Tom Roche of Just Forests receives 2016 Volunteer Award in Killarney

Published by David Hayden on

Image: All-Ireland winning Kerry minor football manager Peter Keane, guest of honour, Councillor Brendan Cronin, Cathaoirleach, Killarney Municipal District Area, and Eve Kelliher, Editor, Killarney Advertiser, with Tom Roche, volunteer,  at the Killarney Looking Good Awards in The Killarney Plaza Hotel.

Photo: Eamonn Keogh

23 November, 2016

Killarney Looking Good / Tidy Towns presented the Volunteer Award 2016, to Environmental and  Human-rights Advocate, Tom Roche for his voluntary work in organising the Killarney Celebration of Trees events. Tom received the award in a ceremony at the Killarney Plaza Hotel on November 15.

The Killarney Celebration of Trees was a world-record-breaking-event as 1,997 people simultaneously hugged trees in Killarney House and Gardens on May 27, 2016. The vision for the tree-hugging event was to foreground Killarney’s parks in the minds of the local and international audiences and to foster an attitude of attachment to the environmental heritage of the town among the younger generation who were actively involved in this fun activity. Killarney is home to the first National Park in the state founded in 1932 and includes the last remnants of Ireland’s ancient forests – a national treasure trove of ancient Oaks and Scot’s Pines.

In keeping with Tom Roche’s personal approach to environmental education, shared experiences and memories guide us in our learning. The tree-hugging event was the hook used to launch an educational initiative Thinking Trees, all teachers partaking in the event received a free copy of Thinking Trees resources. Thinking Trees aims to introduce concepts such as sustainability, interdependence and global justice to primary-school children.

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Image: Maitiú Ó’Fógartaigh and Fionn Noctar, Gaelscoil Faithleann, along with The people of Killarney have broken the world record ”Tree Hug’ in Killarney House and Gardens, Killarney National Park, on Friday 27th May 2016.

Photo: Valerie O’Sullivan

Tom founded ‘Just Forests’ in 1989 after years of working in carpentry and travels in Australia fostered his passion for conservation, sustainability and environmental and economic justice in the global timber trade. Tom’s experiences as a youth sparked his passion for environmental concerns and it is this form of experiential learning that Tom has sought to create in the very memorable events of the Celebration of Trees.

Just Forests helped to organize talks by Duncan Stewart on the contribution which trees make to society and Reverend Sean McDonagh on the Catholic Church’s response to climate change. YouTube sensation Reverend Ray Kelly performed his version of the late Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. (A video recording of his performance at a wedding in 2014 garnered 46 million views on YouTube) all of which took place on the United Nations International Day of Biodiversity on May 22, 2016.

Numerous writers and musicians participated in the Sound of Wood concert, local Killarney poet Liz Ryan, gave a beautiful rendition of the 18th century lament Cill Chais. Cill Cais is a gaelic song describing the aftermath of the destruction of Ireland’s forests in the 16th century while Marina Cassidy played haunting lyrics on her classical Irish harp. 

Just Forests organized the ‘Wood of Life’ exhibition in the Killarney public library which makes local and global links on the importance of wood and forests in our lives. The ‘Timbers of the World’ collection of over 800 of the world’s most commercial timbers was seen for the first time in public in over 40 years when a number of information/education panels developed by Tom went on display in Killarney Outlet Shopping Centre and received great interest and comment from those in attendance. 

Congratulations to Tom and the wonderful work he has done with his organization Just Forests to bring the Celebration of Trees festival to life and to underscore the deep cultural heritage which we have invested in our national parks. Just Forests has done outstanding work to weave together the diverse group of stakeholders that have attachments to the national woodland into performances that really engage the public and foster the spirit of conservation in the younger generation.

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David Hayden

David is a contributor to the Green News. He has a Bachelor's Degree in International Business and French from UCD as well as a Master's Degrees in French literature and New Media from the University of California at San Diego and the Johns Hopkins University.