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Una Walsh with visitors to the new Woodland trail.
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On Saturday past, 18 September the thriving Social Enterprise An Tobar Wellness Centre at Silverbridge held its official launch of Brian’s Wood Native Woodland Heritage Project.

The project is supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, who awarded a grant of £61,900 to help connect people with the heritage in Brian’s Wood.

Joe O'Boyle, DAERA speaking at Brian's Wood launch.

The Brian’s Wood Heritage Project, over the next 9 or 10 months will deliver 60 nature based and cultural heritage workshops to increase knowledge of the heritage in the area, whilst also improving health and wellbeing.

The project will also enhance access to Brian’s wood, including for young people with additional learning needs, carers and families from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Brian’s Wood was officially opened by Minister for Finance, Conor Murphy and Dr Jim McGreevy, Committee Member of The National Lottery Heritage Fund.  Guests in attendance were Mr John Joe O’Boyle, Chief Executive of Forest Service, DAERA, Cllr Oonagh Magennis, Deputy Chairperson of Newry, Mourne and Down Council, Veronica Morris, Chief Executive of Rural Support NI and Aoibheann Walsh, Head of Social Farming and Innovation, Rural Support NI, representatives from SHSCT, CDHN, ROG Partnership, local councillors, participants of programmes at An Tobar Wellness Centre, friends and family.

Julie McCreesh, Conor Muphy, MLA; Oonagh Magennis, Vice Chair, Newry, Mourne and Down Council and Cllr Aoife Finnegan at the launch.

Speaking at the event Kathleen Finnegan informed guests, the first tree planted in Brian’s Wood was in March 2019 by the President of Ireland, Micheal D. Higgins.  Since then, over 13500 native trees have been planted and today these trees are starting to weave out a distinctive nature and heritage trail with 4 poetry trails for participants to enjoy; a poetry, nature and heritage trail.  The trails include a range of audio signs which provide detailed information on many aspects such as native trees, ecosystems, and poetry from poet Michael J Murphy for example.  Depictions of native animals are pinpointed around the site for young and old to enjoy.  Etching plates are placed along the trails and are sure to keep young and old engaged.

Event coordinator and MC Julie McCreesh invited guests to walk the trails and take part in a tour of the woodland, gently guided by Margaret Finnegan and Una Walsh who both designed and created the trails.  During the tour of Brian’s Wood, local musicians Bernie Muckian and Aodh Murphy provided a wonderful open air musical performance which reflected a wide range of heritages.

Following this, guests were treated to a splendid buffet lunch provided by Louise and Marie from An Tobar’s onsite cafe, Libby’s Tea Room.  

Special thanks to all volunteers for their support and dedication on the day who ensured all guests could access the entire trail.

A new website is also being developed as part of the project to promote the heritage of Brian’s Wood and will make it accessible to an even wider audience.

Jim McGreevey, Margaret Finnegan and social farmer, Declan.

Jim McGreevy, Committee Member, The National Lottery Heritage Fund said:

"We are thrilled to support An Tobar in helping underserved communities in Silverbridge explore the natural and cultural heritage in Brian’s Wood. Landscapes and nature form the bedrock of our culture and heritage, improving wellbeing, sparking curiosity, and protecting and providing for the community’s surrounding and inhabiting them. We believe heritage should be accessible for everyone and this project will ensure a wide range of people can get involved and benefit from their local heritage.”


Welcoming the opening of ‘Brian’s Wood’ at An Tobar, Finance Minister Conor Murphy said “I am delighted to see this asset become open and available to the people of South Armagh. The benefits of this site go much further than the face value of a trail walk for all ages as well as expanding on the social farming and education facilities offered by An Tobar.

Kathleen Finnegan and Bernie Muckian at the launch.

“The ecological value of planting a large number of trees in the area cannot be understated, especially when we consider that the North only has a forest cover of around 8%. Well below the European average.

“The trails at this site will also promote the link between mental wellbeing and nature. In the times we are in, it is so important to take care of ourselves both mentally as well as physically and these trails present the perfect opportunity to do both. 

“The passion that the team here at An Tobar have to give something back to South Armagh really is fantastic. Their offering of so many services at the site including social farming and education, the South Armagh branch of Crisis Café and now their trail paths underline the dedication of the team and their desire to give back to the community of South Armagh. 

“I was honoured to be asked to contribute to this ceremony and I wish An Tobar and the team all the best in the future.”

Excite Enthrall and Educate

Also commenting on the facility MLA Justin McNulty added "What a wonderful resource for the community in South Armagh and beyond that weaves in and celebrates our ecological, mythological, historical, literary and poetic heritage.

"Major well done to the Finnegan Clan for making your dream a reality and for sharing this wonderland with us all. Your hard work has the potential to excite, enthrall and educate generations of children and their families whilst being brilliant for the environment and tackling climate change."


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