Tidy Towns: ‘We haven’t seen Swords look this good in years’

Waste ground becomes haven for growing plants and nurturing community spirit

Swords Tidy Towns volunteer Georgy Hughes  pictured hard at work in the Green Project, in conjunction with Youthreach, situated  on North Street, Swords. Photograph: Laura Hutton

Swords Tidy Towns volunteer Georgy Hughes pictured hard at work in the Green Project, in conjunction with Youthreach, situated on North Street, Swords. Photograph: Laura Hutton

 

What used to be the playground of St Colmcille’s national school on North Street in Swords, Co Dublin, and then became waste ground after it closed, is now a thriving community garden, complete with a polytunnel.

“It’s so we can grow our own plants and become self-sufficient,” explained Ken Duffy, a lollipop man at one of the north Dublin commuter town’s other schools and a driving force behind Swords Tidy Towns.

On Saturday, the volunteer activists and their children were swarming about the place, fretting over geranium cuttings and hoeing weeds. In the dog days of winter, this is what Tidy Towns groups around the country spend their time doing – getting ready for the spring.

The polytunnel, bought for €3,500 with the help of a 50 per cent grant from Fingal Council, is about 15m long and 6m wide. Cuttings trays and planting tables inside were made by the local Men’s Shed group.

Running along the back of the old school – now used by Youthreach and providing second-chance education for young people who missed out the first time around – is a zig-zag bed filled with a mix of fuchsia, cyclamen, polyanthus, strawberry and broad bean plants.

Willow saplings

At the far end of the old play ground, there are small apple trees, blackcurrant bushes, raspberry canes and, in reused fish boxes, onions and garlic. Willow saplings have been threaded into an arch over a seat.

“We have plans for this as a social area, maybe barbecues in the summer,” says Duffy.

The site, now a place abuzz with children learning about nature, used to be an overgrown wasteland, a magnet for litter. Other offbeat parts of the county attract much worse.

“I travel the back roads to Blanchardstown once a week and the discarded mattresses, couches, washing machines and general rubbish I come across beggars belief,” says Duffy.

Ironically for an old school playground, the place was off limits for decades after the school closed. “We were never even allowed play here,” recalls Georgy Hughes.

Ready for planting

Come the spring, what are now small plants and cuttings will be reading for planting out around the town.

“They’re absolutely brilliant,” says the town mayor, Darragh Butler. “We haven’t seen Swords looking this good in years.”

Inside an old metal container where all the tools are kept, a snowman made from recycled tyres is emerging. In a few days, he’ll pop up somewhere in the town.

Packing up after another successful weekend’s work, Matt Cullen, one of the older volunteers says: “I’ve been doing this for 40 years. I love it. It’s therapeutic.”