Cloughjordan in Co Tipperary is like many a small Irish town. It has a long, wide main street which has seen better days. There’s the national school on the outskirts, and a fire station, a Centra and a couple of pubs. It is close enough to Nenagh and Roscrea, smack bang in the middle of the midlands.
But stray a little off that main street and you will find yourself in the middle of something extraordinary: Ireland’s first, and so far only, Eco Village. Sixty-seven acres of it, featuring a bakery, a community farm, allotments, woodland and 40 or so eco-houses.
The Village came together back in 2005 when a bunch of like-minded environmentally aware people decided to try to live a low-carbon, sustainable life. The search for a suitable site took them to Cloughjordan. The land was purchased and the dream began to take shape.
In that first rush, during the economic boom, every one of the 80 or so sites was snapped up. Buyers paid €15,000 to join the Village and its district heating system, and then paid for their site on top of that initial fee. Building started straight away and there were some very impressive houses put up in the first years.
Then the financial crisis hit, the building stopped and many people were unable to finance the move to the Village. It remains about half-way completed, with sites for saleor waiting for the circumstances of their owners to change.
In the meantime, the Villagers have forged ahead. The farm is up and running; the hostel is open and much of the infrastructure is there. It just needs more people. On the day of our visit, on a quiet Sunday when Tipp were in action in Croke Park, we were struck by the thought that had gone into the design of the Village. There were apple and nut trees planted everywhere, providing “edible paths” around the plot.
The perimeter walk is a joy, a circumnavigation of the Village, taking in the woodland, the farm, the amphitheatre being built, the work spaces and the houses. Every verge was filled with flowers and the place had the air of a very up-market commune. In the middle of the Village, there are several empty plots, so there is a feeling of the heart of the place being missing.
We were not the only visitors. Every weekend, students, academics and the merely curious or interested come for a tour. This, after all, is the way we will all be living sooner or later: using local resources and treading lightly on the Earth.