leonie cornelius

wild authentic earth

GARDEN VISIT -Get your wild on at W8 village

How a local regeneration project in the rural countryside has put Leitrim on the map

Yesterday I had a lovely day. Just back from a trip away I was heading to check on a recently completed planting job, expecting to make some final snag lists on mulching, weeding and pruning and then head off again. Instead, I found this particular design happily settling into the borders- weeding complete, beds mulched and the plants rearing their flowered heads towards the Leitrim sunshine. It was an unexpected moment where there was little for me to look at and it gave me a rare opportunity to take in a new designed and planted scheme in a considered and slow way. 
Casting my mind back over this whole project now, from start to finish, it seems that this calm and considered completion of the planting is perfectly fitting for the W8 Village project in Manorhamilton. It was July last year when I received my first phone call from business advisor Alan Hill. I was in transit from Rio to Ireland and while at Heathrow spent an hour hearing about the project and the aims and goals. A residential development in the heart of Manorhamilton, County Leitrim had been bought by local business man Shane Kerrigan and the idea was to create multi-functional, design orientated and vibrant space for the community as part of a unique regeneration project in North Leitrim. Unique local artists, high end design, inspired planting and local craftspeople and chefs were all to be invited to form a team which brainstorms and designs together to create something totally new. 

“My first reaction to the project approach was -Wow, this sounds absolutely incredible!-count me in! “

I live only ten minutes away from Manorhamilton and am inspired daily by the incredible landscape it sits within. While my head was spinning with ideas on how to harness elements from the local beauty and bring it into the large-scale, mostly concrete site- doubts crept in. I found myself asking; Is this too good to actually be true? 
Many years ago my parents feel in love with this area set on the edge of Europe and over the years I moved away, only to be lured back by the untamed beauty of the region. Here we have some of the most striking scenery in the world, with everything from unspoilt surfing beaches to majestic mountains and lush forests and the West of Ireland has always been a popular tourist destination for exactly this reason. 

“Living in the West of Ireland I have unfortunately also seen first hand the many struggles many rural businesses face”.

Many shops have opened and closed over the years and yet for the first time in a long time there is a real feeling of optimism and hope in the region. Despite the ever more vexing Brexit negotiations, which would undoubtedly have a profound effect on the whole border region, the W8 Village project wanted to create its own hub of creativity, design and aim to become a high-end, sustainable tourism space which would put Manorhamilton on the map in a totally different way.
From the very first meeting on site, we all knew we were involved in something special. Walking around the vast expanses of concrete we set up office in the site offices of the village and introduced ourselves and I think that the multidisciplinary team we formed that day was something which brought out the best in us all. 
Shane Kerrigan introduced us to the project manager, JJ O’Hara and as we went around the table it became clear that the idea was to harness a wide variety of creative and detail talent for the team with a strong local focus. I met interior designer Grainne McGarty of mcgartydesign.com, greeted Sligo based restaurant owner, Brid Torrades and met the artists Jackie McKenna and Marian Noone as well as Mary Byrne, architectural consultant, all of whom I would work closely with over the course of the next months. Jakob Smit, a talented graphic designer led us through the branding brainstorming and it became a fascinating exploration of the local landscape, vivid word associations and historical and geographical significances and would also lead us to connecting with the graffiti artist Friz which would create a mural specially based on the landscape and region.
While each person involved had their own design skills and task, the approach taken by the team led to a fascinating cross collaboration on all fronts. It was incredible be learn about the vision and scale of the development, from high-end accommodation, a cafe and restaurant to hot desk office spaces and conference conference rooms as well as yoga studios and spaces for music and food festivals and craft and farmer markets. To pull it all together externally, the site aimed to bring wild Leitrim back in and surround all structures with a planting scheme inspired by the local landscapes full of wild grasses and rough boulders in a nod to both Leitrim landscape as well as the owner Shane Kerrigan’s own quarry in Leitrim.

“The whole idea of cross collaboration and openness to the input of very person in the team was something which I had not encountered in this form before”.

It is certainly taking a risk- with so many creatives coming together and not only being involved in all the design areas but rather, taking on a multi-disciplinary design team which is given the trust to help shape the space organically together.
Seeing the project come together now, I feel so proud to have been a part of it and feel that by giving us the freedom and time to brainstorm on all the various design elements, from sculptures to branding, murals to colours, interior to planting and food not only made us learn from each other’s ideas, we also had the opportunity to germinate a new one and for this to become the heart of W8 Village, something we, as locals, all care genuinely and deeply about. The approach taken to creating the unique W8 village was one of openness and harnessing all of our pooled talents to create a vibrant space for the community to enjoy while inviting everyone nationally and internationally; come and enjoy the wild’s of the West –W8 Village style.

W8 Centre Manorhamilton 5th April 2019

Visit W8 Village
Over the next few weeks this project will be launched and the village has already seen numerous national and international visitors including being host to the Irish- Canadian Taylor films for a movie production which saw the village taken over by the film crew. The new cafe and restaurant, Ósta at W8 has just opened its doors and uses the best of the local produce including some from the Organic centre in Leitrim to create delicious food from their kitchen which also has a wood fired oven and a stunning interior designed by Grainne McGarty. Going forwards the idea of W8 is not only to provide accommodation and food, but to create a larger experience which sees people explore nature, immerse themselves in the locality and link to the many amenities and attractions that the West of Ireland has to offer. W8 Village is currently offering packages for booking which include health and wellness, craft and culture, foodie experiences, team bonding and outdoor activities and fishing and there are plans for many more.
For more details see www.w8centre.ie

Photo By: Images courtesy of W8 Village and James G Molloy and Leonie Cornelius

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