Eco-village people build community from ground up
It's a slow start for a unique project, but its backers are high-energy, says Jerome Reilly
Even those who want to tread the Earth lightly have felt the jackboot of the credit crunch stamp on their dreams.
By now there should be nearly 114 low-energy homes in Ireland's first eco-village -- built on the lofty ideal of sustainable living with minimal impact on the environment.
The project is now years behind schedule with just a handful of houses built so far.
But the dream lives on in Cloughjordan in the heart of Co Tipperary, and the sound of cement mixers and the shouts of builders in high-vis jackets still make it one of the busier construction sites in Ireland.
But it is not without its critics, including the Irish Rural Dwellers Association (IRDA), which has circulated a glossy pamphlet denouncing the eco-village and mocking its vision of sustainability as "ridiculous" and "poppycock". IRDA spokesman Jim Connolly wrote that the reality of Cloughjordan eco-village was "an 11 year-old, 67-acre unfinished building site, which may never be finished -- a potential enormous white elephant".
The spark that ignited the war of words was a news item on RTE's Six-One news on March 19 during which the eco-village construction manager, architect Liam Ryan, declared: "This is the way forward. In the next 10 years, I can tell you now, every county in Ireland will have an eco-village because this is a replacement for the one-off houses that we currently have all over the countryside.
"We have to address that problem and we have to put people in sustainable communities and that is what we are proving here."
Mr Connolly and the IRDA claim the comments amount to "an onslaught on the 1.5 million rural dwellers that live in the countryside".
Mr Ryan was bemused. He said his comments were made in the heat of a live TV interview and he did not mean to attack rural dwellers.
"What I was saying is not coming from me, it's coming from the planners who are not granting planning permission for one-off houses.
"Unfortunately, no matter what you, or I, or Jim thinks, it is unsustainable. Jim's gripe shouldn't be with me but with all the planning departments around the country."
But Mr Connolly says sustainability must be examined under many headings. People moving to the village must purchase a site -- average cost €86,000 -- and fund the building of a home. "If 80 sites have been sold, according to RTE, why aren't 80 houses being built?" Mr Connolly asked.
Certainly the recession has slowed the project down.
But Mr Ryan points out that while only five houses have been built and occupied, another 30 are under construction.
"It's been a fantastic success. There is a great sense at the moment that we are turning a long, slow corner at last. I hope we are going to drag the recession with us." While about 80 sites for the eco-village have been sold, many of those who want to build are in limbo. They are trying to sell their existing homes to free up cash or, like everyone else, have found accessing mortgage credit difficult.
More than 30 families have moved into the area while they wait for the right time to start building.
When it's finished there will be pedestrian pathways lined with fruit and nut trees, a streamside walkway, 50 acres of land for allotments, farming and woodland, a green enterprise centre, hi-spec broadband, which is already installed, a centre of education for sustainable living and an eco-hostel for visitors, which is already midway through construction.
The houses already completed are as individual as the owners, who come from eclectic walks of life.
Professor Peadar Kirby and his wife were among the first to move in to their new eco-friendly home.
The house is a stunning piece of design bathed in natural light and with its highly efficient heating system built into the walls. Earlier this month town planner David Mooney was finishing the foundation block work of his house, which will be built of cob -- an ancient building material created by mixing soil, clay, sand and straw to a consistency like dough, and used for centuries until it died out during the 19th century.
Brendan Power and his German-born wife Nicole just moved into their new home built with hemp and lime with children Caoimhe, 5, and two- year-old Maeve.
"We have been thinking of this for a long time," said Nicole. "We want to live in a sustainable way and this was just what we were looking for. There are other children already in the eco-village and we want to build a real community here."
The next year will be crucial to the eco-village project but there is a heartening resilience about the individuals who are battling through a recession and the credit crunch to make their dreams come true.