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“The Monk’s Garden” by David Begley – Artist in Residence Wexford

Artists in Residence

"The Monk's Garden" by David Begley – Artist in Residence Wexford

The Monk’s Garden, Ferns, Co. Wexford.

The Ancient Connections project is a rich mix of heritage, art and community development. In today’s blog, we’re shining a light on one of our fantastic arts projects. Here’s artist David Begley to tell us all about his wonderfully nurturing artist residency in Ferns.

The Monk’s Garden at St Edan’s National School, Ferns, is a twelve-week art, heritage and garden project. The children are sowing an eight by five metre plot inspired by medieval monastic gardens in order to learn about soil, seeds, germination, the importance of water, the history of farming and current farming practice; nurturing plants to grow food, the beauty and activities of insects, and much more.

We are sourcing locally to make art materials to respond to the garden – oak gall ink, reed pens, turkey feather quills, and learning how colours were once found and ground to illuminate goat skin parchments. Our bestiary is beginning to bleat and wriggle. Robins, rooks and sparrows.

We are experimenting with fleece to lay mulch, retain moisture and prevent erosion. Our archaeological dig has unearthed finds from 300,000 BC. Using homemade charcoal, we drew the school secretary in her Covid-19 mask; we wove a wattle fence and tiny nests with willow and hazel and we are coming to know the names and uses of herbs.

Image courtesy of David Begley, 2021.

Each week I bring a gift from the sea, a small find, to connect us to our Welsh neighbours. Clam shells for palettes. Scallops for bed borders. Sea coal. Vertebrae. Wrack.

We discuss drought, and the cost of shearing versus the price of wool, have learned what daggings are, have made compost, and heard that a cow can drink a bathtub of water per day.

Image courtesy of David Begley, 2021.

Masterpieces are being made by squeal and giggle or cross legged quiet upon the lawn. The children’s hands are dirty. Their classroom is an open field, a wattled rectangle, the feel of a lamb’s ear, the light of the sky and freedom of their imaginations. It’s a wonder to see the children enjoy this ‘work’ through play and experiment.

As we move into summer, our seedlings will soon become flowers, herbs, colours, fruit and tubers, our beans will sprout leaves and gargantuan stalks. So come July, the fantastic beasts the children are painting will have a place to call home.

David Begley 2021

The Monk’s Garden is part of David Begley’s Ancient Connections artist residency in Ferns. Follow the project at and

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Archive Arts Reports

David Begley Final report on Ancient Connections, Artist in Residency

Artist in Residence

David Begley - Final report on Ancient Connections artist residency

David headshot 2 2

Research Summary

My research was extensive throughout this residency. It included foraging materials from hedgerows in Ferns to create a palette of medieval inks, developing techniques in using these, researching the history of medieval inks and manuscript making, illumination, quill making, reed pen making in order to make my own drawing tools and impart this knowledge to pupils of St Edan’s National School. I learned to carve spoons in the tradition of Welsh Cawl spoons by attending a private workshop with Welsh carver Osian Denman. I filmed and edited this experience, carved sycamore spoons, and used these in ink making:



I carried out in-depth research on traditional and contemporary horticultural practices in planning the preparation and maintenance of The Monk’s Garden at St Edan’s NS. I investigated the uses of wool fleece in compost production, erosion defence and water retention as a defence against drought, and used this successfully to feed and sustain the Garden while not being watered by school staff during holiday periods. Pupils of St Edan’s explained to me in detail the costs involved in shearing versus the selling price of clean, maggot-free wool. Researched and wrote about Lanolin.

Archive Arts

David Begley – Artist in Residence Wexford

Artists in Residence

David Begley – Artist in Residence Wexford

Wonder this: before St Aidan arrived and The Normans later, what drew the ancients to Ferns in the first place? Was it chance Tom Breen’s plough unearthed the first relic at Clone which led us to poke holes in the turf and speculate? Who lay the first seed? What made the first tribe put down roots, leaving charcoal and ceramic in their wake?

The first farmers followed distinct seasons. Today it snows in March, scalds in April, pours in July. So how will future farmers cope? During the drought of 2018 archaeologist Barry Lacey flew a drone over Tom Breen’s field and discovered an ecclesiastical enclosure surrounding Clone church. This led to the community dig of 2019. What will future excavations unearth?

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The Revelations the Trowel Unearths

“For centuries monks and artists have sought out solitude in order to reflect and create. Responding to the Monastic sites of Ferns and through the activity of excavating and exploring the history and heritage of farming in Ferns, I wish to illuminate the beauty of this place and its people.

During this residency I will be making a video documentary on the heritage of farming in Ferns, facilitate a 12 week visual arts, storytelling and gardening project with St Edan’s National School and produce a new body of work in drawing, print, painting, ceramic and writing. From silence and contemplation comes expression. I savour the opportunity to kneel in a field and delve through the surface, experience sifting the soil, witness revelations the trowel unearths and how this may percolate into my work, through observation and recording, and through encounters with people, places, objects and stories. I look forward to sharing what I have learned.

I have begun walking and documenting the hedgerow of a 24 acre field in Ferns, gathering materials and ingredients as I go, and making inks with these in order to respond to this farmer’s field and his fascinating family history.” – David Begley

Date: July 2020 – Aug 2022

Funded By: Wexford Percent for Art

Learn More at:

Project Outputs:
New Garden
Documentary Film