The Dandelion Wars

Turf, in the English speaking world, means the ground beneath our feet. If we’ve paid for it, we own it. If it was passed down through the generations, we own it. Turf in Ireland is a tradition that goes back far. It is emotionally tied into the land ownership issue in Ireland, and it is directly tied to the famine.

Telling the Irish to stop cutting turf is akin to asking them to cease practicing their religion. In rural Ireland, cutting the turf in summer is a natural way of life for many. It is part of the identity of the Irish.

A turf-cutter in a peat bog in Ireland (Picture via

A turf-cutter in a peat bog in Ireland (Picture via

In 1801 the Act of Union joined Ireland to its neighbor, Britain, and all lands in Ireland belonged to the nation across the Irish Sea. It resulted in a struggle for independence for over one hundred years. Home Rule became a dream.

That dream was brutally pushed to the limit with the Easter Rising of 1916. Ireland was finally granted Home Rule and independence from Britain in 1922. The land was once again owned by the Irish.

During the 123 years of foreign rule the Irish experienced penal laws; that is, they were forbidden to practice Catholicism, speak in Irish, play any Irish sports, were penalized for renovating their cottages, which now belonged to a Land Lord, were rewarded for becoming protestants through the Laws of Ascendancy, and were starved during the Great hunger of 1845 to 1847.

During the great hunger and harsh years that followed, many evictions occurred. In some cases families were reduced to living in sheds, and others resorted to living in scailpeens; makeshift shelters on the side of the roads, in ditches, or in bogs.

The issue of the owners of 53 raised bogs in Ireland defying laws and continuing to cut turf is a prime example of history repeating itself. Much like the years of hardship endured by the Irish during the years of 1801 to 1916, a foreign power, the new land lords in The Hague are telling the Irish what to do and turning neighbor against neighbor.

Police/Gardaí are being told to travel 50 miles away from their designated areas to patrol bogs that have been designated as Special Areas of Conservation by the European Union. Helicopters and airplanes from the coast guard are leaving the shores they should be protecting to spy on bog cutters.

The argument that bog owners who still persist in cutting these special areas of conservation make is that some of the 53 bogs designated as SACs were incorrectly designated. And even though the Minister for Environment claims that monetary compensation and re-locations of new bogs have been offered, some bog owners’ state that no relocation bogs have been found for them.

It is an uncivil law that permits a government to take away land from its owner, coerce law enforcement personnel to spy on their neighbors, and hand over land rights to a foreign power without telling the voters first, or even asking their permission.

There are allegedly 70 million people in the Irish Diaspora. The reason the Irish have a diaspora is due to impoverished conditions created by a foreign government. I keep thinking how wonderful it would be if the Irish Diaspora could band together and create a fund, one that the Irish government couldn’t get its hands on, to help the Irish people. Much like what our ancestors did by sending money home to their families still remaining in Ireland.

Take a look at the Barroughter Clonmoylan Bogs’ Action Group Facebook Page and see how the Irish bog owners are being kept under constant surveillance and contact them to see how you can help.

Read Boggers of the World Unite in the Irish Independent and let Ian O’Doherty explain, “why is the EU so steadfast in insisting on imposing massive fines on any turf cutter who uses prohibited areas and why, more pertinently, why are our Lesser Spotted Gardaí, who according to cop watchers are virtually extinct, constantly spotted whenever ‘illegal’ turfing (I’m assuming that’s the word) takes place.”

Saving the turf (Image source: Loretto Leary)

Saving the turf (Image source: Loretto Leary)

Consider the question that O’Doherty poses to us all: “Would you be prepared to accept someone coming onto your home turf – literally – and telling you to stop what you have been perfectly entitled to do all your life because there might be an endangered dandelion growing there?”

When I was in national school in Ireland I remember vividly being told by the teachers that the corn crake was threatened with extinction because of the use of combine harvesters to cut corn. That was in 1980. In 2011 the bird had increased in population in most rural areas, according to the NPWS. Maybe the same will be held true of the “dandelion” (←click on the link to be utterly bamboozled), growing in the 53 raised bogs in Ireland.


18 thoughts on “The Dandelion Wars

  1. Pingback: The Dandelion Wars | I am an Author, I Must Auth

  2. Anita Donaghy, Senior Conservation Officer with BirdWatch Ireland, joins Derek, Richard and Terry from our Derrybeg studio with some worrying news about Ireland’s corncrakes..(Friday 2nd August)!rii=9%3A20415349%3A0%3A%3A

    Quite a lot of work and money has gone into trying to restore the Corncrake populations including paying farmers to farm less intensively to encourage suitable habitat to assist Corncrake recovery. Also worth noting that newspaper piece you quoted says 2011 was the first year since 2005 that the population had increased.
    Further down the piece it also says the following “The corncrake is one of only two breeding species in Ireland that appears on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, but mechanised farming practices have decimated the population — which once stood at tens of thousands across the country — in the past number of decades.”

