Do You Want Brown Bread With That?

When I first sat down for a meal in the Ecovillage, Una brought out a plate of brown bread in one hand and butter in the other. Whether it was at the dinner table at home or a restaurant, brown bread found their way onto the dinner table each night. Even though brown bread was not the main course of the meal, I treated it as my main dish. Leaving me too full to finish the rest of my meal. Brown bread is easy to make, which is why it has been so popular with the Irish, now and in the past. All you need is, buttermilk, whole wheat flour, white flour, salt and baking soda. However, variations have been made of this recipe. It has even been made into ice cream. The trick to making brown bread is to mix the flour and other ingredients together, lifting it up high and letting it fall into the dish below. This allows the air to get into the ingredients, making it a fluffy and a light bread. Once all your ingredients are mixed in, you have to shape the bread. It is important to move the bread around as little as possible. This is different from making traditional white bread because white bread requires you to play with the dough as much as possible to shape it perfectly. Once your bread is mixed and shaped, a cross is cut into the top of the bread, allowing air to flow throughout the loaf. After it is cooked, your butter is placed on top and it is ready to be enjoyed.

Not only can brown bread be seen alone, before a meal, it can also be seen as a side dish to many main courses. Vegetable soup can be seen on almost every menu in Ireland. Vegetable soup is usually accompanied by a slice of brown bread, unless specified otherwise. The vegetable soup is brought out boiling from the pot straight to the dinner table. Waiting for the soup to cool down, I found myself dunking the brown bread into the vegetable soup. The combination of flavors between the vegetable soup and the brown bread, allowed them to compliment one another perfectly. When all the bread was dunked and eaten, the soup was then cool enough to begin eating with a spoon. Since the Irish love their soup at a boiling hot temperature, the brown bread allowed me to enjoy the warm soup, without burning my throat in the process.

Throughout the trip, I heard my fellow classmates make remarks such as, “Who would have thought brown bread would be so popular.” The reason is that the simple ingredients that are used in brown bread made it an easy meal to make when resources were low during the famine. Since then, brown bread has become an Irish statement food. Everyone has their own unique way to making their own brown bread, making it different each time you eat it. Which is what makes brown bread a unique part of their culture. Every meal you can taste the freshness of each slice of bread. The creamy spread of butter, melting on the surface of the brown bread, makes your mouth water uncontrollably the second the waitress or waiter brings the plate of brown bread over. Recipes are unique to each family, and they have been handed down from generation to generation, each different from one another. Living off the land, allows the people of Ireland to eat healthy, and use their environment to benefit their way of living. 


“Tell A Song”

Walking into a bar in America, you instantly get hit with bass pounding music. You have to create a new way to communicate with your friends because you cannot hear the person directly next to you, unless you get close to their ear and scream into it. American bars typically are filled with people who are there to see how drunk they can get. Looking across the bar you would probably see more strangers than people you recognized. Typically, everyone stays with the friend group that they came with, and does not bother to get to know the other people who are there. Americans in these settings do not create a sense of community, but rather, a sense of solidarity.

Walking into my first Irish pub in Cloughjordan, I could instantly feel a sense of community.  Eight musicians were seated in the back of the bar with all their instruments in hand and drinks placed on the table in front of them. Their playlist consisted of traditional Irish songs, on top of their own personal compositions.  If a song was played that was well known by everybody, then everyone would join in. It was never restricted to just one person singing. The most common question I received was, “Do you play any instruments?” Hinting that they wanted me to participate in their songs. The only breaks that were taken, were in between songs to have a couple sips of beer and a chat with the fellow musicians. 

