If you could do one thing, what would you do to protect our local catchment?’

This very question was presented to the 95 students of the River Derry Bubbles Project as part of the project evaluation form. This was a requisite of the LEADER grant. To say Maeve and I were astonished at the responses from the young, intelligent and engaged students is an understatement.

Their responses, suggestions, ideas and I only asked for one, showed insight, great awareness and problem solving skills. But most of all an eagerness to be pro-active on protecting our fresh water resources.

This project was due to have an exhibition, but unfortunately due to Covid19 we decided to host a five-way school Zoom meeting with the help of our Community Water Officer, Donal O’Keeffe. We invited our sponsor TCP and our funders Wicklow Partnership for the ‘Grande Finale’, and on June 16th we Zoomed the River Derry Bubbles. the Bubbles consisted of recycling, kick sampling, visual diaries, drawings, water treatments, food and embedded water, visits to the recycling centre, Nature walks in the Catchment. The pupils shared what they had learnt, they shared their experiences, and they presented their visual diaries.

Here’s a summary of their pro-active measures to protect our Derry-Rosnastraw-Coolboy sub-catchment.

TCP plans to (funds dependent) to implement these actions starting with installing water butts.

Wildflowers and Mushy papermaking – June 2021

Bringing together our River Derry with craft, Biodiversity, gardening and recycling with Love! That’s how we spent our last outreach day with the students of the River Derry Bubbles Project 2020-2021 session.

Yes it was full of soggy, used paper being blitzed in blenders and making this mush into paper hearts full of wildflower seeds. These hearts will then be planted out into gardens in our local catchments to feed our pollinators.

Recycled paper put through a blender with loads of water.

Wildflower seed added to the paper and then moulded into shape and water removed.

Just needs to be slightly dryer and then planted out. Blooming Summer for the Bees!

Mayflies, dragons and some very wet feet. – Biodiversity Week May 2021

Possibly, but maybe not….the best and most enjoyable day for all concerned this year. Being out in Nature is the best way to learn, engage and benefit from Nature.

River dipping as all the students called it or kick sampling for invertebrates as others (especially fresh water ecologists) would know it. Bio-indicators can be a useful and important tool in helping us to identify land types as in the case of rushes. And today we were looking for mayflies, stoneflies and caddis flies. Why? The presence or lack off can indicate water quality. Water snails, Baetis sp., and various worms, leeches etc can indicate poor quality water.

We sampled various locations from Crossbridge, to Tinahely, to a small stream in Shillelagh. It was a case of “three tails for Mayfly”, “two tails for stone fly”, “the stony thing” cased caddis fly. Some students were adament about dragons in the Crossbridge section of the Derry River. Imagination is good but then who knows…….

Other life found with excitement was a small dead fish (salmon or trout), a few eels, fresh water shrimp, and of course we had wildflowers in the riparian zone.

Food & Water! The Pineapple from Morocco – April 2021

So how much water is in our food? A lot apparently. Cucumber – 96% water to potatoes 79%. And where is your watermelon or pineapple grown. What catchment is it from. Well we had a cucumber from a Dutch catchment and we had a Moroccan pineapple.

We took the conversation a step further to other food stuffs and some general household items and clothes. It is estimated that 15,000 litres of water is used to produce 1kg of beef. 5,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cheese. We had loads of fun talking about a pizza. And that’s ’embedded water’ – the amount of water it takes to produce someting. PS. The jury is still out on whether pizza should have pineapple or not!!

water rich fruit and veg

Water Units! Where does our water come from? April 2021

The Derry as it gathers pace and volume with a bit of help from some tributaries serves a vital natural resource for Tinahely, Crossbridge, Coolboy, Coolafancy, Shillelagh and Carnew. It provides Freshwater!

As the river heads towards Tinahely, a small, banal, rectangular building abstracts approximately 100 cubic metres of fresh water every hour. From this building, it is pumped to the treatment unit at the top of Pound Lane nearby where it is filtered, cleaned and stored prior to it being sent out to the surrounding communities as mentioned above.

