Ten seconds later . . .

A sink faucet in Ennis similar to the shower in Cloughjordan.

At the Park Inn Hotel in Shannon, there was a sign in the bathroom that said, “Saving water. Turn off the sink”.  The reduction of water use was most prominent in the Cloughjordan Eco-Village. The Eco-Village focused on living sustainably for the people that lived there as well as for their visitors.  When I went to wash my hands in the bathroom, I had to push the faucet multiple times because the water would run very briefly. I didn’t think anything of this because I have encountered many faucets like that.  

Later in the night, my roommate went to shower.  Ten seconds after I heard her turn the shower on it turned off.  Then, it went on again. And ten seconds later turned off. She yelled out to me, “What is going on? The water keeps shutting off!”  I laughed and told her that I didn’t know. She continued to finish her shower that turned off every ten seconds by constantly turning it on.  When she got out we realized that the shower did this to conserve water. This not only saves water but makes the visitors of the Eco Village more aware of their water use.  Throughout the rest of my trip, I’ve noticed that other parts of Ireland are also conserving their water use. Many public bathrooms have signs that express concerns about water use and are clear examples of a hope for change.  

Dez also informed us that there is a plastic water bottle ban that will be going into action as soon as possible.  This ban will be for all of Ireland and it will include other plastic products as well such as plastic utensils and other containers.  He told us that Ireland will take this ban on and the rest of Europe will follow their lead.

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

Every Drop Counts

I go to take my first shower in the Eco-Village in the small village of Cloughjordan, my first experience with water in Ireland. There is a shower head but not the typical nozzle or handle to turn on to get water pressure and no indication whatsoever of any control of temperature. There is only a button to press on the wall, and when you press it the water turns on for about 15-20 seconds and then turns off and you have to hit it again. Showering like this gave me a new appreciation for how much you water I normally use and how much I actually need. As someone who tends to take longer showers, often just standing there contemplating life, being somewhere that conserves as much water as possible really made me think about and realize that I don’t need all the water I have been using and how important it is to conserve what I can. 

Another way that the eco-village in Cloughjordan saves water is by conserving water coming from sinks. When I went to wash my dishes after my first meal I found the sink full of water and immediately went to drain it before washing my dishes. I was quickly stopped by Pa, a resident of the eco-village and owner of the hostel we were staying at, who instructed me to use the water in the sink to wash instead of running the water the entire time while 20 people wash their dishes. While this was something to get used to it did conserve a lot of water and made me appreciate all of the other times i’m using water unnecessarily. The eco-village, while focusing the most on it, was not the only place in Ireland that is conserving water.

On the island of Inis Oirr water must be conserved especially carefully during the summer months, when there can be water shortages. In early June when we were there, water was being ferried to the island from the mainland up to three times a day. This meant that water was a large focus for the community at that time and the hostel we stayed at encouraged us to save as much water as possible. The owner of the hostel explained this on our first day and asked us to take short showers and “only flush when necessary”. In other places in Ireland that didn’t have a water shortage they still focus on conserving water and there were signs in both of the hotels that I stayed in asking people to be conscientious of the water that is used washing towels and bed linens. It was impressive to see how many people and establishments cared about conserving water and how many small changes to daily life can have a large impact.

A Sign About Conserving Water in a Hotel in Spiddal


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. 

“Preserve and Conserve the Water!”

Traveling around Ireland and experiencing the “water” situation for myself such as showers, I came to the realization that we as Americans are incredibly fortunate in the aspect of water. Considering water is so easily accessible in the United States, a majority of people take it for granted. I know in my personal life, after a long, stressful day at work or school I go home and take a long HOT shower. I do not generally think twice about the conservation of it or how much time I tend to use up before while the water is running. A good example of that would be when I brush my teeth and wash my face, I tend to keep the shower running because it is “warming up.” At the very beginning of our 2 week haul, we stayed at a community called the Ecovillage. I knew nothing about this place but obviously understood the main focus was on conserving energy, waste, and food. The first time I tried to use the shower, it took me a while to understand how it worked. The shower had one single button in the middle of it, which required you to press it numerous times if the shower was to continuously stay on. Pressing the button once resulted in around a 20 second burst of water from the shower. Having to go through this during every attempt at a shower truthfully got frustrating, but also made me fully understand the luxury of water I have back home. I realized back in the states, my concern was not how much water I was using or the amount of time I was in the shower, but rather when I felt comfortable to get out which most of the time is far greater than necessary. Ireland made me see things from another view and got me used to the idea of having to take shorter showers and keep the idea of water consumption in the back of my mind.