Throughout the songs you can hear the beat of a drum. However, no drum was in sight, until later in the night. When a drum was lacking, the beat of the drum was created by the musicians and audience tapping or stomping their foot to the beat of the song. This allowed even the non-musical people to contribute to the composition. The audience engaged with the musicians by singing along, and some even contributed their own pieces. As I was an outsider in this pub, the people sitting around me tried to get to know me and my story. People asked me what I was studying, how long I was here for, if I played any music, and how I am enjoying the music. While this was a casual conversation, the effort that was put into the conversation by the locals was heartwarming. You could really tell that they were interested in getting to know me. For those who did know each other, they used this space as a place to catch up with neighbors, locals and old friends. Anyone who was not a regular here, quickly became part of the local community. Leaving that pub for the first time, I felt like I was part of the Cloughjordan community.

Digging deeper into the music culture of Ireland I learned the phrase, “Tell a song.” Dearbhaill, from Cnoc Suain, explained that the phrase, “Tell a song”, was used in place of “Sing a song.” “Tell a song,” implied that the words are more important than the singing itself. Sitting in various pubs I could hear the musicians use this phrase. When people were immigrating during the famine, their Irish music was taken with them. Leaving Ireland with a void, that could only be filled with music. Slowly the music began to reemerge, rejoining the Irish community. Irish music brings people together during the good and the bad times, to create a wholesome community. 

Push Start Shower?

Before shipping out of Boston to Ireland, I read some of the blogs from last year’s trip. I noticed some students talked about push start showers. These showers required you to push a button every 15 seconds to get the water to start. If you forgot to push the button, the water would turn off. Not only did you have to push a button, but you were unable to adjust the temperature of the water. If you got lucky, you had warm water. Hot water was usually scarce when other residents were showering at a similar time. Reading this before I arrived in Ireland, I felt a sense of panic. When I first arrived in the Ecovillage, the first thing I checked was to see if those blog posts were true. To my dismay I saw a button and no way to adjust the temperature. I began to dread the day I had to take a shower. After learning more about the Ecovillage, and the steps they are taking to reduce their carbon footprint, I began to appreciate the way the bathroom was set up.  I then took my first ecovillage shower. To my surprise, I did not find it as challenging as I thought it would be.  The button restricted people to shorter showers. Which then reduced the amount of water wasted per shower.

In places like Inis Oirr short showers were a way of life.  Being on a small island, water can be scarce from time to time and has to be closely monitored. Their struggle to have a consistent water supply, led them to have water shipped to them from Galway twice a week.  When I entered the hostel on Inis Oirr, we were informed that they had a water shortage on the island on last year’s trip. This restricted people from using water from 7 pm to roughly 6 am. This was a typical thing that occurred on the island, due to their small water supply. Walking around the hostel, near sinks, showers, and toilets, there were flyers that read, “Keep it short. Water shortage on the island. Thank you!” These flyers served as a constant reminder to keep it short, because of their limited water supply. By either taking a quick shower, not leaving the faucet running, and only flushing when necessary, water supplies would last longer. Coming from a place where I don’t have to worry about water shortages, I suddenly became more aware of my shower time. I used what I learned from my showers in the Ecovillage, to help conserve water during my stay in Inis Oirr. 

Water usage is something that some people in America are not conscious about. They seem to think they have an unlimited water supply at their fingertips. Living in these different water usage environments has opened my eyes to become more aware that long and hot showers are not the most necessary thing in the world. These shower set ups got me in the routine of taking shorter showers. After the Ecovillage, I found myself turning off the water when I put in my shampoo and conditioner, then, turning it back on after I was done mixing it in my hair. Living in these water conscious environments exposed us to other ways of living and will allow us to bring these new techniques back to America.


“Mother Nature is the Best Sculptor.”

“Mother Nature is the best sculptor,” is what my tour guide at the Céide Fields said when he was explaining the landscape around us. Looking to the horizon you can see an endless view of hills and grasslands. This is the view that the Irish grew up admiring. In 2001, the landscape of Ireland began to change. Slowly, large wind turbines were installed. Now a total of 2,878 wind turbines have made their way into Ireland’s hills. In 2015, these turbines provided 23% of Ireland’s energy. Wind turbines were one of the things that Ireland has done to try and use their environment to reduce the ecological footprint they were creating. Flying into Shannon airport, the few things I could see out my window were cows, and wind turbines. Whichever direction I looked, there were a cluster of windmills up close and off in the distance. Most people might think that these structures are obstructing their view of the landscape that Ireland has to offer or deem them “ugly.” However, when people understand what the wind turbines are doing for the environment, they will no longer see them as ugly, but rather something beautiful for something so important.

