Ireland is known for their open and welcoming communities. Throughout my journey here in Ireland, I observed different styles of living. We stayed at Cloughjordan, Achill, Spiddal and other rural areas. Observations I made focused on the people here and their interaction with one another. Similarly, I examined the communities we stayed in and see how the villagers interacted with outsiders, such as us 16 college students.
Irish people smile a lot. That is one of the first Irish customs you will notice when getting off the plane. Their smile is inviting allowing you to feel comfortable starting a conversation with them. The people of Ireland uphold a conversation and are not afraid to ask you questions such as “What do you think of your current president?”. They tend to over apologize especially if they feel like they offended you. We went to the Parsons Mansion in Birr and our tour guide was very apologetic for simply losing her train of thought. The tour guide told our group “Things in Ireland work and then they don’t and then we don’t fix them” she followed her statement with “sorry this is a typically Irish thing” . Overall, the individuals I have encountered go out of their way to make the visitors feel welcome in their communities and country.
Our first couple nights stay was the Eco-village in Cloughjordan. This is a very small tight-knit community where there are only 90 people in Eco-village and under 200 people in the whole community. This was a village where everyone knew everyone and everything. They all encouraged each other and would lend a hand if anyone needed help. The community prides themselves on both being environmentally conscious and community focused. A survey was conducted and 33% of the people said they chose the Eco-village for their environment choices and everyone else said because of the community. The community itself farms together and all put in hard work to improve their lands. While I stayed in the Eco-village, it seemed to me the community was more a family rather than townspeople. Westport and Achill are focused on their community but are not as closely as Cloughjordan.
The communities and the villagers are some of the most welcoming individuals I ever met. They truly care about who you are and want to know more about you. Not only do they care about the travelers, they care about one another and their village. The people also focus and have pride for their country and the history behind who they are. In the States, as they call it here, people are nowhere near as welcoming. It was a nice change in life.
“If you ever want to hide a body the last place to do so is in a bog” said Charlie. He helped restore a 17th century thatched cottages in Cnoc Suain Conamara. In this beautifully rich green country, I have noticed areas with brown dirt like blocks stacked in the shape of tepees. Wondering constantly what they were, I learned it was called peat; they come from ancient bogs that for centuries that have been dried and burned in homes. Bogs form from sphagnum moss. The moss grows at a rate of 1 millimeter a year, but it never dies down.
My first true lesson on peat was at Céide Fields, known as a natural bog blanket. Anthony, our tour guide that day, filled my brain with knowledge. The bog blanket is well-known for peat protecting the remains of an ancient community. It preserved stone walls and houses. Witnessing how the bog blanket preserved the walls was breath taking. If someone had told me I would not have believed them. Bog blankets are squishy. They allow researches to examine how the people used to live in their old days.
Tom Nee, the farmer at Killary Sheep Farm, showed us how to block cut the turf. You have to use a tool called a Sleán. You place the Sleán right into the soggy wet peat and scoop it up. The shape is a rectangular cube. Tom, among many others in this country, use peat as a source of energy for heating homes. Ireland saves a reasonable amount of money for electrical heating. Bogs are everywhere and the people are able to harvest their own peat right in their backyard.
Peat however, only will burn for short amount of time. Families normally have five pieces of peat in the fire pit at once. Unfortunately, this means Ireland burns a lot of peat. Bogs only take up 3% of the worlds lands but hold about 30% of the world’s CO2. When the peat is burning it releases CO2 into the air. This energy source is close to home and is the most accessible.
Unfortunately, I am a very picky eater. Coming to Ireland has really forced me out of my comfort zone. First of all, I do not eat a lot. I am a snacker. My biggest challenge was filling my stomach up enough to last me until the next meal. After many different meals here, I have noticed that, surprisingly, the food options are pretty much the same to the food back home. Those differences I have noticed are the words used to describe the food.
