A ‘Forest School’ for Monaghan Children?

Dermot McNally of Transition Monaghan looks at our increasing detachment from nature as a f1result of our modern lifestyles which focus strongly on consumerism, urbanisation and automation, and have led to concern for our physical, emotional and mental health. Thankfully, pro-active reaction has led to the formation of many groups and activities to reinstate our connection with the surrounding natural world. In this article, Dermot explores the concept of ‘Forest Schools’ and how it could be applied in County Monaghan.


There is no doubt that today’s children are missing out on old fashioned outdoor fun and adventure. Could ‘forest schooling’ use nature as the place for learning as well as a playground for society’s youngest?


The Forest School Association (UK) describes Forest Schooling as ‘an inspirational process that offers ALL learners regular opportunities to achieve and develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on learning experiences in a woodland or natural environment with trees. Forest School is a specialised learning approach that sits within and compliments the wider context of outdoor and woodland education. Children play, whittle, make crafts, build dens, watch the seasons go by, jump in mud and cook around the fire. A day playing in the woods is a good day.’

f2 While the concept has spread quickly in the past decade, outdoor schooling can be traced back to the 1830s when Friedrich Froebel, who founded the kindergarten movement, noted the importance nature played in a child’s development. Similarly, bodies like the Steiner School and other educational movements have sought to incorporate nature into the curriculum. However, Forest Schools seem to push the boundaries to the maximum.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”  -George Bernard Shaw

Until a year ago, I had never heard of Forest Schools or nature crèches. Learning and having fun outside is the perfect antidote to hours in front of the television screen or cooped up in confined spaces. After reading an Irish Independent article about the idea, something clicked in me and it just made sense to get children, especially pre-schoolers, into the great outdoors. Profiling a day in one of Ireland’s first Forest Schools, based in Wicklow, the journalist encountered ‘18 little people, the youngest of whom is just two and a half scampering around the woodland paths with big smiles on their faces…’

It is easy to understand why the kids were having so much fun; playing on the friendship f3swing/in the outdoor theatre or climbing ropes! The five acre site has a rabbit-hole where the children look for signs of wildlife, a fairy tree, a vegetable patch where the kids plant carrots and strawberries and fallen logs used as seats and balance beams. Fully trained instructors and a regular crèche fee, make the service feasible and accessible to all.

To date, there are a number of successful Forest Schools across the island of Ireland. The application of the Forest School concept varies; in some cases, it is employed as a full time day care service for pre-schoolers while in other instances such as Ranelagh’s Multidenominational School (Dublin), it is a module for primary school children, taken within ordinary school hours. Wexford County Council has teamed up with Agenda 21 to make Forest Schooling available in the South East.

One-off Forest Schooling activities for children (from 2/3 years up to 10/12) and Forest School for Families events (parents and children play together in a learning and supportive environment) run intermittently throughout the country at approx. €10 per hour/per child. Costs depend on numbers, venue and insurance.


 A group of parents wish to explore the interest and feasibility of running a Forest School in Monaghan at a not-for-profit basis. Research into the training for instructors, insurance and venues is underway to see if a Monaghan Forest School can happen.

 If you are interested in getting involved/keeping up-to-date on progress/learning more, find the Monaghan Forest School group on Facebook. Alternatively, contact 086 8303392 with your name and the age/number of kids that might attend. If you work in childcare and are interested in training to be a certified Forest School instructor, check out www.earthforceeducation.com.

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Going Dutch, Going Green – Transport

Last year, Jennifer Mc Aree of Transition Monaghan moved to Delft in the Netherlands to live


Jennifer Mc Aree goes Dutch in Delft!

and work. The Dutch are widely known for their advanced environmental protection and sustainability practices. With a population of nearly 17 million in an area roughly half the size of the island of Ireland, the Netherlands may be tiny but it is highly urbanised and densely populated. This brings with it many challenges, but also plenty of opportunities for innovation and transformation. In this article Jennifer focuses on sustainable Dutch transport practices.


You can’t mention the Netherlands without talking about bikes, so I’ll start there. Bicycles are everywhere. Everybody has one and they are an iconic symbol of the country. Cyclists are kings, and cars and pedestrians must obey them at every turn. The bike lanes here are fantastic – wide, defined and often separate from the roads. Cars are obliged to slow down and/or stop for cyclists within cities, while pedestrians must watch out for them at their peril. Many tourists learn this the hard way!

I bought a bike the day I arrived in Delft. They can range from cheap, second-hand bangers (like mine) to very expensive, top of the range models (including electric versions). Dutch bikes are heavy, sturdy and built for longevity, with no gears and back-pedalling often serves as the braking method. Cyclists here are fearless, fast and confident; after all they begin cycling as toddlers. There is no age, race or class distinction within cycling – everyone uses their bikes to get around. The climate is similar to Ireland’s but this doesn’t deter the Dutch from cycling. People seem to be healthier here; few are overweight or obese. Parents often bring their small children around on cargo bikes (these have carrier boxes attached to the front). Of course, the very flat landscape really complements cycling here – there are no hills, unlike Monaghan!