Fish Out of Water

A sign posted on the toilet at Rowan Hostel in Ennis.

Travelling to an unknown country can be a nerve-wracking experience for anyone. You often have to handle a new language, different cultural expectations, and much, much more. However, one might assume things would be relatively easy to understand in the bathroom.

My first indication that the plumbing systems in Ireland differed from the States was in the bathroom at the Park Inn right across the street from Shannon Airport. There were two buttons above the toilet to flush, and it was unclear whether you were supposed to push the smaller button to flush less amounts of human waste, the bigger button being for larger amounts. This aspect of the bathrooms would help to save water by using less amounts of water to flush, unless a larger amount is required. Although this system of two buttons is eco-friendly, it was unclear what the difference between the two buttons was.

The Larger or Smaller Button?

Even when I asked people who lived in Ireland, no one could give me a clear answer of the difference between the two buttons. Most assumed the larger button was for a larger flush, but a few suggested that the larger button was easier to press and therefore was for smaller, more frequent flushes. Because of the user’s confusion, particularly for someone who is from outside the country, he or she may end up pressing the bigger button even though it is not necessary.

 Another element of the bathrooms which differed from those in the US also concerned flushing. The toilets at the Ecovillage in Cloughjordan had a flush handle that appeared similar to ones in the US, but we discovered that this handle had to be pumped a couple times before the toilet would flush completely. You could also hold the handle down for longer if you required more water to flush the toilet. Again, this system conserves water by giving the user a certain amount of control over how much water is used to flush, but it also does not make this clear to the user. At first, a couple people at the Ecovillage thought the toilets were broken because they would not flush completely on the first pump. 

These differences in the plumbing systems of Ireland allow for the user to conserve water. Although it may not be clear at first to new users, the additional measures conserve small amounts of water which will aid a greater effort to help the environment.

“You Can’t Eat the Scenery”

Abundance of Water

“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.

Sign in Inis Oirr

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?


“Don’t Waste the Water!”

“Please only flush the toilets when you need to,” Linda, our host at the Brú Radharc na Mara Hostel tells us kindly. Her request is met with a few nervous glances. We file into the Hostel’s quaint foyer and I observe that the walls are covered with courtesy notices about water conservation. Outside the coast is relatively calm and salt water slowly laps at the weathered limestone. It is remote at Inis Oirr and fresh water is scarce—a surprising reality for some who wonder why, with ocean on all sides of us, that we must be so cautious. I approach one of the notices on the hostel billboard that reads, “Limit shower use.” Oh no. With all the hair I have, short showers are not my forte.

I have noticed that water conservation in Ireland is much more prevalent on both the mainland and Aran Islands than in the United States, forcing me to confront my privilege as someone who has long taken unlimited water usage as a given.

After greeting us, Linda explained that water is shipped to Inis Oirr on boats from Galway three times a day—a process that is very costly and not environmentally sustainable. As a result, proposals to develop water mains through the Aran Islands have been fervently debated throughout the past year. However, since water is currently shipped to Inis Oirr, islanders are left to the mercy of the weather to determine their water usage. “Last year,” Linda tells us, “we had a water curfew between 19:00 pm and 7:00 am due to a very dry summer. It was quite an adjustment for the students here before you.” More nervous glances pass around the room. I wonder what it would be like to live as a resident on the island and figure that a careful approach to water would become a second nature.

I tried to adopt this second nature for myself when I took a shower this morning. Upon turning the faucet, a jet of frigid water shot out. When the water did not increase in temperature after a minute, I got rather uneasy, then, deciding to suck-it-up and deal with it, I plunged into the icy cold. And I got used to it. As I showered, I was careful not to keep the water running while I was shampooing and conditioning my hair. The process was somewhat difficult, but it made a profound amount of sense in terms of conservation. Linda later told me that the long duration of cold water was due to newly installed faucets that limit hot water consumption.

