Remote living: ‘If I had to commute to work it would be a problem’

Roscommon locals on self-sufficiency, electric cars and steering clear of fossil fuels

Arigna, Co Roscommon, may still be associated with its long-closed coal mines, but some of its newest residents are doing their best to steer clear of fossil fuels and to be as self-sufficient as possible.

Fynn and Holly Hopper are the proud owners of eight goats, five sheep, four turkeys now being fattened for Christmas, three special breed pigs – and one electric car.

But Holly’s main mode of transport is a cargo bike, a three-wheeled affair which she cycles up and down the valley with her three kids, aged from three to seven, tucked into a box in the front. Because their home is so isolated the school bus route ends almost 2km from their door, so much to the bemusement of truck drivers heading to the nearby forestry or quarry, Holly and her family are a regular sight, in all weathers, negotiating the Arigna roads.

Holly, a weaver, who helps Fynn run Heathbank Farm, and who doesn’t drive, isn’t fazed by the lack of public transport options in the place they have called home for more than a year. “The bike makes me independent,” she said. “Getting to the bus is mostly downhill so that’s a breeze. If Fynn is busy milking the goats I can drop the kids off. And I have rain cover for the kids.”


Iduna, the youngest, hasn’t started school yet but she usually joins her siblings in the bike box on the first leg of their journey to school. “It’s a great bike, lighter than it looks,” said Holly of her non-electric, Danish-designed model. “We do get looks sometimes. One day one of the truck drivers stopped and asked if he could take a photo.”

For longer journeys the family have an electric car which Fynn says is in keeping with their philosophy of doing as little damage to the planet as possible, but because it is an older model, car journeys can be nerve-wracking.

“Because it is older and because the battery degrades over time, we probably can do a range of 100km,” said Fynn, who moved with his family to Roscommon from his native Hull in 2020. He has discovered that slower speeds and gentler braking help him prolong the charge so he tends to keep to 40-50km an hour, always calculating how far he is from the closest charging point.

"I do a farming course in Ballymote with Teagasc one day a week, and there is no charging point there so I can just make it there and back if I drive slowly. I often pull in to let other people pass," he explained.

Fynn knows that a more modern electric car would give him peace of mind but for the moment that’s beyond his budget. “Some people also get a fast charger for their home but you can literally run a lead through the kitchen window and plug it in beside your toaster,” he explained. The couple say that if they had to commute to work it would not be feasible with an EV that old. But Holly has a home-based weaving operation called Gubbarudda, named after the neighbouring townland, and when Fynn is not busy with his own animals he gets occasional work from local farmers, so travel is kept to a minimum.

“If I had to commute to work it would be a problem,” he said.

Like a lot of people, Roscommon native Paul Conlon had his commute reduced to zero when the pandemic arrived in March 2020. He was among a wave of people who abruptly moved west when office buildings shut down in the capital, and he realised that living and working within the four walls of his Dublin apartment was not for him.

The IT worker who was based in Garda headquarters in the Phoenix Park moved home to Tulsk and spent six months working "at the kitchen table". He reckons his mother might have been even more relieved than he was when he got a place at a remote working hub in Castlerea, a 20-minute drive away.

“I don’t miss the heavy traffic in Dublin,” said the 36 year old who used to clock in at 8am to avoid the worst of the gridlock. After six months he gave up his apartment in the city and is considering buying a property in Roscommon even if he does eventually have to go back to the office for one or two days a week.

“I was thinking of buying a house but it is proving difficult. Anything that is available goes very quickly. But I don’t miss Dublin. I help out on the farm here. We breed horses. It’s a better work-life balance and I don’t spend two hours every day stuck in the car.”

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh

Marese McDonagh, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports from the northwest of Ireland