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


Food for Thought

It was clear to me from the beginning of my time in Ireland that the Irish have a different relationship with food than Americans. The food isn’t much different on the surface, chicken wings, seafood, red meat and similar snacks. While we may share many of the same things there are a lot of small differences that make a large impact on the culture around food.

People here seem to value fresh and clean food more than America does. The majority of food in markets and grocery stores that I have been to are fresh. One store even had only fresh bread crumbs, after searching the entire store for pre-packaged recognizable bread crumbs we asked an employee who directed us to the fresh ones in just a plastic bag with no label or brand name, which is why we missed it. We are used to packaged foods with recognizable brand names that have traveled far to reach our grocery store shelves, and the difference in the taste and quality of the food is obvious. It is a regulation in the EU that the food be labeled with what is in it and allergens printed in bold so that you don’t have to go searching for it, so it’s easier to know exactly what you’re eating. Overall there is a general feeling of respect and attention to the quality of food throughout rural Ireland.

I gained an appreciation for where food comes from when I had the opportunity to see food being grown at the eco-village in Cloughjordan, where one resident in particular, Bruce, grows vegetables and puts them out for other members of the community to take. He told us that he saw a ‘knowledge gap’ in people knowing how to grow their own food and is doing research to try and fill some of that gap. He grows vegetables in multiple plots of land on the eco-village, experimenting with different foods and growing styles, and publishes his work on a youtube channel called Red Gardens.

In places outside of the eco-village, general eating habits have slight differences from what I am used to in America, and these are evident in stores. When in search of breakfast foods and snacks I became excited because I saw many familiar brands, logos, and foods, even finding my favorite cereal, Frosted Flakes, although called Frostys here in Ireland. But when it came to snacks, I found it was difficult to find those brands I love to eat back home, and in general found that there are much less snack selections here. It is overall a cultural difference between what people prefer and are used to eating, and things seem healthier here in Ireland with fresher food, clearer ingredients and more of an appreciation for what is being consumed. 

A Small Snack Aisle in a Grocery Store 

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. 

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.

Mother Nature’s Meal

“What’s the most Irish food there is?” Megan asks our bus driver and human-knowledge-bank Desmond, or Des as we fondly refer to him. “Oh, well, let’s see.” Des pauses, then gives a sly smile, “Black pudding.” “What’s black pudding?” I ask. “Blood sausage!” Des responds happily, then upon seeing my grimace states, “Oh come now, there are foods in America that are a lot less appetizing.” I think for for a moment, then slowly utter, “Well I suppose that blood sausage isn’t nearly as unappealing as a processed McDonald’s Happy Meal or ballpark hot dog.” “Exactly!” Desmond exclaims, “Now you’re thinking.”

He’s got a point. While traveling through rural Ireland, I have not seen a single fast food chain. The food seems fresher here and somehow more… present: mussels are harvested straight from Killary Harbor, greens are picked from the communal garden at Cloughjordan Ecovillage, and milk comes from grass pasture-fed Irish cows. Thus far, I have been able to trace the majority of my meals back to the earth.

Back home, many people I’ve talked to do not know where canned olives come from and how broccoli grows. Food consumed by college students is often packaged and preprocessed. In contrast, when I was walking through the Cloughjordan minimarket, I learned that eggs on the mainland need no refrigeration due to their freshness and there is a law against selling milk from cows on antibiotics. Upon acquiring this knowledge, my mind briefly flashed back to Michael Pollan’s descriptions of U.S. factory farm feedlots in his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. The juxtaposition of his gruesome illustration of cows and chickens wallowing in confined filth with the animals here, wandering contentedly through luminescent green pastures, is absolutely striking.

Yesterday the staff at Killary Harbour made me the most delicious salad after learning that I was a vegetarian. I could taste the freshness of the vibrant beets, greens, and red raspberries. And I savored each flavor, grateful for the earth, which we often forget is the provider and nurturer of all species. Mother Nature lets us grow the foods that bring us together—from the grains grown to make Guinness enjoyed during pub gatherings, to the oysters my peers happily slurped as we crowded around a picnic table, telling stories about our days.

When contemplating American processed foods, I found it immensely troubling when Des informed us that McDonalds and KFCs are cropping up in Dublin, Limerick, and Cork. As he alluded, McDonald’s Happy Meals are, indeed, not happy meals at all. Rather, the smiles I see on my peer’s faces during dinner times here—while biting into freshly caught salmon fillet and homemade mashed potatoes—speak to what a happy meal actually is: the closeness and contentment we feel, conversing over food grown from the ground and raised on the fertile land, vibrant with well-respected life.