Another energy efficient step that Ireland has taken are their outlets. When I first arrived at the Park Inn, I immediately ran to an outlet with my adaptor in hand, to charge my phone before the days endeavors begun. I plugged in my charger to the adaptor and plugged it into the wall, and waited for my phone to  charge. However, nothing happened. It was as if my phone was not plugged into an outlet. After trying every outlet in the room, and my anxiety levels growing by the second, I finally noticed the little switch in the middle of the outlet. I plugged my charger into the wall, flicked the switch, and finally my phone began to charge. I was confused at first about this modification of the outlet here, because I had never seen anything like this in America. I later learned that the switch turns on and off the electricity in the outlet. That way when people are not using the outlet, energy is not escaping it in the process. I noticed that every time I plugged something into a wall the switch was always turned off because someone remembered to switch it off when they were done using it. For me, I always forgot to flick the switch when I was done using it. It occurred to me that for the Irish, it must be second nature for them to flick the switch when they are done. Exactly like it is second nature to get in the car and put on your seat belt. After a learning curve, I quickly learned to remind myself to shut off the switch when I was done using it.

As Des, our driver, was saying on a bus ride, we are the generation that is going to make these environmental changes, “It is our job to be the change.” Collectively, Ireland has been taking steps in the right direction to become an energy efficient country. They have learned to work off of the land to give them renewable energy. This way of living keeps the land whole so people can continue to enjoy those stunning views. While some of these methods might be unconventional to us Americans, the way the Irish are living can teach America about the small steps we have to take to become a more energy efficient country. 


The Wild Atlantic Way

Being on the coastline of Ireland is a surreal experience. The smell of the salty air rushing onto your face. The sound of waves crashing on the cliffs from below your feet. Cliffs so high, you feel like an ant in this small world. The sound of seagulls and puffins chirping in the distance. The water being so blue, that it’s as if you are on a tropical island. All of the features of Ireland’s coastline make you feel like you are in a postcard. These beautiful yet monstrous coastlines remind you just how talented Mother Nature is and how small you are in comparison to the rest of the world. Before I arrived in Ireland, I imagined beautiful views, but I only imagined the country views—endless hills and fields carrying off into the horizon. I never really thought about the coastline views that we would encounter.

The Wild Atlantic Way gives people the perfect view of the west coast of Ireland. Turning that first corner onto the first breathtaking view, it felt like something from a movie. From the top of the cliff, the waves look small and harmless. The closer you venture to the shoreline, the more you can feel the vibrations from the waves crashing on the shore, and hear them crashing onto the sand or the cliffs to the side. From far away you forget how powerful these waves are. The closer you get the more your realize how powerful a wave can be. Climbing on the rocks you can look into the crevasses and see small sea anemones clustering and catching their food. The mussels are congregating into large clusters in various locations of the rocks. Making the rocks look like pieces of cookie dough. 
If you are lucky, you can see a pod of dolphins in the distance. Looking at these outstanding views, you try to capture the beauty with your camera. However, cameras only get the framed version, and not the whole picture. Leaving each view, you want to wrap it up and take it home so it will last forever. At each site we visited, I was the last person to leave because I wanted to soak up all the views I could get so when I went home, my mind would remember the full picture, and not just the framed version I have on my camera. 

Dearbhaill Standún and her husband Charlie live and work in some reclaimed and restored cottages out on the Wild Atlantic Way. They lead a lifestyle that includes not interfering with nature. Instead they, “Let nature run its course,” by letting everything around them grow naturally. Lifestyles like Dearbhaill’s and her husband’s, are a step in the right direction to keep the habitats of Ireland whole. With Earth’s balance becomes unhealthier day after day, Dearbhaill tells us, “the future is through them,” meaning, young people. The young people are bringing their technology to rural areas and are beginning to merge the two worlds, to create an environment where changes can be made quickly. Hopefully these healthier lifestyles will spread from town to town and habitats like the coastline will be preserved for future generations to enjoy.

