At the Park Inn Hotel in Shannon, there was a sign in the bathroom that said, “Saving water. Turn off the sink”. The reduction of water use was most prominent in the Cloughjordan Eco-Village. The Eco-Village focused on living sustainably for the people that lived there as well as for their visitors. When I went to wash my hands in the bathroom, I had to push the faucet multiple times because the water would run very briefly. I didn’t think anything of this because I have encountered many faucets like that.
Later in the night, my roommate went to shower. Ten seconds after I heard her turn the shower on it turned off. Then, it went on again. And ten seconds later turned off. She yelled out to me, “What is going on? The water keeps shutting off!” I laughed and told her that I didn’t know. She continued to finish her shower that turned off every ten seconds by constantly turning it on. When she got out we realized that the shower did this to conserve water. This not only saves water but makes the visitors of the Eco Village more aware of their water use. Throughout the rest of my trip, I’ve noticed that other parts of Ireland are also conserving their water use. Many public bathrooms have signs that express concerns about water use and are clear examples of a hope for change.
Dez also informed us that there is a plastic water bottle ban that will be going into action as soon as possible. This ban will be for all of Ireland and it will include other plastic products as well such as plastic utensils and other containers. He told us that Ireland will take this ban on and the rest of Europe will follow their lead.
“We wanted to find a place that represents the landscape and is a place of inspiration and resource,” is what Dearbhaill, the owner of Cnoc Suain, said to us when we arrived. Cnoc Suain is a restored village that shines a light on its advancement in sustainable living. The lady that used to live in one of the cottages had a garden and used the peat from the land for fires. Dearbhaill and her husband, Charlie, used recycled wood and geothermal heating to restore the cottage. Dearbhaill informed us that she, “Wanted to let the cottage be as natural as possible and have natural plants grow around it.” Later on, Charlie led us to another cottage where we learned about the landscape and how it has interacted with the village people throughout the years. He told us that an Atlantic blanket bogland, which is a land of peat that overlies prehistoric landscape, is all due to a type of moss called Sphagnum. This moss grows slowly, but it doesn’t die down because of the water that it holds and makes acidic.
The village is near a lot of water, so the cottage floor is very damp. Today, they still use the peat from the land to heat the hearth (fireplace). This is the one unsustainable factor that I found during this site visit. Even though they’re saving money by using their own peat, they are also harming the environment by doing this. Peat is a carbon sink that absorbs carbon and gives it off when burned. Our Ceide Fields tour guide, Anthony, told us that, “It’s worth more to leave peat alone on its surface than to dig it up and burn it.” But, on the other hand, the cottage has to be heated somehow. So, if they don’t use the peat, they will still be harming the environment no matter what they use. They would most likely buy wood from somewhere which could be shipped from a location that is far away. Transportation is a huge factor when it comes to being sustainable.
A majority of the meals that I have had in Ireland have incorporated pieces of meat. Sausage for breakfast, ham for lunch, and many options for dinner. I’ve noticed that ham is one of the most popular meats and is considered “bacon” on menus. When we were at Madden’s in Westport, the caesar salad said that there was also parmesan cheese and bacon included. So, when my caesar salad came out and there were pieces of ham in it I was curious. I asked the waiter if there was supposed to be bacon in the salad and he said, “that is the bacon” while pointing to the pieces of ham. A majority of the items on our menus have options of ham and when the menu doesn’t include ham, it’s still incorporated into dishes. While in Inis Oirr, I ordered a chicken caesar salad wrap. The menu didn’t say anything about ham in the wrap. I took my first bite and immediately tasted ham. I took another look at my wrap and there were pieces of chicken and ham in my wrap. I had a delicious plate of stuffed turkey and ham in Inis Oirr that reminded me of Thanksgiving dinner. The only time that I have ham at home is for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and a few other holidays. I have never seen or eaten so much ham until I came here.
The same goes for bread and in particular, Brown Bread. I didn’t know what brown bread was until we left Cloughjordan. I have had at least one piece of brown bread ever since we left Cloughjordan. It can be served at every meal. It goes great with a cup of tea in the morning or before bed and wonderfully with a cup of soup at lunch. When we stopped at the Rock Shop for a quick bite to eat, I was served soup and an open-faced ham sandwich. I wasn’t surprised when I bit into the ham sandwich and discovered that the bread was brown bread. Just when I thought I couldn’t have brown bread with anything else, I had lunch in Ennis. I ordered a salad and it was served with brown bread on the side. I have enjoyed all of the food that I have had while being here, but when I get home I think I’ll need a ham and bread detox!
