Celebrating 20 years of Dunderry Park

2017 will mark the 20th year of Dunderry Park, a spiritual haven in the Meath countryside that has seen tens of thousands of people pass through its gates. We chatted to Martin Duffy, and Annette Peard about their time working at the centre.

‘The centre came out a meeting that I had with Lorna St. Aubyn in early 1997‘ says Martin, ‘we were both doing a course in Core Shamanism together. She had flown over to Ireland and stayed for a couple of weeks. She had just closed down a centre in the south of France, which was dedicated to Transpersonal work. On the last day of her being here in Ireland, this idea popped up about opening a centre here’.

‘So she went back to London, I thought no more about it and thought it was just fanciful musings. But within a week she was back in contact with me to search for a suitable premises. So in order to humour her, I went and looked around and found Dunderry Park for sale and she flew back in March. I remember it was a beautiful spring day, and she hitched up her skirts, climbed over the fence and we walked up to see the house and fell in love with the place. At the public viewing the next day she pretty much marched up the steps to the auctioneer and said that she would take it. After we negotiated the price, the deposit was paid, and then we moved towards getting the house in order. Not knowing what we were getting into really because it was a huge project. We employed our own builders, painters, plumbers, and electricians and within nine months we had the centre ready to open. That was after a complete renovation, the whole building was gutted - we completely revamped the whole place’.

Annette was also involved from the early stages. ‘I remember going out to the house just after it was bought’ she says, ‘it was a building site at the time, and being amazed at the amount of work that had to be done’. Annette’s spiritual journey had begun some time before, when she trained in Reiki and massage, and before Dunderry Park opened she had started shamanic practitioner training with Martin, at courses held in Dowth. She continued her training and became a regular visitor to Dunderry.  ‘Whenever any courses came up, I was in there like a shot because it was changing my life completely - in how I dealt with myself and those around me’.

With the building work complete and the first courses beginning to fill, it became clear that there was a real need to a space like Dunderry Park. ‘We had our staff in place’ says Martin, ‘Oliver Reilly and Kathleen his wife had worked with the house for ten years previous to that, so we kept them on, they were our first staff and then we hired in kitchen staff. Lorna ran the place then, it grew from there’.

The driving force behind Dunderry Park was a shared vision of how people can heal from trauma. ‘Because I had been working in the HSE as a community mental health nurse, I wanted to create a space where it was safe for people to come and express themselves’ says Martin, ‘rather than have themselves supressed by medication within the health system. Lorna shared that vision too, she was very much keen to create a sanctuary. A space where people could just be themselves without diagnosing, labelling, or judgement’.

‘What has surprised me is how well it took off. How the right people have turned up at the right time to help us out and work with us. The centre soon began to get international attention with many people caming from abroad to run their courses here, or to take the courses offered here. And this was before the widespread use of social media, things spread through word of mouth. We were so pleasantly surprised to see people turn up from all over Europe and North America’.

‘It was around 2000 when Lorna and Martin asked me to come in to help Lorna registering people on the weekend workshops’ says Annette. Lorna continued to manage the centre until she moved in to a nursing home. ‘When I went to see her she handed me the 5 year diary’ says Annette, ‘and that felt like jumping off the top diving board when I had only been in the paddling pool. So I just got on with it. It was a learning curve, which was wonderful, because at the time I had no idea of the amount of work that was involved in running the centre’.

It is a sentiment that Martin can agree with: ‘I had to grow pretty quickly in terms of the business of running a centre’ he remembers, ‘while many people see the front end when they come to the courses, there is a lot of administration, maintainence, accounts, and general upkeep involved. I had to move from working as a therapist, to working to make sure the centre functioned successfully as a business, because otherwise it would not be here to help people’.

The hard work has paid off. For Martin and Annette, that work is most evident in the community of people that come to Dunderry Park. ‘People are reaping the harvest of the whatever work they have put in here’ says Annette, ‘there is an organic spread of change happening - a kind of ripple effect. When people learn more about themselves and become more comfortable with themselves, then that ripples out to all the people around them’.

Thinking about the future, both Annette and Martin are confident that Dunderry Park will continue to fulfil a special, and much-needed role in people’s lives. 'Dunderry Park is a place where people can disengage from the craziness of the world’ says Martin. ‘They can get away from social media, away from the busy city centres - the more organised and uniform the world is becoming, the more necessary it is for people to have a space where they can really get in touch with the natural world, with themselves, and with others’.

‘I am just grateful to have found Dunderry in the first place’ reflects Annette, ‘it is such a gift to be given - to be able to have the time and opportunity to listen to, and to hold space for other people’.