A couple of years ago Tim and I visited author and activist, Mark Boyle, in the wilds of county Galway, Ireland. Called An Teach Saor, Gaelic for 'the free house', it is a permaculture and gift-based smallholding.
He was mid-way through converting a disused piggery - built with breeze blocks and corrugated iron - to a natural building that would become The Happy Pig, a name inspired by the old adage, “Would you rather be a happy pig, or a miserable philosopher?”. Seeing how content he was there, we wondered if living a natural life had helped him find a path to becoming a happy philosopher.
The idea behind The Happy Pig is simple. Its unique identifying factor is that no charge is made. "It's a free pub, accommodation and event space. You can come and have a drink, stay over, or take one of our free workshops. Travellers can use it as a half-way house, activists or city folk as a sanctuary out in the natural world. It was only launched recently but we've already had shindigs, solstice parties, feasts, many a travelling cyclist or bard, along with workshops as diverse as foraging and tantra. Its use is always free, though we gently suggest to people that if they are staying for a prolonged period and use a lot of consumables - such as bought-in energy or food - they are welcome to leave a donation to cover these costs, otherwise they all fall on us, which makes it unsustainable. That said, if you don't have much or any money, you're always free to stay, eat and enjoy the place. And it's working," says Mark.
Returning this summer, it was such a pleasure to see the build completed. The Happy Pig was built on a shoestring, via a successful crowdfund by volunteers, and it has a wonderful atmosphere even when empty. I walked into a spacious room with a handmade wooden bar in one corner. Heated by a substantial woodburner (that also heats the water), it has cob and cordwood exterior walls detailed with coloured glass bottles and a circular window from a washing machine door (see lead image). The internal walls were built using wattle and daub. There is table tennis, comfy chairs and a sofa (which turns into a bed), rustic tables and chairs as you would find in any good pub, a dart board, table football, board games, and a bar with optics. Naturally, it served Irish whiskey. It would have been rude to refuse a shot!
Behind the bar there is a kitchen with a large worktop crafted from a beauitful piece of wood. There is a bunk room that sleeps four, a double bedroom, a small library area, and a shower and compost loo. I particularly appreciated the attention to detail of the shower with its recycled brass shower unit, tiled floor, and the clever use of corrugated tin sheets to protect the interior wall from damp around the shower area. The compost loo is a simple bucket and chuck-it system. There were musical instruments dotted everywhere, and even bent spoons used for door handles.
All the windows are recycled. Every element of the internal décor is reused, gifted or upcycled. Not one item was bought.
In fact, the fully furnished building, complete with pumped water from a bore hole, central heating fuelled by their own wood, and electrics, cost just €20,000. For 120m2, this is around 15% of the cost of a similar conventional structure. Apart from the electrics and plumbing, the rest of the conversion was done by Mark himself, some friends, neighbours and visiting volunteers.
"We wanted to show that anyone, even one as relatively unskilled as myself, can build beautiful natural spaces that can serve people well, for a fraction of the conventional cost. And that when we stop trying to profit from one another, and enter into our relationships in a different spirit, wonderful things that defy logic seem to happen."
If you would like to visit An Teach Saor, or stay at The Happy Pig, perhaps offer some skills or volunteering time, or if you just need to have a good night’s sleep there, then we're told an adventurous spirit is encouraged, and you are invited to follow your nose to County Galway and explore your own way there. However, if for whatever reason you feel more comfortable booking in advance, or asking for directions in the modern way, you can by emailing them at: anteachsaor<at>riseup<dot>net
About Mark Boyle
Mark Boyle lived for over three years without earning or spending a penny, an experience which formed the basis of his first book, The Moneyless Man. He went on to share his philosophy, and practical tips of how to live without money, in-depth in The Moneyless Manifesto. His latest book, Drinking Molotov Cocktails with Gandhi, is a deep critique of industrial society and a life-affirming cry to move beyond our dependence on it. (Follow the links for more information about the books.)
Mark is currently building a straw bale and roundwood cabin, without running water and electricity, for himself and his partner whilst creating a community at An Teach Saor.
Read 'Cheap (potentially free) to build and run houses' by Mark