Magical new Narnia Garden in Mournes opens for children impacted by cancer

Pictured (l-r) Chris McClure, Funding Officer National Lottery Community Fund, Raph O’Connor, Residential Services Manager Cancer Fund for Children, Kirstie Greer, 24 who has been supported by Cancer Fund for Children and Ronnie Armour, Director General Northern Ireland Prison Service, at the handcrafted door which welcomes children and families into the new Narnia Garden.

An overgrown and neglected area of land at the foot of the Mourne Mountains has been transformed into a wonderful fairytale garden to provide support for children and young people impacted by cancer.

The new Narnia Garden, which was officially opened on April 29, is a stunning addition to Daisy Lodge, the Cancer Fund for Children’s therapeutic centre in an area of outstanding natural beauty between Newcastle and Tollymore Forest Park.

Pictured (l-r) Graham Harvey, Northern Ireland Prison Service who volunteered on the Narnia Garden project, Beth McConville (9), Raph O’Connor, Residential Services Manager Cancer Fund for Children, Hannah McConville (12) and Derek Preston, Northern Ireland Prison Service, who also volunteered on the Narnia Garden project.

The £10,000 project, which was funded by The National Lottery Community Fundwas undertaken in partnership with the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS), with much of the work carried out by prison staff and men in their care from the Horticulture Department at Maghaberry Prison.

The Narnia Garden was named after the mythical land created by Belfast-born fantasy writer CS Lewis who was inspired by the majestic beauty of the Mourne Mountains.

Raph O’Connor, the Cancer Fund for Children’s Residential Manager said the new space would make a huge difference to young people and their families who use the therapeutic centre to deal with the emotional trauma of cancer.

He said: “The garden is designed to enhance the lives of young people dealing with cancer, helping with their mental health, self-confidence and with team building and peer support. We are thankful to The National Lottery Community Fund for making this fantastic project possible and to our partners in the Northern Ireland Prison Service for the skill and dedication of the staff and inmates from Maghaberry.”

Pictured (l-r) Beth (9) and Hannah (12) McConville enjoying the archery lane at the new Narnia Garden, a therapeutic space at Cancer Fund for Children’s Daisy Lodge centre.

The charity consulted children and young people on what features they wanted to see in this outdoor space before work began in October 2018. Work was delayed by lockdown restrictions caused by Covid-19 but with the help of around 180 volunteers the garden was finally completed this month.

Mr O’Connor added: “The volunteers really got their hands dirty, clearing the site, moving more than 100 tonnes of topsoil into the steeply sloped garden. It was hard work as we could only use wheelbarrows. Many of them took time off their day jobs in the office to come and paint fences, dig holes, erect fences and have an enjoyable time for a great cause.”

The Narnia Garden has a host of unique features including a handcrafted door; an archery lane that can also be used as a play area; a night line, which is a sensory deprivation activity used for confidence building, where participants use a rope to negotiate their way around the garden; a composite decked seating area with benches used for workshops and discussions; atmospheric lighting; a roped handrail along the steps leading to the magical garden and a graveled seating area for reflection and group fun activities such as pizza making.

The Governor of Maghaberry David Savage said working on the garden project to help children and families affected by cancer had been a fantastic experience for both staff and prisoners.

“Prisons are part of the community and not apart from it. Projects like this allow people in our care to give something back to the wider community and that is an important step in their rehabilitation.  This particular project has involved many people and has seen an exceptional effort by our staff and the men from Maghaberry Prison.  We are proud of our partnership with the Cancer Fund for Children and that our collective efforts will bring such joy to the children and their families.”

Kate Beggs, The National Lottery Community Fund’s Northern Ireland Director said: “We were delighted to be able to fund this project which is providing a valued outdoor space for families to meet and also supporting the wellbeing and skills development of those doing the garden work.  We commend the hard work of all those who have made it possible.”

“Thanks to over £30 million raised by National Lottery players each week, we continue to support projects that are making a big difference to communities across Northern Ireland.”

The new Narnia Garden will be available to enjoy for all of those using Daisy Lodge, which hosts up to 450 therapeutic short breaks every year to help families coping with cancer. Facilities include a wellbeing centre and gym, relaxation room, hair and beauty centre, playroom and games room, teenager’s space, communal areas and even a home cinema.

The charity’s vision is that no child should face cancer alone.  They support children diagnosed with cancer, their siblings and also children who are struggling to cope with their parent’s cancer diagnosis. For more information go to