16 Oct 2007
Post-ASPO Tour of West Cork.
After ASPO, I had the great honour of embarking on a brief whistle-stop tour of West Cork with Jonathan Dawson of the Global Eco-Village Network, Davie Philip from the Cultivate Centre in Dublin and Albert Bates from The Farm Ecovillage in Tennessee. Although the first two I have known for many years, it was the first time I met Albert, despite having been often in communication via. email over the years. Albert gave one of the most inspirational talks I have ever heard, at the Eco Villages and Sustainable Communities conference at Findhorn in 1995. His talk about the history of The Farm inspired all my work in eco-village development, and the amazing ‘can-do’ attitude of the farm blew me away, so it was an honour to be speaking on the same bill as him.
After the conference, we drove to Bantry and spoke, as part of Sustainable West Cork’s programme of events, to a full hall, containing some familiar faces from my time living in West Cork. Davie gave an overview about the Powerdown Community work that is being done at Cultivate and about the Village project in Cloughjordan. Albert then went on to talk about peak oil and climate change, in his individual and highly entertaining way, setting out the various scenarios that might ensue from climate change in terms of 1970s Hanna Barbera cartoons (will it be like the Flintstones or the Jetsons?).
He talked about the ecovillage movement, and offered some insights from having lived, for the past 30 years, what is, in effect, a post-petroleum lifestyle. He repeated Richard Heinberg’s assertion that the sooner we start living a low oil dependent life, the easier the transition will be.
Jonathan Dawson gave an overview of the eco-village movement, talking about a few of the key projects, and the work they are doing. Eco-villages can be seen as laboratories for post-peak lifestyles, he said. I then talked about the need to develop resilience, and gave some historical sense of what it looked like when we had more of it. I took the audience on a trip though the 12 Steps of Transition, illustrated by various developments in Totnes, wrapping up with an overview of how rapidly the Transition Network is growing. The evening generated lots of good questions and discussion (right: speakers and organisers with the Mayor of Bantry).
After a quick Bantry curry, we went to Graham Strouts’ place near Bantry to spend the night in his rather nice new energy efficient timber cabin. Next morning we were up early and off to The Hollies for breakfast. For anyone who doesn’t know, The Hollies is the eco-village/educational centre Emma and I co-founded with Thomas and Ulrike Riedmuller in 1998. I hadn’t been back since we left to move to the UK in 2005, and it felt like a real homecoming.
It was amazing to see Thomas and Ulrike’s completed cob house, which must be the most beautiful house I have ever seen. Absolutely stunning. We had a look round at the new cob outdoor classroom that had just been completed by the most recent cob building course at The Hollies (right:Davie Philip looks up into the reciprocal frame roof), taught by dear friend Ianto Evans, who was also there, another lovely reconnection.
The Hollies is evolving into a really healthy and vibrant project, the burnt house starting to be rebuilt, an abundant organic market garden up and running, and increasing interest from local schools and others in the educational programmes run there. We had breakfast and a look around the house, and then it was off to Kinsale, to visit Kinsale Further Education College, where 7 years ago I set up the Practical Sustainability course.
Returning to the college also had the feel of a real homecoming. The first and second year students gathered together and Davie, Albert and I gave talks, Albert this time telling a condensed history of the farm, and I opened my talk with some early photos of the grounds at the college which the students wouldn’t have seen. It was very moving to be back in the classroom I had spent 4 years teaching in, and to connect with a whole new generation of permaculture students, now under Graham Strouts’s capable guidance (you can read his reflections on the morning here).
It is only with distance from Kinsale that I come to appreciate what a rare and precious thing the course there is. Teaching there one has so much freedom in terms of being allowed to develop projects, and projects such as the amphitheatre (which still looks amazing) would be so much harder to do elsewhere. It was good to see also that the myrtleberries were fruiting heavily, although unfortunately not ready yet!
Then, after a quick lunch in Kinsale, it was off to the bus station and home again. Organised and ably kept together by David Philip who made sure we were on time for everything, it was a touching reconnection with many dear friends, and felt a bit like the film ‘Sliding Doors’, an insight into the parallel direction my life might have taken had things turned out differently.