As technology advances and becomes more widespread, so does the group of people who reject it. The off-the-grid movement where individuals reject civilization and choose to live independently isn’t a new phenomenon. Epicureans, Quakers, hippies, Puritans, and the Amish are all examples of groups who stepped away from society’s status quo to pursue a simpler yet richer life.
Today, we associate an off-the-grid lifestyle with people who choose to leave their jobs, money, and lifestyle to return to the roots of nature to create a self-sufficient home in an isolated location.
Unlike the many persons who choose to reject civilization and move into simpler living conditions, Margaret Gallagher never joined modern society to begin with. Her entire life has been off the grid.
Off the Grid for Almost 80 Years
When Gallagher was born in 1942 near the Irish border in County Fermanagh, homes without electricity and running water were commonplace. Around the 40s and 50s, her neighborhood began to change as the residents updated their living conditions with pipes, light fixtures, and other advancements. Gallagher’s family did not, primarily because of the unfortunate passing of the mother when Gallagher was 10, which coincided with her father’s ailing health.
Thus, her home remained as it was in the early 40s, and Gallagher kept it that way until today. She’s 77 years old, and among the few elderly people in the UK and Ireland who lived this way their entire lives. In short, they were “living off the grid before it became cool.”
“I am doing it because I like doing it, not because I’m a hippy, that I think it’s new and fashionable,” she said. “My childhood was over at 10. My father took to the bed with severe arthritis, so it never was feasible for us to do anything.”
The 18th Century Routine
“I didn’t have the will, he didn’t have the will to do it, and there were no finances if we were very keen to do it so it just didn’t come onto the radar.”
When her father died 38 years later, in 1980, Gallagher became the sole resident of her family’s 18th century thatched cottage and the lifestyle that came with it.
Her way of life requires physical strength and toil that has been lost for many in the current generation, like dragging turf and logs to create a fire, squatting in front of the open flames to cook. To acquire clean water, she crosses a field to fetch water from a well and carries the bucket back. She can make this trip 10 times in a day.
She wakes up at 5:30 a.m. and heats water in a kettle to wash herself and make tea. Milk and other perishable foods are stored in a wheelie bin. Her wind-up radio keeps her updates on current events, including death notices “to make sure I’m not on it.” Since paraffin for her lamps are expensive, Gallagher goes to sleep when it gets dark, usually around 6:30 p.m. 
Surviving Through the Winter
Gallagher grew up with the notion that “the seasons are the master” as the changes in weather affect her daily life. She loves the summer months, but winter is more difficult since she must contend with the chore of pushing snow off of her thatched roof with a fishing pole to prevent any damage.
She remembers one Halloween night when her father took her outside to test the direction of the wind. According to the local lore, the wind would tell them how severe the coming winter will be.
Despite the difficulties of living through the winter without central heating, Gallagher would not give up her home and all of the beauty and serenity around it.
“You have the birds in the morning nesting in the house, you have the views, the tranquility and peace, you have the clock ticking — all those things that you couldn’t put a price on,” she said.
“I am living the way my forefathers lived, who left the footprint for me. It was good enough for my people, for my parents, my grandparents, who bought the house in 1887 — it is a tribute to them.”
Visitors are often surprised by Gallagher when they first meet her. When people hear about an elderly woman living in an 18th-century house, they imagine her “sitting in the corner wearing a long black dress and a white apron.”
Instead, Gallagher is fashionable according to modern standards with her long earring and high-heeled shoes, which she wore when she got an MBE for community work from Prince Charles and met Queen Elizabeth. 
“I don’t know of anyone living like me, without electricity, without running water without any of the amenities. But then I am not interested in how people live. People are entitled to live as they want,” she said. “I am my own person, I have my own identity, this house embodies who I am and what I am. I am not going to change for anyone.”
A Disappearing Lifestyle
“Everyone likes to come and look at this house but if you asked them to stay, they couldn’t wait to get out of it, particularly younger people,” she said.
Still, young people could stand to learn from her simple life, to stop chasing after the next biggest, shiniest thing, and be content with what they already have.
As much as Gallagher loves her lifestyle and the message behind it, she worries that she will not be able to stay physically fit enough to continue, especially after an injury eight years ago.
“I loved everything I did. It was a great lifestyle. But there is always the fear, will I have to leave it?
- Paul Faith. Living off-grid for 77 years – in pictures. BBC. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/gallery/2019/aug/16/living-off-grid-77-years-in-pictures August 16, 2019
- Deirdre Falvey. Off the grid but still plugged in: The extraordinary life of Margaret Gallagher. The Irish Times. https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/homes-and-property/off-the-grid-but-still-plugged-in-the-extraordinary-life-of-margaret-gallagher-1.3937061 June 29, 2019
- Ciara Colhoun. Living off-grid for almost 80 years. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-48202236 May 26, 2019
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