Peat and Ireland


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.

Sphagnum Moss

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.


Hot, Long Showers? Not in Ireland

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.

Boat that delivers water to Inis Oirr daily

Warm Hearts

Ireland is a place that holds many warm hearts, inspirational souls and happiness in every part of the day. Coming to Ireland I was not sure what to expect of the people. The mask that pop culture puts on the people of Ireland tends to be a pub full of loud drunks that end up brawling in the streets. Contrary to popular belief this is not the case at all. The idea I had about pubs and simply the community changed the second night of my trip to Ireland.

As a large group of 16, we ventured to one of the only pubs in the small village of Choughjordan, where we decided we were going to spend our night. I am not sure exactly what I was expecting but I was expecting some sort of music. Yet when I walked in there was just a low murmur of voices. No music at all.

Now, for those who do not know much about Irish pubs in the country there are two important things to understand. One being there are two sides to a pub, a small side and a large side corresponding to noise levels. Secondly, when people are performing live, everyone sits and listens. You do not talk over the singers like you might in a typical bar in America.  Since we were not accustomed to this social norm, the band moved to the smaller side of the pub so that they could play in peace since we were being loud. Later that night I decided to venture into the small room to hear the music.

While the music was captivating, it was even more impressive to see how the people interacted as a community. Everyone was sitting around with the band as they played various instruments such as the harmonica, whistles, banjo and so on. Everyone performing got the chance to play a solo that sent shivers down everyone’s spine in the room. There was a lady that we had met at the local market earlier that day named Kathy. As she walked into the room everyone was pleading for her to sing a song. She modestly said that she was not good enough (even though everyone in the room probably had already known how good she actually was) but eventually agreed to sing a traditional song. Her voice was beautiful.

I was sitting close to the banjo player that night who was quite friendly. A classmate and I were interested in the dynamic of the group. The main essence of the people’s spirits was fully captured when he said, “There is nothing better than getting to play my music with these lovely people who continue to inspire me.” This is when it hit me that it was not about how good of a musician you were. No matter who you were, the people in the room appreciated you and allowed others to inspire them. The gratefulness that people have for each other was one of the most fascinating moments of the trip.

No Corned Beef and Cabbage?

If one were to ask anyone back home what the most traditional Irish food is, they would most likely say corned beef and cabbage. This is a meal most often cooked and sought after by many Irish Americans especially on Saint Patrick’s Day and on Sundays. However, this is not actually the case in Ireland.

I was not aware of this until my first Sunday in Ireland while staying at the Valley House Hostel in Spiddal. At this hostel we were served traditional Irish meals by chefs for the two nights we stayed at this place. I was warned that the meal was “Ireland’s version of what Americans call corned beef and cabbage” by one of the ladies who was serving and cooking us our meals. Instead of corn beef and cabbage I was given what the Irish call bacon and cabbage.

As an American, bacon is most commonly thought of as a greasy, fatty breakfast food that many people tend to over indulge in. I may have just excited many Americans thinking that they could replace corned beef with bacon to have more of a traditional meal, but bacon is not the same in Ireland. It is simply ham that tends to be grilled yet is still just as delicious.

When my plate was placed in front of me I was confronted with a juicy piece of ham with a side of mashed potatoes and a greener looking cabbage, that had been cut into strips and of course, brown bread. Contrary to what many may think due to the potato famine, potatoes and bread are served at basically every meal. The meal was not what I was expecting but was quite satisfying.

It is impressive that almost all of America has been deceived by this meal, thinking that the Irish eat corned beef. Prior to coming to Ireland, I truly believed that I would be served more corned beef and cabbage than I could eat. Instead I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome of the variety and simple differences of each meal I ate.

A Simple Life in the Traditional Irish Home

Imagine yourself living in Ireland in the late 1800s—completely vulnerable to the elements with only yourself to get you through the cold, wet winters. You would most likely have a family of eight to twenty siblings, all living in the house with your parents. Your home would be made of thick stone walls with small windows to help keep in the warmth during the winters. The roof, covered in thatch acts as a thermal blanket, ventilating the smoke from your hearth and keeping the rain out.

You would walk into the heart of the home and be immersed with the scent of smoky peat burning from the hearth. The hearth was what kept the space dry and you warm. It was how you would cook all of your food. It would be the only stationary element in the home. Stories would be told with neighbors and friends around the fire to make the dreaded winters less miserable.

Door to children’s bedroom that would be reached by a ladder.