When touring around Ireland you might notice how little diversity there is amongst animals and habitats. You will see endless miles of farmland and woods, but that is pretty much it. This repetitive habitat is sustainable for traditional farm animals such as horses, sheep, cows, pigs, and donkeys. However, because of the lack of diverse habitats you also have a lack of variety amongst animals. While touring with John, who is an expert in this field, he said “There is less biodiversity here because there is less variation of habitat, and since there is less variation of habitat there will be less variation of life in general.” John would also point out different species of birds that we would see flying around. He pointed out birds such as the jackdaw, wag tail, sky lark, and great black backed gulls. He was able to point out these birds from a great distance. These birds are permanent residents, but some were just visitors. Some coming from places like Africa or Iceland. We also learned about the ocean habitat. It is not uncommon to see whales, seals, and dolphins along the coastal habitats of Ireland.
It is not only important to learn about the habitats for wildlife here in Ireland, but for the people as well. Most of the population lives near bodies of water whether it be an ocean or inlet. This might be because of previous. The people who live near the water live in bigger communities such as cities and towns, and the people who live inland tend to belong to villages. There are also miles and miles of farmland which are home to families who are permanent residents. There are some exceptions for the population density. For example there are also small coastal villages that we have seen but because of my previous experience here I know that there are large cities as well.
Water is one of the main elements that is necessary for life as we know it. However, many of us take water for granted. It is a natural resource similar to any other that we find on our planet and it needs to be treated as such. From what I have observed on this two week course it is fairly obvious that the people of Ireland know how precious water is. They treat it as if it has a significant value which you don’t see very often back at home in America. Our first three nights in the Eco village were a definitely an eye opener. The showers we used were button operated meaning you had to push a put-on which would give you about 20 seconds of water pressure. Over the course of the three days and nights I found myself taking shorter showers and therefore using less and less water. This could be because I had no desire to take longer showers due to the fact that I had to keep pressing the button. I believe that this practice could be applied to American households in order to help preserve water where it is more necessary. A more recent event that has me carefully checking my own water use is our arrival on the Aran Islands. The aran islands do not have access to massive underground wells or reservoirs. During times of water scarcity they have water shipped here from the mainland twice a day in massive tanks. This may seem impractical, but for these locals it is vital. I have even seen signs up around the island regarding water use. These signs are a constant reminder of the value of water to these people. Something that caught my attention was the fact that our hostel’s showers needs to be running for five minutes before any hot water is released. This just isn’t what the island of Inis Oirr needs.
“Adapter”. It was written on my pre-departure packet and I remembered Professor Speakman telling us about it before we left. My dad came into my room with a big bag, dumped it, and spread a bunch of plugs and cords on my bed. I looked at him in awe as he tried to click one piece into another. I never thought about the difference in the little things like charging personal devices in other countries.
We arrived to Cloughjordan and quickly settled into the hostel. I connected the adapter that my dad showed me to my charger and plugged it into the wall. Nothing. My phone didn’t charge. “It must be the outlet”, I thought to myself. So, I plugged my phone into the outlet on the other side of the room. Nothing. Why wasn’t this working? My dad showed me exactly how to connect the adapter. What was I doing wrong? Maybe my dad gave me an adapter that didn’t work. So, I tried the two back-up adapters that he gave me. Nothing. It had to be the hostel outlets. I made my way downstairs to find someone to talk to. I encountered Pa, the owner of the hostel, in the kitchen and explained what had happened and he laughed. He said, “Follow me.” He led me to the lobby area, knelt down, and pointed to the nearest outlet. “You plugged it in?”, he asked. “Yes, and nothing happened”. He nodded his head and replied, “you have to switch this on”, as he pressed a button that looked like a light switch. He explained that by switching the outlet off when it’s not in use, it saves energy. I figured that this wasn’t going to happen for the rest of the trip because we were in the Eco Village in Cloughjordan. There wouldn’t be a stress on saving energy everywhere else. But, to my surprise, there was. Most of the outlets have had these switches and I’m still getting used to turning them on. On our 9th day, in Inis Mor, I plugged my phone in and it didn’t charge. I was about to try another outlet until I remembered about the switch.
As Americans, we aren’t conscious about saving energy while charging our devices. People just leave their chargers plugged in even when their devices aren’t plugged in. This is a huge waste of energy. During this trip, I have become a lot more aware of turning the outlets on and off and unplugging my adapter when I’m not using it.
My friend, Erin, and I went to the Centra at Cloughjordan to buy food for the next morning. Once I gathered all of my items, I had to wait for Erin since I was paying for her purchases as well. Two minutes went by and I peered my head around the aisle to see where she was. She was talking to one of the workers behind the deli counter. When almost five minutes went by I looked around the corner again to see what was taking her so long. She was still talking to the worker. So I made my way over to see what they were talking about. “This is Kathy,” Erin said to me. Kathy proceeded to say hi and welcome me to Ireland. She was so friendly and curious about our abroad trip. We ended up talking to Kathy for about ten more minutes and then took a picture of her and her coworkers.
