Stories | 29 April 2021

Creators Near You: Lucy O'Hagan

Lucy with a group around the Hawthorn 'Guardian tree' in the Furry Glen, Phoenix Park. Credit: Bríd O'Donovan

Lucy with a group around the Hawthorn 'Guardian tree' in the Furry Glen, Phoenix Park. Credit: Bríd O'Donovan

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Culture Near You is an online map of culture in Dublin.

From arts and heritage, to sports, nature, food, hobbies, community involvement and more - the map helps you find the places where culture happens and the people who make it happen.

We’re constantly adding to this cultural map so we get to meet lots of the great people featured, and we thought you might like to meet them too!

We’re meeting the makers, the movers and shakers, the partakers, and the doers of the map - to find out more about what they do in the city.

You can find out more about Culture Near You and how to get involved here.

Creators Near You: Meet Lucy O’Hagan

Lucy is the founder and director of Wild Awake.

Based in the Phoenix Park, Wild Awake offers unique opportunities for people of all ages to engage with nature through a range of classes, courses, and workshops such as Forest School, Ancestral Skills, and Wildlife Tracking.

We sat down with Lucy to hear more.

Tell us a bit about yourself, and what you do at Wild Awake ...

The overall mission [of Wild Awake] is to rekindle cultural and environmental resilience, through the learning of place-based skills. I direct the Phoenix Forest School and then True Nature is the rites of passage program, which is for youths aged 13 to 18. I run different projects like Rewild in the City. That’s a monthly rewilding class which is donation based for adults in Phoenix Park. And that happens once a month since 2017. We learn about wildlife tracking, and we'll do things like acorn planting - regenerative acts for nature and also for our cultures.

How did the idea for Wild Awake come about?

I did Forest School Training, which is a year long training. Through that, you learn the ethos of Forest School, which is a around bringing learners outdoors for ongoing, regular contact with the natural space. And the whole ethos behind it is that it's learner-led, and choice based. So that was really appealing to me.

So I did that training and I set up the Forest School straight away in the Phoenix Park. The OPW have been really supportive of my work there.

When I did the Forest School training, it kind of reignited this fire in me, which had been out for a large part of my early twenties. And so I set up the forest school when I was 25. And then after that, I just wanted to know everything.

I did a year-long ethnobotany course which is exploring the relationship between people and plants - so learning about herbalism, plants as medicine and food as using them for craft for making string with plants. There is a really broad experience of how we can practically use plants and how our ancestors used plants. Then I did a year-long bushcraft course, and I did a lot of long-term wildlife tracking, which is ongoing.

I was also learning with a woman called Lynx Vilden. As part of that we were living outside for four months, and we lived for a month in a cave in France and then three months up in the north of Sweden. That was where the love of ancestral skills came from. Ancestral skills is different from bushcraft and there's no modern gear. So it's stone bone tools and learning how to turn animals skins, learning how to forage for food, cooking the food just on the fire or learning how to make clay pots. It really takes away that middle ground and [is about] just going directly to the source of everything.

What was it like to live outside for four months?

Amazing! I miss it so much. It was amazing to learn the skills and to have the connection with nature, but also just the community dynamics of living and making decisions together with a group was where a lot of the learning came from.

And so you mentioned ancestral learning, what do you think we can learn from our ancestors?

Reminding ourselves that our ancestors and indigenous people still, can live on this planet without doing the damage that civilization has impacted just a short few hundred years. And so what I always say is that we're looking to our past to find sustainable solutions for our future, and ways to live with the earth and recognizing ourselves again, as a part of nature, which is what our ancestors and indigenous people still recognize very strongly.

That empowerment of knowing what plants that you can use for food or medicine, or drawing out the deeper meanings from what we learn by following the tracks of another, of realizing that we as humans are not the protagonists of the earth. There these stories happening around the world all the time, and just outside our door and that development of empathy for the natural world.

Would you have any standout moments from either your work at Wild Awake or from personal experiences like that in the last few years?

I did a week long stone age project in Finland. There was a group of us - 10 adults and one two-year-old. And we had been asked by the Kierikki Stone Age Centre up in the north of Finland to come there and to live for one week in their birch bark shelters in minus 20 conditions, with only clothes that we've made ourselves from roadkill (like foxes and from deer) and food that we'd forged ourselves. So that was a culmination of all of my skills and experiences.

Would you have any standout moments from either your work at Wild Awake or from personal experiences like that in the last few years?

Then also the Rites of Passage program that we've developed - True Nature. It was a nine-month program for young people aged 12 - 14 and it was the first rites of passage program of this kind in Ireland. The young people that are coming out of that are so, so confident and so resilient and so capable in nature and very aware of themselves.

It's a real cultural regeneration project, essentially. And so finishing that was a real culmination of all of my work going to a stepping stone to where I'm going next with that as well.

If you had a dream project, or an ultimate nature experience, what would it be?

True Nature is definitely up there. And we're developing that so that it's more immersive with young people coming out for one week, two weeks at a time to do programs. The month long project that I did in France - I would love to do that in Ireland as well, that's definitely a dream of mine is to bring something like that here.

What are you most looking forward to that while doing in the coming weeks or months?

The next True Nature Youth Rites of Passage programme begins on 17 May. We will be working with young people on immersive outdoor camps, as well as their families, supporting them on this exciting and transformative journey. The programme will consist of two residential and fully outdoor camps for young people to explore who they are and who they are becoming, all while learning new skills, making new friends and exploring their creativity. We are so excited to be out in the woods with an amazing group of young people again! There are still a couple of spaces remaining and people can find out more about True Nature here.

What advice would you have for somebody who might like to explore nature in their neighborhood or in their city, but didn't weren't sure where to start?

Just outside your front door is a really great place to start. Because there's always going to be animals and plants which are growing or living close to you. So there's a practice, which is known as a wild listening spot. It's also known as a sit spot, but essentially, it's just like visiting a place near you every day or at least every week, so that you're getting to know - who lives there, what are the routines of that place, and then combining that with like some kind of naturalist studies. So if you can get a field guide or just ask questions and be open to where that learning takes you - essentially just being curious is a great way to learn about the nature around you.

What’s your favourite thing to do in Dublin?

Just being in the Phoenix Park! I know that area [the Furry Glen] of the park so intimately but I'm always finding new things or at certain times of year the stags always come up, and they use the Furry Glen as a kind of chill-out zone. We'll be sitting around the fire having a cup of tea and the stag will just come over and look at us for about 20 minutes. And so it's such an amazing place in terms of the nature that's there and then also all the staff and rangers there are just such lovely people. I have a very strong relationship with the Phoenix Park.

So if someone wanted to get involved with Wild Awake, where should they start?

If you're an adult, Rewild in the City is a brilliant place to start. And it's a sliding scale. €20 to €60 euro for a four hour class, usually on a Sunday. Also, by looking on my Facebook or Instagram - I upload educational videos quite often. My classes for the year will be announced once it is clear that they will be able to go ahead; I have an exciting range of offerings to share!



Lucy is the founder and director of Wild Awake, an organisation which seeks to rekindle cultural and ecological resilience. As part of Wild Awake, Lucy also founded Dublin’s first independent Forest School in 2015. Phoenix Forest School aims to provide meaningful experiences for people of all ages in nature.

Lucy has been working with groups for over ten years and is passionate about supporting individuals to recognise their innate gifts and true belonging with the land. Lucy’s love for ancestral skills and wisdom helps her to reweave these frameworks into the fabric of the Irish cultural and ecological landscape.