Planting the seeds of learning
When horticulture teacher Dympna Kirke came up with an idea for a school entry to last weekend's annual Bloom garden festival, she didn't realise that she had planted a seed for so much learning.
Kirke, who does a horticulture module with Transition Year students in Loreto College, St Stephen's Green, Dublin, as well as in other schools, decided on a Famine theme, based around sowing the Lumper potato, a mainstay of the Irish diet until it was destroyed by blight in the 1840s.
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When she broached the subject with the school authorities, Principal Jackie Dempsey immediately saw the learning opportunity. "This wasn't just about botany, but history, heritage, culture, literature, art," said Kirke.
With garden designer Marion Keogh as mentor, Kirke and her students developed their idea based on a West of Ireland setting. It included stone walls, in the traditional style, which the pupils built on the school grounds. According to Kirke, the "girls helped us to decide on what plants to use. They knew more about the plants of the West of Ireland than we would have expected them to know".
A drawing by one of the pupils, Emma Chi, which accompanied their entry submission, helped to clinch their place at Bloom, where they were "highly commended".
Kirke couldn't believe it when she found an authentic Famine pot in a scrapyard in Dublin, and that became their water feature, while the text of the Patrick Kavanagh poem, The Great Hunger, helped to craft the backdrop.
The 22,500 letters in Kavanagh's work are written and repeated on a continuous loop, in small font, to make up one million letters. "We wanted to be able to see one million because one million died," said Kirke.