Garden of Hope

Marie O’Keeffe with two committee members Dan O’Connor and Mike Lyons, Newcastle West Rugby Club, at the turning of the sod for the Garden of Hope in Newcastle West.

The Nash family home in Newcastle West is warm and welcoming. Inside, there’s a lovely energy of calm, peace and joy, albeit tinged with a sense of loss. Inside the lounge door is a strikingly beautiful, multi coloured velvet patchwork armchair which dictates the tone of the room. Marie laughingly calls it a Reading Chair, and it’s easy to imagine spending many hours of happy reading sitting in the comfort of its arms.
The kitchen is spacious and bright, with family pictures on the walls. Looking out at the back garden from a cushioned window seat, demanding to be noticed are two large, loping friendly handsome Golden Retriever dogs called Oscar and Charley. One looks back at me, head cocked sideways and the other is on his back, legs to Heaven, enjoying the spring sunshine. The obvious ease of these dogs is reflected in the home itself.
Over coffee, Marie tells me about the long- standing friendship between her family and the Kingston family. Des Kingston is an award winning garden designer from Limerick. Last year, he entered RTE’s Supergarden competition and won both People’s Choice and judges’ coveted first prize. He then went on to the very prestigious Bloom competition and won a silver medal. His garden, entitled “Rustica Hibernia” or Rural Ireland, delicately blends industrial, agricultural and local historic influences in a contemporary urban setting. But Des, it seems has a very clear vision and, to the delight of Marie and her family, has gifted his prized garden to the Nash family and the community of Newcastle West. He has made this magnanimous gesture as a mark of respect and love for his dear friend Willie, husband of Marie and devoted father of four, who sadly passed away a little over a year ago. Des credits his friend Willie for his inspiration for the garden and feels that it is justice that the garden is developed in his family home at Lacey’s Cross, Newcastle West.
Marie tells me about the day of her husband’s first anniversary last month. The family and many friends, and community at large, celebrated his life with a beautiful, uplifting Mass in the local church. Music played by son Conor, a classical musician who is currently studying at Cork Conservatory, added greatly to the Mass, as did the many prayers of the faithful recited by the other children and friends. Marie, poignantly but with composure, said a few words before the Communion Reflection. She spoke of Willie as her beloved, wonderful husband, and a devoted father. She also spoke of reaching out and of help available. “Anyone at risk from or bereaved by suicide can reach out to Pieta House”, and she encouraged anyone to avail of the help of the wonderful people who work in this field.
After Mass, the congregation, along with family, the local Rugby club, Willie’s second family, local Gardai, Celebrant Father Duhig, and many, many friends gathered at the Nash family home to witness the turning of the first sod in the one-acre ground that would become the Garden of Hope. Marie and her family had food and refreshments for all who attended, not unlike the miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, more than one hundred and fifty people were fed. Considering the event was not advertised and people were only informed of the event by word of mouth, it was a remarkable achievement, and a testimony to the esteem in which Willie Nash and his family are held. It also raised much needed funds for Pieta House, an organisation that is near to Marie’s heart. She describes it as being “most confidential, compassionate, profess-ional and above all, non-judgemental” The Saoirse Centre in Limerick city was also represented. Des attributes the centre as being a major part of his life’s journey.
The Kingston/Nash vision for the garden is clear. It will become part of the “Darkness to Light” and will be a space created to induce peace, and above all healing. It will be wrapped around the Nash house, not unlike the way Marie describes the community in which she lives. It has wrapped itself around the family in a most positive manner. It’s planned that on given dates, the garden will be available for use by the services like Pieta House and the Saoirse Centre and will be viewed as a place of healing for those in need. The plan for the garden is still evolving and will continue to do so as needs become apparent. Marie is effusive in her praise for her local community, the rugby club, the family, friends, local clergy, Gardai and all who have been such a staunch support for her and her family in their time of need. She speaks of her gratitude to the Garden of Hope Committee consisting of Mike Lyons, president of Newcastle West Rugby club, Theresa O’Keefe from the Charleville show, Sheila Flynn, Dan O’Connor, Donie O’Callaghan, Don Ryan, and of course Des Kingston. She also expresses her sincere thanks to Kevin Daly, photographer, and John Donovan for their work on the day of Willie’s anniversary, and especially to Fr. Duhig for his support of the family and his involvement in a powerful and beautiful liturgy.
I ask Marie about her family. She is thankful that they are doing well. The eldest son Billy finished his undergrad in Trinity and has just completed his Masters in the University of Amsterdam. Conor, as mentioned, is continuing his classical music studies in Cork, and Cormac and Eimear are doing well in the local Secondary school. It’s a busy house, full of positive energy and laughter even while the undercurrent of sadness still exists. “We’re flying on broken wings,” Marie says “but flying nonethe-less”. “We’ve stood up now, and we’ve no problem being counted. I’m extraordinarily proud of the children Willie and I reared, Willie left a wonderful legacy to the world…..people who will make a difference”.
The Garden of Hope promises to be not just a fitting tribute to lost loved ones, but a zen place of healing and peace for all who crave the time and space to reach healing and contentment in life.
Donations can be made to Newcastle West Credit Union account number 19157/L and Des Kingston can be reached at 086-2609068. The team are ideally seeking one major sponsor, but appreciate any help given from any quarter.