I was born in 1938 and grew up on the Cork-Kerry border. I suppose that was a very different Ireland than we see today – we were three miles from the nearest town. We didn’t realise it, then, but we were organic farmers really; at that time my father was conscious of caring for the land, our animals and planting trees. He would always say, ‘Wrong nature and we’ll pay a terrible price.’

I began work in Killarney and then I came to Bandon. Later, I got married and came to live here in Inishannon [Co Cork]. My children grew up in a totally different Ireland. When we would go back to [my parents’] farm and I told them how it was when I was a child, I think they thought I was making it up! They’d say, ‘Ah Mam – you couldn’t live like that!’ They were only a generation removed from me but things had changed so much. I thought that the Ireland I grew up in needed to be documented, otherwise it might be forgotten.

That’s why I wrote my first book, To School Through the Fields, which was published in 1988. I thought the book might be of local interest - I thought of it more as a record of older times. I was amazed when it became as popular as it did. I didn’t realise it was the story of the whole of Ireland! Everyone who grew up on a farm [at that time] had the same experience. The book was translated into many languages and became quite popular in the United States. I think, for the people who emigrated to the US, that was the Ireland they left behind - or the Ireland their parents had told them about.

I hadn’t thought of continuing [writing], but my publisher said, ‘Will you continue?’ So, I kept writing about the values and way of life of rural Ireland.

Innishannon was once a totally different village to what it is now. Before, we had a shoemaker and four shops. Now, we have traffic lights and we’re the main road into west Cork - this small village!

Tidy towns started up here in 1968 and I got drafted in, of course. Over the years we’ve done different things to improve the village. We have a lot of good gardeners around here, and artists as well. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice have a festival called Gardens and Galleries?’ And in 2016, that’s what we did. It went on for four years, then COVID-19 reared its ugly head and that put a stop to our gallop! But we came back, of course, and this year we have 12 gardens and six galleries on display throughout the parish.

There’s great variety. It all starts at the parish hall - you get your map, pay your €10 and then we have two mini-buses provided by Local Link. They bring you around to all the different gardens.

If you stay locally, there are four or five gardens featured in the village and we have a guided history walk you can take. We also have a nature expert who does a woodland walk, and then we have a little mini vintage show in the garage across the road. There’s a lot going on! Sometimes people just ramble around the village, visit the country shops and then get on the bus – it’s a whole day, really! Each year, as we plan the date for Gardens and Galleries, we announce: ‘No one is to go on holidays!’ Everyone is involved, so it’s a case of ‘all hands on deck’.

It’s a very sociable festival; people come from all over and they meet on the bus - they get to know each other and they meet up in the different gardens. It’s great for the community, and people come from way outside of Inishannon. Gardeners travel, you see! We get a lot of Tidy Towns members from other areas; there’s a great bonding between the groups - I always say, there’s a great bonding in picking litter!

The Tidy Towns organisation has a few different offshoots and [several decades ago] we decided we needed to preserve the history in the village. A lot of the older people had so much knowledge, and they were taking the social history of the village with them when they died. So, we set up an annual local history magazine called Inishannon Candlelight. It comes out each year at around Christmastime and this Christmas will be our 40th edition.

During those 40 years, people have written about the histories of their families and their townlands. We knew bringing out a magazine would be a lot of trial and error [and it was, at first], but we also soon realised we could make money out of this. We kept the magazine money in a separate account and have been able to use it for the community. On each side of the village, we have erected two sculptures. At one end of the village, the Horse and Rider depicts the origins of Inishannon. You see, the river here is tidal and at one time it was the only crossing point for traffic into West Cork so the horse symbolises that. On the other side of the village, we have the sculpture of the Blacksmith to commemorate the village’s historic Old Forge. The magazine helped us fund those.

We are planning to erect a new sculpture, as well, depicting the Charter Schools of Ireland, which were established by George II in the 18th century. There were 50 all over Ireland and one was in Inishannon. The focus of these schools was to educate the Protestant children and ‘civilise’ the Catholic children. They did a survey in 1750 and at that time there were only 17 Protestant children at the Inishannon school – the rest were Catholic. The children were fed, so of course they attended the school. They were trained to work on farms and within the domestic service.

Even though there were 50 of those schools over Ireland there is no record anywhere of those children, so here in Inishannon we are doing a sculpture in honour of the Charter School children. Soon, there will be a sculpture of a little boy with a school sack on one shoulder and his hand raised with a bird flying out of the other one. Despite the schools’ history, we still wanted to capture the fact that these were children and they still had plenty of child-like joy.”

More info

This year, Inishannon’s Gardens and Galleries festival will take place on 22-23 July from 10am. Visit their facebook page:www.facebook.com/innishannongardengallery/. Alice Taylor’s book The Nana is now in shops and her new book Come Sit Awhile will be published this Autumn.

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