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Most Irish school chil­dren learn about Brig­it, an ear­ly Chris­t­ian saint who was almost as impor­tant as Saint Patrick – she even has her own hol­i­day on Feb­ru­ary 1st (with­out the green beer). But Brig­it is also a sig­nif­i­cant part of Irish mythol­o­gy because before Chris­tian­i­ty came to Ire­land, she was the main god­dess of the land. She is the thread that con­nects pre-Chris­t­ian times to the mod­ern-day. That’s why a fam­i­ly trip to Gal­way is the per­fect com­bi­na­tion of adven­ture and history.

 

 

Celtic Gardens in Galway

 

The best view of the gar­dens is from the roof of the stone cham­ber. Pho­to by Saman­tha Davis-Friedman

 

Fam­i­lies trav­el­ing to Ire­land can learn all about Brig­it at Brig­it’s Gar­den, an 11-acre fam­i­ly-friend­ly out­door expe­ri­ence about 10 miles from Gal­way. Four inter­ac­tive gar­dens designed to teach vis­i­tors about Celtic mythol­o­gy are inspired by the Celtic sea­son­al cycle. The gar­dens are whim­si­cal and joy­ful, but also sym­bol­ic and con­tem­pla­tive, so every mem­ber of the fam­i­ly will take some­thing dif­fer­ent from the experience.

“What attracts vis­i­tors here is that they’re going to have a nice walk in a beau­ti­ful gar­den, but there are all the lay­ers of Celtic her­itage that are built into it,” says Founder and Direc­tor Jen­ny Beale. “Peo­ple love absorb­ing some of the Irish cul­ture and his­to­ry and mythol­o­gy with­out hav­ing to be in a muse­um to do it.”

Beale explains the Celtic year was seen as a cir­cle divid­ed into four quar­ters, and each one began with a fes­ti­val. There­fore, the four gar­dens rep­re­sent the cycle of the sea­sonsSamhain (pro­nounced Sow-en), Imbolc (pro­nounced Im-ulk), Beal­taine (pro­nounced Belt-an‑a), and Lugh­nasa (pro­nounced Loo-na-sa).

 

Samhain – The Winter Garden

 

The theme for the win­ter gar­den is shel­ter from the win­ter storms rep­re­sent­ed by an Irish bas­ket pro­tect­ing a sculp­ture of a sleep­ing lady. Pho­to by Saman­tha Davis-Friedman

 

Samhain is the old Irish name for Hal­loween. Since the Celtic new year was actu­al­ly in Novem­ber, Hal­loween was the start of the win­ter sea­son and the new cycle of the year. The cen­tral theme in this gar­den is shel­ter from the win­ter storms rep­re­sent­ed by an Irish bas­ket pro­tect­ing a sculp­ture of a beau­ti­ful sleep­ing lady made of Sil­ver Birch leaves. Accord­ing to Beale, the lady of leaves encap­su­lates the Celtic view of win­ter, where nature is rest­ing and will awak­en in the spring.

At the cen­ter of the win­ter gar­den is a love­ly pond. For adults, this serves as both an actu­al and sym­bol­ic reflec­tive space pro­vid­ed by the Sil­ver Birch trees over the water. Kids will enjoy look­ing in the water for pond crea­tures. Here, fam­i­lies will also see what Beale calls “the largest lady in Ire­land,” the small hills sur­round­ing the gar­den that form the out­line of a sleep­ing woman who also rep­re­sents the earth sleep­ing in the win­ter­time. In the sum­mer, the lady becomes a nat­ur­al mead­ow, filled with col­or­ful flow­ers that are vis­it­ed by bees and butterflies.

 

The lady of leaves rep­re­sents the Celtic view of win­ter, where nature is rest­ing and will awak­en in the spring. Pho­to by Saman­tha Davis-Friedman

 

Imbolc – The Spring Garden

 

The spring gar­den’s hang­ing bas­ket swings are pop­u­lar with chil­dren “from naught to nine­ty.” Pho­to cour­tesy of Brig­it’s Garden

 

The spring gar­den rep­re­sents youth, birth, child­hood, and fun. Because of that, this gar­den has hang­ing bas­ket swings, which Beale says are pop­u­lar with chil­dren of all ages “from naught to nine­ty.” This gar­den is also the loca­tion of a beau­ti­ful wild­flower mead­ow and fruit trees, includ­ing tra­di­tion­al Irish apple vari­eties. A carved triple spi­ral in the sunken gar­den, out­lines the sto­ries and sym­bols of Brig­it, both as a Chris­t­ian saint and pre-Chris­t­ian god­dess of the land.

 

Fam­i­lies can par­tic­i­pate in a work­shop to make Brig­it’s cross­es in the gar­den’s Round­house — Pho­to by Joe Shaugh­nessy (cour­tesy of Brig­it’s Garden)

 

Beale notes that spring starts very ear­ly in Ire­land – on Feb­ru­ary 1st. Although the gar­den takes the old Celtic name for spring, Feb­ru­ary 1st is now called Brig­it’s Day. The hol­i­day is cel­e­brat­ed across Ire­land to com­mem­o­rate the sto­ry of St. Brig­it, who made a woven cross out of rush­es to bap­tize a dying Irish chief­tain. Nowa­days, Irish fam­i­lies gath­er togeth­er to cel­e­brate the return of spring on Feb­ru­ary 1st and make their own St. Brig­it’s cross­es, which resem­ble the woven yarn “God’s Eyes” that many Amer­i­can kids make at sum­mer camp.

