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Dublin: 8 °C Wednesday 20 November, 2019

GIY: 'Over a hot cup of soup, I was reminded how great you feel after a meitheal'

We certainly didn’t invent the meitheal at GIY, but we have shamelessly hijacked and adapted the concept for our own uses, writes grower Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Grower

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 into 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.

Creating a native woodland

woodland meitheal 2

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.

Seven noble trees

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.

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 a lot of water. It is estimated that around 24,000 litres of rainwater can be saved from the average house roof every year.

Recipe of the Week – Deb’s Kale Salad with Apple, Cranberries and Pecans

shutterstock_488662984 Source: Shutterstock

I made a big batch of this last weekend and enjoyed it for lunch several days running. It’s delicious. I didn’t have any radishes, but it didn’t seem to suffer too badly from their omission. Come to think of it, I also didn’t have pecans and used walnuts instead.

The recipe (from The Smitten Kitchen cookbook) recommends Cavolo Nero kale (don’t they all) but you can use whatever you have – mine was the hardy red kale, Redbor. Serves 4.


  • 50g pecans
  • 200g kale
  • 4 to 5 medium radishes
  • 50g dried cranberries
  • 1 medium apple
  • 50g soft goats cheese

For Dressing

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1½ tablespoons apple cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
  • 1 tablespoon smooth Dijon mustard
  • 1½ teaspoons honey
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste


Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and spread the pecans on a baking tray. Toast them until lightly golden, about 5 to 10 minutes, tossing them once or twice to make sure they bake evenly.

Remove the tray from the oven and set them aside to cool. Pull the kale leaves off from the tough stems and discard the stems. Chop the kale into small, bite-sized pieces. Transfer the kale to a big salad bowl.

Sprinkle a small pinch of sea salt over the kale and massage the leaves with your hands by lightly scrunching big handfuls at a time, until the leaves are darker in color and fragrant.

Thinly slice the radishes and add them to the bowl. Coarsely chop the pecans and cranberries and add them to the bowl. Chop the apple into small, bite-sized pieces and add it to the bowl as well. Crumble the goat cheese over the top.

In a small bowl, whisk the dressing ingredients together and pour the dressing over the salad. Toss until the salad is evenly coated with dressing. Serve immediately, or for even better flavour, let the salad marinate in the dressing for 10 to 20 minutes beforehand.

Michael Kelly is founder of GIY and GROW HQ. 

Click here for more GIY tips and recipes.


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Michael Kelly  / Grower

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