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. 

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.

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.

Transporting the Fresh(Water) Goods

Ireland is a country that is surrounded by water, also known as an island but there are parts of the Country that still don’t have a steady supply of water even though this country is known for their rain. In Inis Oírr, the smallest of the Aran Islands of the coast of Western Ireland, we were made aware of the fact they are completed reliant on the mainland to get fresh water. This island has one freshwater lake on it called Loch Mör. The people on this island have one major problem with Loch Mör  and that is because it is a dead lake. This means the water is stagnant, and has no streams or fresh water spring running into the lake. This is problematic as the water begins to smell because it is stagnant and also acidic. These are all factors on why the loch can’t be used as a viable source of drinking water for natives. This lead to people having to be reliant on other sources of fresh water. Before the more recent practice of shipping their freshwater in from Galway, the Islanders on this Island were completely reliant on the rainwater which one local described as, “dirty water” which we were unsure if he meant polluted or that the water had a salty taste to it. Everyday there is a water boat that makes two trips from Galway to the port here on the island where they then proceed to pump the fresh water from the mainland into storage containers located near the center of the island. When we were talking to a local resident named Eoghan (Owen) we learned that this island did not get electricity on the until the year 2000 when they laid a optic cable across the bay.. This is something he was happy about but he then mentioned the Irish government didn’t think about making that a joint project to also provide water to the island. This means that the Island will not get water if the boat is unable to make it one day which means that they are completely reliant on the mainland to survive on this island. While staying on the island we were told to conserve water the most we could and to only flush when necessary. This is something that I was not used, because in the United States my home has a well and my parents never told me not to flush the toilet or to make sure you rinse your dishes in the sink instead of keeping the water running the whole time. This was eye opening to me because I didn’t realize that even in a developed country that is known for its rain could still have the same water problems of third world countries

1 liter Plastics Everywhere

The turquoise, deep blue water surrounds the land. The bright green grass covers the land itself. The clear, clean water comes out of the faucet filling our glasses. Yet I found myself walking to the convenience stores to buy 1 liter plastic water bottles during my time in Ireland.

Ireland’s water in most of the country is drinkable right from the faucet with no filter in which amazed me coming from an urban area. I was shocked that we could fill our bottles right from the sink and pubs and that restaurants gave us tap water. However, I still found myself at the store buying huge plastic water bottles. Every store I entered nowhere in sight was there a reusable water bottle, which is shocking as Ireland’s goal is to be greener and reduce waste. Buying plastic water bottles are also cheaper if the bottle is bigger, 1 liter vs 16 oz. What was even more shocking was that the most beautiful turquoise, deep blue water I saw was on this islands, also surrounded solely by water, yet it was the only place on the western side of Ireland that had a water shortage. “How is it possible to have a water shortage when surrounded by water?” is the only question I could ask. Linda the hostel manager in Innis Oirr, the smallest island, said that it had not rained in months and the water in the reservoir was not enough for its residents and tourist to use, which is why the water was turned off for 12 hours a day, 830pm – 830am. When the drops of water began to fall from the sky the island residents were happy and wanted it to continue as the tourist all wanted it to stop, seeing it as a disadvantage. This island appreciated any little water that fell as they had so little, while in the United States, New Englanders despise when it rains.

The Button Game

Ecovillage residents conserving water by drying clothes outdoors

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.



H2-Oh No!

Stepping into the broom closet that was to be our home for the next two days at Kilronan, a town on Inis Mor, a island on the Aran Isles, we were not the happiest of campers. Imagine four guys packed into a small room, and then imagine the horror of the water shutting off unexpectedly for the rest of the night, and you have our experience. You may be thinking “But wait, no water on a island? How does that work?” You see the problem is that even though the island may be surrounded by water, none of it is acceptable for human use, and it is very hard to bring enough clean water to support an entire chain of islands to the mainland, we were told that there would be no water from 8:30 at night until 8:30 the next morning, something that we could never imagine dealing with back home! After the shock and confusion went away we all realized that cutting back on our water usage wasn’t hard, it may have been different from the norm for us, but it wasn’t impossible to do. The total amount of water that is usable by humans is about 3% of the entire water on this planet, so why do we think that we have an unlimited amount? I myself have been guilty of showers that last way longer than needed, but I never realized that my actions have consequences. Although the water shut off was only during the night time, it is still a sobering wake up call to what can happen if we aren’t careful with our resources, our planet is not a endless supply for us to take from, we must respect it and care for it, or we will not be able to care for ourselves.