Tipperary eco-home build has a new rhythm of life in Cloughjordan

Oliver Moore completes the story of his self-build in the mould-breaking village of Cloughjordan, Co Tipperary, where the emphasis is on community and sustainability.

Tipperary eco-home build has a new rhythm of life in Cloughjordan

There is this notion that in the past, or in economically poorer parts of the world, children used to have more fun.

It’s always a difficult thing to quantify accurately, but the story goes something like this: children used to ramble country fields, or roam from house to house in tightly-knit, working-class communities. All parents kept a general eye but they mostly left the kids to it.

Children didn’t have many of the plastic props of today — instead their toys were rudimentary, cobbled together from bits of scrap wood and old pram wheels. Play depended heavily on imagination — not on parental spending.

These days, children from ever-smaller families in ever-quieter households have a world of gadgets, a range of brightly coloured plastic strewn everywhere, and have formal play dates, organised by doting, micro-managing, helicopter parents.

There is some truth in this cliché, though sociologists tell us that, even in Ireland, working-class children are still more likely to have more of a generic and less of a fully-structured upbringing.

Whatever about the accuracy or otherwise of this historical construction, there is a place where the best of this imagined past fuses seamlessly with the mod-cons of the present.

As I type this from the breakfast counter in our completed, newly-built house (finished 2014), our two children are out and about, somewhere in Cloughjordan’s eco-village.

A bunch of boys have just pushed a homemade cart down the pathway past the window, with one rollercoaster-faced, worried lad supposedly steering. Earlier, there was the clip-clop of a pair of horses with quietly excited kids on the cart they pulled.

My younger daughter has so much space to roam, to meet up with so many other kids by semi- chance, to see shoes as an optional summer-wear extra; to make dens with denizens of her ilk.

For we parents, we don’t have to worry about traffic, and we may feed a gang of kids today — knowing someone else will do likewise tomorrow. My older son has plenty his own age to hang around with.

They are a lovely bunch, swaying from laconic to lively, wandering from homes to houses, from advanced gamer board games to the sets of their own phone-camera movies.

We moved here for them to have that sort of life, as much as for us to be surrounded by (relatively) like-minded adults.

And it’s definitely happening — it’s already worth it. The stages we traversed from finishing with our builder, Fergus Collins, to sitting at the breakfast counter today, were always significant, often complicated and sometimes slow.

Our architects, Miles Sampson and Colin McDonnell have been great helping us finish the build ourselves, which has been quite cost-effective. We managed it from the second fit of the electrics onwards.

So floors, kitchen, bathroom, kitting out all the rooms and internal painting were done or managed by us. DoneDeal became a very regular website to visit, and a local van-for-hire our new, part-time vehicle.

We sourced a decent kitchen for, incredibly, €250. Even with new countertops and taps (neither of which were strictly necessary), the basic spend was a zero off the bill for the more affordable kitchens. Local carpenter Mick Lillis did a great job installing it, coming up with the great, very cost-effective breakfast counter.

Having a van was really handy: we could throw in a cooker, bed-base, chairs, and other items when we turned up for the kitchen. We also bought lots of odds and sods in Dublin that day simply because we had the space in the van.

While I worked, my partner Vicki did all the floors and internal painting. For the floors, she came up with a very innovative and affordable option, which involved layering a builder’s paper with water-based floor varnish.

With deals and bargains in various places, some rooms cost less than €30 to floor. So while it was labour intensive, it was certainly worth it. Painting the three-story house was a quite epic undertaking, especially with every second room’s high ceilings and our snaking stairs.

But again, it was something we (she!) could do, so we had to choose it as a good-value option.

We have a wood-chip district heating system here in Cloughjordan, which supplies each house’s large tank with hot water. Getting this heating system finally and fully operational took a little time heading into winter months. Ironically, the house is so warm, especially on the higher levels, that we don’t use much heat.

We constructed the inevitable snag list for the builder with our architects. Bringing people around and showing them the house in various states of finish was also helpful in getting (hopefully) all the snags in.

And there is nothing like an Irish mother for spotting flaws, eh? Friends and neighbours could spot stuff that was hidden in plain sight to us.

The pace of this stage was frustrating in many ways; builders can have teams of people working in tandem. When you manage the finish yourself, and when daily life takes over once more, things stall somewhat.

Holidays, having enough work to make it worthwhile for a plumber to visit, and knowing, exactly, the sequence of things that have to be done – all of this took lots of time and effort. Holidays are also a great time to move house with children – there are no issues with schools.

Finding the final money for a house build is for many people, including us, a challenge. There are epic stories here in our eco-village of what people did, and for how long, just to get in, to stop paying rent somewhere, to start to live somewhere solid again.

We heard tales of washing plates in the shower — for how many months? A single pipe as your kitchen – for how long? Every decision for these last stages towards an elusive turnkey was forensically examined. So priorities moved up and down the list.

Here’s an example.

We had a kitchen table to bring with us, so why would we upgrade to that bargain in the antique store? Even if it is one third the price it would be new, and even if it’s in superb shape, why buy when you already have one? While it could be a good investment, so will finishing off the rest of what’s on the list – the essentials.

So we are at the end, in the sense that we are in, we are living here in Cloughjordan’s ecovillage. That final elusive turnkey moment may prove to be elusive – it may never come, being perhaps a chimera, cajoling us towards a mythical end point.

But we are here, now. A new rhythm of life has begun to take hold. A sort of blissful contentedness has landed like an evening mist, as I too ramble around, walking the dog along pathways scythed in long grasses, enjoying all the spaces, looking for those – yes – elusive daughter’s shoes from the late summer past, and hope for many more to come. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

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