A couple of months ago I wrote about The Wintles, an unusual housing project from the Living Villages Trust. There, a series of homes were built and sold, planning from the outset to create a brand new village and community around a set of shared public spaces and resources.
A reader in Ireland got in touch to tell me about a similar project, the Cloughjordan Ecovillage. This too has been designed to foster community in a new village, but with a crucial difference. Here, you buy a plot of land and build your own home, according to an agreed set of standards. It makes Cloughjordan a showcase for natural building techniques, from traditional cob houses to straw bale walls, or timber frame kit houses. All of them tap into a district heating system that burns wood waste from a nearby sawmill and provides low-carbon heating and hot water.
There are 55 homes so far, and a hostel. There are still 28 empty plots available if, on the offchance, you fancy moving to a village in Ireland and building an ecohome.
Many residents have built what they needed to run a business and work from home, including workshops and a bakery. Others work at a green business centre on the site, while a train link to Dublin and Limerick keeps the city accessible. The village also hosts Ireland’s leading community supported agriculture initiative, where paid farmers supply organic produce to a membership of local households.
The land that the village is on, which was bought in 1999, is divided into thirds. One is given over to housing, with a goal of eventually building 130 houses. A third is reserved for the farm, orchards, allotments, and ‘edible landscapes’ of various kinds. The final third is kept as woodland, a place for residents to enjoy and to encourage local biodiversity.
As a fairly ambitious project, the village has been studied in a variety of ways and it has been designated the greenest village in Ireland. A study found that residents had the lowest ecological footprints of any settlement in the country – though it came in at 2 global hectares, and the sustainable ‘one planet share’ is 1.7. Even a radical project like Cloughjordan doesn’t yet meet the full definition of equitable sustainability.
Building your own ecohome isn’t for everyone, and I can imagine there are pros and cons to a community with a very high ratio of idealists and pioneers! With everyone doing their own thing, there won’t be the aesthetic coherence of a development like The Wintles. But it’s a unique experiment and one to learn from. That’s a big part of their philosophy, running tours and residential courses. Since the pandemic makes that impossible, they’ve created a 360 tour instead, which you can see below.