Wild Volumes combines the power of nature and music

Set on the spectacular shores of Carlingford Lough lake and with a gothic castle backdrop, the first ever Narrow Water Arts Festival has put the environment firmly on the agenda of young people in Northern Ireland. 

Environment speak can often mean a lot gets lost in translation… But the recent Narrow Water Arts Festival at Carlingford, County Down, delivered a crucial message in a language everyone understood.

‘We’ve tried listening to talks about the environment, but using various genres like art and music and actually getting your hands dirty is what really gets you involved!’ laughs Nicola McEvoy, a 25-year-old architecture student at the University of Ulster and youth worker from the Magnet Young Adults’ Centre, a drop-in youth facility in nearby Newry. 

The event is the crescendo of months of work led by Nicola, involving other architecture students at Ulster University and young adults from Magnet as part of 'Wild Volumes', a Grow Wild funded project highlighting the importance of incorporating green areas and nature into our everyday lives.

Centred on the festival green the sights and sounds of the event bounced from the rhythms of an African drumming workshop to colourful fungi willow sculptures; from a local rapper in the marque to the Love Your Lough volunteers spreading the love of all things lough-related. But even through the pumping bass from the marquee, the message was clear – we each have a personal responsibility for our environment and in return it can enhance our well-being.

And one way these young people have used their Grow Wild funding to tap into that relationship between themselves and nature is by creating a ‘mindfulness area’ in the castle grounds from concepts submitted by Nicola and her fellow students. 

‘The young people chose the mindfulness area design over others because they liked the idea of using what was already there - a natural green amphitheatre surrounded by towering sheltering trees,’ says Nicola.

Emily Douglas from the Warrenpoint Youth Forum, which will be among a wider range of local groups also using the area, agreed.

 ‘Young people face so many challenges and in smaller, rural communities it can be difficult to find support. Being able to offer things like yoga classes in this mindfulness area is really positive,’ she says.

And it’s that awareness of nature around us every day which was the focus of another element within the project – striking willow sculptures of fungi and flowers providing a colourful visual focal point on the festival green.

‘Dozens of young people got hands-on with creating these and it made them take a closer look at the natural environment around them so they knew what they were actually doing,’ explains 20-year-old Newry artist and Magnet member Laura McAleenan.

‘Those creative workshops, however, were also a chance to build team, leadership, communication and other skills, and tap into talents some young people didn’t even know they had!.’

For Gingy, aka 20-year-old Ryan O’Callaghan, chair of the Magnet young people’s committee, his work on the project was a chance to discover a passion for photography.

‘I’d a hard time a few years back when my parents split up. I got really down but I was wearing a mask so my friends didn’t know. At Magnet I was able to talk things through. Now I’m enrolling on a photography course in September. Thanks to what I’ve done here I’ve found a potential career!’ he says.

Fellow Magnet member and musician Johnny Collins also suffered from depression. He commands the festival stage with confidence, treating us to a vocal set which could give Ed Sheeran a run for his money.

‘I’ve just finished a music course and I’d like to give the music a go. I suffered from mental health problems in the past and then I started drinking to escape them but that only made things worse. Thanks to support from Magnet I’ve stopped drinking and I’m feeling better about things now,’ he says. 

‘It’s really important to talk but for fellas my age that’s hard. The mindfulness area will be used for things like yoga sessions which can be really helpful.’

Similarly, finding an outlet through the project at Magnet has given 20-year-old rapper Cahill Markey what he hopes will be a chance to make his mark on the music scene.

‘I wasn’t in a good place – then I got involved with the project. Now I’m working in the studio till three in the morning instead of out drinking! Give me five years, you might see me taking on [American rapper] Slaine!’ he laughs – and do you know, you might.

Enjoyed this? Read another HERE or SOW A VIRTUAL SEED to pledge your support for more wildflowers across the UK (and be in with the chance of winning a holiday!)