Three firefighters are on a new life-saving mission to revive Ireland’s wild forests – with the help of old dance floors.
Neil McCabe, Stephen O’Reilly and Damian Bligh, of Grown Forest, have bought parcels of land across the country and intend to plant 50,000 native Irish trees that will be guaranteed for 10 generations and can be bought as presents for €25.
In a novel initiative, the wood from long-gone dance halls from around the country, still bearing revellers’ stiletto and heel marks, will frame the cards sent to those who receive the green gift.
Mr McCabe said the project aims to make Ireland “wild again” and widen biodiversity.
The 43-year-old from Rush in Dublin said: “This is a labour of love for us and we’re asking people to gift a native Irish tree, either to themselves or to someone else.
Their eco-conscious customers will be helping out another cause – 10% of the proceeds of each tree sold goes to Dublin Zoo, which warned last month that falling revenues during the pandemic threaten to close it.
The enterprising trio – who run ethical clothing brand Grown, a sister company of Grown Forest – have so far planted 9,000 trees and aim to have another 40,000 in the ground in the next 12 months.
“We’ve bought a few acres in Wicklow, Wexford and in early January we’re buying 24 acres in Leitrim and Roscommon,” Mr McCabe said.
“The land is cleared, planted and all of the trees – native woodland species whitethorn, oak, holly, hazel, alder, birch, yew, blackthorn and hornbeam – are tagged.”
Other trees that have naturalised over time in Ireland are planted around them to form a protective border, building up a collection of natural bacteria and insects to support a healthy biodiversity which includes native wildflowers, weeds and native bees.
Mr McCabe, who is based at Dublin’s North Stand fire station, added: “As your tree grows it will supply oxygen, reduce carbon emissions, restore biodiversity, create new and important space for our wildlife and offer aid to our fragile and damaged ecosystems.”
Tree buyers receive a woodland certificate designed by Irish illustrator Sally Caulwell, explaining where your tree is and it can also be framed for €23, using wood from the old Coolaney dance hall in Sligo and other venues.
The three firefighters have backgrounds in design, advertising, sustainability and fashion, and met through their day jobs in Dublin Fire Brigade.
Year-round sea swimmers and surfers, their eco drive was fuelled by concerns over microplastics polluting the world’s oceans.
In 2018, they launched Grown, which produces a collection of men’s and women’s shirts, tops and hoodies made entirely from 100% organic cotton, hemp and recycled fibres.
Every cent in profit from the clothing firm goes straight back into the ground with Grown Forest.
“We all went without pay to buy land all over Ireland,” Mr McCabe said.
“At the moment it’s just the three of us, we then pull along other people who have bought from us and ask them to come to our planting days.”