Animals Everywhere

The whole country of Ireland has fewer people than the number of people in New York City. The whole country of Ireland can fit into the state of Maine. “There are 11 million chickens in Ireland, more pigs than people living in Dublin, and more cows and sheep than people in the whole country” explained our bird watching tour guide, John.  These statistics clearly explain the habitat of Ireland. Animals are a major aspect of Ireland’s habitat and make up a large part of the country’s GDP which people rely heavily on in rural Ireland. 

While driving through the west coast of Ireland, as far as the eye could see, the land is all shades of green. On this land live sheep, cows, horses, other animals and people. In Ireland, animals are given acres of land to roam and live on. These animals provide their owner’s income. Agriculture makes up €666 million of Ireland’s overall GDP. Ireland is the 6th largest exporter of meat in the world. It makes sense why there are animals everywhere you turn in rural Ireland, many people rely on these animals as their main source of income. 

        The importance of animals was evident when we went to visit the sheep farm and the mussel farm. Farmer Tom has 200 sheep that roam over hundreds of acres of land. He relies on these sheep to give birth to lambs once a year. Tom relies on the sheep farming to support him and his family. Likewise, aquatic animals are relied on for income. For example, the mussel farmer harvests many mussels every year. These mussels are used to feed his own family, sell at the farm, and sell to local restaurants. In Ireland, farmers are reliant on both land animals and sea animals to make a living. These are just two examples that show the importance of animals to Ireland’s habitat. 

An Imported Water Supply

How many times a day do you use water? See water? It’s probably more than you think. As my professor, Dr. O’Connell said, “You can’t survive without water.” This statement is true. It is crucial to all communities to have a supply of water for drinking, the sink, the shower, and the toilet. Most people do not think twice about their water usage and I was one of them. However, since my trip to Ireland, it is clear that water consciousness and water conservation is very important.

Water conservation in Ireland became evident in our first hostel in the Eco Village in Cloughjordan. Both the sinks and the showers had a push button system for the water. For the sink, I would push the button and water would come out and if my hands weren’t completely rinsed by the time the water ran out I would push it again. The showers also worked on the same push-button system. But, when the button was pressed, the water ran for about 30 seconds. To complete my shower, I had to press the button an uncountable amount of times. This made me pay attention to the amount of water I use when I shower and use the sink.

The other place I visited that stood out in my mind about water consciousness was the hostel, Bru Rhadarch na Mara, we stayed in Inisheer. Inisheer is the smallest of three islands off the coast of mainland Ireland. Since the island is so small, they do not have a freshwater supply. They can no longer use rain water because they have acid rain caused by emissions. Additionally, their aquifers have not been replenished due to dry and hot summers as a result of climate change. In order to get water, they import water from Galway which comes by ship 2-3 times a day.  Last year, there were even water restrictions enforced on the island. Since water is limited, there were signs all around our hostel about conserving water. These signs promote short showers and only flushing when necessary. Although these are only two examples of places trying to conserve water, due to climate change, many other places risk drying up their water supply in the future. Therefore, being conscious of water use is important for all communities. 

Music Brings Communities Together

In every place I visited, I felt a strong sense of community among the people in Ireland. Each place appeared to be a close-knit community with everyone knowing one another. Irish communities were even welcoming to visitors and new members. In each community I encountered, music was a major tie between members of the community. Music brings communities together whether its people who play music or people who enjoy listening to music. Typically, traditional Irish music is played at a pub where community members gather to enjoy. 

 Music is important in Irish communities now and dating back centuries ago. In the 1800s, families lived in small cottages with only 4 bedrooms for 8-20 people on many acres of land. The community would gather in one home and share stories and songs. However, music was different in the 1800s. As one of our tour guides, Dearbhaill explained,“People would tell a song or say a song they would not sing a song.” Although the music was slightly different, it was still a common tie that connected the community together like in Ireland today.

In Cloughjordan, Westport, Inisheer, and Inishmore a sense of community through music was evident. When we were visiting Cloughjordan, it was biodiversity week and musicians put on a concert for people to listen to songs about nature. After the concert, the musicians moved to the local pub for more people in the community to enjoy. This was a common practice in other communities in Ireland. In Westport, many pubs had live music for people to listen and enjoy. Likewise, in Inishmore and Inisheer the pubs had traditional Irish music. In both islands, at the pubs, a group of musicians sat around a table and played together and took turns performing solos. People who were not necessarily with the musicians were invited to join in and play with them and play their instruments. In Irish communities throughout history and to today, music is a tie that brings the community together. 

A Civil War Issue

While driving through the west coast of Ireland, it was evident that rural Ireland uses wind turbines and turf as their main sources of energy.  Looking out the bus window, I saw miles of wind turbines generating power.  Wind turbines are efficient but they haven’t always been used in Ireland. Throughout Ireland’s history, they relied on cutting and burning turf as the main energy source. Recently, cutting turf as an energy source has been called into question after environmental issues were brought up about burning peat.

Burning turf has been used as fuel to heat people’s homes for the majority of Ireland’s history dating back centuries ago. Many farmers lived on bogland which is where the turf is cut. The farmers would use a sléan to remove the peat and leave it out to dry throughout the summer. Since peat is made up of 90% water, the turf bricks would shrink in size as they dry. Once the turf was dry, it would be burned in a fire to heat the house and to cook with. This practice is still used today by farmers and many people in Ireland to heat their homes. Although using peat as fuel was feasible because it was accessible, it presents a danger to the environment.

