Keeping Ireland Hydrated

Water is one of the main elements that is necessary for life as we know it. However, many of us take water for granted. It is a natural resource similar to any other that we find on our planet and it needs to be treated as such. From what I have observed on this two week course it is fairly obvious that the people of Ireland know how precious water is.  They treat it as if it has a significant value which you don’t see very often back at home in America. Our first three nights in the Eco village were a definitely an eye opener. The showers we used were button operated meaning you had to push a put-on which would give you about 20 seconds of water pressure. Over the course of the three days and nights I found myself taking shorter showers and therefore using less and less water. This could be because I had no desire to take longer showers due to the fact that I had to keep pressing the button. I believe that this practice could be applied to American households in order to help preserve water where it is more necessary. A more recent event that has me carefully checking my own water use is our arrival on the Aran Islands. The aran islands do not have access to massive underground wells or reservoirs. During times of water scarcity they have water shipped here from the mainland twice a day in massive tanks. This may seem impractical, but for these locals it is vital. I have even seen signs up around the island regarding water use. These signs are a constant reminder of the value of water to these people.  Something that caught my attention was the fact that our hostel’s showers needs to be running for five minutes before any hot water is released. This just isn’t what the island of Inis Oirr needs.


This is Kathy

My friend, Erin, and I went to the Centra at Cloughjordan  to buy food for the next morning.  Once I gathered all of my items, I had to wait for Erin since I was paying for her purchases as well. Two minutes went by and I peered my head around the aisle to see where she was.  She was talking to one of the workers behind the deli counter. When almost five minutes went by I looked around the corner again to see what was taking her so long.  She was still talking to the worker. So I made my way over to see what they were talking about. “This is Kathy,” Erin said to me. Kathy proceeded to say hi and welcome me to Ireland. She was so friendly and curious about our abroad trip. We ended up talking to Kathy for about ten more minutes and then took a picture of her and her coworkers.

Workers from Cloughjordan’s local Centra. From left to right: Kathy, The Manager, Marie.

That night, there was a bit of music on at Grace’s, one of the local pubs.  Later into the night, I made my way into the room where the music was happening. Our teacher, Dr. O’Connell, summed up this kind of Irish music very well when she said, “They don’t play music for entertainment, they play it for pure joy.”  The atmosphere of that small room was indescribable. Not only was the music wonderful but everyone participated in it. I looked around and everyone was contributing to the music in some way or another. Whether it was singing, playing the guitar, or clapping their hands, everyone was enjoying the music.  After one of the breaks in the music, a man sitting next to me was asked to play a song. The guitarist passed his guitar to him and the man started to play and sing. As he reached the chorus, everyone in the room joined in and started to sing. Then, he passed the guitar to the girl behind him and she sang a song. After that, an older man that looked like he was 85 years old came over from the bar because he was beckoned to sing.  And again, once he reached the chorus everyone joined him.

The pub slowed down and we were ready to leave.  As we made our way to the door, Kathy from the Centra walked in.  Erin and I were so happy to see her as was she. The entire room greeted her and told us that she had a beautiful voice.  The audience started to chant, “Kathy, Kathy, Kathy.” So, she sang “Song for the Mira.” Slowly, one by one, all of the musicians chimed in with their instruments.  It was one of the coolest things to experience. Kathy walked into the bar and two minutes later was singing with the musicians. That is a memory about Cloughjordan that I will never forget.

History, Family, and Music

Music, history, and family seem to be the three things that hold the tight knit communities of rural Ireland together. Everyone we meet seems to passionately know the history of not only Ireland but of where they live specifically, and everywhere you go there is music, especially in local pubs at night. It seems to bring the community together and create a friendly and outgoing atmosphere. During our visit to Cnoc Suain Dearbhaill told us how the traditional music of Ireland passed on from family as a way of storytelling was fading away and an effort was made to bring it back to children that has been extremely successful. The next night in the Spiddal hotel during our music workshop the couple who was playing for us said a something similar about people forming groups to get more people into playing traditional Irish instruments. It shows how important music is to the Irish culture, especially among families and from generation to generation. Luckily these efforts have been successful and I have not gone into a pub in Ireland yet that didn’t have some sort of live music, usually played by a small group, just for fun.

Penny Whistle at Cnoc Suain

Cnoc Suain is a cultural center in Conamara focusing on history, culture, nature, and music that Dearbhaill described to us as “an inspiration for the future”. Families in Ireland seem to be very close and the family in general very important. At Cnoc Suain we learned of how many daughters would emigrate to the United States in order to support their family and while 95% did not return they would continue to send their family money and supplies, demonstrating how strong family bonds are in this country. 

Everyone in Ireland seems to care about the history of Ireland and wants to share it with others. “What you have to remember is that this country was occupied for 800 years” said Des, a national tour guide. Many other people have emphasized this same point about how the country has not always been free and independent and this seems to have had a large impact on the people and their communities and ways of life. History is very important to Irish people and how it has been traditionally passed down through music and stories is just as important and keeps communities and families tightly knit in the rural areas. 

Welcome to Ireland

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.


