architect Evelyn D’Arcy ran workshops with the women in which they learned about the history of the park – originally a city dump on land reclaimed from the sea, then allotments for growing food, and now a city park under which is the Dublin Port Tunnel.

Ronan Russel and Elaine McDonagh from Newgrange Willow Design taught the group how to weave with willow. “The idea is that the arches will become lovely and thick and the new shoots can be woven back into the arches,” explains Russel who also builds living willow domes, glamping pods and baskets.

Old craft

Elaine McDonagh says the women were an enthusiastic, co-operative and motivated group to work with. “Willow is pliable and easy to use. It’s one of the oldest crafts in the world and can be woven into arches, fences and baskets. The women here learned a few techniques and gained confidence in weaving,” she says.

McDonagh, who trained as a computer games designer, says people joke that she makes a living “twisting a few sticks together”.

“But,” she says, “ I’m happy because I’m outside all the time and it’s very important to keep our traditions alive – willow can be used for everything from babies’ rattles to eel traps, potato baskets and coffins.”

The women from Ballybough and Fairview point out that people passing by on buses and walking along the edge of the park will be able to see their willow arches as they grow. “I feel like we have put down roots in the park now. I’m waiting to see the willow arches on Google maps,” says Kathleen Connolly.

The next step is to ask a street artist to paint over the graffiti on the bins in the park.

But the biggest hope of all is that as these living willow arches blossom and grow, they won’t be damaged or destroyed, so the whole community can enjoy the fruits of the labour of this group of older women keen to restore their own sense of belonging to their local park.

Dublin’s Culture Connects

Dublin’s Culture Connects is a Dublin City Council initiative which aims to connect Dubliners to their city through culture and conversation. Activities and events are organised at the city’s galleries, theatres, museums and libraries with artists and groups from different areas in the city. The idea is to encourage people to talk about what they would like to see happen in their neighbourhoods.

The Willow Zen Garden, which will be officially opened in Fairview Park, Dublin on Saturday, March 24th at 1.30pm, is one such project.

Another project saw dancers Justine Cooper and Muirne Bloomer work with walking groups from Raheny, St Anne’s Park and Coolock’s Stardust Park and Spectrum Youth Theatre from Donnycarney. The culmination of this project is a walk with pop-up dance and music performances at St Anne’s Park on Sunday, April 8th at 2pm. A photographic exhibition by Ruth Medjber will also be held at the Red Stables Courtyard in St Anne’s Park.

And 40 cub scouts from 66 Naomh Eoin in Clontarf worked with musicians Donal Gunne and Eithne Ní Caitháin to write sea songs which they will perform on Clontarf Strand on Saturday, April 28th at 8pm. The cub scouts will also play musical instruments that they created with artist Helen Barry from rubbish and found objects collected on their litter pick and coast watch on Dollymount Strand.

See dublinscultureconnects.ie

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