How about the waste water? In Tinahely, and indeed the other villages, a waste water treatment unit is located to clean the water prior to discharge back into the river. So how do we tell this story to the students of the five schools?

With the help of Donal O’Keeffe, (Wicklow’s Water Community Officer, of the Local Area Water’s Programme, (LAWPRO), we recorded a Zoom meeting. Maeve and I, prior to this meeting, recorded some additional footage in and around the units to give the main video context.

Reduce – Re-use – Recycle – Re-think – Re-purpose November 2020

In the heart of Tinahely, the local, community led and managed recycling centre played host to Tinahely National School as part of the River Derry Bubbles Project. Tinahely Community Projects (TCP) who developed the centre, have brought it a long way. And earlier in 2020 TCP, with the help of funds secured from LEADER via Wicklow Partnership relocated the centre to its current location.

Earlier on Day 1, we heard several kids expressing concerns about the continuing litter problem. Most of this litter can be recycled. If left, litter easily finds its own way into streams, rivers and frequently on down to the coast.

Four out of the fives schools are unable to visit the recycling centre due to Covid19 concerns, so Maeve and I prepared a video with the help of David Murray, Community Employment supervisor. The centre not only provides Tinahely and surrounding area with recycling facility, it also provides community employment to a number of people.

The kids were very engaged as David showed and explained the various processes taking place from the squashing and baling of plastic bottles to the collection of used kitchen cooking oil. One very important lesson that David mentioned was the need to remove the plastic caps from the tetrapak and plastic bottles. While they can be recycled, they need to be separated!

Small electrical items are also accepted and my eyes lite up as I spotted a great set of Christmas tree lights! Sadly not working but still having a decorative value! And when I met a few of the kids just prior to Christmas one asked me: “Well, did you use them?”. “Yes”, I replied!

We all a have a role to “reduce, reuse, recycle” in our local catchment!

And the river flows………. September / October 2020

We have five schools participating in the River Derry Bubbles Project. All five are located in the Derry-Rosnastraw-Coolboy sub-catchment area. And they are mostly a stone’s throw away from either the Derry River or one of the tributaries as is the case with Coolafancy National School.

So the schools are Crossbridge National School, being the school closest to the source, Tinahely National School in the heart of Tinahely, Coolafancy National School located near the Coolboy Stream. Then in Shillelagh we have Scoil Mhuire na nAird and Shillelagh No. 1.

Nicely cushioning these schools, you could say is Tomnafinnoge Woods, an integral part of not only the River Derry and surrounding areas but also a part of the wider, significant Slaney River SAC. I draw your attention to Tomnafinnoge as we were asked a very thought provoking question by one of the kids on Day 1. “How did the River Derry gets its name?” This question among others got me thinking and on a following day I turned the question on some of the schools: “Would it help for us to develop or foster a sense of ownership or protection if the unnamed rivers and streams were named.

(Some of the tributaries, for example one in Shillelagh as far as we know is unnamed)

So how did the River Derry get its name? It all comes from the Irish word for an oak tree – An Doire! An Doireach (coming from dairgech meaning ‘abounding in oaks‘. Or another source ‘Abha an doire‘ meaning River of the oaks‘.

LEADER Funding and Tinahely Community Projects Autumn 2020

A wonderful opportunity to submit a bid into a competitive tendering process struck gold during the first lockdown of Covid19 earlier this year. Tinahely Community Projects (TCP), a local development company awarded me the tender to further develop this catchment based project. After a competitive tendering process, TCP went on to secure LEADER funding under the Water Resources stream of funding. A further need to develop this local catchment based project was supported by the fact that the Derry-Rosnastraw-Coolboy sub-catchment was a priority on the water basin management plans at the same time.

However, what was a greater sense of achievement for me as Day 1 has been completed by 2 schools to date, is showing the kids the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development logo, hearing the kids’ enthusiasm as they share stories and experiences already or their own local catchment and listen as they ask intelligent questions about all things rivers, nature and the environment. Its going to be a good year.