A Close Knit Community

Ireland is known for many of its small communities, and the CloughJordan eco-village emphasizes this unique aspect of the country. While walking through the eco-village, two words came to mind: simplicity, and sustainability. During our tour guides presentation, Mary discussed the idea of composting. The eco-village takes all of their food waste from each community member and eventually turns it into soil. This process is extremely complex and precise making sure each item of food is accounted for. Another aspect of the community is push-button showers that lasted for around 20 seconds. The idea behind this invention is to conserve the usage of water.
Eco-villagers are brought together by other shared values, such as attending the same church, sharing village responsibilities including education, tour guiding and running the sustainable business center. Additionally, villagers participate in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) in which many villagers contribute locally grown produce. On the property, there is a barn that is utilized by many community members to supply and take fresh produce.
Community members are not only brought together by their desire to eat healthy, but to also conserve energy. Spending three nights at the hostel, I was able to notice little to no driving done by members of the village. Walking was much more heavily utilized as well as the usage of bicycles and all for good reason. The shared belief to walk instead of using gas which requires more money to be spent is emphasized by the majority of people making the decision to walk. One final community based program was building each and every house from reusable items. One house in particular, Pa explained had old car interiors that was the material for the roof which was fascinating to me considering you do not see that a lot in America.
All in all, this village was undoubtedly brought together by various ways which helped the community grow and prosper in the healthiest and most efficient ways possible. The members can congregate and relate to each other incredibly easily because of shared values and same ideas.

Cloughjordan’s Community

Stories and storytelling are a important part of Irish culture. As one person told me, “If you have no story to tell, then what good are you here?” After all, stories are a part of our everyday lives and culture. There are many elements to a story: things we use to characterize a story, the places in which it took place, the people one has encountered, and the dialogue that took place. Stories can form new relationships or help make current ones stronger. They bring people together and build a community. Storytelling humanizes, it allows people to find similarities, and differences, and get to know one another in a personal and natural way. Stories are to be found throughout Ireland’s culture through their songs, poetry, dance, and history. An Irish community is based on storytelling and people getting to know one another. I realized just how interconnected Ireland’s culture is with story and song when I walked into Grace’s Pub.

        Cloughjordan is a small and quiet village, where the locals know one another by name and visitors stick out like sore thumbs. One night we went to Grace’s Pub to take in the culture of live Irish music. The community that took place in this pub was beautiful. This live music was nothing like typical live music. These people were locals sitting around in a circle playing their instruments and making music simply because they love doing it. There were no crowds, stage, light, or performance taking place. It was simply people who do something with their community the established through playing music. One man told me, “the beauty of this is that even if there wasn’t one person in this pub to listen to them they would still be here playing. They just love to play.” When he said that I thought of field hockey and what it meant to me. It wasn’t the crowd at the games that made me want to play but the feeling I got when I played. Being a part of a team was a community, the girls I played with I loved because we were doing something we all loved, and doing it together makes the sport.

        The Cloughjordan community was truly amazing. All of the locals respected one another and played to do something that they love; in a community they love. Throughout the night, one by one, someone would sing and have their little solo. Everyone playing would stop talking or playing, to pay attention to the person during their solo. The respect they had for one another built the sense of community. Their songs they shared were poems and stories passed down from Irish culture and literature. They used their community to keep the Cloughjordan community alive through their love for music and respect for one another.

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. 

Imperfect Interconnectedness

During our first morning at Cloughjordan Ecovillage I was struck by the natural beauty of the landscape—the houses, interconnected meshes of reused materials, passive timber frame design, stone, and stucco are set amongst the tannic pines, sturdy oaks and abundance of wild flowers. It is, indeed, serene here and the pace of our modernized, technological lives seems to slow. I’ve been observing a mosaic of life so unlike my own: the sun rises, the grass rustles, crows caw as they fly over the village amphitheater, labyrinth, and small boys playing ball. My mind has not been jumping from sharp fragment to anxious fragment.  It is quiet. I am not used to this.

I find myself tangibly laughing—the kind that makes my stomach hurt. It reminds me of when I was little, how I would measure the day’s worth by how much dirt I had under my fingernails from playing. I have found myself not only engaging with other students but with a few of the ecovillagers as well. Mary, an ecovillage resident, told us, “The best thing about living in our ecovillage is the people, and the worst thing about living in the ecovillage is… the people.” Her wisely humorous words stuck with me because they do not idealize life in an intentional community nor community in general.

Our time living within the ecovillage has brought our small community of students closer together. Having two teams cook for the group was a chaotic joy that required us to listen and respect one another as well as have a fair amount of flexibility. While we walked to the market, I saw a number of ecovillagers outside enjoying the evening. I was surprised to see children playing together in nature, given that in the United States, many children at the elementary age are playing their Gameboys and watching T.V.

While composing our group’s meal out of locally sourced Irish food, my team members adjusted methods according to each person’s needs, whether it was making vegetarian burgers or gluten free pasta. Much like how Úna explained living in the ecovillage, our time working together was not easy, but immensely rewarding. And I thought, “Hey, maybe this is what it is all about: connection.” As a species we have become so detached from the earth and… each other. I have come to question whether our driveby coffees, microwave T.V. dinners and consumer culture can fill this void, or whether our consumer culture—advertised as the key to happiness and materialistic fulfillmen—is, ironically, the driving force of the void itself.

Cloughjordan Ecovillage is not perfect—their solar panels do not work for financial reasons, village proposals take a painstakingly long time to pass due to indecision, and not all villagers actively participate in all ecological practices and responsibilities. But no place and no person is perfect. Cloughjordan is making what I perceive to be a valiant attempt to reconnect with our humanness—our place in nature as an individualistic but profoundly dependent species on each other and our environment.

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.

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