At night you would be snuggled up with the rest of your siblings in one of the three small bedrooms the home had. You would be fortunate to get a bed next to the door so that you would not have to climb over your siblings to escape. While there were no stairs because of the needed space in the living area, there were ladders. Essential to get to the bedrooms that would be a story above the ground. The only bedroom on the ground floor was your parents room. Their bedroom would be positioned on the wall that had the fire-place on the other side. This would be their source of heat. Your warmth would come from your siblings and the little bit of heat that would be floating up into your room.

People become wrapped up in the commotion of modern-day society. It is the simple things such as stone walls, a thatched roof and a hearth that as Dearbhaill, our guide says, “Young people are looking for meaning through authenticity” in order to live a fulfilling life. The simple life as such has led to many happy lives for the Irish as you see today since many people are still living this way.

Dear Megan…

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

Dear Megan,

Achill Island is truly lovely. I cannot wait for you to visit me next week and I hope the weather is grand so we can picnic at the cliffs. I have been working extra hours this week so that I can take the time off when you are here. I am wrecked from working the extra shifts at the local pub and from finishing moving into the cottage. This has been quite a lot more work than living in the dorms at Trinity. Since you have been on holiday and I have been working I think that you owe me a full Irish breakfast when you get here to help destress me.

I had a rather troubling night last night. It started at five in the evening when I left for work which started off just fine. I was greeted by the four friendly Jack Russells at the door that tend to roam around the pub. As I settled in, I tended to a man who seemed as if it had not been the first drink he ordered that day. Since it was a Sunday and Cork and Limerick were playing each other around dinner time, I knew going into the night that it was going to be a long one. I also was aware that he would not be the last drunk I would serve that night. I started the night rushing to immediately start serving hungry people that were anxiously watching the match. It is always difficult serving people during matches because they get frustrated with me when I walk in front of them. This is normally how the nights have been going here, stressful but manageable. Last night topped it off though. During the middle of the match, the man that seemed to have been at the pub all day started yelling at another man. I brushed it off my shoulder at first because people tend to get rambunctious during matches. But then they started physically fighting and before you know it others are trying to get them off of each other but it was not working. I then called the gardai and was hoping the yellow vehicle was somewhere near before the fight escalated even more. Unfortunately this was not the case. It took nearly 40 minutes for the gardai to show up. By then the owner of the pub had already settled things between the men but my job just started to get more difficult. Due to all of the commotion most of the kids in the room were in a fuss and had to be soothed. People were upset by the distraction which lead to me having to deal with even more unhappy customers. I am just happy that no one was injured by either of the men in the process.

Please pray for me that the next few days run smoothly and go quickly. I cannot wait to see you. Our time together is going to be craic. Enjoy the rest of your holiday.

Your loving twin,

About Megan Carrick

I come from an island that has two forks and all four seasons. On one end is the big apple; a place filled with the commotion of people always in a rush, bright lights and buildings soaring high into the air. On the other end is vast lands, filled with farms and sandy beaches, that reach towards the Atlantic Ocean and the tips of Europe. If this was not already obvious, this island is known as Long Island. A place where an adventure is always awaiting.

My landmark on this beautiful Island is smack in the middle of the two forks in a town known as Riverhead and a hamlet known as Aquebogue. I was born and raised in a loving home that sits on a small neighborhood and overlooks a farm. This neighborhood holds many memories and is where I met two of my closest friends, who moved into the summer house across the street when I was eight. I live in a 5-minute radius of the sandy beaches of the Long Island Sound, the Peconic bay and the Atlantic Ocean. My summers consists of long, full days with my toes in the sand and salt in my hair, with nights sitting around the campfire outside of my camper at Cupsogue Beach. I spend my winters, waking before the sunrises to beat the commuters rushing into the city to start their work days, so we can get to the ski mountains for the first lift.

Riverhead High School is where I acknowledged my passion for running. The track was a secondary home where I trained for cross country, winter and spring track all year round. The friends I made here became a family to me. It is where I learned how to push myself to be my best while encouraging others to be their best. The teachers and coaches at this school were some of the most genuine and encouraging people I met, all making me who I am today.

Through living on an island that is filled with vacationers and the city only a short drive away, I was lucky to be immersed in incredible architecture wherever I went. Through driving down, the roads of the Hampton’s lined with immaculate mansions I was able to recognize the importance of architecture in my life. Long island became such a notorious place to live and vacation on due to its location which drove architects to design and create some of there best work. It was something that always amazed me and with the support of my parents, I realized that architecture was the career that I wanted to pursue. It is a passion that my home will forever be able to inspire me and will allow me to add my own impact to the place I love the most.