“Everyone’s entitled to live their life as they want to”, there can be no truer words. These are the words of Margaret Gallagher, a woman who has lived all her life without the basic amenities of modern daily living, out of choice not necessity. Born on 26th January, 1942, Margaret is eighty years old, never married and lives in Belcoo, in the same small cottage she was born in. Belcoo is a small village and townland in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. Margaret is the third generation of Gallagher’s to live in this cottage. Her grandfather bought the cottage in 1887. It is a small cottage comprising three rooms in all – a kitchen and two bedrooms. The cottage is more than 200 years old. It is a Grade A listed building, characterized by a special architectural style. As a small child Margaret lived with her parents and elder sister in the cottage. Unfortunately, her mother died of meningitis when she was ten. Eventually her sister left for the city, first for education and then to earn a living and support the family. Margaret, herself attended the village school till she was fourteen years, then she had to leave her studies because there was no secondary education in her village. During all her adult years she has looked after the family cows and 12-acre farm. Her father suffered from degenerative rheumatism, she cared for him like a dutiful daughter. Her father was bedridden for seventeen years until he passed away at the age of ninety-four years. Margaret was deeply attached to her father. He was a knowledgeable man, from him she got her habit of reading. She is especially fond of reading Russian writers, whom she appreciates for detailed graphic writing.
After the death of her father Margaret decided to work. She hesitatingly applied for a job in Belcoo development group, which was recruiting research officers for community development projects. At the age of forty-six going to work for the first time made her jittery, added to it was the fear of using modern day gadgets (like photocopier and kettle etc.) at the workplace, for the first time. Margaret was hired for the job and she managed to fit in well. The immense knowledge she had about the area, shared with her by her father came in handy. Be it the folklore, history or flora and fauna, she did not need to research public records to know it, she was born and bred into it. During her work years, Margaret helped develop many natural trails in the area, along with participating actively in the community for creating more employment opportunities in the area, so that the younger generation will not have to leave for cities in search of work. Nowadays many people, especially school study groups, visit the area. And Margaret’s cottage too has many visitors. She likes to keep open door for visitors, everyone and anyone is welcome. But when people show museum-like interest in her cottage and things, she finds it unflattering, because for her, the cottage is her home and these are the things which she uses every day. There has never been running water or electricity in the cottage. Margaret loves to live this way, with fire being her best friend. The cottage hearth is always burning, one for heating water, baking and cooking; and most importantly to keep the old timber that the cottage is made up of, in living condition. She loves her way of life or as Margaret says, “This is All I’ve Ever known.” Her radio transistor is her only modern appliance. Living her off-grid life does not mean she is out of tune with the modern world, she has had her covid jabs. She lives a life which gives her happiness and has meaning for her; and lessons for many.
Margaret Gallagher’s life story is unique and inspiring. Today in the twenty-first century, it is fashionable to talk about climate change, going green and living off-grid. Many of us even experiment living off-grid albeit only for a few days. But those are blessed, like Margaret, who experience the serenity of peaceful and meaningful life in their lifetime. She believes, “a period of silence or solitude should be encouraged in the house”, which is a rarity in modern day living. It would be apt to end with an Irish proverb,’ Life is like a cup of tea, it’s all in how you make it’
Livneet Shergill has a Ph.D. in Economics. She works as an Independent Researcher and Freelance Writer.
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