For instance, when ordering food, you must be clear on exactly what you want. Asking for “chips” means you are asking for french fries. If you ask for “crisps” you will receive potato chips. What we think of as ham could be “bacon” on the menu, while what we think is bacon is a rasher. It took time adjusting to these differences, but I still learn something new each day.
Food here, also, is locally grown. The Eco-village took pride in their community garden. Each morning, the people who lived in the community were able to pick out the freshly grow vegetables. Johanna, the wonderful woman who cooked for us 16 students each day during our stay in Cloughjordan, used the vegetables she picked out that morning in her meals. One lunch she made us a lasagna with all of the home-grown veggies, such as carrots. Even all the salads I have come across are fresh. The salads here are not just bowls of leaves, they incorporate tomatoes, carrots, onion, beets, cucumbers, and anything else desirable. The fresh food goes past just the vegetables, it goes to the meats as well. The beef here is “organically grown” or like our bus driver Joe said, “at least here you know what your cows are eating before you eat them.” The cattle are mainly pasture fed which gives the beef that amazingly flavorful, and “clean” taste. The fresh taste of the food is wonderful, something I will not forget.
“You can’t eat the scenery,” said Des our bus driver. Ireland is surrounded by water, whether it be the ocean or a lake. Even with all the bodies of water, it is not clean drinking water. Clean fresh water is an essential part of life. Surprisingly, Ireland concentrated on the water conservation. The conservation affects everyone, including myself, from taking a shower to drinking the water. Eco-village tried their best to conserve the water as much as possible. When showering at the hostel the shower had a press button which allowed ten seconds of water to pour out. I was not of fan of this. While trying to shampoo my hair, I would constantly be pressing the button for water. I did not want shampoo in my eyes. The Eco-village, also, installed a sustainable drainage system. This system is meant to keep water within the pipes for as long as possible. As the rainwater runs off the roofs of the buildings in the Eco-village it is collected and used within the community.
The water conservation does not stop at the Eco-village. As we traveled through other rural areas of Ireland, I saw a shortage of water. The smallest island off of the mainland, Inis Oirr, has one of the worst shortages in the country. Currently, they are getting clean usable water imported twice a day from the mainland. As of right now there are no restrictions in place, but these restrictions are no stranger to the community. Just last year the shortage was so awful that they placed a water usage restriction. People were only to use water from around 8:30am to 8:30pm. In these villages we have to be mindful has to how much we consume. In the Aran hostels they all have signs asking users to conserve water if possible. One hostel had signs in the bathroom, “Think- save water” Another hostel asked to only flush the toilets when absolutely needed to preserve the water.
With the conservation of water present everywhere, it makes me realize how precious clean water truly is. At home I have the luxury to never worry about my water running out. Here, this issue is present. Every single raindrop here counts for them. As a tourist we pray for clear nice weather, while the people here pray for rain, especially here on the islands. The Aran Islands experience different rain patterns than the mainland. Most days are “soft,” meaning a drizzle. The question is how does this issue get fixed? The current water conservation that is in place is certainly working but will not sustain them for long. So what is next?
I have never had an interest in seafood, specifically aquaculture. I finally changed my opinion. We hiked down the road from Killary Sheep Farm to arrive at Killary Fjord Shellfish. Here the workers placed plates and plates of shellfish to salmon to mussels in front of us. After devouring the fresh seafood, we went on a boat where we learned about aquaculture. On the boat rocking back and forth. I took a step back and took in my view. Just rows and rows of ropes, each one stuffed with mussels. Many habitats in Ireland are on land. I love oceans. Learning about the shellfish habitat fit perfectly for me.
Killary Fjord Shellfish takes pride in their work. They harvest their food right there on site. I overlooked the Wild Atlantic Way, while devouring the food in front of me. Simon, the owner who explained his work, told us they harvest a range of shellfish. This includes the food we previously snacked on, mussels, clams, razor clams, and oysters. One key point he kept saying to us was “we care for our ecosystem, we do not put it in harm.” He ensured that him and the workers are careful for the environment around them. They care for the environment which makes them be mindful of not throwing the ecosystem out of balance. He used this machine to pull one of many ropes out of the water. Here laid an abundance of mussels, ranging from one to two-year olds. They realise the larva into the ocean by the ropes. Mussels attach onto the ropes. After two years the workers harvest the mussels, leaving the young ones alone. The ropes do not interfere with the natural ecosystem. Other organisms actually attach to the mussels and grow along with them.
