Sunday, June 6, 2010

May 2010

A 'Wee Fundraiser' in Donegal

A few months ago a man with a charming Donegal accent rang me at work and told me that he wanted to organise a 'wee fundraiser' for Seed Savers in his garden in County Donegal, right up at the tippy-top of Ireland. Patrick is a long-time member of Seed Savers and grows our vegetable varieties and apple trees in his organic garden.

In early May Bill and I loaded up the Seed Savers van with seeds, fruit trees, veg seedlings, brochures and membership forms, and embarked on the six-hour drive to Donegal. When we arrived, Patrick showed us around his very lovely garden with a view of the water and County Derry beyond. Scotland is just visible in the far distance; it's only about about 10 miles across the sea.

Patrick has a very organized and productive raised-bed vegetable garden.

The front garden in bloom.

The fundraiser took place over Saturday and Sunday afternoons, and both days we were blessed with fine weather. There was an admission fee to tour the gardens and view demonstrations in sowing, composting, beekeeping and basketmaking. Patrick had also organized a pony trap and facepainting for the kids, and the garden tour ended at his sister Marion's house next door, where she had coordinated a 'tray-bake' - baked goods and coffee for a small donation.

Patrick, in the centre of the photo wearing a tan sweater, talks veg gardening with visitors.

About 120 visitors toured the garden over two afternoons.

Working the Seed Savers merch table.

A local basketmaker demonstrating his craft.

Relaxing with Patrick in the glasshouse after it was all over.

On one of the mornings we were there we took a quick trip on the ferry across the harbour to County Derry, which is in Northern Ireland (UK). If you look back at the first photo on this page you can see a headland across the water - that's where this photo was taken.

Looking back to Greencastle on the Inishowen Peninsula (where the garden tour was held), and the narrow gap where the ferry crosses.

Climbing Mt. Errigal
We've been hearing about Donegal ever since we first visited Ireland - the Irish themselves speak about it as 'a world apart' and 'the real Ireland' - so we were delighted at the chance to combine work and pleasure and do a little adventuring up there. We left Patrick's and drove a couple of hours west to the Derryveigh Mountains near the west coast, where we stayed at a big modern hostel right at the foot of Mt. Errigal.

This is the view from the back door of the Errigal Hostel.The white stuff is gravel scree, not snow.

We were lucky and the next day was clear and dry - perfect for climbing the highest mountain in Donegal (2,500 feet). We ascended along the ridge on the left side of this photo.

Twin peaks at the top.

A mountain lake and the sea beyond.

Descent from Errigal. The Poisoned Glen is visible in the distance.

Another view of Errigal from the hostel, glowing red in the setting sun.

Glenveagh National Park

Just 5 miles from Mt. Errigal, Glenveagh National Park is a lush, semi-tropical garden and castle set at the edge of Loch Veagh.

Acres of informal gardens surround the castle. The woodland gardens are built into the hillside and connected by small paths and stone steps, and are planted with exotic species intermingling with native trees in a very naturalistic style. The giant rhododendrons were in bloom.

Chilean Flame tree.

Yellow and lavender azaleas.

An Italianate garden in the forest.

A level lawn and and gardens by the lake.

Another giant rhodie.

Semi-tropical palms and cycads. The surprising thing we noticed is that despite the fact that Donegal is a 6 hour drive north from Clare, they seemed to have a less severe winter than the one we just went through. These subtropical species didn't survive this past winter. Donegal has a long, deeply indented coastline which gets maximum benefit from the warming effect of the Gulf Stream.

Finally we came to the castle, cleverly hidden from view of the gardens.

A walled garden behind the castle.

The gardener's cottage, and one of Seed Savers apple trees in the foreground. We saw several dozen Seed Savers apple trees in the garden, all thriving.

Looking up at the castle from the lakeside.

Above the castle, a path called 'The 67 Steps'........

.....which led to a nice overlook of the castle on the shores of Loch Veagh.

The Poisoned Glen
Such a creepy name for a beautiful place. There are conflicting theories about the name - one source says it was mistranslated from the Irish name which means 'Heavenly Glen'. Another guidebook states that people used to put poison in the water to catch the fish, and a third says that a poisonous plant called spurge grows on the riverbanks and the toxin leaches into the water. Take your pick.

An abandoned church at the entrance to the glen......
....with a quartet of perfectly posed seagulls on top.

We tried to go up this slope so we could get a view of Glenveagh Valley on the other side. But when we got up to the rocky part at the top we felt it was just too wet and slick, so we used common sense (or chickened out) and turned around.

This is as high as we got, with a view of the valley and Errigal in the distance.

Down in the valley.

We took the scenic route home.....

...and saw the highest sea cliffs in all of Europe - 2,000 ft. from peak to sea level. The colors on the rock are big patches of lichen. This overlook is at some distance to the cliffs, so it was hard to get a sense of how big they were until we realized that some white specks (not even visible in these photos) were sheep.

Then we drove past flat-topped Benbulben, County Sligo, which we climbed last spring.

Famine Walk, County Mayo
In the middle of May ten Seedsavers staff (plus Bill) participated in a 10-mile walk to raise funds for a not-for-profit called AFrI (Action from Ireland). The walk commemorates the deaths of 600 local people who died during the potato famine in 1847. They walked from Louisbergh to Delphi on a 10-mile stretch of snowy, mountainous road with the promise of food at Delphi Lodge. But when they arrived at Delphi they were turned away, and hundreds of them perished of starvation and hypothermia on the return walk to Louisbergh.

Before the walk there were talks and music next to Doolough, the lake at Delphi. This is some of the Seedsavers crew: from l-r, Tomomi, Matteo, Eoin, Bill and Peter.

Seedsavers was one of two groups who had been asked to lead the walk. The other group is Trocaire which raises money to combat world hunger. The banner links the two groups with the slogan Hunger in a World of Plenty: Sowing the Seeds of Hope.

A beautiful route for the walk.

Seed bank curator Jo Newton planting Lumper potatoes at the Famine Memorial.

The walk organizers had asked us to bring some Lumper potatoes from Seedsavers collection of over 50 potato varieties. The Lumper is the potato that was being widely grown during the Famine because it produces big quantities of spuds (not a favorite for taste, however - it was a matter of quantity over quality).

The reasons for the Famine are many - political oppression by England, lack of land ownership, wet weather conditions that favored the fungal disease, but very important was also the lack of genetic diversity in the crop. One of the primary aims of Seedsavers is to maintain the genetic diversity in food crops as the huge agri-biz farmers only grow a handful of varieties of each type of plant, leaving us very vulnerable if there is another widespread blight.

Clare Island, Mayo

After the walk we made a mad dash for the ferry to Clare Island, where we had decided to extend our Mayo trip and have a little R&R. L-r: Matteo, Bill, Jo, Aine, Peter, Eoin. We all stayed at a yoga centre - the owners are members of Seedsavers and have a lot of our fruit trees and veggies. (Regrettably no photos,but here's a link to photos on their website: Clare Island Yoga Retreat).

The next day Bill and I climbed to the top of the island. It's the remnants of a mountain that used to be a lot bigger before half of it slumped into the sea.

The view from the top - Achill Island in the distance.

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