See the Wood from the Trees

By Mary Ruddy

Photography courtesy of Artisan House

Tabletop of oak wood with pewter inlay by Shane Collins

Tabletop of oak wood with pewter inlay by Shane Collins

I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to, and welcome, this important publication which so evocatively captures the importance of trees to our world, and their power to create lasting and enduring connections in so many ways.
—President Michael D. Higgins, from the foreword to See the Wood from the Trees by Marion McGarry and Dermot O’Donovan, Artisan House

Storms in late 2013 and early 2014 brought down some of Ireland’s oldest trees. Amongst the trees that succumbed to the high winds were oak, beech, and ash in the grounds of Áras an Uachtaráin and the Phoenix Park, some of them as old as 250 years. What makes the loss more painful is not just the maturity of these fallen trees but their importance to the surrounding historical landscape over which they stood watch during periods of significant change and turmoil in Irish history. But the foresight of President Michael D. Higgins salvaged from the devastation the kernel for a creative and educational venture based on their relationship with GMIT Letterfrack. President Higgins gifted the storm-felled trees to GMIT Letterfrack to be used by students for study and doing projects.

The story of the felled and subsequently gifted trees is told in a beautiful new publication, See the Wood from the Trees, by Marion McGarry and Dermot O’Donovan and published by Artisan House, Letterfrack. Using the inspired but straightforward gesture of President Higgins as the backbone of the book, the authors outline the chequered history of trees in Ireland, the story of Áras an Uachtaráin and the plantations in its grounds, and the remarkable story of the transformation of Letterfrack Industrial School into the prestigious GMIT campus in Letterfrack.

The book also provides information on the drying and conversion processes used to enable the creation of beautiful wooden artefacts and furniture by staff and students. The authors, Marion McGarry and Dermot O’Donovan, are staff members of the National Centre of Excellence for Furniture Design and Wood Technology, GMIT Letterfrack. Doctor McGarry is an art historian and lecturer, and Mr O’Donovan is head of centre in Letterfrack.

Keepsake box by Matthew Howard

Keepsake box by Matthew Howard

In a thoughtful foreword, President Higgins speaks of the connection between Áras an Uachtaráin and Letterfrack as ‘one founded on innovation and artistic vision’ and recalls that ‘beautifully designed pieces of furniture, created by students and graduates of GMIT Letterfrack, are now an integral part of the Áras. Letterfrack graduate John Lee designed the Presidential Inauguration Chair used in my inauguration in 2011, and the lecterns in Áras an Uachtaráin were designed and made by students and staff’. GMIT Letterfrack lecturer Paul Leamy crafted the presentation boxes for artist Vivienne Roche’s ‘climate bells’, which President Higgins presented to a number of heads of state, including Pope Francis and Prince Charles. The president has long supported developments in Letterfrack; it was, of course, a part of his constituency when he was TD for Galway West.

The book also touches on the importance of trees in mitigating climate change and countering the severity of weather extremes that we are now experiencing. Architect and broadcaster Duncan Stewart highlights in his introduction to the book the threat to the survival of our planet: ‘Over the past five decades, as the human population doubled, the populations of birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and fish have plummeted. We have lost up to two-thirds of wildlife populations. Extinctions of species are accelerating, and it is projected that by 2050 we could witness the extinction of up to 50 per cent of all the diverse species with which we share earth’s biosphere.’

Sounding a more hopeful note, Duncan goes on to say, ‘For me, the outstanding element of this book is its potential to act as an exemplar for forms of synergy, symbiosis, and collaboration that could be replicated across Ireland, across Europe, across the globe. We urgently need to wake up to the reality of climate change, loss of biodiversity, widespread pollution, and unprecedented waste. This needs to happen in every community, whether rural or urban, in a coordinated, collaborative, and effective manner. The story told in this book gives us a model of how one community embraced the opportunity to create an imaginative educational experience and enhance the appreciation of students, staff, and the wider community to the amazing potential of wood.’

See the Wood from the Trees by Marion McGarry and Dermot O’Donovan will be treasured and will hold a special place on any bookshelf. It is informative and complemented by its excellent expressive visuals and by the inclusion of poems entitled ‘The Farmleigh Tree Alphabet’, written by Theo Dorgan during his time as writer-in-residence at Farmleigh. It is appropriate that this beautifully designed book is published by Artisan House, Letterfrack, whose commitment to high production values and design echoes the vision of GMIT Letterfrack for the creation of beautiful objects.

Announcing the imminent release of this unique and prestigious publication, Mary Ruddy of Artisan House stated, ‘We are very proud to be associated with this title. We are neighbours with the GMIT Letterfrack campus and are very familiar with the beautiful work that is created there. To have the opportunity to work with President Higgins and with Áras an Uachtaráin is indeed a privilege.’

The hardback book is richly illustrated and beautifully designed by the creative director of Artisan House, Vincent Murphy. It will be available in June 2018 in regular, special limited, and deluxe limited editions.


For information on the purchase of See the Wood from the Trees, please contact

Mary Ruddy

Editorial Director, Artisan House

Telephone: 087 333 4627