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A Dream

John Seymour takes an imaginative look at a small island on the western shores. Could it be Aran? What life could be like...

By John Seymour
There was an island in the Western Sea. It had no trees, but fine grass grew on the thin
soil over the limestone rock. Animals thrived on this grass and grew fat and healthy. There was much bare rock but also pockets of soil, and the soil, fortified with the plentiful seaweed that was there, grew good crops. The seas around were rich in fish. If you dropped a baited hook down from the precipitous cliffs on the western side you would quickly haul up a wrasse, or rock-fish; and men and boys would go out in small boats made from cow hides stretched over frames of drift wood and catch lobsters, ling, cod, herring, mackerel and hake. Nobody need go hungry unless they were too lazy to work.

The girls and women spun the wool of their own sheep, and knitted garments that were famous world-wide for their quality. There were some looms on the island and some of the men wove good cloth.

The islanders had everything they needed for a good and sensible life. There was good stone for building, and they could grow good rye straw for thatching their houses.

Certain things, though, were in short supply. There was some drift wood for fuel but not enough. If they wanted turf, or peat, they had to import it from the mainland. As they were short of fuel to burn lime they also had to import slaked lime from the mainland, or else, as time went on, cement. Milled timber, too, they imported, to build better houses than they could with drift wood, and glass for windows. The latter was important to them, for it improved their quality of life: they could see to work or to read in the winter time. Paraffin for lamps had the same advantage.

They paid for the goods they thus imported with store cattle, fat lambs, wool, and fish.
There was a school, and a teacher was sent from the mainland, and the teacher loved the kids and the kids loved the teacher - which was much more important than computers or the latest laboratory equipment.

The people worked hard but lived well and were happy. Once the land they lived near gained independence from foreign domination they were freed from the curse of landlordism and no longer had to pay rent to an absentee landlord. The wealth that they created stayed on the island and was not lost to them.

When the population grew too big for the island some of the people would go over the sea. One day one of these came back again. He took the ferry from the mainland, which was just a humble fishing boat in those days, and when he stepped ashore he was greeted by his brother, who had stayed on the island and never never gone away. thetwo were delighted to see each other again but hardly recognised each other.

The brother who had stayed on the island was hard, fit and lean. The brother who had gone away was overweight, puffy and unfit. He had spent too long living in unhealthy cities and sitting in air-conditioned offices grubbing for money, which was his God.
Tired fish-fingers brought from hundreds of miles away took the place of fresh fish "Do you have a lot of unemployment on this island?" he asked his brother. The latter found it hard to answer this question. "Unemployment?" he said. "There is nobody employed! There is nobody employed on this island."

"Well I've saved a few dollars since I've been abroad," said the other. "And I'm going to transform this place! I'm going to drag it into the twentieth century!"

And he did.

He caused an airstrip to be built, to bring tourists from the mainland. He founded a much faster and more regular and comfortable sea ferry. He founded a luxury restaurant - and guest houses for tourists sprang up all over the island. Where before the island had been free of motor cars now more and more people started to have them in spite of the fact that the island was only a few miles long. People began to clamour for a car ferry to the mainland.

People no longer bothered to go fishing, except for fun, and the farming languished. The few people who had grown vegetables - and the many who had grown potatoes - ceased to do so - it was much easier to jump on the ferry to the mainland and shop in the supermarket - or else use the mini-supermarket that was established on the island. Even people who owned cows became too lazy to milk them and bought their milk from the mainland. Tired fish-fingers brought from hundreds of miles away took the place of fresh fish. There was still a little trade in store cattle and fat lamb, and all the wool was sent to the mainland where it fetched practically nothing - and the people bought all their clothes from mainland shops.

... he realised that there might be something he could do to rid himself and his beloved island forever of that horrible machine.

Soon the islanders reached the position where they were producing nothing for themselves. They were entirely dependent on the tourists, and money from the Government. Not one of the islanders ever asked himself the question: "what if one
day the tourists cease to come?"

But still they were not entirely happy with their lives. True they had the television, on which, like most people, they were hooked. They could watch "Dallas" and see how they would really like to live. But a few of them - maybe more than a few - found there was something unsatisfying about their lives. It was hard to put a name to it - see exactly what it was. Of course they were nearly all in debt - to the banks and other moneylenders on the mainland. They constantly had to borrow money to build the new Dallas-style bungalows, and build the restaurants, and guest houses and hotels for the tourists. They also needed motor cars, which their forefathers had done very well without. Every summer the tourists flooded all over the island so the islanders had no peace nor privacy and they began to get fed up.

One evening the man who had welcomed his brother from abroad was worrying even more than he usually did. He knew he was deeply in debt - he had had a horrid letter from some mainland bank manager that day. His car had broken down and he had become dependent on it and couldn't afford another one. His wife was clamouring for a new washing machine, his daughter for a video - his son was having to be supported at university on the mainland. He was a worried man, and he went to bed and had a dream.

He dreamed he walked out of his front door - and saw a gigantic object in the sky over to the East.

