The word meitheal is bandied around rather a lot, and has come to represent any general coming-together of the individuals in a community to help each other. “Meitheal” (pronounced meh-hill) is an Irish word and like many Irish words it doesn’t really have a direct translation in to English, it loosely translates as “working gang” and describes the old Irish tradition where people in rural communities gathered together on a neighbour’s farm to help save the hay or harvest crops. In the GIY context however, the meitheal actually represents something quite specific; a practical tool that GIYers use to get stuff done in the veg patch. We certainly didn’t invent the meitheal at GIY, but we have shamelessly hijacked and adapted the concept for our own uses. Meitheals happen regularly in GIY groups all over Ireland, and they are a core reason why these groups come and stay together.
Here at GROW HQ, we’re in the middle of a series of meitheals (that’s probably not the right word for the plural of meitheal) to start development of a 1 hectare wood and grassland area at the end of the vegetable garden. Our plan is to create a native woodland based on the old Irish tree list. Under the brehon laws of pre-Christian Irish society, certain trees and shrubs were protected because of their importance to the community. There were four classes of tree, roughly mirroring classes in early Irish society. Which group a tree belonged to depended on its economic importance. The classes were the airig fedo (‘nobles of the wood’), aithig fedo (‘commoners of the wood’), fodla fedo (‘lower divisions of the wood’) and the losa fedo (‘bushes of the wood’). Penalties were imposed for unlawful damage to trees with the penalty graded depending on the class of tree harmed. The tree list reminds us how important trees were to the daily lives of our ancestors.
Our project is about creating a usable woodland space based on the seven noble trees. The wood already has oak, hazel, holly and ash; which means we will have to add in yew, Scots pine and Crab Apple. With this as the anchor focus, we will be able to use it as an educational space, to teach adults and children about trees in Irish mythology, the food of our ancestors, foraging and wild food, mindfulness in nature and wood crafts. It will act as a forest school or woodland classroom for us to bring school tours/visits and other groups of children. Check out the dates for our foraging walks in GROW HQ here.
A recent meitheal on a cold winter’s day started the careful clearing work on a section of the wood. We will be doing another couple of days clearing in the new year and then planting around 500 trees in the grassland area. Over a hot cup of soup afterwards, I was reminded as I always am about how great you feel after taking part in a meitheal. There is something about the sense of connectedness that results - connection to nature, to your fellow meithealers (ok, now I’m just making words up) and your community. Serious work gets done, but above all smiles are put on faces.
The Basics – Water Butts
Got a water butt? They are a great investment and depending on the size of your veg patch (and the amount of rainfall) you may not need a hose at all. Find a suitable down pipe, and attach the water butt to it - try and make sure the water butt is near your vegetable patch. Several water butts can be "daisy-chained" together to maximise the amount of water being saved. Most water butts will save between 200 to 350 litres of rain - that's alot of water! It is estimated that around 24,000 litres of rain water can be saved from the average house roof every year.