Grassroots diary: Special space making a difference in Laois
Michael Deevy has spent over a decade creating a tranquil space for people with special needs in his local community.
In 2000, the farmer, and a number of like-minded individuals, put their heads together to form Laois Friends - an advocate body dedicated to building social and recreational opportunities for people with special needs, their families and friends.
Inspired by his son John, born with Down Syndrome, Michael decided to transform 20 acres of his beef farm near Cashel/Pass, situated south of the Cullenagh Mountains, into a high nature value woodland.
Established in 2008, under the Forestry Environmental Protective Scheme, Rockview Walkways and Gardens is a magical space now home to a wide variety of native and foreign tree species including: oak, ash, rowan, scots pine, hazel, holly, birch, crab apple and Norway Spruce. There are also eight bird nesting boxes and deadwood in two in the wood to encourage interesting bird and wildlife species. Another unique feature is the existence of a winding stream of clear spring water.
The creative amenity also provides social activities, dances and specific events. Once visitors have made their way through the walkways and gardens, they can drop into The Rambling House on site for a cup of tea.
Speaking to the Farming Independent, Eddie Deevy, another son, said his father saw a need in the community and decided to take action.
"Daddy has always been involved with organisations that have specifically provided or advocating for people with special needs. There are day care and respite services out there but this facility augments them and goes over and above what is already offered, allowing people with special needs to come together in a social setting," he said.
"It's free to use, people come to visit on a daily basis, people with young children going for walks, retired people, people with special needs coming as part of a group who can walk around," he said.