Entirely off-grid and unattached to the mainland by so much as a cable or pipe, Lambay (630 acres) is partially run on green energy generated by solar panels and a wind turbine that are rigged up to a complex battery system. While the turbine and panels produce more than enough energy to run the entire island, we are thwarted by the storage system, which is unable to hold all the energy produced.
Throughout 2015 and 2016 we revamped the entire energy system, allowing it to extend to more buildings on the island. The ultimate goal is to get it to a level where it will generate and store enough power to sustain the entire island on renewable energy.
Lambay also has its very own natural water source, the Trinity Well, which provides us with beautifully fresh volcanic spring water the year round for drinking, washing, cooking and bathing. This is now also used to create our very own Lambay Whiskey.
Lambay is internationally important (and a Natura 2000 site) for its breeding seabirds and is home to the largest breeding colony of Atlantic Great Grey Seals on the east coast of Ireland. It also holds a remarkable place in European natural history as the site of a pioneering biological investigation undertaken by the naturalist Robert Lloyd Praeger in 1906. They even found some entirely new species!
Lambay Farm: Sustainable & Organic Practices
The farm on Lambay has been running since before Cecil and Maude bought the island in 1904, but the only information we currently have on record is of that from the family. Daphne reminisces in I Remember, I Remember about her mother Maude churning the fresh milk into butter and making "island cheese" with Kathleen Cashman, who came from Killarney to work on Lambay as a dairymaid, housemaid and cook and whose striking portrait by Maude still hangs in the Castle hallway outside the kitchen.
At some point during Rupert's "reign", there was a conversion from dairy to beef cattle and the "Lambay black face" sheep were removed as the number of staff on the island dwindled throughout the late 20th Century. By the time of Rupert's death in 1994, Lambay's farming activity was greatly reduced. Two members of staff, however, set their eyes and hearts on the protection of Lambay and settled in for the duration.
Today our foreman has been on Lambay for over 40 years and has seen several changes of the guard, the most recent being the reinstating of Rupert's grandson Alex as the estate director and manager, in 2012. Since then the farm has seen a revival, with the return of our sheep flock along with a Lambay shepherd!
Our Aberdeen Angus beef cattle and Mayo Mule sheep are bred for their meat, and we take pride in practising farming as organically as possible. Both sheep and cattle have a free range life, eating the fresh grass and natural meadow vegetation across the island, with home grown hay and silage to subsidise this in the winter months. We also have island chickens for fresh, free range eggs.
Our farm meat, along side venison from the island's fallow deer, is distributed through a local meat company in County Dublin, and can be found in some of the area's Michelin star restaurants, as well as having featured on Aer Lingus' first class in-flight menu.
On the island we keep aside a small portion of the meats including fresh wallaby (as they have no natural predators on the island, we must cull them annually along with the deer to keep them healthy) for the family and special guests, including members of our Lambay Club. This is often complimented perfectly with delicious natural produce foraged from the shoreline, the gardens and further afield.
By its very nature as an island, Lambay has a unique eco-system and microclimate that remains independent of the mainland. Visitors and guests are quick to note the proliferation of bees and butterflies of all shapes and colours, who thrive thanks to a lack of pollution, disturbance and an abundance of flora and natural habitat.
The Barings are committed to protecting and maintaining this precious eco-system not only for the flora and fauna, but also as a place where sustainable living and sustainable practices are prevalent, reminding us to slow down and live in a responsible and healthy manner.
From production through to waste, island life requires more thought to go into our behaviour when it comes to consumption. Starting on the production level, we practise organic farming on Lambay - ensuring our animals have a natural, free-range lifestyle and with minimum medical intervention unless strictly required.
Island dwellers put in a food order once a week to come over on the boat, so planning and imagination is required to ensure there is minimal waste without then running out of food by the end of the week! Where time permits we make our own bread and we use home grown herbs in our cooking.
Over the coming years we aim to get the walled vegetable garden back to a level where we can grow the majority of our own fresh produce, saving unnecessary packaging being brought over from the mainland. We already use much of the naturally growing ingredients in our cooking, with our top foodies and caterers Monica Wilde, The Edible Flower and Lottie Brook choosing to forage for what they need - be it herbs, garnishes, flowers and fruit; seaweeds, wild mussels and clams; or fresh wallaby meat for stews and mince!
Another plan on the horizon will be to set up some bee hives and one day have our own Lambay honey.
COMPOST & RECYCLING
Another reason for limiting what we bring over from the mainland is the packaging - everything on Lambay must be recycled or composted, and there is limited space for storage. What cannot be recycled must eventually be returned to the mainland, so we keep this to a minimum.
Throughout 2016 we invested in a glass crusher and another for plastics and metals. Each kitchen on Lambay has an organised waste system, with separate compartments for Tins/Cans, Plastics, Glass, Paper/Card and Skip Waste. For food we have Compost and Cooked Waste, the former going onto our composting heaps and the latter going to the birds and the lobsters (assuming there is any left after our island husky Echo gets her treat!).
The first wine turbine was installed on Lambay as far back as the 1980's. We have since added solar panels and in 2016 we updated the equipment to a far more efficient system which now powers the Castle hot water and heating, as well as the entire island's electricity.
Off-grid living requires a responsible attitude towards energy consumption; what cannot be provided by the wine turbine and solar panels must be shipped over from the mainland at great expense and requiring complex logistics and manpower. While we already generate enough renewable energy to power the whole island, our current system has a limit on how much energy it can store. As a result, we are still reliant on oil burners and coal to heat some of the shoreline buildings until such a time that we can upgrade the entire system to a more powerful one.
We must also be conscientious with our water consumption; while there is an unlimited supply during the winter months, a particularly dry summer can cause our spring levels to drop considerably.
SUSTAINABLE ISLAND LIVING
There are few places left in the modern world that provide a community with an environment which requires it to think carefully and responsibly about sustainable practices on a day-to-day basis. Here on Lambay, we consider it a blessing as it reminds us to be grateful for everything we have, and to be imaginative with the resources available to us. Sometimes that may mean concocting an unusual meal with whatever is left in the cupboard the night before the next food order is due to arrive; or rigging a lighting system that will ensure lights are not left on unnecessarily; or planning the washing loads to use minimal off-grid power. Other times it means putting down the phones, the iPads and the laptops to read a book by the fire, play a game or simply enjoy the freedom of a long walk in the unspoiled natural habitat of the island.
Lambay's Island Club has been created to share this unique world with the bold and the bright who find themselves going at full speed while immersed in city life. The aim is to remind these successful and driven individuals that slowing down for a short time can enhance their productivity no end; by immersing them in a shared experience that taps into a different part of their brains, we allow these brilliant people to form Sustainable friendships and business relationships that lead to new and exciting projects, based on a truer sense of a responsible and sustainable lifestyle going forwards.