Grassy Fields and Rocky Walls

The definition of habitat is the natural home or environment of an animal, plant or organism. Traveling throughout the northwest side of Ireland, our group witnessed many different habitats. When I think of habitats I think of animals and their living conditions, whether they are living in their natural habitat or a man made habitat. For most of the animals we have seen along the way (mostly sheeps and cows) they have huge fields of grassland that they wander about in. This is obviously a more preferred habitat for both the animals and their owners. However, some animals aren’t fortunate enough to have as much room and land to occupy. In the places we have traveled in Ireland the typical habitat is a large field of grass, flowers and very little trees. The animals are usually kept inside rock walls, but some-like sheep-are allowed to wander in the street and wherever they want. This habitat is very natural and healthy for the animals. We don’t see much of this in the United States unless there is a farm, and if not then the animals are usually kept in barns with stalls or cages like chicken coops. There are a lot more free range animals in Ireland and their habitats are a natural process.

When we visited the bird aviary, the habitat that the birds were kept in was a man made cage filled with a few branches and trees. It was nice to see that when they were let out of the cage they like to fly around for the demonstration. However, their habitat is very unnatural and they are trained to come back to the aviary.

The main habitat that we stayed in throughout the trip was a country/rural setting. We had only a few days of small urban towns, but for the most part the population was spread out over a lot of land and grassy fields. We were surrounded by a lot of free range livestock and especially on the island were surrounded by the ocean, rock and not many other buildings or people. If we stayed in the major cities it would have been an entirely different habitat.

Cows grazing…the typical scenery

Everyone Knows Everyone

The entire time we have traveled in Ireland I could feel a strong sense of community and involvement within the community. Each village that we stayed in was their own small community and the people were very welcoming to us so that I felt as if we were part of their world. The place that the community was prominent was in the Ecovillage in Cloughjordan. Within the village there were individuals with their own specific purpose and had their own way of contributing to the group of people. For example, Johanna would often cook for others and was a pro at cooking for large groups of people. Then there was a farmer who tended to the community garden and grew vegetables that he would let others have access to. In the village they would often have meeting times in the front building where people would sell their products and food to the other villagers. This creates a strong community because there is a sense of everyone relying on each other and in this way they make a sustainable group of people.

Being here on Inis Oirr, there is the same community aspect and feel just spread out over the whole island. Everyone knows everyone and they can all rely on each other. Our felting teacher was telling us about her family at the workshop and how her son was getting married in a week. When she was telling us about her family I noticed that there was a web of people she was naming that we knew from just being on the island for these 2 days. She explained that almost everyone is going to the wedding which shows how tight knit the community is here in Inis Oirr.

A myth that I had heard about Irish people previous to coming to Ireland was that they are all very friendly. I have learned that this myth is completely accurate. All the people are extremely welcoming and bring you into their community. They also love to teach and inform us visitors about their culture and why they do the things they do. While we ate lunch at the Killary Mussel farm, the people who worked there were telling us about their produce and teaching us how to cook and open mussels, clams and oysters. The community aspect is very strong throughout the places that we have traveled and it mostly is because the people have tight relations with each other, as well as work together to create a sustainable community.

Mussel farmer with his prized possessions
Shucking oysters…farm to table service

Ireland’s Favorite Source of Energy

Throughout the places that we have traveled to during the past two weeks, we have talked a lot about energy and conserving energy. In Ireland the people are very concerned with conservation and using sustainable resources for their energy. However, the one source of fuel that is the most common among the areas that we have seen, is peat or turf. They burn the peat to create energy for things like heating a building, in which they would use a couple bricks of peat in their fireplaces. During the earlier times in Ireland when their only source of energy was from the peat, they would use the burning peat to heat the houses, heat the water and to cook their food over. Our tour guide from the Killary sheep farm, Tom, informed us that one brick of peat could burn for “approximately 15 minutes,” and to create a fire they would just add around 4 to 6 bricks and keep adding more throughout the day.

Until the year 2000, the island of Inis Oirr used diesel generators to power the island. This is because the island is mostly made out of limestone and there are no bog lands full of peat. Their way of creating energy by using diesel generators is extremely bad for the environment and lets off harsh fumes that pollute the air. Since then they have updated the systems that they use to create energy.

