Connecting Rural and Urban Sustainability in Ireland

Michael J. Lorr, Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of Aquinas Ireland Study Abroad Program Spring 2018 at Aquinas College in Michigan, USA. In his latest blog, he talks about the institution's partnership with National University Ireland-Galway and teaching sustainability.
Aquinas College’s Ireland Semester Program has been recurring in Tully Cross, Ireland for 45 years now. Our community partner Connemara West has helped to make this beautiful, rural community vibrant for itself and for our students. Our recent university partner National University Ireland-Galway has helped us engage our students more deeply in Irish life, culture, and history.
During the spring 2018 semester program, I taught a course called “Ireland, Sustainability, and Social Justice.” The course focused on rural development and rural/urban connections. As the director of the program I also taught my research area in environmental sociology and took my students on some significant community based learning excursions, which helped all of us to dive more deeply into the sustainable development goals and the ideas behind them.
While we were in Ireland, we read excerpts from Robert Bullard on environmental justice, Julian Agyeman on just sustainability, Tony Varley on rural sustainability, Ireland, and populism and some of my own research on neoliberalism and urban sustainable development. The seminar discussions were greatly enhanced by learning about and working with Connemara West, the public limited company which helps Aquinas set up and maintain local community connections, one of which is a robust internship program for our students from the US. Our seminar discussions were also enhanced by our visit to the Cloughjordan Ecovillage in County Tipperary where we learned about intentionally creating a community by consensus for preserving and conserving the environment.
At Connemara West students experientially learned what community development means for this Rural Irish area. The students were amazed by how thick the community networks were and also how spotty access to public transportation and Internet technologies put rural communities at a disadvantage to urban areas. This gave students an idea of how development needs to be continually advocated for.
The Ecovillage exposed students to what can be possible when people take seriously their power to accomplish projects democratically. In particular, the kinds of food and energy security that the Ecovillage has made for itself was very impressive. It was equally refreshing to hear the community engage in self-reflection when talking about the strengths and weaknesses of consensus based intentional community living. The level of community problem solving that happens in Cloughjordan helped the students think through what ecological democracy might look like in action.
The Aquinas College Ireland Semester Program and my course “Ireland, Sustainability, and Social Justice” coupled with the above excursions helped students learn about the sustainable development goals and put the social component of sustainability front and centre in ways these students had not seen before.

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