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.

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. 

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.

A Community in Unity

Every country is made up of various communities. In Ireland, one unpopular style of community I experienced was an ecovillage in Cloughjordan. Our tour guide, Úna, told me that despite their eco-friendly efforts, “A lot of people move here more for the strong sense of community” versus a passion to help the environment. I found this interesting because previously, I assumed everyone who lived here did so because they were passionate about nature. In this community, people decide to not cut the grass excessively and ride a bike instead of driving. They also have community places where people can leave items they no longer had a use for, such as toys, movies, and crafts. This demonstrates a strong sense of closeness because people were comfortable sharing, repurposing, and donating their personal belongings without expecting anything in return.

The ecovillage knows the grass can always be longer on the other side.

Another example of the strong sense of community here was in the Cloughjordan pubs. People would sit in a circle and share their musical abilities by singing and playing instruments freely. They helped one another finish songs by either jumping in to sing a verse or accompanying an instrument. The community was supportive and open-minded, even towards new people. Anyone who wanted to sing or play music was encouraged to and received support afterward.

This farmer is working selflessly. It is his contribution to the community.

Also, the farmers demonstrate an understanding of community because their work is selfless. They work long, stressful hours in strenuous conditions to provide food and resources to the village. They make a low minimum wage pay that does not match the physical labor they exert.

The ecovillage loves and supports Mother Nature. People and animals here can rejoice unified in one community because every creature is respected. Even Pa’s Django Ecohostel composts food in an effort to keep the community in the best condition possible because that will benefit everyone. By the end of my time at the ecovillage, I learned that this population as well as Cloughjordan as a whole, both exhibit a strong and healthy sense of community through their efforts to make their home a prosperous environment for everyone.

Ireland is a complex country that holds many different types of communities, specifically an ecovillage that offers many benefits to the people who live there.

Do You Want Brown Bread With That?

When I first sat down for a meal in the Ecovillage, Una brought out a plate of brown bread in one hand and butter in the other. Whether it was at the dinner table at home or a restaurant, brown bread found their way onto the dinner table each night. Even though brown bread was not the main course of the meal, I treated it as my main dish. Leaving me too full to finish the rest of my meal. Brown bread is easy to make, which is why it has been so popular with the Irish, now and in the past. All you need is, buttermilk, whole wheat flour, white flour, salt and baking soda. However, variations have been made of this recipe. It has even been made into ice cream. The trick to making brown bread is to mix the flour and other ingredients together, lifting it up high and letting it fall into the dish below. This allows the air to get into the ingredients, making it a fluffy and a light bread. Once all your ingredients are mixed in, you have to shape the bread. It is important to move the bread around as little as possible. This is different from making traditional white bread because white bread requires you to play with the dough as much as possible to shape it perfectly. Once your bread is mixed and shaped, a cross is cut into the top of the bread, allowing air to flow throughout the loaf. After it is cooked, your butter is placed on top and it is ready to be enjoyed.

Not only can brown bread be seen alone, before a meal, it can also be seen as a side dish to many main courses. Vegetable soup can be seen on almost every menu in Ireland. Vegetable soup is usually accompanied by a slice of brown bread, unless specified otherwise. The vegetable soup is brought out boiling from the pot straight to the dinner table. Waiting for the soup to cool down, I found myself dunking the brown bread into the vegetable soup. The combination of flavors between the vegetable soup and the brown bread, allowed them to compliment one another perfectly. When all the bread was dunked and eaten, the soup was then cool enough to begin eating with a spoon. Since the Irish love their soup at a boiling hot temperature, the brown bread allowed me to enjoy the warm soup, without burning my throat in the process.

Throughout the trip, I heard my fellow classmates make remarks such as, “Who would have thought brown bread would be so popular.” The reason is that the simple ingredients that are used in brown bread made it an easy meal to make when resources were low during the famine. Since then, brown bread has become an Irish statement food. Everyone has their own unique way to making their own brown bread, making it different each time you eat it. Which is what makes brown bread a unique part of their culture. Every meal you can taste the freshness of each slice of bread. The creamy spread of butter, melting on the surface of the brown bread, makes your mouth water uncontrollably the second the waitress or waiter brings the plate of brown bread over. Recipes are unique to each family, and they have been handed down from generation to generation, each different from one another. Living off the land, allows the people of Ireland to eat healthy, and use their environment to benefit their way of living.