At all the hostels that we have stayed at on the northwest side of Ireland, they are very concerned with the conservation of water and this connects with the conservation of energy. In order for water to be heated, the water heater needs to be turned on and this requires energy usage. There are signs in the bathrooms asking the users to try to save water by not using a lot of running water, as well as specific times that the hot water will be turned on. They do this to preserve energy and there is no use in keeping the hot water on all day because it is wasting energy that people aren’t using. In the Valley House hostel, one of the owners explained to us that it is pointless to keep the water heater on in the middle of the day and the middle of the night because people tend to shower either in the morning or at night before bed. By conserving this energy, it is creating healthier environment because energy is not unlimited.

Peat harvesting


Water, Use Sparingly!

Here in Ireland, the topic that stands out the most to me and is a reoccurring discussion is water. They seem to have different means of water systems and conservation compared to what we are used to in the United States. So far on our trip we have stayed in four hostels and out of all four of them, three had push button showers. This is one of the best ways to conserve water that we don’t even know we aren’t using while in the shower. I was nervous and annoyed about having to use this system of showering, however in I got used to it very quickly. I also noticed that it was a better way of showering especially in the small stalls because I could wash my body with soap or shave while no water was coming down. There is an underlying theme throughout most of Ireland that suggests the conservation of energy and resources. This is because in some parts of Ireland (the ones we visited) there is a limited amount of these resources, so they had to find ways to use them sparingly. Water fits into these categories because preserving fresh, clean water is important and necessary for the lives of the people living here. I also noticed that with the sinks there is a common trend of not having a lot of water pressure and therefore using less water.  They also have timed sinks to make sure there is less water use. In the hostels, some of them don’t have hot water all the time. For the Valley House, hot water turned on from 6-9 pm and 6-9 am to conserve energy.

Before we came to Inis Mór, our professor, June Speakman was telling us about how on the last trip, the island was in the middle of a “severe water crisis,” but this years winter was a lot more wet and rainy so their water supply would be enough for the summer. It is crazy to think that the people who live on the island rely on the weather to support their supply of water, and I’ve never experienced being in a water crisis.

Another interesting topic about water is the issue with plastic water bottles. Over in the United States, plastic water bottles are nearly everywhere, including both for sale stores and littering the beaches. They recently banned plastic products in Ireland and are moving towards different, more sustainable ways to in which to sell water. I think this is a great idea, however, it’s going to take a lot more time and effort for the United States to get on board. I wonder what materials they are going use to replace the plastic of the water bottles.

Overall, there is a definitely a large attempt to conserve water here in Ireland and I would love to see how much water things like push button showers actually save over a period of time. Here in Inis Mór, we are surrounded by salt water, but that can’t be used to drink. When we traveled to the Killary farm, the water there was brackish-half salt and half fresh water, and that is also not drinkable, but as we saw, it is perfect to grow things like oysters, clams and mussels in.

Brackish water mussels

Soup, Soup and More Soup!

Coming into this trip, I didn’t know what to expect considering the topic of food. Their food customs and traditions are a little different from how we do things in the United States. The first thing that stood out to me after having a few meals in Ireland was the amount of soup that we had. Soup seems to be a large part of meal, included in either lunch or dinner. The soups are normally made with lots of vegetables and are the starters to meals. Coming from the U.S., having soup as a major staple for meals is new to me. At lunch they usually serve a soup with a sandwich and oftentimes have a few greens on the side. Here in Ireland, the soups are mostly vegetable based as I have seen throughout most of the meals. For example, I have had leek and potato soup, vegetable soup, butternut squash soup, and tomato soup. These soups are made by purreying multiple vegetables with a food processor into a thick substance that is sometimes creamy and sometimes chunky. Vegetable based soups are nutritious, less costly and a food product that almost anyone can eat-reaching a larger audience than some other meals, especially when made without gluten ingredients.

Another common staple for the meals here in Ireland is the bread. Bread comes with almost every meal and when we were able to cook our own meal in a group we bought two loaves of ciabatta bread from the local store. There are a lot of healthy choices for meals, as I have seen so far in our couple days. Vegetables, grains, starches and meats are the top four categories of food that we have experienced a lot of, which creates very balanced meals. The vegetables here are all very local which is better for both the consumers and the environment because there is a farm-to-table aspect and freshness. The woman that cooked for us at the ecovillage hostel, Johanna, explained to us that most of the vegetables she used for our lunches were from the community garden and that she always “checks the farm stand” before going to the market.