Stepping back onto the land I now understood why the boys next to me kept saying “I have never eaten so much seafood.” Both Simon and his wife, Kate, truly stand by their five steps: harvest, depuration, clean, deliver, enjoy. Let me tell we sure did enjoyed.
The following is a work of fiction based on recent events and experiences in Ireland.
Today, I woke up at the crack of dawn to the beautiful sounds of birds chirping right outside my window. It’s a crisp day with magnificent sunny weather. It’s the first gorgeous day in a while as most days here are dull. I made my way to the kitchen where I prepare breakfast. I got myself a cup of tea while I placed my homemade brown bread in the toaster. We still own our sheep farm in Achill Island. After breakfast, I went outside to herd a group of sheep since they were due to be sheared. The summer months are here, shearing the sheep prevents them from being uncomfortable during the warmer months. Our family now owns around 1,000 sheep and 200 acres of land. I still use clippers to cut their wool by hand. I hold them by the horns and clip away.
After I sheared around 20-30 sheep, I move onto helping our father with the peat. Since we have so much land, we subsequently get our own peat to burn as fuel. This is mostly for the colder winter days. Father digs them out of the ground, in the shape of blocks. I gather them and place 4 to 6 blocks in a teepee shape. Now it is finally mid-day and this means it is lunch time. I go inside my house and sit at the lavish table made of beautiful pine wood. I eat the vegetable soup leftover from yesterday. On the side, I have a roll with a little butter. I drink a nice chill glass of water.
I have completed my farming responsibilities for today so it is time to go into town and retrieve food supplies for dinner. As I bike to the store, I look at the hills behind the water which is sparkling thanks to the sun beaming down. I purchase potatoes along with fresh cabbage, and bacon. I go up to the register to pay, where I realized I had to pay extra since I left my reusable bags at home. I biked home. Once home I go into the kitchen and prepare the dinner. Unfortunately, due to our mother passing away of the illness I have had to teach myself how to take on what used to be her responsibilities.
Once the meal is cooked, I get our two brothers, Thomas and Charles, and father in the dining room. I made a traditional Sunday dinner. Bacon on top of cooked cabbage with the creamy white sauce. As for the side I made mashed potatoes, since those are father’s favorite. After everyone is full, we all pitch in to clean up. It’s been a long day’s work, and I am tired. I finally take a shower to clean off. After the shower, I head to my room where I grab a novel, Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt to read. Around 21:30 I am now ready for bed. My eyes softly close as I am ready to start a new day.
As individuals, everyone has their own endeavors in their life. I strive for complete success. I do not stop until I have achieved my goals. I let nothing stand in my way. As one of my favorite sayings quoted from Thomas Jefferson “I find that the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have”. If I have my mind and my desire anything I put my mind to I can achieve. My definition of success is completing a goal or a dream which you have always had. To me creating your own success helps you achieve true happiness. My happiness is helping others.
Ever since I was little, I always wanted to help others. From helping my parents around the house, to trying to save a little bug from being squashed. I would even get upset when my father and brother would go fishing, since the hooks harmed the fish. My desire to help others did not stop at animals. I wanted to help those who were in need. Growing up, I have come to the realization that my goal in life is to assist others in need. The word “others” mean everything from humans to animals, both aquatic and land, to the earth itself. As it came time to think about college and my major, I did not know with path of helping I should take, so I chose marine biology. After a semester of courses this major did not fulfil my dream. I then switched to public health. It did not take long for me to fall in love with the major. Through these classes, I have pushed myself to fully comprehend each direction of the major. After the course Epidemiology, this is where I knew I want to be. I am in the process of pursuing my dreams, potentially applying to medical schools.