Living Off Grid: Why are people embracing alternative living?

Reporter Emma Patterson meets Margaret Gallagher at her 19th Century home in Co Fermanagh. Credit: UTV

Difficulties around housing are never far from our headlines; be it trying to break onto the property ladder for the first time, struggling to afford rent or grappling with the ever-spiralling cost of living. 

So it’s no surprise that more and more people are breaking away from our traditional concepts of housing in search of more affordable, sustainable and pragmatic living. 

On our journey to meet off gridders across Northern Ireland and further afield, our hope was to find out not just how they live the lifestyle they do, but why. 

Josh and fiancée Sophie live onboard a narrowboat on Lough Erne

We had heard of plenty of young people who were giving alternative living a go, and it’s easy to see why it appeals to younger generations; a more accessible alternative to a mortgage and the ability to travel the world in your own home are often the main selling points. 

But Steve Golemboski-Byrne and his family were something a bit more unique. 

At the foot of the Mournes, just outside Katesbridge, sits Lackan Cottage, a plot of land Steve and his wife Claire bought and built their own self-styled eco-friendly haven. 

Not only have they been living off grid there for over a decade, they’ve also raised their daughter Lyra at Lackan Cottage. 

Steve and Claire grow their own food and fuel at Lackan Cottage

When Steve and Claire initially bought the land the farm stood derelict. 

“At the time Claire was expecting our daughter, so we had five months from getting here to moving in. 

"Claire’s father and I basically rebuilt the place.

"We don’t have any power, we grow our own food, we have our own water supply here from rain water and we grow our own fuel," Steve said. 

“It was partly the environmental thing, we wanted to try and reduce our impact, but partly to get away from having so many bills and getting away from having to work to live.

"There’s nothing revolutionary about any of the stuff that we have here, most of it has been around for donkeys, but it can make your life easier and cheaper which is the appeal for most people.

"You have no control over whether the bills go up, but the flip side is that you are responsible so if the lights go out you have to fix it." 

Steve and Claire have embraced off grid family life, but for one woman we met, off grid is basically all she’s ever known. 

Emma meets Judith, who is originally from London but has made County Donegal her home

Judith Hoad lives on a small farm in rural Donegal. Originally from England, she moved to Ireland with her late husband Jerry in 1981. 

Judith and Jerry raised their family in their off grid cottage without electricity or running water, and although her children have moved out, 85-year-old Judith maintains the same lifestyle. 

“It’s a living building," she said. 

“It’s everything I’ve ever aspired to. I needed to live differently, and because I have this creative streak and I enjoy building so it was nothing to me.

"We didn’t have electricity so we tended to go to bed with the light and rise with the light. 

"I go to a well, so I go with gallon flagons and fill up with water and bring it home for drinking and cooking.

"Sweeping the floor with a broom doesn’t take a feather out of me.

"At this stage in my life I like it like this. I enjoy having visitors, I like people and I have many friends, but I like my aloneness. I really like being alone.”

Living Off Grid airs Tuesday 2 May and Tuesday 9 May at 8.30pm on UTV. You can also catch up later here.

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