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Centenary Wood immortalised in writing by Northern Ireland poet

Brackfield Wood, not far from Londonderry, is one of just four flagship woods taking shape across the UK to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the First World War. Still in its infancy, Brackfield will be home to some 40,000 native trees – a flourishing, respectful and lasting reminder of those lives lost, from across the island of Ireland, during the war.

A local writer and poet, Dr Sam Burnside MBE, has captured the spirit of Brackfield Wood in writing. His collection of poems, By Brackfield Bawn: On being in Brackfield Memorial Woods, shows his deep-rooted love of the natural, rural world, with the famously scenic Faughan Valley, its river and wildlife, at the core. 

The acclaimed poet gives his nod of approval for the creation of this new memorial woodland. The thousands of saplings, a thriving tribute, will one day link the fragments of ancient woodland that dot the banks of the beautiful River Faughan.

Dr Sam Burnside MBE (Photo: Sam Burnside)
Dr Sam Burnside MBE (Photo: Sam Burnside)
Spending time at Brackfield became a true learning experience. The most important thing for me was the discovery of the profound silence that lies at the heart of this – and indeed any – woodland.
Dr Sam Burnside MBE

It seems that the strength of nature – from the longevity of the valley’s centuries-old trees to the predictable cycle of the seasons – is in stark contrast to the frailty of human life.

Sam’s poems have been written over a year-long period, during which he has immersed himself in Brackfield and the surrounding area.  It’s easy to tell that he knows this countryside like the back of his hand.  

The beautiful Faughan Valley and its patchwork of fields (Photo: Tracy Dorman)
The beautiful Faughan Valley and its patchwork of fields (Photo: Tracy Dorman)

Extracts from a selection of poems in By Brackfield Bawn: On being in Brackfield Memorial Woods

Brackfield

Traveller
As you pass by, on your way from Belfast
To Derry, or from Londonderry to Park,
Take a moment to slow down, to pause,
Pull in at the Bawn and stop the engine
And open the door and listen; sounds,
Thrumming all about you.

Nurse

Working under canvas,
Against the cackle of gunfire
She thinks off and on of rainbows
Wiping stuff from her fingers
Looking out, remembering
Soft rain blowing in across distant Ulster fields, their smell,
Its washed trees, its mist-nourished hillsides.

The great oak tree of Ardmore

Follow me, into the Birch wood, among trees
To secret places, down hidden ways
To where the Faughan’s onward flow is thwarted,
Turned, folded into serpentine coils.

We come, we go; the river flows.
The great Oak of Ardmore remains
The same, silent and sane.

A man dies twice

It is said,
A man dies twice
When he stops breathing
And when he is forgotten.

Young saplings at Brackfield Wood (Photo: Michael Cooper)
Young saplings at Brackfield Wood (Photo: Michael Cooper)

One step further

The poems are ready and waiting to be enjoyed by anyone with a love of words, nature, and the countryside. They are also incredibly poignant and, alongside the beauty of the natural world, there’s a real sense of sadness and loss that many of us can relate to.

If we can secure the funding we’d like to go a step further and use extracts from some of the poems to form a poetry trail at Brackfield Wood. It is hoped that a number of stone sculptures, strategically placed and each carved with lines of poetry, will lead visitors into and through the wood, finishing at a central commemorative feature.

With almost 30,000 saplings already springing to life and new entrances, pathways and benches in place, a visit to Brackfield is already an absolute must.

By Brackfield Bawn, published by Lapwing Publications, is available to purchase at www.samburnside.co.uk or at the Warehouse Gallery, 1 Guildhall Street, Derry/Londonderry.

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