If you thought that the title of this post referred to land ownership relating to the historical land wars between Ireland and the British crown, you wouldn’t be too far off the right track.
The turf wars that have erupted in Ireland since June 2012 have been likened by Dermot Moran of the Bog Action Group to the Saunders Fort seige in Woodford, County Galway in August of 1886; a time of evictions resulting in one Thomas Saunders and family resorting to live in the outhouse of a neighbor.
Turf wars in Ireland are about land ownership, the right to cut turf, and also are emotionally tied to the historical turbary rights initiated by the Irish Land Commission, Land Act 1927, Section 40 of the Irish Statute Book.
A turbary right is, “the ancient right to cut turf, or peat, for fuel on a particular area of bog. The word may also be used to describe the associated piece of bog or peat land and, by extension, the material extracted from the turbary.” The Turbary Rights order of 1951, was revoked by Sean Lemass in 1952.
In Ireland some government records, named Q3 agreements, name the specific owners of turbary rights when a sale is agreed on, but in some instances those records no longer exist, or at the very least, can no longer be located. According to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith) in 2008 when questioned by Deputy Paul Connaughton regarding turbary rights naming specific persons, some Q3s, “cannot be found in the Records Branch of my Department despite an intensive search being undertaken.”
The tradition of cutting turf is an ancient one in Ireland. Bog owners use the turf, or peat, to heat their homes and cook food. Often the sale of a home was accompanied with the right to own a bank of turf. The admission by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in 2008 merely adds more confusion to the right of bog owners to cut their turf in lieu of the EU Habitat Directive whereby Ireland has been ordered to protect and conserve important peat land habitats on raised bogs, now considered SACs. The two most important questions are who owns the 53 raised bogs now deemed Special Areas of Conservation in Ireland, and why are these raised bogs being protected?
During the EU’s Berne Convention Areas of Special Conservation Interest (ASCIs) were assessed and having met elements of the stage one and two criteria, were designated as a Special Area of Conservation, thus receiving protection under the EU’s Habitat Directive. The Berne Convention’s aims were as follows:
- to conserve wild flora and fauna and their natural habitats
- to promote cooperation between states
- to give particular attention to endangered and vulnerable species including endangered and vulnerable migratory species
The 53 raised bogs in Ireland that are now considered Special Areas of Conservation, one of which is Clonmoylan bog outside of Portumna, are possessed by bog owners who are not willing to be dictated to by the EU, and are not going to hand their bogs over without a fight. The Clonmoylan bog war has brought to the attention of the Irish people the stark reality that government officials are signing away their rights without consulting the people of Ireland first.
Luke Flanagan, an independent member of the Irish Parliament for Roscommon-South Leitrim, defended the protesters at Clonmoylan in June 2013 and said,”I certainly would not create a law in the morning that says you are damaging the land, you are not allowed to do this. You consult people, you don’t try to ram it down their throats.”
The situation at Clonmoylan bog began in June 2012 when over 200 protestors held a twenty four hour standoff with police (Gardai) to assert their right to cut their own turf on land that they legally own. At one point in the standoff there were 24 Garda cars and up to 60 gardai in addition to officials representing the National Parks and Wildlife Services.
One machine was seized by the NPWS and a second was mysteriously burned down. The owner of that machine, Michael Darcy, had to be hospitalized after he collapsed during the protest. Darcy has been cutting turf for three decades, a tradition he took up from his own father. As a result of the protests the standoff ceased, but the war is far from being over.
The 2013 turf cutting season saw threats against turf cutters promising five years in prison. A post on the Turf Cutters and Contractors’ Association Facebook page dated June 29 2013 states, “While the bankers who cut our throats sleep in their cosy 5 star beds the turf cutters of Monivea near Athenry are being threatened with five years in prison for vindicating their rights. Please come to Monivea to support us. Your bog will be next.”
On the Barroughter & Clonmoylan Bogs Action Group Facebook page, June 30 2013, a picture was posted that exemplifies for most bog owners, the purpose for which they do battle with the Irish government and those in the EU that violate their rights to cut turf on land that is legally owned by the Irish people.
The right to cut turf continues to be asserted, and protested if necessary, throughout Ireland. Irish people continue to assert their rights to cut turf on land that they legally own, but which the Irish government has designated as Special Areas of Conservation in order to satisfy EU Habitats Directives. In the meantime bog owners persist and government officials threaten jail time, as well as saying that the EU will fine Ireland 25,000 Euro daily so long as protected bogs are cut.
If you wish to fully understand and continue to follow the turf wars in Ireland, please follow The Barroughter and Clonmoylan Bogs’ Action Group on Facebook, in addition to the Turf Cutters and Contractors’ Association page on Facebook as well as reading full coverage of the protests discussed in this post by clicking on the following links:
- Turf War Heats Up
- Turf cutters back Clonmoylan bog defiance EU directives
- Turf wars: Standoff between Gardai and protestors over bog cutting ends
- Turf cutters facing court as bog row escalates
- Turf cutters claim victory in bog battle
- Turf cutters: We won bog battle
- Turf cutters claim victory in bog battle
- Turf cut on protected sites in west and midlands
- Royal Commission on Congestion In Ireland