On one side of the Day Centre in Donnybrook was a disused garden area, approximately the size of the average suburban garden. In 2007 it was decided that this area could be transformed into a pleasant retreat where visitors to the centre could relax, a place where they could participate in a little gardening if they wished, and just a spot for escaping outdoors!
Derek Mooney’s (a DJ on the national radio station RTE1) mother was a member of the Centre and Derek asked Dermot O’Neill (both of RTE fame) to help transform this space into an oasis that would give pleasure to the people who use the centre.
Dermot made an appeal on the Mooney show for volunteers to give of their time and skills. He also requested the many materials that would be needed to make this a dream come true. The response was overwhelming. One of the first to contact the show was Brendan Birchall, a student of the Dublin School of Horticulture. Brendan volunteered his time, along with that of his co-students, and with Dermot O’Neill they set about overseeing the project and creating the garden that can now be seen today. Brendan took on the role of foreman, co-ordinating the many jobs and skills that were needed. Unsuitable plants needed to be dug up, paths had to be laid, drainage had to be secured, overgrown areas needed to be cleared out.
The garden was created between January and May 2007. Apart from the volunteers, many companies gave generously of their products and expertise.
When all was complete Derek Mooney suggested that it would be nice to invite the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, to formally open the Garden.
There was great excitement when the invitation was graciously accepted and a date set for 9th May 2007. This gave just two weeks to prepare, but all was in readiness when the great day arrived and at 2 p.m. the Presidential car, with pennons flying and a motorcycle escort, drove into the avenue!
After introductions to staff, helpers and members, Brendan Birchall and Dermot O’Neill gave the President a short tour of the new garden. The President was greatly impressed and after thanking everyone who had been involved in creating the lovely garden said:
It is wonderful to meet people who work so hard to provide services for those whose lives were largely lived in times very remote from the Celtic Tiger. It is important that in these prosperous and confident times our senior citizens feel in a practical way, the love, care, concern and respect that they have earned and that they deserve.
This garden is a place that shows that love and care in a visible way. I am especially delighted to be here and to meet so many staff, the volunteers, and the clients here today. And I am delighted by the garden, which is so clearly a labour of love championed by the Derek Mooney Show and the army of selfless volunteers from the Dublin Horticultural College.
When Mother Mary Aikenhead founded the Sisters of Charity almost two hundred years ago, I wonder did she imagine that all these generations later her work would continue in such imaginative ways, in such beautifully crafted surroundings and in times as prosperous as these. The Sisters of Charity deserve enormous thanks for the many ways in which they have always sought to work on behalf of those in danger of being overlooked.
This is a place to be part of a community, an active and caring community that looks out for its members and takes responsibility for their well-being and their happiness.
Here are staff and volunteers who have made their work their vocation. Without them and their work the world would be such a colourless and uninspiring place – with them, and with their work, we have a day like this of real pride and the clients of the centre have many days like this.
The commitment and dedication of all associated with the Mary Aikenhead Day Centre is immeasurable and I include all those involved in the support work and fundraising activities which make it possible to deliver and develop the services here.
Thanks to all of you, this beautiful garden will be a place to watch the seasons, enjoy nature at her best, relax, reflect, feel at home. I am delighted to declare the garden officially open and to wish all who come here the health to enjoy it and the happiness that is the gift of those who created the garden.
Go raibh mile maith agaibh go leir”.
Cormac Maloney, Chairman of the Management Committee, thanked the President and asked her to unveil a Plaque to commemorate her visit and the opening of the garden.
President McAleese then mingled with the many guests, which included volunteer drivers who deliver Meals on Wheels and the many volunteers who helped create the garden.
During the last few years Mary Aikenhead Day Centre Garden has been greatly enjoyed by all who visit the Centre.
In September 2014 the garden won a very special award from the City Neighbourhoods Competition 2014 for the South East Area of Dublin.