Ireland is a country of many different landscapes and resources that its people rely on to survive. One of the best demonstrations of this is at the Killary Fjord where a sheep farm sits next to a mussel farm on a beautiful yet harsh landscape. A large part of Ireland is dominated by large turf bogs, a landscape that not all animals can survive in, you won’t find many horses or cattle there because they cannot get the nutrients that they need from this land. Sheep however seem to thrive here, getting all the nutrients they need eating the moss and grassy tops of the bog lands. The Killary Sheep Farm is a working farm that has over 500 sheep on its land grazing the mountain side.Not far down the road is The Killary Mussel Farm, another working farm that grows and harvest mussels that are sold locally in town. This beautiful landscape is perfect for the sheep and mussels who need specific environments to thrive, also providing farmers with the fuel to heat their homes, cheap and easily accessible.
The sheep graze freely over the mountainside and are checked on daily by the farmers and the sheepdogs who herd them where they need to go with skill. Tom, the farmer, calls out to his dog Silvia “AWAY” and Silvia goes right, corralling the sheep to one side and herding them with precision and patience. The sheep are sheared in the summer when their wool becomes long and thick, this keeps them healthy and happy, Tom says never uses an electric shaver but instead goes for the harder but safer sheers that don’t cut as close to the sheep’s skin. Tom, uses turf like many others in rural Ireland to heat his home. There is a turf bog right on the property that he has been cutting for 13 years.
Down the road on the water is the Killary Mussel Farm, yet another environment providing food for the local people. The environment to grow mussels must be very specific, they need the brackish water found in the fjord to be able to grow so many. This place is perfect for the mussels as it is for the sheep and easily accessible to the mussel farmers. Mussels on barrels in the water spawn and attach to ropes that are pulled from the water harvested and cleaned. Mussels are sold to only local markets and restaurants for around three euros a kilo, much more than if sold to plants. When asked about toxins in the water like red algae, also known as red tide, the farmers said they ensure that the quality of the mussels is good by sampling water every Monday and sending it to a Marine Institute to check for toxins. Over all, Killary Fjord is an important environment for many of the local people providing both food, fuel and a source of income for local farmers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Before shipping out of Boston to Ireland, I read some of the blogs from last year’s trip. I noticed some students talked about push start showers. These showers required you to push a button every 15 seconds to get the water to start. If you forgot to push the button, the water would turn off. Not only did you have to push a button, but you were unable to adjust the temperature of the water. If you got lucky, you had warm water. Hot water was usually scarce when other residents were showering at a similar time. Reading this before I arrived in Ireland, I felt a sense of panic. When I first arrived in the Ecovillage, the first thing I checked was to see if those blog posts were true. To my dismay I saw a button and no way to adjust the temperature. I began to dread the day I had to take a shower. After learning more about the Ecovillage, and the steps they are taking to reduce their carbon footprint, I began to appreciate the way the bathroom was set up. I then took my first ecovillage shower. To my surprise, I did not find it as challenging as I thought it would be. The button restricted people to shorter showers. Which then reduced the amount of water wasted per shower.
In places like Inis Oirr short showers were a way of life. Being on a small island, water can be scarce from time to time and has to be closely monitored. Their struggle to have a consistent water supply, led them to have water shipped to them from Galway twice a week. When I entered the hostel on Inis Oirr, we were informed that they had a water shortage on the island on last year’s trip. This restricted people from using water from 7 pm to roughly 6 am. This was a typical thing that occurred on the island, due to their small water supply. Walking around the hostel, near sinks, showers, and toilets, there were flyers that read, “Keep it short. Water shortage on the island. Thank you!” These flyers served as a constant reminder to keep it short, because of their limited water supply. By either taking a quick shower, not leaving the faucet running, and only flushing when necessary, water supplies would last longer. Coming from a place where I don’t have to worry about water shortages, I suddenly became more aware of my shower time. I used what I learned from my showers in the Ecovillage, to help conserve water during my stay in Inis Oirr.
Water usage is something that some people in America are not conscious about. They seem to think they have an unlimited water supply at their fingertips. Living in these different water usage environments has opened my eyes to become more aware that long and hot showers are not the most necessary thing in the world. These shower set ups got me in the routine of taking shorter showers. After the Ecovillage, I found myself turning off the water when I put in my shampoo and conditioner, then, turning it back on after I was done mixing it in my hair. Living in these water conscious environments exposed us to other ways of living and will allow us to bring these new techniques back to America.
“Mother Nature is the best sculptor,” is what my tour guide at the Céide Fields said when he was explaining the landscape around us. Looking to the horizon you can see an endless view of hills and grasslands. This is the view that the Irish grew up admiring. In 2001, the landscape of Ireland began to change. Slowly, large wind turbines were installed. Now a total of 2,878 wind turbines have made their way into Ireland’s hills. In 2015, these turbines provided 23% of Ireland’s energy. Wind turbines were one of the things that Ireland has done to try and use their environment to reduce the ecological footprint they were creating. Flying into Shannon airport, the few things I could see out my window were cows, and wind turbines. Whichever direction I looked, there were a cluster of windmills up close and off in the distance. Most people might think that these structures are obstructing their view of the landscape that Ireland has to offer or deem them “ugly.” However, when people understand what the wind turbines are doing for the environment, they will no longer see them as ugly, but rather something beautiful for something so important.
