Video: Poet Sam Burnside pens new ode to the Eden Project inspired Foyle River Gardens development in Derry

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Acclaimed Derry-based poet Sam Burnside has taken inspiration from the monumental proposals to develop a massive £67m river garden around the Boom Hall and Brook Hall estates.

The award-winning scribe says he believes the plans to use nature to open up a large swathe of riverside meadow, woodland and farmland on the Foyle is a fitting metaphor for Derry in the 2020s.

“I’ve been doing some work with the Culmore Historical Society group. They asked me to write some poems about the old hall at Culmore Point which has been renovated.

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“I was interested in landscape and that whole area. I think it is becoming a metaphor. The old city dump, which is full of all the old rubbish of the city, has been regenerated.

“I think of it as a metaphor for this society. We are taking all the old stuff. We are kind of reconstituting it. And this garden on the Foyle is along the same lines and I’ve been thinking about that for a while,” he tells the ‘Journal.’

Sam, who is originally from County Antrim but has been living in Derry for years and founded the Verbal Arts Centre in 1992, has written ‘A Garden on the Foyle’, an homage to the visionary plans for Ballynashallog.

In the poem he exhorts, ‘Let us sing anthems in the rose garden and in the kitchen garden, free the words long trapped deep in old men’s throats, the mead of music, the song of the Foyle.’

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He says the proposals by QUB, Ulster University and the Northside Development Trust, to redevelop Boom Hall and Brook Hall and to create state-of-the-art new educational and research facilities, a lido on the Foyle, river taxis, greenhouse labs, water sports, restaurants and an amphitheatre among other attractions, could be a symbol for the revitalisation of Derry.

“Garden is another tremendous metaphor for fruitfulness, the joy of life and all these kind of things, which I think we’ve missed here for a long time with the Troubles and all that sort of stuff and unemployment and dire times and there’s a spark in the air now, I think, if we can just capture it,” he says.

He is not alone. Tim Smit, founder of the world famous Eden Project in Cornwall, has said he wants Derry to join a ‘global family of Edens.’

Speaking last year he said: “You go to Derry and you see probably one of the top five most beautiful rivers in Europe going through this amazing city which has got a heart going back centuries and centuries and centuries and you are thinking: how come nobody has actually made this place sing?

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“I think part of this is, you sometimes need an outsider to give you a slap around the face with a wet haddock and say, you know, ‘smell the roses here.’ When you look at that landscape it really is stunning. It’s very hard to stay away from clichés but it really is a jewel.”

Sam certainly shares this enthusiasm.

“It seems to me to be a wonderful way into the future,” he says.

Over the past few years Sam has been working with the Woodland Trust on a project to commemorate the Irish soldiers who died in the First World War with a memorial wood at Brackfield.

“Brackfield woods is now approaching its final stage.

“They are going to produce a lovely amphitheatre out in the woods and the poetry trail I was involved in leads down to the amphitheatre,” says Sam.

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The development at Boom Hall and Brook Hall is a collaboration between Eden Project International and Foyle River Gardens who estimate that the project will cost £67m and will open in summer 2023.

The project was included in the recent ‘New Decade, New Approach’ deal on restoring powersharing to the Northern Ireland Executive.

Last month Eamonn Deane, Chair of the Foyle River Gardens charity, said: “Eden Project Foyle brings together a network of local partners and supporters from universities, businesses, statutory and social organisations to address issues which affect each of us.

“The relationship with the Eden Project has been built up over the last three years and we are delighted to be able to move this project forward together.”

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Tim Smit said: “We are hugely excited to be working with the Foyle River Gardens in the creation of Eden Project Foyle and believe completely in its transformative capacity to draw visitors to the North West and become a global must-see destination.”

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