While it may seem rather facile, showering here has made me appreciate and question my water usage back home. We take much for granted, and perhaps dangerously assume that hot showers are a universal aspect of the Westernized world. But this is not the case. Water is not an infinite resource and should not be treated as such. Hygiene is essential, yet respecting the earth is just as important.

Water, Use Sparingly!

Here in Ireland, the topic that stands out the most to me and is a reoccurring discussion is water. They seem to have different means of water systems and conservation compared to what we are used to in the United States. So far on our trip we have stayed in four hostels and out of all four of them, three had push button showers. This is one of the best ways to conserve water that we don’t even know we aren’t using while in the shower. I was nervous and annoyed about having to use this system of showering, however in I got used to it very quickly. I also noticed that it was a better way of showering especially in the small stalls because I could wash my body with soap or shave while no water was coming down. There is an underlying theme throughout most of Ireland that suggests the conservation of energy and resources. This is because in some parts of Ireland (the ones we visited) there is a limited amount of these resources, so they had to find ways to use them sparingly. Water fits into these categories because preserving fresh, clean water is important and necessary for the lives of the people living here. I also noticed that with the sinks there is a common trend of not having a lot of water pressure and therefore using less water.  They also have timed sinks to make sure there is less water use. In the hostels, some of them don’t have hot water all the time. For the Valley House, hot water turned on from 6-9 pm and 6-9 am to conserve energy.

Before we came to Inis Mór, our professor, June Speakman was telling us about how on the last trip, the island was in the middle of a “severe water crisis,” but this years winter was a lot more wet and rainy so their water supply would be enough for the summer. It is crazy to think that the people who live on the island rely on the weather to support their supply of water, and I’ve never experienced being in a water crisis.

Another interesting topic about water is the issue with plastic water bottles. Over in the United States, plastic water bottles are nearly everywhere, including both for sale stores and littering the beaches. They recently banned plastic products in Ireland and are moving towards different, more sustainable ways to in which to sell water. I think this is a great idea, however, it’s going to take a lot more time and effort for the United States to get on board. I wonder what materials they are going use to replace the plastic of the water bottles.

Overall, there is a definitely a large attempt to conserve water here in Ireland and I would love to see how much water things like push button showers actually save over a period of time. Here in Inis Mór, we are surrounded by salt water, but that can’t be used to drink. When we traveled to the Killary farm, the water there was brackish-half salt and half fresh water, and that is also not drinkable, but as we saw, it is perfect to grow things like oysters, clams and mussels in.

Brackish water mussels

A Conversation about Water Conservation

Ireland makes several efforts to conserve water and use this precious resource responsibly. One way Ireland conserves water is by installing showers and sinks with timers. Every ten seconds or so, the running water will turn off automatically. This is an effort to cut down on wasted water because many people either forget to turn the water off or they leave the water on when they are not using it. I noticed this invention in a few places in Ireland including Cloughjordan ecovillage, the Westport hostel, and at Ennis.  

This sign encourages guests to make an effort by flushing toilets only when appropriate.

Another effort of water conservation I noticed was in the hostel at Ennis. There is a sign in the bathrooms, on top of the toilet that reads “Think before you flush.” I also heard a woman who works at the hostel remind guests to only flush when necessary. One example the woman gave is when a person is in the bathroom and they know another person is going to come right in and use the bathroom, the first person can wait to flush. Therefore one toilet flush can dispose of both people’s waste. Tons of water is wasted in the bathroom and this effort has the potential to make a powerful impact on the planet.

A third effort I noticed was an invention that was put to use at the ecovillage in Cloughjordan as well as the hostel in Ennis. The toilets there featured a dual button. One section of the button is meant to be pressed when only a small flush is needed. The other part of the button is for bigger flushes. Having these two options makes a strong effort to conserve water and only fully flush a toilet when it is needed.

This button located on the toilet offers two options. Choose wisely.

After noticing these elements of Ireland’s effort towards water conservation, I realized that Ireland has many features that work towards helping to preserve water. Ireland has various methods and systems in place to use their water in limited but effective quantities. Ireland does a wonderful job of conserving water and other places that do not work to conserve water could learn a thing or two from Ireland’s ways.