GREEN FINGERS: The KASI garden in Ballycasheen recently celebrated 10 years. Pictured were: Marilyn Catapat Counihan (Manager of KASI), Mayor of Killarney Cllr Michael Gleeson and Andrzey Nowicki. Photo: Michelle Crean

By Michelle Crean

A wonderful and colourful garden is a real hidden gem just outside Killarney town with an ethos to help change lives.

For the past 10 years, KASI, the Killarney Immigrant Support Centre, have been running the garden, resulting in a superb facility which has given so much to the community.

Behind it is Manager of KASI, Marilyn Catapat-Counihan, who has witnessed so many lives transformed through the project.

Marilyn, who is originally from the Philippines and married to a Rathmore man, founded the project in 2009 and since then has injected both her love of gardening and food to make it a truly successful and special project.

KASI was set up to support asylum seekers, refugees, migrant workers, and their families to integrate into the local community.

A decade ago Ireland was a different place when Asylum Seekers arriving into the country were not allowed to work, she explained.

However, it was her foresight to help them integrate into the community with a project such as the KASI garden that got the project up and running.

Since then, the garden has taken on its own lease of life and has become a hugely important part of the local community.

The idea began in 2009 after she was invited to talk about strategic planning in the Diocese when issues around the environment came up. Marilyn then thought up the idea of a community garden on waste ground beside St Oliver’s School in Ballycasheen and secured a long-term lease from St Brendan’s Trust.

“The idea was to create volunteer opportunities for Asylum Seekers,” Marilyn told the Killarney Advertiser. “However, for the last two years it’s slowing down as they’re allowed to work now.”

And everything in the garden is done by hand with a team of very helpful volunteers, she explained.

The large garden, which has a polytunnel and composting area, has seasonal produce which is reasonable priced for the public supplying cabbage, marrows, potatoes, turnips, carrots, cucumber, corn on the cob, tomatoes, grapes, onions, peppers, aubergines and courgettes.

A market, manned by volunteers, is open every Monday to the public with the produce on sale from 9.30am to 1pm.

A lovely addition in 2017 was the log cabin, where the volunteers and visitors can congregate, have tea and a chat, and enjoy evening events.

“It’s a year round project,” she said. “We do a lot of social activities there, hold board meetings and do cookery demonstrations too.”