Posted by Declan Varley, Galway Advertiser in News.

If there is one event that manages to truly highlight the marriage between gardening and the benefits for the soul, if is the Galway Garden Festival which takes place this weekend at Claregalway Castle and runs for two days.

This year’s event will take place on Saturday and Sunday July 2–3 and runs from 11am to 6pm each day. Entry is €10 and children are admitted free—with proceeds in support of Christian Blind Mission Ireland.

It will also include cutting edge talks on gardening and an address by a biographer of Russian writer Anton Chekhov whose drive it is to open a series of healing Chekhov gardens in hospitals and healing environments worldwide.

Described by Diarmuid Gavin as “an event that truly captures the spirit of gardening” the Galway Garden Festival at Claregalway Castle is also a great fun day out for all ages with music, circus, puppets, street acts and much more.

“There’s so much to love about this Garden Festival’ said Éamonn O’Donoghue (who hosts the event each year at Claregalway Castle). ‘I take deep pleasure in seeing this old place come to life, thronged and bustling. People love to congregate, just as they did at the once-a-month market that happened here in the castle’s heyday. And there’s something at this festival for everyone, and for all ages.

“The event is all-engrossing for the gardeners, of course, and the range of plants, shrubs, seeds, implements and materials for sale over the weekend is astonishing—and at very keen prices too. The programme of speakers over the two days is guaranteed to gladden mind and spirit, every speaker a brilliant specialist in his or her field.

“But that’s not all. The Festival has always been strong on entertainment and conviviality, so there’ll be many kinds of music, and puppets, and flashes of outrageous comedy, from the Fanzini Brothers Circus (free show twice daily), the Gombeens, Tommy Baker and others. There will be arts and crafts, and mouth-watering artisan food from some of the very best small enterprises in this country—most under the Made in Galway banner.

Medieval armed combat

“One event I love is the Medieval Armed Combat Ireland event, which involves a group of knights in full armour practising for next October’s International Medieval Tournament at the castle. You can forget about virtual reality: this combat is the real deal. And of course, children love the Festival, and all children are admitted free.

“As usual, thanks to Bus Éireann, there will be free buses out from Galway at regular intervals. And free parking at Claregalway itself. The Festival could not happen without the fantastic team who run it, and it has great community support. We hope it contributes in its own way to Galway’s bid to become European Capital of Culture. And over and above all that is the fact that the festival is a charity event, giving essential, life-changing support to charities such as the Christian Blind Mission,” he said.

The grounds of the Castle will be a sea of scented flowers as ISNA nurseries, rare plant specialists and garden suppliers come from across Ireland and offer a wonderful range of plants, trees, seeds, garden furniture and equipment.

Guest speakers will present on a variety of topics including Dr. Rosamund Bartlett—author, biographer and a trustee of the Anton Chekov Foundation. She will first explore the great Russian writer’s twin passions of healing and gardening and the importance of the gardens he planted. This will be a preliminary to discussing a plan to create contemporary ‘Chekhov gardens’ in hospitals and healing environments.

Dr. Rosamund Bartlett is a writer whose biography, Chekhov: Scenes from a Life, was inspired by the experience of translating his lyrical prose about the steppe landscapes of his childhood and the gardens he visited on Russian country estates. As well as her Chekhov anthology About Love and Other Storiesher translations include the first unexpurgated collection of his letters for Penguin Classics.  She began a campaign to help preserve Chekhov’s house in Yalta in 2008, and is now one of the Anton Chekhov Foundation Trustees responsible for overseeing the Chekhov Healing Garden project.

Healing Chekhov gardens

This talk will focus on Chekhov’s twin passions of healing and gardening. It will first explore the great Russian writer’s work as a doctor, ecologist and horticulturalist, and the importance of the gardens he planted, both at his country estate in Melikhovo and in Yalta, where he spent the last years of his life. This will be a preliminary to discussing a plan to create contemporary Chekhov gardens in hospitals and healing environments. The project has been initiated by the Anton Chekhov Foundation, a UK-based charity which seeks to honour the writer’s philianthropic and artistic legacy. Dr. Bartlett’s presentation is scheduled for 4pm on Sunday.

