What is a Bog?

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Growing up in Ireland, one of the biggest and most back breaking jobs was “saving the turf” during the summer months.

The difference between a good summer and a bad summer meant the difference between cutting the bog once or twice. The more turf that was harvested, the more you could sell.

When the weatherman promised a stretch of fine weather, usually that means two weeks of dry weather in Ireland, the turf was cut. After cutting, the turf is sun dried on one side, turned over and dried on the other. Then to dry the interior, it is stacked into heaps. My father called these turf heaps “grogeens.” A bogland breeze would then dry the turf on the inside.

The good turf, dry turf, would burn longer and generate more heat. Poor turf might still be damp on the inside and burn slowly but generate low heat. Turf has a very distict smell as it burns. Even handling the peat for a prolonged period can leave a distict “organic decaying smell” on your hands.

Bog lands are owned privately or by the government in Ireland. Cutiing turf is an age old tradition in Ireland and in other northern European countries. It is not easy work, but for rural Ireland, it was essential, and in some places it still is.

The dried turf is used to heat houses. Because turf is a non-renewable solid fuel energy there have been some issues with private bog owners and their rights to cut their own turf. The land, even though it belongs to the private owners, is being disputed by the European Commission.

What is a bog and why is the age old tradition of cutting turf now being disputed?

A bog is essentially marsh land, and raised bogs are dome shaped, raised in the middle, with wet lands on the periphery. The peat dome builds up over centuries, after a transition is made from from open lake, to marsh, then fen.

Bogs are decayed remains of trees, animals, and vegetation. In some cases bodies of people who lived over 2,000 years ago have been discovered in bogs. These people are called bog bodies or bog people.

Because of the continued tradition of hand cutting turf in Ireland, bog body finds in the past fifteen years or more have resulted in the discovery of torso’s, some beheaded, which with the help of forensic archeology, have informed historians of what life was like in Iron Age Ireland, that’s over 2,000 years ago.

In the last two decades, due to laws enforced by the European Union, private bog owners of raised bogs, there are 53 in Ireland, have been restricted in cutting their own turf. The laws are not boding too well with the bog owners, who feel that it is their right to cut the bogs that they own and that the European Union lawmakers are interfering with an age-old Irish tradition.

For some, especially in rural Ireland, the interference of foreign powers in a traditional right, is akin to Cromwellian Ireland. The feelings run high as the issue of cutting turf on privately owned land is still being disputed. Most bog owners remain heedless, ignoring what the EU Commission has said about the importance of not cutting turf on the 53 raised bogs in Ireland. The bog owners continue to harvest their turf and heat their homes in the age-old tradition of burning turf.

My book Mona The Body in The Bog is a modern-day murder mystery which involves the life of a Celtic woman whose body has been discovered in a bog in the west of Ireland.

The hand of Old Croghan Man, a 2,000 year old bog body on display at the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin.

Every rural home in Ireland had a turf shed

Modern day turf shed (Picture via Hannah Mulvihill 2009)

Bord na Mona Peat briquette Bale

After drying in the sun, turf is stacked into “grogeens” and dried internally (Picture via mcandrewstore.com)

The turf is dried on one side, then turned and dried on the other.

The turf, or peat, is used to heat houses (Picture via theirishjewelrycompany.com)

When turf is dry it is loaded into trailers. (Picture via donedeal.ie)

Turf is cut by hand or machine and dried in the sun (Picture viaarticle.wn.com)

The art of cutting turf is centuries old (Picture via maggieblanck.com)

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