Lass in class: The home turf of Ireland

April 10, 2014

When you travel from city to city abroad, it is actually surprisingly easy to forget that you are in a foreign country. The people wear the same clothes and drive the same cars. You become used to the accent and after awhile you begin to anticipate the different direction of traffic, looking towards your right when crossing the road rather than your left. You start to see tourists, instead of being one.

The only way I have counteracted this has been to befriend my fellow student and future roommate in Madison: Rachel. Rachel (pictured below) comes from Connemara on the western part of Ireland, about a 30-minute drive from Galway. She is half Irish and half English, but fully kind. Kind in the sense that she allowed me to stay in her home for a weekend and did not laugh too hysterically upon my excitement brought on by viewing the peat bog where her family harvests their turf.

Photo from UW-Madison environmental studies student Peyton Sweeney studying abroad in Ireland

Her family’s home rests on pristine farmland overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Separated into plots by stone walls built by her grandfather, the family land holds more than history. Like the ruins of a soup kitchen built in the time of the famine, it holds energy.

Last semester at UW-Madison, I took a class that for awhile focused on peat. In that class I learned that two weeks of farming peat can supply a household with a year’s worth of clean energy. Rachel’s family cuts, stacks and dries their peat during the summer months.

Photo from UW-Madison environmental studies student Peyton Sweeney studying abroad in Ireland

I experienced firsthand the heat produced by their peat stove as I sat in the living room, digesting the wonderful dinner her lovely mother provided. In my home in Milwaukee, we burn wood in our fireplace and it has to be constantly refreshed. However, they checked on the peat maybe once or twice the entire night.

Their “turf,” as they call it, is so familiar to them that they did not have nearly the same elevated frequency in their voice as I did while touching the dark blocks. However, what they did take time out to show me were the new wind turbines built in the distance.

Photo of wind turbines from UW-Madison environmental studies student Peyton Sweeney studying abroad in Ireland

It was really amazing for me to see the old and the new coming together.

Although Rachel and her family live on old land, they are progressive in their lifestyles. They utilize the same techniques as their ancestors did while entertaining new ideas for harvesting Ireland’s natural resources, like wind, water and land. 

In doing so, her family showcases a certain attitude towards energy. An attitude of appreciation and hard work when it comes to harvesting time. Yet, they only take that which they need. Therefore, rather than overexploiting their resources, they protect the fertile land on which they live and love. 

Photo from UW-Madison environmental studies student Peyton Sweeney studying abroad in Ireland

Peyton Sweeney is an English and environmental studies major from Bayside, Wis., who is studying abroad for the spring semester at the National University of Ireland, Galway. She will document her experience on a student blog, Lass in Class.