In 2006 I began the design for the 3.8 acre south west facing piece of land that my husband Mike and I had managed to buy on the side of a Wicklow Mountain. Our first observations of the site led to the name we chose for it.
Carraig is the mountain and in gaelic means rock as it has several rocky outcrops on it. Our ‘scrub’ field was full of rocks cleared from the surrounding pastures 50 years ago.
Dúlra means nature and this zone 5, set aside field, which had only been used to let the rams run in it, was full of natural habitats amongst the rocks: long grass, bracken, gorse, bramble and birch along with a few scots pine and a large beech tree, made niches that supported lizards, grasshoppers, rabbits, foxes, birds and hawks, falcons and kites.
The design’s purpose or vision was to create Carraig Dúlra farm/small-holding as a permaculture demonstration site and venue for training, and events run by Carraig Dúlra Ltd (a not for profit training and consultation company), and by others. It was not going to have a permanent residence on it, but did hope to provide temporary accommodation for volunteers and trainees.
The primary aim for our family was to deepen our own learning by having a place to walk our talk more publicly than we had previously. This would allow us to tap into the collective intelligence of people who were interested in seeing and contributing to what we were doing. We wanted to be very open and also to share all we and others were learning along the way. The vision was to create a living skills bank/store. A concept we created to mirror the idea of a seed bank where viable seeds are grown out regularly to maintain their viability. We wanted to create a place where skills could be preserved by applying them regularly on courses and developing the site, but also like viable seeds, skills could be shared and taken away for use elsewhere.
Project Initiators- Mike and Suzie: A mature couple in late 30s early 40s who had accumulated significant personal resilience or 7 forms of wealth: good health, sense of adventure (we started this project after 6 months wwoofing in europe with our kids) education, personal savings, and a positive attitude that we actively fund through our life choices, along with the social capital from living in our area for 15 years with family connections, kids, volunteering and working. This lead to a mission to give something back and contribute to our community’s resilience
while still developing things for our family. The opportunity was to utilize abundance in new and interesting ways.
Early phase would include: tapping into friends and family for early project design and implementation setting up what were the basic elements that would allow us to draw in new people - through courses and volunteer organizations such as wwoofers.
Personal savings from project initiators would be invested and other supports such as grants would be sought.
Early design ideas were part of the growth phase of development moving on to an exploratory phase using the action learning model. Structures were temporary and the only permanent placed elements were the annual vegetable garden and the orchard and food forest/forest garden. (Links) One early pattern that was noted on reflection (a few years later) was that early design elements and actions were tentative and tended to be concentrated on the edges of the site moving slower into the centre. This demonstrated a known human behaviour pattern: that when confronted with large open spaces, people often hug the periphery protecting their backs and is observed in play grounds and piazzas and town squares and group behaviour were people can be reluctant to take the centre stage. (This effect can be mitigated by adjusting the proportions of such spaces and providing places to protect your back as is discussed in Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander. His patterns applied to problems can be seen here. Using gut instincts, the early placement of structural design elements were unconsciously providing such spaces.
Beginning near the new deer fencing early temporary structures for compost toilet, kitchen and classroom (a collection of sheds, yurts and tents) were erected near the entrance gate on the flatter ground or at the top of a short access track (which had been made along the SW edge of the site.) The raised area had a commanding view of the access track to the site which all visitors drove up. In placing these elements I had mimicked a wolf pack making a den and posting sentries on high ground.
In order to realize the vision, the design and its implementation on the site needed to act as fertile ground for learning about permaculture and testing its theories in the real world on the land and in the people based organizational models we would use.
The site is not large and was fenced on the north separating it from a newly planted area of forestry managed by the semi state body COILTE. Further north and north east up the mountain there were more mature stands of douglas fir trees which would be harvested for the timber industry over the next 10 or so years.
To the north west there was a ditch and stone wall with wire fencing and beyond this boundary a pasture used by a conventional farmer for sheep and cattle
To the west the site was open and exposed. The views from the site are of hills leading to the Wicklow Uplands.
The east and south east were not fully fenced and the land in these directions are part of a 100acre organic farm specializing in lamb and egg production.
Carraig Dúlra Final Site Design
I facilitated the development of the Overall Design for Carraig Dúlra much of this design includes my opinions and ideas and so it is very much my own design. However, it is also true say that it was also evolving process that involved action learning and collaboration with very many people as first envisioned back in 2006.
Over a 5-7year period, it is hard to count all the rough drafts of the design and sketches throughout that period as it evolved. This pays homage to Mollison’s comment the map is not the landscape. In fact, in an applied discipline like Permaculture, it is very challenging to describe the process accurately in words, but it includes consulting experts in ecology, landscape architecture, conservation, organic growing, and other areas. Local connections or research from books, websites etc, as well as, brainstorms on courses with students and teachers, trips to see examples of different elements around Ireland and the world. These all informed the design.
The old addage a picture tells a thousand words comes in handy here. Photographs from the site's early development blog are available here. However, many ideas were jotted down over cups of tea on scraps of paper and (as several elements within the overall design were given to students on permaculture courses I was teaching) their design drawings are included in galleries within these design elements: glass house, barn, and forest garden. I like to do drawings and sketches for my design work, but struggle with measurement and accurate mapping. I do not work well with numbers, but can take a familiar object and make good estimates. For example, something is 5 of my boots wide, or twice as high as my campervan.
So because almost all my permaculture courses have included architect type folk, I have been able to work with those willing to barter doing maps for some of my design work in exchange for consultation on their own projects. This is a great way of applying the principals of making use of available resources, capture and storing energy, and share the surplus as applied to people.
Results of a SWOT analysis
The site had been chosen with some high level criteria such as aspect and slope, but price and availability in our local area were a necessary criteria and challenge due to a housing boom that was at its height in Ireland in 2006. Using the problem is the solution DP** principal we sold our house in the town and moved into rented accommodation thus freeing capital for the project.
Finding what was considered to be scrub agricultural land unsuitable for building was turned into an opportunity to demonstrate permaculture on marginal land where it would be more a more persuasive demonstration than using prime agriculture land. This was also a way of using the principal produce no waste or use waste as a resource
There were enough resources to begin and opportunities to utilize these resources to begin to generate a livelihood that could be further developed into the future. Some food, fuel and food resources could be used immediately and there was potential to develop many more. The only limit being our collective imaginations as the yield of a system is theoretically unlimited. DP**
There were few threats that could not be mitigated, or turned into opportunities. The land was certified organic having been part of a larger organic holding. Despite there being conventional neighbours there was no cereal production which would have used sprays and the COILTE woods also used mechanical means for weed control rather than sprays.
The site was exposed so shelter needed to be considered before other elements were located.
There was no direct water source on site, but legal access to a spring so water catchment was also a priority.
Materials Tools and Skills
Deer fencing needs to be 7-10ft high, well staked, and low to the ground to prevent deer from getting under it.
Friends and new acquaintances are willing to support a start up project because they like the activity and they support the vision.
Neighbours are wiling to help regardless of the why or what they are supporting. This is due to a long time strong community value of being a good neighbour. This value is still strong in our rural area and has proved a vital factor in community resilience for centuries.