Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Presidential visit to An Tobar Community Wellness Centre

An Tobar Community Wellness Centre and Social Farm hosted an historical visit from President Michael D Higgins and his wife Mrs Sabina Higgins on Thursday last (7th March).

There was a festive atmosphere as around 120 invited guests gathered for the President’s arrival at around 5pm, with a guard of honour provided by pupils of St Joseph’s High School Crossmaglen.

The President was invited to South Armagh by Ti Chullain’s Una Walsh as part of the International Women’s Day celebrations. An Tobar, a new social enterprise based at Finnegan’s Nursery & Garden Centre, Silverbridge was the chosen venue for the visit, as the President is a passionate  environmentalist and advocate of community development and social inclusion.  

The Presidential party was welcomed by Una Walsh and Kathleen Finnegan, owner of An Tobar.  Guests on the day included many of the social farming and social and therapeutic horticulture participants who attend services at An Tobar CIC, as well as the An Tobar Team, the Finnegan family and some of their friends and neighbours. Residents of Glencarron Nursing Home, Crossmaglen and Dealgan House, Dundalk also waited to greet the President.

Una Walsh welcomed the President and his wife to South Armagh, enthralling them with a brief account of the rich heritage and history of Silverbridge and the surrounding area.

Welcoming the Presidential party on behalf of the Finnegan family and the An Tobar team on what she declared a ‘proud and historical day for Silverbridge and South Armagh, Kathleen Finnegan, shared how An Tobar CIC was set up in April last year from a desire by Kathleen and her sister Margaret to ‘give back to the community’ having spent almost 30 years in the retail garden centre business.

Kathleen said the sisters were now “living that dream and making it a reality,” offering a raft of social farming and community projects which aim to help people “feel connected and included”, such as educational gardening with local schools and social and therapeutic horticulture for elderly people in care homes as well as adult gardening classes and mindfulness and social events which bring people of all ages and abilities together. 

She revealed that An Tobar, meaning well or wellspring, has also created an extensive native woodland project on six hectares of farmland, comprising of almost 13,000 native trees. This forestry expansion scheme, named “Brian’s Wood” after the sisters’ uncles who died in infancy, is funded by DAERA. 

The President and Mrs Higgins were given a tour of An Tobar and spent time chatting to the participants of various projects and observing their work. 

The couple concluded their historic tour with a tree planting ceremony where they each planted a young native tree, (a rowan and an oak) which will take pride of place as the first two trees in Brian’s Wood.

During an impromptu speech given in Irish and English, President Higgins expressed his pleasure at being in Silverbridge and praised the work of An Tobar. He also described his passionate interests in biodiversity and the environment as well as community development.

 “I’m so pleased to be here and to thank you all, to pay tribute to all who work here.” President Higgins said. 

“I wish all of the participants every success and happiness into the future and may you have the peace and tranquility that all of this place makes possible and that every blessing fall on those who made the decision to make this possible.”

The VIP couple were treated to a delicious afternoon tea in Libby’s Tea Rooms, where they were presented with a beautiful ceramic work depicting the majestic Ring of Gullion and Ballykeel Dolmen, by local artist Sharon Donnelly Carragher. 

Rosie Finnegan-Bell and her daughter Libby presented a piece of her own Carrickmacross lace. Rosie teaches lace-making as part of a local movement to preserve the tradition of Carrickmacross lace-making in the South Armagh area.

The Presidential visitors mingled happily with guests and posed for photographs before receiving a rousing send-off of cheers and applause as they departed.

The garden centre and tearooms at An Tobar are open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 4.30 pm and are run as part of the overall not-for-profit social enterprise, with all profits re-invested in community programmes. 

An Tobar CIC offers a neutral venue without affiliation to politics or religion, providing community services for people of all ages and abilities .