Local volunteer Aoife Rafferty describes life at Kilcranny House
In September 2005, Kilcranny House celebrated 20 years of dedication to peace in Northern Ireland. It is a residential and educational centre, transformed from an ordinary farmhouse by Belfast’s Peace People in 1985. Here real progress is made in removing prejudices and raising awareness of our world’s ecological needs.
Kilcranny staff aim for reconciliation in Northern Ireland, through education, discussion and good old-fashioned teamwork. They take a holistic approach, working with the individual to amend real root causes of violence in our society. The small team of core staff work with groups of 24 people or less, essential for establishing trust to address sensitive issues.
Visitors rest comfortably in a modern accommodation block with 5 bedrooms, kitchen and conservatory. Many groups come for a simple retreat, to enjoy the relaxing atmosphere without environmental or political motives. The idea is that ‘Kilcranny provides a safe place for groups and individuals to experiment in living with differences and challenging boundaries.’ (Kilcranny House Mission Statement).
Popular with tourists, the North Coast is a neutral base for visitors from all walks of life, and of every age. The house itself is set among green fields outside suburban Coleraine. Nearby are beautiful Castlerock beach, the Bann estuary, and the Giant’s Causeway just past a few headlands.
Much of a volunteer’s work takes place in Kilcranny’s four acres of land, giving that authentic farmer tan. A volunteer at Kilcranny can try any kind of work, from hoovering to pollinating, arranging flowers to clearing barns, with a lot of weeding on the side. My own post as a local Kilcranny volunteer has proved to be a real learning experience. Who would have thought marrows have flowers?
Despite battles with what one helper nicknames ‘the best weeds in Northern Ireland’, the organic garden has been very fruitful over the years. Working without pesticides is a difficult task but the rewards are plenty, producing tomatoes, strawberries, currants, potatoes, corn, leeks, rhubarb and many more healthy delights. Kilcranny’s Head Gardener declares: ‘Kilcranny has shown me that you’re never too old to learn as far as organic gardening is concerned.’
Our environment is foremost at Kilcranny House, on the local and global levels. All gardening on the micro-farm is organic, and waste is kept to a minimum – including waste of water resources. Respect for Mother Nature is very strong among staff - many of whom are vegetarian.
‘We’re an interesting bunch’ claims Brandin, residential volunteer from Northern California. Certainly work is never dull at Kilcranny House, with new people coming and going, new foods to cook from the garden, and new hiccups to fix with good humour and democratic solutions. When the rain starts, the work keeps going, but perhaps giving to a virtuous project is its own reward.
The team comprises several locals, two Americans, an Australian and a German. Past volunteers have flown in from Spain, Croatia, Italy, England, and Sri Lanka to live in Kilcranny House for a few months to two years. Residential volunteer Anna has found ‘it’s easy to settle in to Kilcranny’. She enjoys visiting White Park Bay because, unlike other beaches here, it’s free of parked cars. Kilcranny's own organic fertiliser may not smell too good, but the chance to work with such diverse and friendly people is well worth it.
The animals are fun company too, including one noisy rooster, two goats, two pigs, a pair of ponies, some ducks and guinea fowl, seven sheep (of two varieties), and too many hens to count. Of course, they are eternally popular with primary school guests.
In the Coleraine area, Kilcranny House is linked with the Seven Schools cross-community youth project, the mental health group Threshold and the Northern Irish autism charity, PAPA, to name but a few. Community Allotments are available for use by ‘disadvantaged’ groups in the area, but surprisingly few Coleraine natives know that such a resource exists on their back doorstep.
Aoife Rafferty, Local Volunteer at Kilcranny House