The Netherlands was not always so bicycle friendly however. While cycling was a typical form of transport until after World War II, the introduction of cheaper cars and oil in the 1950s, coupled with strong economic growth, meant the number of cars multiplied at a staggering rate. With the arrival of the 1973 oil crisis, along with a huge increase in road fatalities, particularly involving children, communities rose up by staging large anti-car protests throughout the country, urging the government to take action. The campaign’s slogan was “Stop de Kindermoord” (“Stop the Child Murder”). It worked. The government began to plan and construct segregated cycle paths, which made it safer for cyclists, while simultaneously encouraging more people to take up cycling again. Plus, cycling is virtually free and requires no petrol or diesel!


Another huge part of Dutch life is the train. Over 600,000 people use the trains daily, primarily on the commute to and from work. Commuters often cycle to the station and park their bike for free in the vast bicycle parking facilities that cater for thousands of bikes – best not forget where you’ve parked yours! Trains run mostly on time, but when they don’t there is chaos (the Dutch know how to complain!). It is possible to reach almost anywhere you want to go by rail. Journeys for all trains, trams and buses can be paid for with the same travel card. There is joined-up thinking in terms of public transport – train, bus and metro stops are located in the same stations for ease of making connections. Amazingly, since 1st January 2017 all electric trains (the majority) in the Netherlands have been running on 100% wind energy.


There are still plenty of cars in the Netherlands. After all there are almost 17 million people packed into this tiny country, and much of the young working population lives in the Randstad megalopolis area, which comprises the four largest cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. Traffic jams are a problem in this region, although they are mostly limited to the outskirts of cities. Main streets have few to no cars and underground parking is common. There is also constantly a move towards improving public transport and drivers are encouraged to purchase electric cars through financial incentives. Furthermore, there is a proposal to ban sales of new petrol and diesel cars from 2025 onwards.

So far I have really enjoyed my experience in this small, yet pioneering country – and I’m learning a lot. I could fill pages on Dutch transport alone. Next time, I’ll move on to the many renewable energy advancements happening here.

A list of events and notices on in February can be found here

Transition Ireland meeting in Dublin

Mícheál Callaghan of Transition Monaghan attended a meeting of Transition Ireland and Northern Ireland (TINI) in Dublin on Saturday last. Despite the Transition Town movement having started in Ireland there has been no formal Transition structure on a national level here for some time.


A selection of the attendees pictured after the meeting. L – R: Alistair Smith (Dublin), Theresa O’Donoghue (Clare), Mícheál Callaghan (Monaghan), Kevin Dennehy (Dublin), Elizabeth Creed (Kinsale).

The Transition Town movement was born in Kinsale, Co. Cork when founder Rob Hopkins and his students at Kinsale College came up with a plan (An Energy Descent Action Plan) to get the town to a low carbon future. They received support from the local town council for their plan, and their vision led to the birth of a worldwide movement. Hopkins later moved to Totnes in England, where the centre of the Transition Network now exists. At local level, transition towns are all about communities coming together and planning how they make this vital transition to a cleaner, more positive future with less fossil fuel use. Transition projects include education initiatives and training, community gardening and allotments, local currencies, energy co – operatives, as well as working with local authorities and elected officials. A large part of the work is building alliances with already existing community groups, and supporting each other in making the transition together.

On Saturday representatives from groups in Kerry, Kinsale, Clare, Galway and Dublin met to discuss a way forward for TINI as a formal entity. With a climate law in Ireland requiring a roadmap for adaptation and mitigation, there should be a strong role for TINI at local and national level in ensuring the transition is democratic, fair and speedy, with proper consultation taking place in communities around the country about their low carbon energy futures. It was also felt that a national structure for TINI would be important to ensure co – ordination and communication between existing Transition and like – minded groups in Ireland. An up to date national website, with a national coordinator could provide useful guidance to communities seeking to set up a group in their area.

Steps will be taken to formalise legal status for TINI and relaunch the website, with regular newsletters going to the almost 1,000 people subscribed to the mailing list. There has never been a more important time to be active and advance a better vision of the future that is more in line with the planet and human wellbeing.

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Dáil votes to divest from fossil fuels

Last week the Government was defeated as the Fossil Fuel Divestment Bill passed the


Oisin Coughlan, Director of Friends of the Earth

second stage 90 votes to 53. Ireland may soon become the world’s first country to fully divest from all fossil fuels. Friends of the Earth described as “historic” the vote to progress a Bill to pull taxpayer’s money out of fossil fuel companies. Commenting on the landmark vote, Oisin Coughlan, Director of Friends of the Earth said: “This is first real sign of leadership from Ireland on climate action.”