Soup, soup, soup and a side of bread was the main meal here in Ireland. I can’t complain because I love both of these foods, but sometimes it did get a little repetitive. Having an abundance of vegetable being grown locally in most of the villages that we ate was definitely to our advantage because of how unprocessed and fresh the food was. It also was helpful to us travelers to really get a grasp on the types of food that are popular here and definitely made sure that we got our recommended serving of vegetables every day!

Brown bread with a view of the Killary Fjord
A shift from our normal meals…fresh mussels and clams


Dear Bailey…

The following is a work of fiction based on recent events and experiences in Ireland.

Dear Bailey,

I miss you and just wanted to fill you in on a few things that have been going on over here in Ireland. All the kids are well and so is my husband Josh. On another note, I know you remember meeting my friend Mary who has the very small sheep farm and I am very worried for her. Her sheep farm is really going downhill and she isn’t making enough income at all. I told her that if she wanted to work at the dairy farm with Josh that I would ask if they could find her a position, even part time. I’m not sure that she’s into the idea though because she seemed very hesitant about it. Even if she did start working at the dairy farm, she would need help with her sheep and tend to them throughout the day. I guess I could do it during my lunch break from work, but I am not familiar with how to shear them. I also suggested that maybe she sell the sheep to another larger wool farm but she didn’t like that idea either. I don’t know if you could tell when you met her a while ago that she is obsessed with her sheep and they take up all her time. She knows she’s not getting enough income from the wool, but she refuses to give up the sheep. These animals take time and effort to keep up with and because she’s getting older, I worry that they are just going to wear her out. Mary’s family has moved across the country and they really aren’t around to help her. Sometimes I see her young neighbor Pat helping her with the sheep and keeping them in order and I wonder if she would ever consider handing down her sheep to him. That way she could keep an eye on them and still visit them, but without all the treacherous work. I think Mary is around 65 now and you could tell that she is starting to slow down, but if she gets a simple job at the dairy farm then maybe she could have a steady income. A couple days ago my husband had to help pay for Mary’s milk and cheese when she went to pick it up from the dairy farm because she only had €2.00 left in her wallet. Of course, Josh didn’t mind but I worry that she isn’t realizing how much she borrows from people. Down the road at my neighbors’ farm stand they have a system where everyone pays what they think the veggies are worth. Sometimes I take the lettuce and potatoes, but I leave around 6 or 7 euro. But recently, someone has been taking veggies and not leaving any money. I think it might be Mary but I don’t want to bring it up to her because that would be so rude if it’s not her. Any suggestions on how to deal with this? Please write back soon, we love and miss you!

Love, your twin, Bridgett

About Bailey

I came to Roger Williams University undecided with really no idea what direction I should go in. I tried a bunch of classes that were suggested for me by my academic advisor. I finally decided that I was going to major in Sociology and Anthropology because both these topics were extremely interesting to me. I dove into these classes without really thinking of what I wanted to do with the degree when I graduate. After looking into jobs in the anthropology and sociology field, I decided to reconsider my decision. I remember speaking with my roommate who was majoring in Public Relations and suggested that I might like to try communications. After taking two communications classes, I knew this was going to be an area that I loved. I like to try new things, but it was a relief to be able to settle down into the communications major. I enjoy trying new things and communications was one area of study that I tried that really stuck with me and that I could see myself going into. 

Many of my friends have told me that I can often times be indecisive about big and small decisions. I love that the communications major is very open and has many directions that I could potentially go in. I am a very creative person and I love to work with others to develop new ideas, concepts and projects. The theme for my reflection is communicating with others and trying new things. Both of these topics have really feuded my college experience and led me to where I am today. By pushing myself outside my comfort zone I have allowed myself to learn more and open myself up to new opportunities. My college journey will lead me to be able to be successful throughout the rest of my life. I believe these two themes of communications and being open to trying new things are two traits that everyone should posses and use throughout their lives.