Meeting up to learn and expand our minds


COFFEE AND CREATIVITY Alex MacNaughton (right) at the first monthly Creative Coffee morning at the Linenhall Arts Centre. She is pictured with 2021 Bolay Residence recipient Maria McKinney, who hosted a Q&A.

Some interesting courses and pastimes to discover in the west

Green Living
McKinley Neal

My former career was in corporate human resources, and for the last several years I was able to do the more fun bit in learning and development, designing and delivering training programmes for people in over 20 countries.
However, the biggest insight I had over the years was that the most effective way for people to actually learn – that is to fully adopt a new way of doing things that positively impacted their work and others – was for them to practise doing, rather than just sitting and listening and taking notes.
That often means literally getting your hands dirty, and the great news with everything reopening is that we all have a chance to get out with others and learn new skills and techniques for the first time in ages.
Choosing to engage in activities is a great low-waste way to enjoy ourselves, and introduce new practices that will enrich our lives as we adopt new habits. Plus, we can finally meet other people in a more joyful setting and expand our social circles again. It is also a great way to support organisations doing important work after many have struggled through the past two years.  
Irish Seed Savers in Scariff, Co Clare, hosts workshops several times a year to demonstrate how to grow food organically, plan the layout for a polytunnel, create an orchard, graft tees and make herbal remedies, plus loads more. I joined a course three years ago on natural cosmetic making, and it was excellent. Throughout I got to see the progress of the participants learning basket weaving in the adjoining room, who all went home with beautiful willow baskets.  Similarly, the Organic Centre in Rossinver, Co Leitrim, offers a wide range of courses on organic food growing, plus willow and wool crafts, rainwater harvesting, renewable energy, dry stone-wall building, cheese making, biodiversity and mindfulness.

On our doorstep
Right here in Mayo, the Happy Tummy Co in Westport regularly hosts a one-day course, ‘Bread as Medicine’, to guide people through the baking of nutritious homemade bread. PAX will be hosting workshops as well, on preparing foraged foods and fermenting foods. Many other local groups will be offering foraging, growing and cooking workshops, so keep an eye on social media.
The Mayo College of Further Education, with locations in Castlebar and Westport, has certified courses for a year, but also a range of evening hobby courses, from ceramics to beekeeping, make-up application, languages and technology. The Castlebar VTOS, Mayo Abbey Training Centre and GMIT Mayo have loads of options as well.
The Linenhall Arts Centre in Castlebar currently hosts monthly Creative Coffee mornings with Mayo artists in its coffee shop. The first was held on January 17, and it saw Alex MacNaughton chat about her work as an illustrator, her environmental passions and her love for animals. The next event is Monday, February 21. (Tickets are free but advanced booking is recommended.)
We’re looking forward to the return of a full schedule of art workshops there too, as well as at the Custom House Studios in Westport. The great news is that live events and exhibitions are being scheduled again, so please check these venues’ websites and that of the Ballina Arts Centre regularly for the opportunity to finally experience live music, theatre and art again soon.

McKinley Neal co-runs PAX Whole Foods & Eco Goods, a minimal-waste shop in Westport offering bulk organic foods, reusable goods, household products, eco-friendly personal care items and gifts.