Call for volunteers in Monaghan to plant ‘1 million trees’ on Saturday, 11 February

rossmorePictured above is Rossmore Park. Trees are the lungs of the earth and provide natural sanctuaries.

If you find yourself getting overwhelmed by all the bad news in the world, there can be no better way to counteract this than by getting your hands dirty and making a positive impact in your local community. Why not join Transition Monaghan in planting trees in Monaghan Town on Saturday February 11th at 10am. In Castleblayney the Community Gardens Group welcome people to come along to their tree planting at Park Road Community Garden at 11am.

The ‘one million trees in one day’ initiative hopes to see one million trees planted all treesacross Ireland on the day. In Monaghan, our Transition will be planting 100 trees, with a mix of native ‘woodland’ and ‘hedgerow’ trees. We will be joined by other local groups on the day, including the Tidy Towns, Men’s Sheds and the Allotment Society. In particular, we welcome new volunteers to lend a hand in the planting. All you need are weather proof clothes and a pair of sturdy shoes or boots. If you have a spade, this is a plus, but if not we will provide some. We will announce the precise locations in next week’s noticeboard and on our Facebook page. For further information, please email transitionmonaghan@gmail.com or call 086 865 2724.

February notices can be found here

Trócaire Director says: “Trump will hurt the world’s poor”

After President Trump was inaugurated, one of his first actions was to delete references to action on climate change from the White House website. He then went on to argue about the numbers attending the inauguration. Meanwhile Éamonn Meehan the Executive Director of Irish charity Trocaire was highlighting in his blog the five ways he claims that the new US President will hurt the world’s poor. They are summarised below.


Éamonn Meehan pictured on right


trocaire-logoÉamonn Meehan sees the appointment of a climate change sceptic – Scott Pruitt – to the key position of head of the Environmental Protection Agency and his hostility towards science and enthusiastic embrace of coal and oil as a “nightmare scenario for anybody who cares about the future of the planet”. He says that Trump has promised to “cancel the Paris Agreement on climate change Agreement”. The deal has been structured in such a way that it “would take four years for any country to back out, but that has not stopped calls from his supporters to follow through on his pledge.”


The Trócaire Executive Director says that the new US President “champions coal production and has stated his desire to reduce regulation and restrictions on mining and fossil fuel production”. Mr Meehan points out that the recent UN Climate Change Conference pointedly stated that “momentum is irreversible” and he says that any attempt by the new US administration to counter this would seriously weaken global progress. “This will have a devastating impact, especially on the developing world, where people are already struggling in the face of worsening drought and extreme weather”


Éamonn Meehan says that before becoming President, Mr Trump promised to “stop sending foreign aid to countries that hate us”. According to Meehan this is “open to huge interpretation, it signals the new US President’s desire to further politicise aid by only funding countries with governments considered friendly to US interests.” About one third of American aid is directed at health programmes, so any reduction would, according to the Trocaire chief, have an immediate impact on progress against disease, particularly in Africa. What Mr Meehan sees as worrying would be if Trump uses aid money as a way to influence domestic policies across Africa and the Middle East. “Given Chinese influence in Africa, this could spark a mini-Cold War across the continent as east and west prop up friendly regimes”


President Obama and Secretary of State, John Kerry, opposed Israel’s ongoing policy of settlement construction. Éamonn Meehan says that Trump “will likely give Benjamin Netanyahu a free pass to annex land and continue this policy” Two days after the inauguration we see settlement construction resuming. Trump’s stated intention to reverse decades of US policy, by moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is seen as ‘worrying” as it “would enflame tensions in the region”.


Last Saturday we saw the huge protest against Trump by over a million women across the US and all over the world. Trump’s election was condemned by equality activists around the world. In India, where women face endemic violence, Éamonn Meehan reports that activists there said that Trump’s victory was devastating because of America’s global leadership role.

It is estimated that one in three women worldwide have experienced either physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Given the well-publicised comments by the new American President on the matter, Eamonn Meehan says that Trump’s election is “a huge setback for efforts to protect women around the world.”


Trump’s most publicised plan was his proposal to construct a wall along the Mexican border. The Trócaire Director says that even if this plan never sees fruition, it seems inevitable that he will clamp down on migration. He points out that poor communities in Central America are often hugely reliant on remittances from relatives working in the United States. The casual nature of migration back and forth, he says, has echoes of Irish people’s reliance on the building sites of England in the past. “I have been in villages in Guatemala and Honduras where money from America is the difference between having food and going hungry. Trump’s hostility towards migration will have a devastating impact on these families. Sadly, they are not the only ones bracing themselves for a stormy period ahead.”

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