It looked like a giant funnel - like the nozzle of a gigantic vacuum cleaner. It filled half the sky. It got rapidly lower - and nearer him - until it seemed to cover the whole island. And then it began to suck. Thousands of ten and twenty and hundred pound notes swept past in the giant wind it created. The Dreamer clung on to his door - post, otherwise it would have sucked him away too. Then sheep and cattle began to follow -rolling over - unable to keep their feet! They went whirling up into the giant nozzle. Then the soil went - the little pockets of soil that still remained on the island. Then the fishing boats went - and even the fish began to jump out of the sea and be sucked away.

The Dreamer fell into a great panic and clung desperately onto his doorpost. He worried that his wife and his children would go too. He was completely terrified.

Then just as he felt he could hang on no longer and was about to be torn from his post and sucked away - he woke up!

He lay sweating in bed, and trembling - exhausted with the terror of it all. His wife had not been woken up by his nightmare. He got out of bed and poured himself a stiff glass of poteen. That's one thing, he thought with relief, we still make on this island!

Then he lay for the rest of the night, thinking.

Where was the other end - the delivery end - of that giant vacuum cleaner? he wondered. Then he realised. It was on the mainland - and on other mainlands. It was in the banks and the factories and the supermarkets of great cities, and the pockets of millionaires.

And suddenly he sat up in excitement. He came to a sudden realisation - he realised that there might be something he could do to rid himself and his beloved island forever of that horrible machine. And he got up and found a pad and a pen and began to write his thoughts down. And next day he called a meeting of some friends, who were old and prominent islanders, and read what he had written out to them.

And this is what it was:

'Let us dedicate ourselves from henceforth to cut out all unnecessary imports into this island. Let us buy nothing in that we can't provide for ourselves. We will need some capital to achieve this - not much but some, and let us provide this capital for ourselves. Let us swear never to borrow another penny from the mainland. We have a good working Credit Union already - let us support it! Let us shame each other into supporting it! And make its policy never to invest a penny on the mainland - invest all it has right here on our beautiful island.
Let us dedicate ourselves from henceforth to cut out all unnecessary imports into this island. Let us buy nothing in that we can't provide for ourselves. And then let us proceed like this:

1. It is madness for an island with fine grass and a very long grazing season to buy its milk from the mainland. Let us set up one young farmer as our island milk distributor and all promise to support him - and not another pint of milk from the mainland. It should be a matter of deep shame for us to buy one drop of milk, or ounce of cheese or butter, from abroad. Let us find the money together to send one young couple to the mainland where they can learn to make good cheese and butter and yoghurt. Their job will be first to supply the island, and only second to produce for export to the mainland. There is no reason why their produce should not be supreme in quality - of world renown.

2. It is equally silly and dishonourable for a grazing island to import meat. Let us set up one family with an abattoir - and henceforth kill our own beef and lamb and mutton on the island. Let us fat our cattle - and not ship them off to the mainland as stores, and let us send any surplus meat we have to export on the hook - not the hoof. We might then even add a tannery and a leather industry to our economy. If we cannot grow enough grain and fodder to fatten our animals then buy some from the mainland. It will be a lot more cost effective than importing beef.

3. See if we cannot grow our own bread corn. If we cannot sensibly grow wheat then import some in the grain and maybe mix it with rye and barley and get people used to eating that. Set some young person up as a miller ­ and maybe another as a baker. Shame people into eating our good island bread!

4. Get a second-hand wool-carding machine, and a spinning jenny, and a flying shuttle loom or two and process our own wool. Not an ounce of it again to the mainland. Try to take all produce up to its highest state of manufacture. People who are content to live in a colonial economy (selling raw material and buying finished goods) are suckers and that is all there is about it.

5. Encourage - and at first subsidise - a small-scale fishing industry. Swear never to import another piece of fish. Get some people to learn the arts of preserving, smoking, and pickling fish. Lay down an oyster bed or two on our east shore. Establish a sea water holding tank for lobsters. Only export fish products which are surplus to our requirements - we come first!

6. Encourage people to garden again - and set up at least one market garden, with poultry and pigs as well perhaps. Produce all our own eggs, poultry meat, pork ham and bacon. We should insist on living on the fat of the land - the very best of everything there is.

7. Aim at complete self sufficiency in energy. There is one thing this island is rich in and that is wind! Aim to set up wind generators all along our west coast until we are producing all our own electricity. If we have to have batteries then get batteries, as money for them becomes available.

8. And the most controversial thing of all - ban cars from the island! They are not needed on an island the size of ours. We would save a vast amount of money by doing without them. Compare Sark, in the Channel Islands, and Norderney in the Friesian Islands where cars are not allowed. They are so peaceful that discriminating tourists flock to them. Have plenty of horse transport. Encourage some young enthusiast to buy a Galway Hooker to sail tourists about. Encourage the more interested and discriminating kind of tourist. Such people will flock anyway to an island where so many interesting things are going on. Improve the beauty of the island by insisting on building with local material again (thus incidentally, saving foreign exchange). Start treating sewage in methane digesters, thus avoiding polluting the drinking water and also providing useful methane gas and good fertiliser for the land.

Well, the Dreamer put all this before his fellow islanders. And do you think they took the slightest notice of him? Yes? You've got to be joking mate.
  John Seymour, known as the 'Father of Self-Sufficiency', is the author of many books, including the bestseller Guide to Self-Sufficiency. He lives in Co. Wexford.

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