Shamrock, Rose and Thistle: a ceilidh inspired by nature

Grow Wild’s very own Stéphanie Baine got to experience one of our community projects - Shamrock, Rose & Thistle Seisun: Saving Seeds of Knowledgefirst-hand when she attended their wildflower and fungi-themed ceilidh in April. For the uninitiated, a ceilidh is a Scottish or Irish folk event with traditional music, dancing and poetry.

When I found out that Grow Wild had given a project grant to a group holding a ceilidh based around our native plants and fungi, I knew had to go and see this for myself.

On the first Sunday night of April, I drove from Belfast to the wilds outside Limavady and, after a slight detour courtesy of a misbehaving sat-nav, I found myself at Keady Clachan, overlooking the North Sea. 

View from the Keady Clachan site.

At this working organic farm, one of the traditional stone cottages has been restored and transformed into a community ceilidh house. I walked into the cosy space - which came complete with a log-burner, cushions and eclectic decorations – to join thirty people for the second of four workshops planned by the project. We’d come together for a common purpose: to find, write and enjoy the sounds of nature in poetry and song.

Straightaway I was greeted like a long-lost friend with huge hugs by project organisers, Joan and Micky. The return of ceilidh events held in the Keady Clachan space started a few years ago and these events have built up quite a following from the community, as well as attracting people from further afield. Recently, Joan and Micky have built an extension to the building, which has doubled the space available and provides a dance floor . The venue also has the most amazing windows, which let views of the spectacular landscape outside flood in.

Keady Clachan celebrations

To kick off the event, Joan introduced the ‘Saving Seeds Of Knowledge’ Grow Wild project. Her idea is to work with the community to produce a leaflet highlighting artistic connections that people have made with nature across shared cultures. Conor O’Kane, a self-taught singer songwriter, kicked off the evening by singing a traditional song, with which the audience joyously joined in.

One of the most magical parts of this project is the breadth of the community involved. I sat next to Bobby, who proudly describes himself as ‘the oldest person in the room’, an honour which he only holds because the previous titleholder passed away last year. He pointed out this man’s family, telling me, "his family still come; that’s his son and granddaughter over there". Bobby spoke with great affection for Keady Clachan: ‘this place gives us all a safe space to be together and share music and poems. I love it here – it’s better than any of the sessions in the pub. People here give time to listen and appreciate each other."

Keady Clachan celebrations

Bobby was then interrupted by Joan: worried about people getting cold as the night drew in, she had filled a hot water bottle for every person in the room! As these came accompanied with fresh tea, scones and cake, I think it’s safe to say that the evening just kept getting better. This was undoubtedly a verdict shared by music-loving chicken Trousers, who hung around making a nuisance of himself and bagging all the best spots until he was unceremoniously evicted. 

A rooster drinking from a mug printed with music notes.

Conor and Betty Harrigan led the evening by singing and playing the guitar and banjo, encouraging everyone in the room to join in. Many people sung in voices which I can only describe as full of love and feeling, and we heard a wonderful variety of both modern and traditional songs. Other participants shared poems that they’d discovered, or sang songs or read poems they had written themselves. I was really moved by these honest, heartfelt creations, some of which were either so sad or so funny the room would cry or laugh together as one.

I originally intended to stay for an hour, but three hours flew past and as the clock drew nearer to eleven the craic was mighty and I struggled to leave. Even though many of us were strangers, being at the ceilidh was like being part of a large warm family for one evening, with the strength of the connections being made with each other only equalled by the obvious love the room had for nature.

I have vowed to go back and perform a poem of my own, although I couldn’t inflict my singing on attendees, unless Joan and Micky wanted a quick clearing of the room!

A polytunnel at Keady Clachan, with geraniums.

Keady Clachan builds on a sense of community spirit and the skills of the people around them; Joan and Micky farm organically and they are currently returning part of the farm to woodland, planting over 9000 native trees. On top of this, Micky and Joan support local festivals, engage intergenerational groups and run workshops in planting and permaculture as well as music and art.

I am so grateful that these inspirational people chose to work with Grow Wild and I can’t wait to see what new delights they conjure up in the future.

If you’re feeling slightly jealous of Stéphanie right now, Shamrock, Rose and Thistle publicise their events on Facebook – follow this link to get started.