Lass in class: The wonder of Ireland’s water

February 18, 2014

Living in Ireland could quite easily be compared to walking slowly under a waterfall. One is neither warm, nor dry, in Ireland. It is simply a way of life.

The Irish have “eyes of the sea” because we are constantly bombarded by rain, mist, hail, fog and any other form water can take. Water is more present than the sun; therefore, one starts appreciating a raindrop more than a sun’s ray. Without it, the entire way of life that I am so enjoying ceases to exist.

I toured the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin purely for blog purposes, I swear, and I will continue to swear that is why I went. However, one could possibly be distracted from work by the rich ruby of the brew in the tasting room or by the large waterfall cascading over you in the front entrance. There are four ingredients used in Guinness: barley, hops, water and yeast. 

Now, Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000-year lease in 1759 for the brewery he was about to start. Confident guy. However, he also achieved access to water sourced from the Wicklow Mountains in the north.

UW-Madison student Peyton Sweeney
Peyton Sweeney

This water is so important even now that the workers and the company will only refer to their water as “liquor” (no matter how many times you interrupt and say water) and in 1769 when a Dublin sheriff threatened to cut the supply, Arthur went out with an axe to defend it. The Irish live and die by the purity of their water, and Arthur Guinness is only one example of this.

Another example emerges in the cascading waterfalls of a place known as Kylemore Abbey. Currently a place of residence for an order of Benedictine nuns and formerly a boarding school for girls, this place of amazing beauty sticks out in my mind as heavenly.

To enter the grounds, you have to cross a lake so pure the mind confuses the sky with its reflection. This is because the lake is fed by mountain water from the glacier-forged area of Ireland known as Connemara. Built in 1871 by Mitchell Henry as a gift to his wife, Kylemore Abbey remains one of the most beautiful homes I have ever seen – and I grew up in an area with a street known as Mansion Lane.

Built of pale brick in a gothic design, it hides in the shadow of the mountain, letting the extravagance of the land overtake the extravagance of the mahogany of the banisters and the green marble sourced from the local quarry. However, I was most mystified by two things. The first was the large Victorian garden and oak arboretum on the land, which could only have been made possible in design by Henry’s engineering foresight. 

Which brings me to the other mystifying trait of Kylemore Abbey. Henry changed the route of the waterfalls and, in doing so, created a source of hydroelectricity. This powered not only his castle, but also his gardens and the local, on-site fire brigade.

In a place as rural as Connemara in the 1800s, Mitchell Henry brought a new age of scientific improvement to the area. All because of – you guessed it – Ireland’s water. 

Peyton Sweeney is an English and environmental studies major from Bayside, Wis., who is studying abroad for the spring semester at the National University of Ireland, Galway. She will document her experience on a student blog, Lass in Class.