Living without electricity for 29 years

November 28, 2011

By Cathal McNaughton

John McCarter is 77 years old and has been living without mains electricity at his home at Downhill, Londonderry county, for 29 years.

It seems incredible that a pensioner who lives so close to the prosperous Causeway Coast tourist area in Northern Ireland is allowed to live in such basic conditions.

However, John is the perfect host and couldn’t have made me more welcome when I arrived at his modest wooden cottage set against the backdrop of the dramatic Co Derry coastline.

He explained that he has been having a drawn out dispute with his landlord and a family member about getting mains electricity connected to the property. The mains supply is just at the end of his garden but, while the dispute continues, John remains without electricity relying instead on coal fires and candles as temperatures drop.

He has no fridge, a basic gas cooker and reads by candlelight during the long winter evenings. Perhaps because of his Spartan living conditions, John is an incredible healthy, fit man for his age but the freezing temperatures he is living in for yet another winter are taking its toll.

I spent a couple of days with John to see how he copes, arriving early in the morning to make use of the available light. As John went about his laborious daily chores of setting fires and changing candles, he told me it wasn’t so much the cold that bothered him as much as the threat of eviction.

“Last winter it went down to -4 (25 degrees Fahrenheit), but this is my home and I just want to stay here,” John told me.

As I drove home in the hazy winter sunlight, I noticed that inside my car the temperature read 24 degrees (75 degrees Fahrenheit); inside John’s house it was 10 degrees (50 degrees Fahrenheit)…


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Great story telling. Really nice little find.

Posted by JoeSheffer | Report as abusive


Posted by UnbiasAmerican | Report as abusive

Some years ago I lost my job, my unemployment ran out and while I managed to pay my electrical bill there was no money left to run the furnace. So I did without. Ever since at the first sign of winter it hurts my lungs when I breathe, even inside at 68 degrees. A baby vaporizer that warms the air is a godsend. I am amazed this man continue to live in normal health as long as he has.

Posted by soahs | Report as abusive

This must have taken alot of will power at first, it’s an amazing story.

Posted by Arbrene-Hussain | Report as abusive

When I was growing up, my grandfather lived in a small cabin in the woods with no electricity or running water. He heated with two coal burning heaters. There was no sheeting on the internal walls and I could look through the cracks to the outdoors. He cooked on a wood burning cook stove. Walked to a spring daily for his water and still trapped rabbit, squirrel, turtle, etc. for meat. We would go to see him every weekend and take groceries. We walked about half a mile back into the woods to the cabin carrying our boxes of groceries. His lights were oil lamps.
He became ill before the weekend and trudged a mile and a half to the bus stop and came into town; then walked three blocks to our house. He died that night. The human spirit is awesome! His name was John also. I pray that John of this article is helped so he can remain in his home.

Posted by montefraya | Report as abusive

Apart from a short time in a house with central heating, I have lived without heating all my life (I am 51). My current house (of stone construction) regularly goes as low as 5 degrees and even in summer rarely goes above 18 degrees. I don’t run any heating from April to end of October at all(just because I don’t like to spend the money unnecessarily ). The one room we have a fire in takes the top temp to about 21 degrees and as I’ve said, we don’t run it all the time. My husband, children and I are very healthy. My mother lived in similar conditions (although without running water, electricity or gas either) all of her life. I know a lady of ninety one who has similar conditions. Its what we’re used to and is not a health threat. Damp conditions ARE a health threat, not cold!

Posted by tinamac | Report as abusive

We built a berm home 20 years ago and did not put any heating system in. It has never gotten below 50 degrees inside. We do have a wood cook stove that we use through the day time, usually from Oct-Apr, though we use it sparingly. We actually found out that we sleep a lot better with the cooler temps.We have never had any health issues.

Posted by Bet | Report as abusive