Maeve Hunter, artist educator is joining me again to help with the creative and and artistic side of this project.

Water Heritage Day 2020

The last day of Heritage Week is devoted to Water Heritage and for 2020 Heritage Week goes online due to Covid19. Its been a challenging year but many of us have taken to Nature and Biodiversity Ireland has stated that there’s a greater number of citizen scientists sending in flora and fauna sightings.

Thanks to some funding from the Local Authorities Waters Programme Office and support form Tinahely Community Projects, Maeve Hunter of Mae Art Ed and myself have teamed up together to bring the Derry River, and some of its heritage into the sitting rooms of the local community or catchment!

The River Derry Catchment is rich in heritage, both natural having Tomnafinnoge Woods in its heart, but also built heritage thanks to having the Old Coolatin Estate as part of its history. For example, there is an old hydro-electricity unit in Shillelagh that used to generate power for the nearby village.

But also people are part of this wonderful catchment. And it was a fitting end as we journeyed through the length of the Derry using Facebook live streaming facility and meet some canoeists on the Slaney at the very point where the Derry meets the Slaney.

River Derry Bubbles Project’s First Exhibition!! June 19th 2019

The River Derry Bubbles Project exhibition opened in Tinahely Library on June 19thfor a two week run. 3rdand 4thClass Kilcommon National School stole the show by an excellent and cleverly put together performance stating what they had learnt from taking part in this pilot project. Each student had an opportunity to say something “we were told by Kevin who maintains our water treatment units that a pick axe was found in the sewers”. Another student “we spent the day drawing the wildlife in Tomnafinnoge Woods where the Derry River flows through”. Another student “a lady from Kerry Foods, Shillelagh explained why they need the Derry River and what wildlife lives near their place of work”. 

3rd & 4th Class Kilcommon National School with class teacher, Joanne, and project leader Sarah and Maeve, outreach artist.

Kerry Foods kindly donated a very special ‘River Derry Bubbles’ cake! Possibly the highlight of the day.

Thanks to Kerry Foods, Shillelagh!

It was wonderful and very encouraging to see parents of some of the students and representatives from Wicklow County Council, James Callery and Tinahely Community Projects, Tina Christianson (funders of the pilot project). Also attending, newly re-elected Councillor Vincent Blake, Ian Davis from the Pure Project, Aoife McGrath of the Local Waters Community Office, and David Murray, Tinahely’s Community Employment Supervisor. 

Wicklow Library Services and Mary Carty of Tinahely Library agreed to host this celebratory exhibition for Kilcommon National School and Rubalcava Heritage Services. It will continue to raise awareness of Tinahely’s local catchment area, its benefits and the issues it faces. But equally, just as much as a community needs a heart, so too does a community (and our wildlife is included in that community) need clean, healthy water, and for Tinahely, its the River Derry. Or as Sarah often say, “Turn on that tap, flush that toilet and even eat those Denny sausages as Kilcommon National School did two month ago, We Need The Derry”!

Catchments! Rivers! Community! Outdoor Learning!

Loads of learning completed. More learning to do. 3rd and 4th Class students have had some brilliant learning experiences as they followed the Derry River upstream and down stream. Listening, seeing and recording in their River Derry Bubbles Diary.

She’s listening and recording in the Tinahely Derry River catchment.

Between October 2018 and May 2019, the students walked the Railway Walk, following the river out of town.

Turn on that tap or flush the loo we’re dependent on the Derry River.

On another day, they were led around Tinahely’s water abstraction and treatment units by staff from Wicklow County Council who work tirelessly to keep our water clean and fit for purpose.

Later in the school year, they were treated to a visit by Mary Ryan, environmental officer from Kerry Foods, Shillelagh, who also abstract and discharge into the River. On World Water Day, they had the opportunity to create a card, and an up-cycled water themed t-shirt.

The final day was spent in the nearby Tomnafinnoge Woods where the river travels through as it heads on to Shillelagh and beyond. We managed to see pond skaters, water snails, and other fresh water life. Sadly the kingfisher and otter were busy and failed to join the classroom!