That night, there was a bit of music on at Grace’s, one of the local pubs. Later into the night, I made my way into the room where the music was happening. Our teacher, Dr. O’Connell, summed up this kind of Irish music very well when she said, “They don’t play music for entertainment, they play it for pure joy.” The atmosphere of that small room was indescribable. Not only was the music wonderful but everyone participated in it. I looked around and everyone was contributing to the music in some way or another. Whether it was singing, playing the guitar, or clapping their hands, everyone was enjoying the music. After one of the breaks in the music, a man sitting next to me was asked to play a song. The guitarist passed his guitar to him and the man started to play and sing. As he reached the chorus, everyone in the room joined in and started to sing. Then, he passed the guitar to the girl behind him and she sang a song. After that, an older man that looked like he was 85 years old came over from the bar because he was beckoned to sing. And again, once he reached the chorus everyone joined him.
The pub slowed down and we were ready to leave. As we made our way to the door, Kathy from the Centra walked in. Erin and I were so happy to see her as was she. The entire room greeted her and told us that she had a beautiful voice. The audience started to chant, “Kathy, Kathy, Kathy.” So, she sang “Song for the Mira.” Slowly, one by one, all of the musicians chimed in with their instruments. It was one of the coolest things to experience. Kathy walked into the bar and two minutes later was singing with the musicians. That is a memory about Cloughjordan that I will never forget.
Ireland by many is known to be an ecologically and energy-efficient place. Ireland has earned this reputation despite its lack of natural resources because of the impressive lack of energy waste created. Although one may think that this is due to the small population size of 5.5 million, this is not necessarily the case. In fact the most pollution that comes from the country is from peat.
Peat is a deep brown natural material formed from moss creating a deposit of acidic, boggy ground. This deposit is dug, dried and used as fuel. You can find this outside almost every grocery type store in the country to be used for fuel to heat homes. Peat may be considered a form of renewable energy due to its ability to grow back at a millimeter per year, however, it acts as a carbon sink. The peat takes in around 30 percent of carbon emitted into the atmosphere, even more so than a forest does. When it is burned, it releases all of the carbon it had absorbed into the atmosphere. This causes devastating long-term effects on climate change. The carbon that is emitted reacts with the oxygen in the air creating carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, so when it is emitted into the atmosphere it adds to the thermal blanket which continues to heat up the earth affecting climate in totality.
When you stand on peat it feels as our guide Tom said, “like you might just sink right into the ground as if it were quick sand.” Luckily the earth does not suck you down into it but this was an accurate way of describing the buoyant feeling of the ground. Peat starts as moss known as sphagnum. This decomposes over many years and eventually turns into something that looks like soil. The moss is able to absorb so much water that you can ring it out like a sponge. Sphagnum’s ability to retain water is what gives the ground this feeling. In fact, it can hold such a large amount of water that during the first World War it was used as a bandage for the wounded.
While the people of Ireland are quite proud of being environmentally friendly, it was quite interesting to see how many people still burn peat as a source of heat in their homes.
There is a popular phrase that I have grown up hearing that says, “After traveling to a different country, you will realize all of the things that you take for granted day-to-day.” It was not until coming to Ireland, my first time truly out of the country, did I realize the validity of this statement. Ireland is a beautiful country that holds many wonders yet the shower system in the country side is not as wonderful.
After almost two full days of traveling to get to Ireland, all that I wanted to do when I got to the hostel was take a nice shower. Since it was hostel living I was not expecting the best accommodations but I was hoping for some warm water to shower in. I was quite disappointed when I jumped into the shower. There was no way to change the temperature and every ten or so seconds, you had to push a button so the water would continue to flow. This was a system put in place in attempt to save water. Something I had not been familiar with.
I expected that once we got out of the Ecovillage, our first stop on the trip, that the shower situation would go back to normal. I was quite wrong. Each place either did not have a dial to change the temperature of the water, or the water would not continuously run. Every night I either came out of the shower with blue lips or scalding hot skin. It was even more interesting when we arrived at our hostel in Inis Oirr. While the shower was probably the cleanest of all, we had to conserve water in order to avoid a water shortage on the island. The reason for the water shortages was because there is no natural running water on the island. In order to get water to the island, a boat comes over each day with tanks of water to supply the island’s running water system.
A shower is an element of the day that is often taken for granted. It is what many people use to wake up or fall asleep, and of course to feel clean. It is incredible to realize what a difference in your day it makes when you do not have this luxury. It is even more impressive to see how so many people, who live in the country side, are willing to give away this luxury because they all believe in forming a healthy and non-wasteful environment.