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Dublin: 5 °C Friday 13 December, 2019
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'We're really only nine meals removed from total anarchy': Ireland's preppers and survivalists

“The main thing is we do know that if something was to happen we’d be more than comfortable.”

BREXIT PREPPERS IN the UK have been stockpiling canned goods and other supplies ahead of the expected 29 March exit date. 

In the US, liberals – including growing numbers in Silicon Valley – started to swell the ranks of the survivalist and prepper movement in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. 

More recently, France held its first ever survivalist expo in Paris. Organisers said they were responding to demand in a country where a string of terror attacks had led to a growing lack of faith in the state’s ability to keep people safe.

Prepper Bastian Blum German 'prepper' Bastian Blum shows a gas mask, in his cellar full of food and other supplies. Source: DPA/PA Images

Here in Ireland, those with an interest in survivalism say they’ve had no particular upsurge in interest in the years since the Brexit vote. 

Last spring’s extreme cold weather focused some minds, however. And, further back, Frank Deegan of the Irish Survivalist Group says there was a huge spike in interest in the movement in the wake of the economic crash of 2008. 

Said Deegan:

In the next few years we had a couple of hundred people a day joining us – then at our actual events it got so big we had to kind of curtail it … you’d have 70 or 80 people turning up.

The prevailing sense of crisis following the economic crash may have inspired people to consider getting back to basics. Across society, Deegan said, people who were laid off or had hours cut also found themselves with more free time then they knew what to do with. 

But social media sites like Facebook, than in its infancy, also helped people with an interest in survival skills and equipment find each other. The Irish Survivalist Group, which Deegan co-founded, now has more than 2,000 members on Facebook. 

So what does it mean to be a survivalist in Ireland? 

As Deegan explained, in addition to working personally on their own skills his group’s members arrange regular meetups of up to 30 or 40 people, heading out to the wilderness with no tents or equipment “to get to know each other and talk about various aspects of survival”. 

Many survivalists here make a clear distinction between themselves and people who would primarily consider themselves ‘preppers’.

As Shayne Phelan of the Wicklow-based Eagle Ridge Survival put it: 

“A prepper is maybe somebody who has no survival skills, who has no bushcraft skills but has gathered an awful lot of food or water or whatever they deem necessary should a day come… 

Do I prep stuff? Yes, I prep skills and knowledge because once you have a certain level of skills and a certain level of knowledge you don’t need a haversack to carry them with you.
What I often say is the problem with preppers … the stereotypical prepper would be a guy weighing 400 pounds in body weight in America with a room full of food and he thinks he’s grand if and when that day comes. But the thing is people with skills will arrive at your door to take your food. 

The prepping movement, which has its roots in the US, gathered momentum stateside in the wake of natural and financial disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the global financial crisis. 

The rise of doomsday preppers – US families who take the lifestyle to the extreme by turning their homes into mini-fortresses full of food, fuel, generators and military grade survival equipment – may have imbued the term with some negative connotations on this side of the Atlantic. 

But, as Deegan put it, there’s a wide variety of people in Ireland interested in survivalist activities. Many Irish preppers also take an interest in building up their outdoor skills. 

“There is a fair few guys who are preppers and they would have storage of food, water, diesel and petrol. There’s a few of the guys went all out into the prepper part of it. 

I know most of the lads who are into the serious part of it. They’ve all been doing it for a long long time. The main thing is we do know that if something was to happen we’d be more than comfortable, the whole lot of us.

Sven Ridgway, who runs the Irish Prepper and Bushcraft Store in Macroom, opened his shop after noticing an increase in interest in the area around five years ago.

“I’d have a good range of wood-preparing equipment, as in tomahawks and axes and knives – knives are often used for batoning wood,” to prepare a fire, he explained.  

The shop also stocks a range of ex-military gear – clothing and backpacks – alongside items like portable cookers, lamps and other camping equipment. 

In addition to more casual customers dropping by for a new backpack or water bottle, there’s “a lot more” interest in prepping in recent years too, Ridgway said. 

“As I watch there’s more and more Facebook pages cropping up and Youtube channels cropping up and people talking about all sorts of scenarios.

The worst scenario for most of us is the shops aren’t going to be open and aren’t going to be open for months and we’re not going to have electricity for months, that kind of thing.

shop cork1 Source: Irish Prepper and Bushcraft Store

Explaining some of the terminology of the survivalist world, Ridgway outlined how he could advise customers on how to stock an appropriate ‘bug-out bag’ or ‘get home bag’ – a rucksack packed with essentials needed to get by in the wild, or to hike home in the event of a major emergency or weather event. 

“So a good knife, a multi-tool … maybe a little crowbar, enough food for three or four days … you can buy meals ready to eat, like the MREs, so all that type of thing. 

“I would advise people on what they needed for a bug-out bag or a get home bag all the way up to a ‘Shit’s Hit the Fan’ bag and what’s known as the ‘End of the World as We Know It’ bag – a full size backpack where you would carry your life with you almost.”

It goes without saying that not all of the shop’s customers would be preparing themselves or their households for an expected world-ending catastrophe. 

On a more mundane level, he said he sold his entire stock of old-style paraffin lamps last spring during the prolonged cold weather of the Beast from the East and Storm Emma. 

The extreme weather of last March, say the survivalists, may have made people realise just how fragile their comfortable lifestyles were.  

“A lot of people say we’re really only nine meals removed from total anarchy,” said Phelan, who runs courses on bushcraft and survival from his base near Roundwood. 

During the snow you had the average guy who’s working in the city – a civil servant, very calm normally – in Tesco ready to kill someone over a batch loaf. 

BRAVING THE BLIZZARD II2A6380_90538544 The M7 in Kildare during the prolonged cold weather last March. Source: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Deegan, who lives in South Kilkenny, said neighbours in his area sought him out for advice during the freezing weather in the aftermath of Storm Emma. 

And while he insists there’s been no particular increase in concern among his group’s members amid the continuing barrage of shrill Brexit headlines, he says there’s one simple step anyone can take to prepare their household in the event of a sudden shortage of supplies in the shops or another weather crisis. 

Definitely, you should have at least five days of food in your house. That’s a very simple thing – powdered milk, powdered eggs if you think you’re really going be stuck in for a while. All that long-life stuff can last two or three years and is very cheap to buy. 

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