'It's just about making someone smile' - Irish people leading the 'kindness rocks' movement because it's what the world needs now
Sometimes when we're least expecting it, the world gives us a little sign of encouragement or sends us something that brings a smile to our faces. This is the idea behind a movement called 'kindness rocks', which aims to spread a bit of happiness one rock at a time.
If you've ever found a colourfully painted rock on a beach or one with an inspirational quote on it in your local park, chances are you've unwittingly become a participant in a global movement to spark joy in ordinary people's lives.
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Diane Harkin, a grandmother who lives near Malin Town on the Inishowen Peninsula in North Donegal, started up Inishowen Rocks after she was inspired by finding a rock on a park bench.
Diane explains that she lost her mother Betty Hearn two years ago and was plunged into grief. She was back in her home town of Ellesmere Port in England last summer and was sitting on a memorial bench she and her sister donated to a local park in memory of their mother when she found a painted rock.
Diane (61) recalls that the rock was just sitting on the bench and had the words 'remember me' painted on it. "I said to myself wouldn't that be a nice thing to do. It made me cry, but it made me smile inside too. When I came home, the idea didn't leave my head. I decided I was going to paint some rocks, hide them and see how it went," she says.
Almost a year later, Diane has painted hundreds of rocks and has a vibrant community of followers on her Inishowen Rocks Facebook page. The page is full of happy, smiling faces with their precious rock finds. All Diane asks is that when someone finds a rock, they post it on her Facebook page so everyone can get behind the movement and watch it grow and spread.
Last weekend, Suibhan Hynes, a mum of two from Belfast, was in Malin for the weekend. Her youngest daughter Fáire (9) was delighted to find a rock which she then took to school to show her classmates at St Bernard's in Glengormley. Suibhan says not only was her daughter delighted to find the rock, but she was happy to think that someone had hid it in the first place, like leaving a message for her to find.
"If you find the rock, it's your property," says Diane. "You can do whatever you want with it. You can hide it again or take it home. I just would like people to put a post on my page to let me know they found it. It's simple really - it's just about making someone smile. For me, it's all about hoping that whoever finds a rock will feel like I felt when I found the rock on Mum's bench. Even though it made me cry, it made me very happy," says Diane.
The rocks movement, which is now happening in locations all over the country, was originally the brainchild of US-based life coach Megan Murphy. Struggling in her career, Murphy would walk the beach near her home at Cape Cod and ponder her future. One day, she grabbed a marker and wrote encouraging messages on five rocks, leaving them dotted along the beach.
The idea soon began making ripples locally and she branched out into creating small rock gardens in her local area.
Murphy says the overall idea behind the project is simple. "One rock, one person. If a message hits a person at the right time, or they join and they do it in their community and they drop a message that hits somebody when they need it, it's like a huge connection. It's what our world needs right now," she says.
Ronan Kelly started Balbriggan Rocks over a year ago and enlisted a few volunteers from Balbriggan Tidy Towns to help him. Inspired by the Kindness Rocks Project, his rocks are exquisitely and expertly painted, but Ronan says he can only manage to do five a week and would like others to get involved. He only asks that if people want to join in, they paint "Balbriggan Rocks!" on the back of the rock so the finder knows where to post the picture.
At her home in Tramore, Co Waterford, Ruth Farrell, a mother of four, spends an hour in the evenings painting and then lacquering rocks to make them waterproof.
She sees it as a sort of therapy for herself. "It's my way of decompressing after the day. It's an hour every day. It's brought me out of myself I think. I wasn't considered artistic at school. Doing this has made a massive impact on my life," she says.
For more information, see thekindnessrocksproject.com and Tramore Rocks, Inishowen Rocks and Balbriggan Rocks on Facebook.