A bright red bench, a little purple teapot, a floral mural, and a scattering of heartwarming quotes – these are just some of the elements of a new garden opened in memory of Ms Nora Friel at Loreto Letterkenny.
Sadness swept across Donegal last November when Nora Friel, a stalwart of education, passed away at the age of 59.
But from that grief bloomed an idea for a beautiful tribute.
Senior students of Loreto Letterkenny have this week opened a remembrance garden in celebration of the life of their former principal.
The memorial space is an opportunity for staff and students of Loreto, Ms Friel’s family and friends, and the wider community to reflect on the Carrigart native’s legacy and wonderful attributes.
‘‘Ms Friel always saw the best in everyone and wouldn’t stop looking until she found it,” says one quote on display – which sums up the impact she had on thousands of young lives throughout her career.
Five months of planning went into the garden project, which was spearheaded by the sixth year prefects under the leadership of Head Girl Katherine Kelly and Deputy Head Girl Katie Harvey.
The project blossomed from one prefect’s thoughtful idea, Katie explained: “We wanted to do something to honour Ms Friel. We thought we’d do a small flower bed, but when we reached out for help for funding, all of a sudden people started pouring in donations. We realised that her impact on the community was so much bigger than we anticipated.”
Donations flooded in from local businesses, multinationals, the Letterkenny Chamber, the School Board of Management and individuals who wanted to create a fitting tribute to Nora.
“We decided to call the garden the Evergreen Garden, so that her memory will always live on and the garden will always be in bloom,” Katie said.
Tommy Spratt Property Maintenance was enlisted to design the garden, while the girls employed their DIY and art skills to add personal touches.
A ceramic teapot stands out from the shrubbery, and any student who knew Ms Friel would know what that’s about.
“She always walked about the corridors with a big cup of tea and her big phone,” Katherine fondly recalled.
“Any problem you had, you knew you could go up to Ms Friel and she would make you a cup of tea,” said Katie.
“A principal is usually someone who is strict and not someone you would consider a friend, but Ms Friel was just one of those people you couldn’t but get along with,” she added.
Oaktree Workshop participants at St Conal’s Hospital built a memorial bench and created slates with wood-burned quotes for the garden. The sayings are a reminder of Ms Friel’s unique qualities.
The corridors of Loreto Letterkenny fell silent last November when Ms Friel passed away following an illness.
In the days that followed, the school community gained the strength to turn heartache into a celebration of their principal’s life. Every student was invited to write one thing about her that they loved in a small paper heart.
The hearts were first displayed on a wall in the school before they were compiled into books which were presented to Ms Friel’s sisters at the opening of the Evergreen Garden on Tuesday.
One student wrote: “We were the pen, she was the highlighter. We drew the world and she made it brighter.”
Ms Friel was known for having a keen interest in each student and for encouraging everyone to learn and grow.
Katherine said: “She knew a little bit about everyone. If you were away playing sport at the weekend, she would come in on Monday and would know if you scored, what the score was and how you played.”
Katie added: “If you went away at any competition she would call to wish you good luck and call again afterwards to see how you got on, without fail, every time.
“She was someone who really let the potential grow in everyone. If you weren’t academic she would find something you could succeed in.”
As she was a great believer in personal development, Ms Friel’s favourite Mary Ward quote – ‘Women in time will come to do much’ – is displayed prominently in the Evergreen Garden. This quote is the centrepiece of a bright mural created by Art teacher Ms Lynnette Rodgers and sixth year students. The leadership team researched into Ms Friel’s favourite flowers – sweetpea and peach rose – which are painted onto the mural so they will always be in bloom. The name of every class group, from first year to sixth, is also represented in tiles on the garden path.
Nora’s sisters Mary and Kathleen visited the school on Tuesday 30th April to cut the ribbon and officially open the Evergreen Garden.
Close friends and former colleagues of Ms Friel gathered for the emotional ceremony, as tributes were paid in speeches from Katherine, Katie and Education Minister Joe McHugh, who once taught at Loreto. Trad music was played in honour of Nora’s love of music, while a string group, poetry and a balloon release added to the special event.