 

On Feb­ru­ary 1st, Irish fam­i­lies hang St. Brig­it’s cross­es over the door to pro­vides good luck and pro­tec­tion over the house for the year — Pho­to by Saman­tha Davis-Friedman

 

“The tra­di­tion is to go out to the fields as a fam­i­ly, col­lect your rush­es, and sit around the fire­place,” Beale says. “Then, you hang the cross over the door, and it pro­vides good luck and pro­tec­tion over the house for the year.”

Fam­i­lies vis­it­ing Brig­it’s Gar­den can par­tic­i­pate in a work­shop to make their own St. Brig­it’s cross­es out of reeds to take home as souvenirs.

“It’s a love­ly thing to do, and it’s quite quick and easy,” Beale says. “I think it’s so impor­tant to get hands-on for the tra­di­tions and par­tic­i­pate in them.”

 

Founder Jen­ny Beale demon­strates how to weave a Brig­it’s cross from reeds — Pho­to by Saman­tha Davis-Friedman

 

Bealtaine – The Summer Garden

 

The bog wood throne in the Beal­taine Gar­den is made from 6000-year-old tree trunks that were nat­u­ral­ly pre­served in the acid water of the bogs — Pho­to by Mar­ti­na Regan (cour­tesy of Brig­it’s Garden)

 

The sum­mer fes­ti­val of Beal­taine – or May Day – is one of the great fire fes­ti­vals cel­e­brat­ing the bright half of the year and the com­ing of the sum­mer’s warmth. Sum­mer is also the time for young adult­hood and mar­riages, so it’s no sur­prise that this gar­den is a pop­u­lar spot for weddings.

 

The flame fig­ures in the sum­mer gar­den lead to a pro­ces­sion­al way of stand­ing stones — Pho­to by Joe Shaugh­nessy (cour­tesy of Brig­it’s Garden)

 

The cen­ter­piece of the sum­mer gar­den is a sculp­ture of flame fig­ures that lead to a pro­ces­sion­al way of stand­ing stones and a throne made of bog­wood, which are 6000-year-old tree trunks that were nat­u­ral­ly pre­served in the acid water of the bogs.

 

Lughnasa – The Autumn Garden

 

The Lugh­nasa gar­den has two stand­ing stone cir­cles that rep­re­sent cir­cles for danc­ing and feast­ing but also for cel­e­brat­ing the end of the year and the end of the cycle. The beds in this gar­den are also filled with herbs to pro­vide aro­mas of the harvest.

 

The Lugh­nasa gar­den has two stand­ing stone cir­cles that rep­re­sent the end of the year and the end of the cycle — Pho­to by Saman­tha Davis-Friedman

 

“In Celtic mythol­o­gy, every tree has a per­son­al­i­ty asso­ci­at­ed with them,” Beale says. “The Hawthorne is the fairy tree, and tra­di­tion­al­ly, peo­ple would hang their wish­es on the Hawthorne tree, so our vis­i­tors hang rib­bons with their wish­es on the trees in this garden.”

 

Earth Quest

 

The gar­den’s new Earth Quest adven­ture chal­lenges kids (and their par­ents) to go on an adven­ture where they’re tasked with solv­ing puz­zles and spot­ting things as they trav­el through the nature trails. Along the way, they will encounter a ring­fort (or fairy fort), a water fea­ture where kids can play with water locks and canals, and the largest sun­di­al in Ireland.

 

The Earth Quest adven­ture chal­lenges kids to solve puz­zles and spot things as they trav­el through the nature trails. Pho­to cour­tesy of Brig­it’s Garden

 

“The whole place is a play area. Kids just love it here,” Beale says. “They can run free and enjoy them­selves and be out in a nat­ur­al envi­ron­ment and for­get their screens for a while.”

Anoth­er extreme­ly cool fea­ture of the gar­den is the recon­struc­tion of a Pre-Celtic stone cham­ber that’s built exact­ly like Irish stone cham­bers in 300BC with the stones bal­anced on top of each oth­er. As fam­i­lies duck through the low entrance – tall peo­ple beware – they pass through a lit­tle pas­sage­way to reach the actu­al cham­ber. After tak­ing a look inside, fam­i­lies should make sure to go up the stairs out­side and check out the view from the roof.

 

Fam­i­lies can go into a recon­struc­tion of a Pre-Celtic stone cham­ber that’s built exact­ly like Irish stone cham­bers in 300BC. Pho­to by Saman­tha Davis-Friedman

 

“There is mag­ic in the air at Brig­it’s Gar­den, a par­tic­u­lar kind of nat­ur­al mag­ic full of Celtic sto­ries, fairies, and wild­flow­ers,” Beale says. “For fam­i­lies, there is the addi­tion­al fun of the Earth Quest trail, get­ting up close to nature, and explor­ing the stone cham­ber, cam­era obscu­ra, and giant sun­di­al. There is also lots of oppor­tu­ni­ty for nat­ur­al play, and a vis­it would not be com­plete with­out some deli­cious local food in the Gar­den Café.”

Brig­it’s Gar­den is open 10am to 5:30pm dai­ly from March to Octo­ber and 10am to 5pm dai­ly from Novem­ber to Feb­ru­ary. The gar­den is closed from Decem­ber 24th to Jan­u­ary 31st and re-opens on Feb­ru­ary 1st for a St. Brig­it’s Day celebration.

 

Getting There

 

 

Brig­it’s Gar­den is just a 19-kilo­me­ter dri­ve north of Gal­way city (about 20 min­utes) in Ross­c­ahill at the gate­way to Con­nemara, between Moy­cullen and Oughterard.

Anoth­er option is to catch the CityLink bus towards Clif­den. The bus leaves from the CityLink bus sta­tion (next to the rail­way sta­tion) and just ask the dri­ver to stop in Rosc­ahill. It’s a 15–20-minute walk from the main road, but if you call ahead (and it’s not a busy time), some­one from the Gar­den may be able to pick you up from the bus stop.