River Derry Bubbles Project Goes To School! 2018-2019

The River Derry Bubbles is going back to school, Kilcommon National School in Tinahely! I’ve planned a whole programme of outreach days to help and guide 3rd and 4th class in the learning and experiencing of a local catchment area, the River Derry/Tinahely Catchment area.

A catchment is described as “a community related by water” (Streamscapes 2014 – EPA 2015).

Thanks to a Wicklow County Council Local Agenda 21 Grant, and with a top up funds from Tinahely Community Projects,  let class commence! The range of ‘classes’ include a walk along Tinahely’s Railway Walk, looking, listening and recording what is going on in the local area and river. Maeve Hunter has guided the students in the creation of a very special diary.

Celebrating Water Heritage Day during Heritage Week – 2017

With funding from the Waters Community Office, I was able to lead a family day out with the help of Maeve Hunter. Heritage Week has now become a firm favourite in the Summer schedule enabling us to experience and learn more about our built and natural heritage.

On a wet day Maeve and myself met some brave souls as we took to Tomnafinnoge Woods for a walk and explore walk.


The River Derry Bubbles hits the big time the Tinahely Show!

Rubalcava Heritage Services decides to sponsor one of the kids’ art classes – with a question posed to them! ‘What the River Derry Bubbles Say To You’…….
All I can say is I’m glad I wasn’t the judge!

1st Prize

2nd Prize

3rd Prize

The Bubbles Meet The Aliens! July 2017

One of the threats facing our rivers is the presence and spread of non-native, invasive species. While I am aware of invasive species living in the aquatic environment like zebra mussel, as a horticulturist, I am more aware and knowledgeable about the terrestrial species like Himalayan Balsam. This is possibly because many were introduced by my ‘horticultural ancestors’. Gardeners, landscape designers and estate managers who planted them in large estates and gardens and now they have escaped into the wild and are negatively impacting on our own native species and natural environments.

As part of the Bubbles Project, I held an information night focusing on the invasive species found in or around the River Derry. While a small crowd, it was a good night. Everyone got up close and personal with a variety of aliens. One of these is Himalayan Balsam, now found along the banks of the Derry in Tomnafinoge Woods. It is present on other parts of the Slaney Catchment of which the Derry is part of along with the Dereen, the Clody and others.

Himalayan Balsam, a relative of the popular Summer bedding plant, Bizzie Lizzie, was a garden escape.

The seed pods of Himalayan Balsam full of millions of seeds ready to ‘explode’ over the surrounding area.

A prolific seeder with lovely pink flower and interestingly our bees like it! However, it quickly takes over diverse riparian zones, crowding out native species resulting in large blocks of this pink flowered annual. During Winter, the river banks are left exposed and after heavy rains, river banks become very susceptible to erosion with silt, plant roots and soil being washed into the river causing problems to the aquatic environment.

Informed citizens can help by informing themselves and learning how to distinguish alien invasives from our native flora with help from experts. Upon sighting a non-native, alien species, a positive sighting can be sent into Biodiversity Ireland’s website.

With some of the attendees at the Courthouse Arts Centre in Tinahely.


River Derry Bubbles Celebrate Biodiversity Week 2017

The Bubbles have turned Blue for Biodiversity Week! I have teamed up with Maeve Hunter of Mae – Art Ed and Tinahely Community Projects to celebrate Biodiversity Week in Tomnafinnoge Woods just outside Tinahely.

Getting to know a river is like getting to know a friend who has traveled the world and seen many things and experienced many things! Think about it! Water is abstracted from rivers, is returned to rivers by passing through waste water treatments or maybe some rivers just amble along, carrying wildflower seeds, fish, pearl mussels or worse, litter. So who’s going to tell the story? The River Derry Bubbles! They are going to start telling the story this Biodiversity Week in Tomanfinnoge Woods where we will listen, explore and draw.

Drawing by James Caley – Tomnafinnoge Woods where the Derry River journeys through every day and night as it heads for the Slaney River and onwards into the St. George Canal, Sth Irish Sea.