Dear Catherine…

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

Dear Catherine,

Every morning, in Inis Oirr I wake up to the sound of the ocean crashing against the walls just outside my yard. I typically wake up just before sunrise, put on my flip flops and run down to the ocean for my early morning walk. I love this time of morning because you get to watch the sun slowly peak over the horizon, and watch mother nature create a new masterpiece every morning. This time of morning is filled with the sounds of wildlife. You can hear the seagulls crying out above your head, various birds singing their morning songs and I can hear my cows eating their morning breakfast of grass from afar. Watching the sun rise over the landscape, is the perfect way to start my morning. However, the one thing I can live without are the little bugs, which people around here call, midges. Keeping up at a brisk pace you are able to avoid the swarms of bugs. Take a short break, and the bugs will begin to cloud above your head, and there is no escaping them now. I don’t think I will ever be able to get used to the midges.

Living in a touristy part of Ireland, I make my living off of giving people tours of the island. I obtained two horses that I use throughout the week and attach them to my carriage for a horse and carriage tour. Around 8 every morning I set up my base in front of the ferry, where I am the first thing that the tourists see. People who are feeling adventurous or want to go on a romantic ride, board my carriage and we begin the tour.  I give them the tour of the beached ship, the cemetery, the sunken church, and the old castle we have on the island.

My two horses have grown to be my best friends because we spend so much time together. One day I went to my plot of land to get my horses for the day of tours. I discovered that my horses were missing! The gate was open and they were gone. I immediately sprung into action and ran down to the wharf to see if anyone had seen my horses. A good friend said he saw two young boys riding my horses bareback around the island. Thankfully, my friend offered to drive me in her horse and carriage to try and find the thieves. After searching what seemed to be hours, we saw my horses and the thieves walking up the side of the hill to the castle. I chased after them and when they were confronted, they claimed that they were going to bring them back before I started work, and just wanted to go on an adventure. Now my horses are back in my custody and I check on them frequently.

All in all, island life has been a surreal experience. The rocks here look like cookie dough pieces, and have me craving chocolate chip cookies more frequently. See if mom can send me some of her homemade cookies for me.


Your Irish Twin


About Catherine

Throughout my 20 years of writing my life story, adventure and family have been the strongest themes to emerge so far. I am always looking for a new adventure to go on to make a new memory. Life is too short to be sitting inside your home, watching other people go out on these great adventures. Make a memory and create your own adventure. My mom and dad were the ones who created the moto, “make a memory.” I used to roll my eyes when I heard them say it, but now I am the one saying it almost as frequent as they are. Having family be a big part of my life, I never wanted to stray too far from home. When applying to colleges in high school, I was applying to anywhere outside of a 3 hour radius. Except for Roger Williams, just in case I had a change of heart. When it came down to the wire to pick a school I was stuck between Roger Williams University and Coastal Carolina University. Thinking about going on my college adventure states away, I couldn’t bring myself to say yes to going to school in South Carolina. As much as I did not want to admit it at the time, I am a homebody and had to be close to my family.

My mom and dad have always been the ones motivating me to do things in life to benefit me and my education. They are half the reason that I decided to partake in this adventure to Ireland. My family taught me how important an education was, and how to reach my goals as best as I could possible do. My dad’s rule growing up was no outside activities until all my homework was done. He would sit my sister and I down in the living room and wait for us to finish our work before we did anything really fun. As terrible as this was being a kid, watching the sun shine while you’re inside doing homework, it taught me how important it is to get my work done before I distract myself. He knew my sister and I were destined for procrastination and tried to help us prevent it. Being far away from my family would not make my college experience whole, because who would I tell all my adventures to? My life story continues to grow, by going endless adventures to make countless memories, and to make some of these memories with my family along the way.