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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
While traveling around Ireland, I took interest into the dynamic of the Eco-Village and how their community worked. The first place we stopped while in Ireland was Cloughjordan. What was interesting about this village was the construction of the eco village and its relive location towards the center of the Cloughjordan. This eco village could have been located outside Cloughjordans main strip, but even though it was created well long after the village of Cloughjordan was founded it looks like it belonged there. Some interesting things I learned while staying at the eco village is that there is no one in charge of the village and that everybody their makes joint decisions. Mary, one of the residents, told us, “You learn love and hate everyone here”. That really stuck with me because in a community where everyone makes decisions instead of just one person being in charge things tend to get done slower. This was something I noticed about this community as they claim to be self-sustainable; however, they have not been able to use their solar panels they as a community purchased due to technical problems dating back 10 years. This is something I thought was interesting because that meant they got their electricity from somewhere else even though their motto is that they are:
When looking at their motto I found that their vision wasn’t being 100% achieved due to relying on outside energy. One thing I picked up on about the community is that everyone was there for a specific reason, and that was that they wanted to reduce their carbon footprint on the environment. This is something I saw throughout the village as they as a community tried to reduce waste, farm their own food, and reduced water usage. Seeing a community that truly believes that as a whole they could help make a difference was inspirational. While staying in the hostel, we came across apple juice that was for sale and asked about it. Pa, the owner of the hostel we stayed at, told us that they are sold by a member of the community and could also be bought up at the store ran by the hostel’s cook, Johanna and their husband. I thought it was interesting finding out that they tried to shop locally for their food unlike in America where majority of people shop at the supermarket. Overall I believe that if the eco-village wants to grow they need to fix their solar power issue to be fully self sustainable and work towards electing someone to make decisions for the community.
Ireland is an interesting place when you look at the way they consume and create their energy. In America the main source of energy is oil and natural gas which are also burned to create electricity. This is something that so far from what we have seen in rural Ireland is not regarded as the same way to keep a home warm. Turf is a popular source of energy because it is virtually everywhere in Ireland. Turf is harvested from bog lands, which over the course of history compresses and creates a carbon based product that can be burned for energy. This is not a very environmentally practice, as doing so releases carbon back into the atmosphere, which is not good for our o-zone or life on Earth. Ireland, stores about 3% of the world’s carbon. Preserving these fields are in our best interest because when carbon is burned it releases a toxin call Carbon Monoxide. Turf farming isn’t a large scale problem created by farmers in the countryside burning it for personal use on their property, the problem is the large corporations that come into Ireland and buy up land to farm the turf from the bog all at once. A farmer in Ireland traditionally uses around 3-4 turf bricks every 15 minutes when trying to keep the fire going. This doesn’t seem like a lot but when you multiply that by the hour they use 384 slabs an hour and 140,000 a year. This seems like a lot but that is if they keep the fire constantly lit throughout the whole entire year, which is not true for everyone in Ireland. Turf farming is a cheap way to heat homes in Ireland and with trees not being abundant on the island, residents do not have many other viable options to use to heat their homes. Traditional farmers using this source of fuel will never be able to clear a field in their lifetime, but corporations can tear up a 50 meters by 35 meters field in under a day according to our friends in the Killary sheep farm. This practice has pushed Ireland to try and push back on corporations having the ability to harvest turf from bogs. One type of clean sustainable energy that can be seen as an alternative is wind turbines, in specific we saw the models known as kw3 and kw6’s. The smaller model, the kw3, gives out an average of 4,000kW/hrs while the larger size the kw6 gives out around 8,000kW/hrs. This is the greenest way to create energy because winds is natural and abundant in Ireland and the creation and use of these devices are not harming the environment while turf farming is. Most of the turbines we saw were along the Wild Atlantic Way but they were also seen inlet from the coast. These are great examples of clean energy because they have a low carbon footprint which is great for the environment and allows people to realize there are alternatives to traditional practices still being used today.
Ireland offers different options when it comes to fuel and energy. One hot topic is the burning of turf. Turf is blocks of peat from ancient bogs that for centuries rural residents have dried and burned to heat their homes.
Because turf is a sponge for CO2, people have mixed opinions on whether or not this fuel should be utilized. For centuries, people living in rural neighborhoods have burned turf to heat their homes. Others, including Anthony, our guide from the Ceide Fields said: “Burning turf is negative for the environment because turf holds CO2 so when it is burned, it releases those damaging qualities into the air.” Turf retains water, acid, and moisture so people need a lot of this resource to last throughout winter. Peat is an important resource to consider when looking at energy options inside and outside of Ireland but it is also necessary to note that there are many pros and cons to burning this fuel. No one can deny the beneficial and damaging effects of burning turf and how those effects alter the environment.
One location where peat can be found is the Atlantic blanket bog land. This prehistoric landscape is where environmentalists can find Sphagnum moss, also referred to as peat moss. It grows a mere one millimeter every year and despite its slow, gradual growth, this moss does not die down. It does not die down because of the collected water, which comes from rain. The moss transforms to turf, which is spread on the ground and the sun naturally dries it out over the hot summer time. This prepares the resource to be burned for the winter time.
The turf controversy aside, Ireland also demonstrates an understanding and practice of energy conservation. One effort Ireland makes towards energy conservation was demonstrated in the hotel rooms in Spiddal. In order to turn on the hallway, bedroom, and bathroom lights, the room key needed to be slid into the socket by the door. This invention makes an effort to conserve energy by making sure lights are not when a person is not home. Loads of energy is wasted by people who leave lights on when they are not home.
Altogether, Ireland makes efforts to conserve energy and use their resources wisely, although these efforts are not perfect and can be always improved.