Other speakers include Helen Dillon, an author, broadcaster and internationally acclaimed garden consultant; she will present The Evolution of a Garden and describe her many years spent in creating her exquisite and famous garden in Ranelagh, Dublin; Dr. Phil Havercroft—president of Irish Specialists Nurseries Association, has a wonderful presentation on Peonies—History, Cultivation and latest developments; Dr. Marina Levitina is an author, film maker and ecologist and will present The Gift of Dandelions; Dr. Dermot O’Flynn—a physician with herbal tendencies will talk on Tending your Inner Garden. Dermot works as GP in Brixton, Chelsea and Bahia and draws on acupuncture, nutrition, homeopathy, herbs and allopathic medicine when drawing up treatment for his patients; Carl Wright will discuss Making a Garden in the West of Ireland—the Caher Bridge Garden Story; Rose Specialist, Alan Whethan will advise on getting the best from your roses; and award-winning botanic artist and author, Jane Stark will talk on An Intrepid Breed: Four centuries of female botanical artists.

There is free entry to all talks and you can also enjoy partaking in a variety of refreshments which will be sold from stalls and cafes at the Castle. Also avail of the unique Plant Creche run by Claregalway Scouts—so leave your purchases to them and enjoy a wonderful afternoon listening to the talks, the music and enjoying the fun.

There is always an element of craic with a variety of entertainers including the fabulous Fanzini Brothers Circus who will premiere their new show, Oddie Braddell, Yer Mans’ Puppets and Medieval Armoured Knights in combat.

“There is also music to suit all tastes with St Patrick’s Brass Band, Corrib String Quartet, Nuada, Coole Music, Galway Baytones, Music Matters, Ragtime with Stride O’Brien, Silvermoon Jazz band and the unforgettable Troubadour Mules. The Claregalway Botanical Art Expo is a well-established attraction at the Festival, and a major event for Ireland’s foremost botanical artists. Many of the paintings on exhibition are for sale, along with limited edition prints, cards and other merchandise,” said Mr. O’Donoghue.

Made in Galway—supported by Galway County Council—is featuring again this year, where local craftspeople and artists showcase their work—the quality of exhibits here will be of great interest to a wide audience. Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop will also be there with a wide range of books in keeping with the day—horticultural and beyond.

There is a wide range of freshly cooked food and drinks available each day. Facilities include a free return courtesy bus with thanks to Bus Éireann, from Galway Ceannt Railway Station hourly starting at 10.30.

Chance to see the Castle

Eamonn O’Donoghue has funded and overseen the restoration of the castle for the past decade, bringing in some of Europe’s top stonemasons and conservationists to ensure that the castle is returned to its original state. In the process, he had to overcome many obstacles in his mission to ensure that the castle was restored to the style in which it was constructed. When he acquired the castle in 2000, the building was in danger of collapse. The roof of the castle had been removed in 1653, following the famous Siege of Galway by Cromwellian forces. Mature trees sprang from the upper floors and the stone work was under threat. A major reconstruction programme was drawn up under conservation architect David Johnson, a former inspector of national monuments with The Office of Public Works.

Eamonn never forgot the childhood picnics shared with his brothers and sisters and parents beside the bridge at Claregalway Castle. His father, Tom, a Toomevara man, a great hurler, and a civil engineer with Cork County Council, had a passion for Ireland’s romantic ruins. A photograph was taken of all seven O’Donoghues lined up grinning at the bridge. The family still have it at their Cork home.  But Tom’s passion passed on to several of his children. Eamonn studed medicine in Cork, and archaeology under Michael J O’Kelly, the man who brilliantly interpreted the ancient tombs at Newgrange.

Shortly after his appointment as ophthalmic surgeon to the Western Health Board (HSE), Eamonn set out to find the castle. He had no idea where it was, except that it was near the city. He drove out every approach road to Galway until one evening there it was… a vast crumbling tower, ivy-clad, with ruined buildings within its courtyard, exactly as he remembered it as a child.

And now, more than a decade and a half later, the restoration programme is almost complete on this important 15th century tower house; one of the largest and most significant tower houses in the west of Ireland. At the Festival, visitors can get a close view of the sympathetic restoration programme carried out by master builder Micheal Herwood from Cloonacauneen and French stonemason Jean Baptise Maduit.

Treat yourself this weekend at the Galway Garden Festival. For more details see