Another energy efficient step that Ireland has taken are their outlets. When I first arrived at the Park Inn, I immediately ran to an outlet with my adaptor in hand, to charge my phone before the days endeavors begun. I plugged in my charger to the adaptor and plugged it into the wall, and waited for my phone to charge. However, nothing happened. It was as if my phone was not plugged into an outlet. After trying every outlet in the room, and my anxiety levels growing by the second, I finally noticed the little switch in the middle of the outlet. I plugged my charger into the wall, flicked the switch, and finally my phone began to charge. I was confused at first about this modification of the outlet here, because I had never seen anything like this in America. I later learned that the switch turns on and off the electricity in the outlet. That way when people are not using the outlet, energy is not escaping it in the process. I noticed that every time I plugged something into a wall the switch was always turned off because someone remembered to switch it off when they were done using it. For me, I always forgot to flick the switch when I was done using it. It occurred to me that for the Irish, it must be second nature for them to flick the switch when they are done. Exactly like it is second nature to get in the car and put on your seat belt. After a learning curve, I quickly learned to remind myself to shut off the switch when I was done using it.
As Des, our driver, was saying on a bus ride, we are the generation that is going to make these environmental changes, “It is our job to be the change.” Collectively, Ireland has been taking steps in the right direction to become an energy efficient country. They have learned to work off of the land to give them renewable energy. This way of living keeps the land whole so people can continue to enjoy those stunning views. While some of these methods might be unconventional to us Americans, the way the Irish are living can teach America about the small steps we have to take to become a more energy efficient country.
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.
The following is a work of fiction based on recent events and experiences in Ireland.
My beloved twin- Dia dhuit! I know we have a complicated relationship and you are probably very shocked to be receiving this letter, but I have been wanting to reach out to you for months now. First off, I need to apologize. When mum and dad split, I chose dad’s side. I know now that choosing sides was immature and it only drove a wedge between us. I deeply regret that decision. I am so sorry. The truth is mum and dad share blame. One thing is for certain though, we cannot blame ourselves for our parents’ mistakes. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me even though this letter is long overdue. My heart is open and I want us to be able to move forward in a positive and healthy way. I want our relationship to be even stronger. I miss being your sister and best friend. I am starting off with this letter in the hopes that we can establish a new and improved relationship. I want to share with you what I experienced yesterday:
I woke up to a breathtaking view outside my window.
I saw lush greens, my precious baby lambs, and an azure sky. In Achill Island, the clouds were painted across the sky effortlessly. I turned on the TV and I was immediately informed of the news that there was a nationwide ban of single-use plastic items. I want to share this with you and get your perspective because I am passionate about this subject. Personally, I was pleased with this report because, as an environmentalist, I am well aware of the negative impact plastic waste has on the planet. I was reading an article, “Almost all bottled water contains microplastics, study shows,“ on the Irish Times while I ate my full Irish breakfast. One quote that stuck with me was by Dr. Andrew Mayes. Mayes led the research team at the UEA’s School of Chemistry and he said, “We are becoming increasingly aware of microplastics in the environment and their potentially harmful effects, but their prevalence in other areas has been much less studied. They have been reported in tap water, beer and many other foods, but I think that people will be surprised that almost all bottled water appears to be contaminated too. This study analysed more than 250 bottles from 27 lots and 11 different brands from around the world, so it is the largest and most comprehensive study of water I know of to date, and almost all were contaminated to some degree.”
Microplastics can do extensive and irreversible damage to the planet and I do not want Ireland’s luxurious landscapes to be ruined but I also can acknowledge that, like every other story, there are two sides to consider. Kayleigh, what do you think?
Again, I know this letter came out of the blue but I look forward to hearing from you very soon. Sending all my love.
“We are a community of blow-ins” – Pa from the eco-village
Because of their past, the Irish have always had a strong sense of community. Coming to Ireland, I knew the people would be friendly and welcoming, but I did not expect the amount of selflessness the Irish would inhibit. During my trip, I talked to many people from all different backgrounds and one thing stood out; these people were more concerned with the bigger picture than their own personal issues. Contrary to in America, where most people are focused on getting from their own point A’s to point B’s, the Irish take pride in living simpler lives to benefit the greater good. I stayed at the eco-village in Cloughjordan the first few nights of my trip, and the people lived there without certain comforts that I take for granted back home. The eco-village strives to solve many problems of the modern world such as wasting food, energy, and water. The village used compost bins to empty uneaten food into to what would eventually be used as fertilizer for the gardens once it had decomposed. The village aimed to combat the amount spent on imported food, as “more than half the nation’s food bill goes towards imported goods” by setting up multiple tents for growing various vegetables and foods.
Why waste money on importing foods that they can grow right there in the eco-village? Not having to go out and retrieve food limits the amount of fuel emissions which also benefits the environment. The hostel, as well as the buildings housed in the village were built containing showers and faucets with a timed amount of use with them for the purpose of saving water. The act of having to continually press the buttons on these made me aware of how much water I was used to using, and made me realize that I was able to put soap of my body and then wash it off with the water, rather than having both be going at the same time. My time there may not have made a great impact on the amount of water that was saved, but overtime the amount of water saved by not having it constantly running is insurmountable.
During one of the first nights in Cloughjordan, Sean, Kyle, and I visited the Railroad pub down the street from the eco-village at which we spoke with the bartender about how it was owning a pub in such a small village. He acknowledged that he would be making more money if he just decided to quit and collect unemployment, but he felt that he would be letting down the people who knew him in the village. Even though the unemployment program is much different in Ireland, that kind of sacrifice would be unheard of in America where the amount of money you make is of utmost importance. Here in Ireland how, how much you make means less to locals because they are kind-hearted people who put the group above themselves.