A common, yet controversial source of energy in Ireland is peat, or “turf”, a sort of soil made up of decaying matter. As discussed by our bus driver and tour guide Joe, most people burn peat to heat their homes, particularly during the winter months. The popularity of this energy method was made clear by the number of peat bricks lying in fields as we drove by. There would be rows of what looked like dirt blocks ordered side by side or piled together. At Craggaunowen, our guide Stiofàn explained that the people who lived there hundreds of years ago would also burn peat to cook meals, so the turf was used as a source of energy.
So what exactly is peat?
This source of energy is not available everywhere. Peat is collected from bogland. To cut turf, a person would first remove the surface layer of grass from the ground with a shovel. A rectangular shaped tool called a slain is then pushed into the soft ground, and when it is pulled out, a brick of peat is extracted. These bricks of peat are then laid out in the field, either stacked together in a “teepee” form or flattened rows. The sun will dry the peat, causing each brick to shrink, and the timeline of this process depends on the weather – for example, if it is a rainier season the peat will take longer to dry.
There have been critiques of burning peat for energy because of its negative impact on the environment; burning peat releases CO2 into the atmosphere, which destroys the ozone layer and contributes to climate change. A single brick of peat will only burn for 15 minutes or so, which means that vast amounts of peat must be dried in order to last one home an entire winter.
Despite the controversy surrounding the use of peat, it still appears to be widely used by many Irish people. The tour guide at Céide Fields even discussed this issue because some of the peat there was being cut and used for energy. He admitted that peat contributes to climate change, but said that “it’s really the large scale peat burning that causes the problem”, so essentially he argued that the peat burning there was not an issue.
“Would you like chips or potatoes with that” were the words I was asked at least once a day by servers during meals. Before my trip to Ireland the only thing that stuck out to me was a conversation I was told. The overheard conversation was heard by a friend of two women in a restaurant in Cork: “I’m on that low carb diet.” “But aren’t you eating potatoes?” “Well, you wouldn’t want to it THAT far”. Potatoes are big in Ireland and after hearing that conversation I did still not comprehend the seriousness of potatoes in Ireland, until I experienced it first-hand within the 14 days spent on the western side of Ireland.
In the two weeks in Ireland I ate potatoes at least once a day but most days I ate potatoes at twice. There are a few ways in which potatoes came in a meal, potatoes based soup, Chips(fries), actual potatoes chips, baked potatoes or mashed potatoes. One would think that potatoes originated in Ireland but they actually came from the United States. However, I live in the United states and around day five of eating potatoes daily , I Began to get tired of potatoes and began to wonder how the Irish people do it. But no wonder the Irish do not mind if potatoes are in every meal, potatoes are a superfood. Potatoes are considered healthy in which they contain all the vitamins needed and one can live a healthy life solely off of potatoes . Individuals lived of potatoes centuries ago, which is why when the Irish famine occurred. During the Irish famine 20% -25% of the population died but surprisingly still today potatoes are a large part of the Irish meals. Potatoes are at this point embedded in the Irish food culture, and a meal would not be a ‘real’ meal without potatoes.
Suddenly, the water stops. I whip around to face the shower faucet, perplexed and still half asleep. Did I break the shower? I push the button again and the water streams out, I go back to shampooing my hair. It stops, again. I push the button, the water continues. This cycle continues for five more minutes until I realize that in order to keep the water running I have to press the button every thirty seconds to ensure that the water won’t shut off.
Emerging from my shower, after having to push the button thirty two times throughout my shower, I am frustrated. To me, it is a large nuisance to have to continue to push the button. It is not until later I am able to understand and appreciate the importance of the button.
In the U.S., water is largely taken for granted. Specifically, within New England, where I was born and raised, the region is fortunate enough to have a generous supply of water which makes water shortages rare and infrequent. However, though it may appear that water is plentiful in the North East, appearances can be deceiving. The earth’s water supply is limited and cannot be taken for granted.
While on a tour of the Ecovillage, Davey, an Ecovillage resident, explains the reason behind the button. “How often do you turn on the shower, but don’t precede to get into it until minutes later, wasting all that precious water? The button ensures that this does not happen.” I never realized how much water I had been wasting through my day to day activities. Both the Ecovillage and Ireland as a whole have taught me to how to better conserve water and be more conscious of my actions. I’ll think twice before letting the run when I am not using it.
Out of nowhere, my laptop dies. My stomach drops. This device holds my entire life. My pictures, my documents, my music, everything. I am flustered. I look around my room within the hostel at Cloughjordan for someone to help, but no one is around.
“It can’t be dead,” I mutter to myself, anxiously pressing the power button again and again trying to turn it back on. “It’s charging,” I tell myself. Or is it? I check the outlet and realize that, to my dismay, I did not turn the outlet switch “on.” Thus, the entire time I thought I was charging my laptop it was instead slowly dying. I roll my eyes at the nuisance of the on/off outlet switches.
However, later on, I realize the importance of switching the outlets off when not in use. While I had previously always been under the impression that when something wasn’t plugged in that electricity wasn’t being used. That is not the case. Though less electricity is being used when outlets are not in use, if the outlet is not “off” then electricity is still being wasted, this is called phantom energy. Unfortunately, in the U.S., outlets do not give the user the option to switch “off” and thus energy is constantly being used when it is not needed. The energy that is being used is around one to five watts. Though this seems small, it adds up.
“We do not have five earths, we only have one!” Peader, chairman of the Ecovillage, waves a finger at us angrily. The lack of on/off switches on many outlets in the U.S. is just one small example of how our country is operating as if the planet earth is dispensable. From now on I will always be sure to switch the outlets off when not in use, and unplug every device that is not currently being used or charged. Though the energy humans are burning through will not be reversed that easily, every small step counts.