Ireland is known around the world as a place of fun, with pubs, singing and dancing, and of course, that's all true. But the Emerald Isle can also be a place for tranquility and quiet beauty. A visit to Brigit's Garden, just outside Galway City, will show that serenity and introspection are also part of the Irish experience.
Brigit's Garden is a perfect stop for those who are venturing out to explore the fabled Hills of Connemara or Ireland's "Wild West" Coast. Located in the village of Roscahill, County Galway, it's about a twenty-minute drive north of Galway City. My wife and I stopped there as part of a day trip that took us into Connemara as far as Kylemore Abbey. The eleven acres of beautiful landscaped gardens are not only visually stunning, they also provide insight into the history aznd development of Ireland's Celtic heritage.
Designed by Mary Reynolds, winner of the gold medal at the 2002 Chelsea Flower Show in London, the gardens provide a journey through the four cycles of the ancient Celtic calendar. The first is the Winter Garden, reflecting the Celtic feast of Samhain, which corresponds to our present feast of Halloween. This was the beginning of the yearly cycle for the ancient Irish, a time of reflection on death but the promise of rebirth as well. A mound of earth in the shape of a sleeping woman wraps around a womb-like pool. It is a place of stillness, for reflection on new beginnings,
In the next cycle, the Imbolc, or Spring Garden, celebrates the stirrings of spring on St. Brigit's Day, which also corresponds to an ancient Celtic festival that celebrated the season of new life. The garden's pathway leads through a meadow and orchard with a chlldren's garden featuring huge suspended baskets you can swing in. A stone garving in the ground symbolizes both the Catholic St. Brigit and the Celtic goddess who similarly was the patroness of poetry, metal working and midwifery.
The Summer Garden celebrates the ancient fire festival of Bealtaine, which corresponds to the modern May Day and the coming of warm weather. This was the time of love, marriage and the adventures of youth. The garden of wildflowers tells the story of Diarmund and Grainne, represented by a sculpture of flame figures. It leads through a stone-columned walkway to an ancient Celtic throne on which visitors are invited to sit, masters of all they survey.
The Autumn Garden reflects the legend of Lughnasa, start of the cycle marking the harvest and the transition of summer to fall. Two interlinked circles are surrounded by huge standing stones, similar to England's Stonehenge, providing spaces for dancing, and leading to a table for the harvest feast. This garden has an abundance of vegetable plants, celebrating all that has come to fruition in the year past.
Though the four gardens carry the theme of the site, there are additional attractions that will interest the visitor as well. These include a huge calendar sundial carved on the ground, which tells with great accuracy the date and time. Those who have the time will also want to take the half-mile nature trail through the site's meadows and woodlands. You can see a ring fort that housed an ancient forge, a roundhouse meditation hut with a thatched roof, a crannog, and a children's discovery trail and play area. You can also learn the symbolism of the ancient Celtic alphabet, carved on the Ogham trees.