A majority of the world’s CO2 is stored in the turf from bog lands. When the turf is burned, that stored CO2 is released into the atmosphere. At the Céide Fields, our tour guide explained, if the CO2 is released into the air it is very dangerous to the environment, therefore, peat land should be protected. On the other hand, we met people who rely on peat as their main fuel source. These people, including Farmer Tom (pictured above), do not think the government should stop them from burning the peat because they as a small farm do not make a large impact on the environment. Tom explained, “The government cannot ban burning peat because it would start a civil war.” But, he does believe the big machines that cut turf are bad for the environment because they can do more damage in one day than he has over 13 years. Although cutting turf has yet to be banned, the government incentivizes farmers to stop cutting turf by offering them monetary compensation. There has yet to be a clear plan for cutting turf going forward since it has been a part of the culture in Ireland for many centuries.  

 

Sugar Tax Already Included

Since the moment I landed in Ireland, I noticed a difference between the food in Ireland and the food in the United States. In Ireland, the food at the market is fresher and healthier than food in America. I first noticed the difference in the food when I went to the grocery store in Cloughjordan. What stood out to me the most was that the eggs were not refrigerated. Instead, they were on a regular shelf just like cereal or chips. The worker told me the eggs were not refrigerated because they do not have added hormones and are treated differently than eggs in the United States. In America, eggs are refrigerated because they are specially washed to prevent Salmonella. After they are washed, they must be chilled until they are eaten. In Europe, chickens are given a vaccination to prevent this so they are not required to be washed like in America. Also in this grocery store, I noticed they only had 2 packets of fresh chicken breasts left. When I asked the worker if they had more she explained, they get a fresh shipment to the store every morning and that the 2 packets were all they had left for the day. At my local Stop and Shop, when the display is low on chicken, they go to the back freezer and restock the chicken. These are just two examples of why food is fresher in Ireland than America. 

In addition to the freshness of food in Ireland compared to in America, the food is also healthier in Ireland than in America. One day, I was sitting at a cafe reading the menu and noticed at the bottom a note stating “sugar tax already included in prices.” I had never heard of the sugar tax so I asked our bus driver Des about the tax. Des explained the sugar tax was implemented “to prevent mothers from giving their children drinks with added sugars.” He further explained that since the drinks with added sugars are more expensive, people are more likely to buy the less expensive options which subsequently has less sugar. On the contrary, in America, only certain cities and states have a “soda tax” which is similar to Ireland’s sugar tax, showing Ireland’s better attempt to be healthier. Likewise, in both the small and large grocery stores, I noticed significantly fewer snack aisles than in America. In a small grocery store, they only had half of a snack aisle and in large grocery stores, they had only one aisle. In America, small grocery stores have a whole snack aisle and large grocery stores have 2 to 3 full snack aisles. This also displays Ireland’s healthier eating habits. Through observing these differences between food in Ireland and food in America, it was clear that food in Ireland was more fresh and healthy than food in America. 

Dear Haley…

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

Dear Haley,

You’ll never guess what happened to me today. This morning I woke up to the sun beaming through my window and the smell of juicy bacon cooking and thought it was going to be a great day. I ate brown bread, bacon, and eggs and turned on the radio to listen to the weather forecast. The forecast predicted the day to be dirty. I got dressed and ready to go, grabbed my lunch and went outside to get my bike. When I got outside, I noticed my back tire looked flat. Luckily, I was able to inflate it but then I was running late for work.

On my way to work, I had no time to spare so I was peddling as fast as I could and broke a sweat. As I turned off the main road, the fog was heavy and the visibility was low. The next thing I knew, I was lying on the ground next to my bike and my elbow was bleeding. While I was rushing to work, a sheep ran in front of my bike. I tried to stop but it was too late. I lost control and was thrown from my bike onto the hard ground.

With only minor scrapes and no time to spare, I continued on my way to work. When I was passing the farm, Tom realized I was running late and drove me to work. Somehow, I made it to work on time and my coworker was waiting with tea and plasters. I took a sip and nearly burned the skin off of my tongue so I set it down and tended to my wounds.

My first class went smoothly and after it was time for lunch. I ate leftover bacon and potatoes from the night before. My next class did not go as smooth. The wind picked up to 10 knots with gusts of 25 knots and the temperature dropped to 15 degrees Celsius. The harsh conditions were tiring and a few of the boats capsized. After class, it took me 3 tries to get the right approach to dock the boat because the waves were so big they were crashing on top of the dock.

After class, my friend met me for dinner at the mussel farm. We had large raw oysters and sweet fresh caught mussels with brown bread. After dinner, he put my bike in the back of his car, we got 99 cones and went to the pub to grab a Guinness and listen to live music.

When I arrived home, I took care of my scrapes from the morning, took a shower and turned on the radio for the next day’s marine forecast. The weather looks much better for tomorrow so hopefully, I’ll be able to see a sheep before it runs in front of my bike. I can’t wait to get rest and do it all again tomorrow.

Talk to you soon,

Your Twin

About Haley

I’ve always been an island girl; I grew up on Long Island and I chose to attend college at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island. The environment I grew up in caused me to be passionate about the water, the government, and the legal system. These three interests were main factors when I chose my college and major. I knew I wanted to go to a university near the water that offered a pre-law program and a political science major. These criteria led me to choose Roger Williams University because I could have a water view from my dorm room and study both law and the government.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to go to law school and become a lawyer. As a first-semester freshman, I decided to double major in legal studies and political science. However, after receiving advice from one of my professors advising against the legal studies major, I decided to not double major in legal studies and wanted to study economics. After taking economics my sophomore year, I went into my junior year determined to make economics my second major. However, I spent the first semester of my junior year in Washington D.C. interning with the Public Affairs team at The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). While spending time in Washington D.C. and interning at ALEC, I met many great people and had many great experiences which ultimately led to my interest in political communication. When I went back to Rhode Island for the second semester of my junior year, I had my heart set on making communication my second major. But, for timing reasons, it did not work out. So, today, I am a political science major with a double minor in economics and global communication and I am also currently studying for law school.