    I really think your contention that the corncrake is somehow ‘grand’ now because of a single good year when the numbers of a bird once in the tens of thousands is now at approximately 300 breeding pairs is not just incorrect but worryingly misleading.

    With regard to the rest of your post, well what can one say about the nationalistic nonsense and assumption that the rest of the Irish nation wish to see our natural heritage lost for the selfishness of a few. The Irish people have not been stopped turf cutting, there are 53 raised bog SAC sites which are a mere 2% of the bog available to be cut. These bogs are protected under Irish law which was transposed from an EU Directive in 1997. The same law protects vast tracts of Irish countryside from damage or harm and the same law is applied. This law is part of a suite of laws which allow people to object to developments they don’t like, enable them to fight the destruction of their local areas if the need arises and most of all protects the natural environment which we rely on to live. It is sad to see such ignorance displayed on a blog like this.

    • Thanks for leaving the comment. If the corncrake numbers have increased, that is a positive, and to make my point clearer, the reason that some bog owners are still cutting turf and protesting is because relocation bogs have not yet been found for them. It is right to save and protect endangered species, but to create laws that take away people’s rights, even if they are only 2%, is very unfair.

      But both sides of the story need to be heard, and hear you I did. But I don’t think you heard me:
      1. Nowhere do I say that the corncrake population is now grand.
      2. Nowhere do I say the bog owners should get to keep their raised bogs, but I do make the point of a lack of relocation bogs being contentious.
      3. Ask any of the turf cutters/bog owners around the country if they don’t think that the ownership of bogs is not nationalistic.

      To drive the point home further, if someone told you that your house was on an SAC and that they’d relocate you, but you’d have to give up your house and land, and almost 18 months later they still hadn’t relocated you, how nationalistic would you feel?

      Of course the environment is important, of course preservation is important, but so are the rights to ownership of land.

      It is comments like “It is sad to see such ignorance displayed on a blog like this,” shows how the gist of the piece was totally lost on you.

      I am glad you posted, another voice was heard, even though it was the voice of the opposition. Your emotion shows how contentious this issue of bog ownership is and will potentially increase unless an agreement and final decision can be reached.

  3. The gist of the piece was not lost on me but I fear my response was completely lost on you. 300 pairs of corncrake means they are still teetering on extinction, the small increase in 2011 was nothing to get overly excited about as can be seen from the earlier link I posted. Land ownership rights are not absolute under the Irish Constitution so when the greater good i.e. environmental protection is the greater good then it is perfectly within our constitution.

    When your research is limited to social media sites and hearsay you are not representing anything but a single well worn side of the story. Turf cutting may be considered a nationalism issue but Irish nationalism belongs to all Irish people and many do not support the loss of natural heritage. The use of the Irish flag and offensive terminology like ‘Black & Tans’ simply devalues nationalism and shows an unwillingness to compromise or change despite all claims to the contrary. Your comments regarding relocation etc. are again limited to anecdotal evidence from a limited resource. For all you know I could have been or am a turf cutter?!.
    This blog is disappointing because ‘this side’ is consistently being peddled and is not supported by facts or truth. Perhaps try talking to Seamus Boland a former turf cutter from Clara Bog SCI and who is now heading up the Peatlands Council. He may be able to clear up some of the claims regarding relocation bogs, people willing to relocate not yet relocated received turf deliveries this year. Really think how long the turf cutters have had to sort out alternatives, the whole point of the 10 year derogation was to give them time to phase out the turf cutting. Why were they not looking for alternatives or working together as communities for the best solution when they were given that time? They bear responsibility for ignoring the law and when it starts to become necessary to enforce it they begin the poor me cry. This 18 month business is nonsense, this has been coming down the line since 1997.

    • See how contentious this is becoming? I live in the US, I don’t own a raised bog, don’t need turf, but I do empathize with the bog owners who want to cut turf, on what they call their own “private bogs.” So go talk to the turf cutters and bog owners of Clonmoylan and Barroughter and explain to them that this is for the common good. I get it, there’s endangered plants, species that need your protection. Explain that to them, and hear their side of the story.

      You say that it is best to tell the bog owners to stop cutting turf and that they have had since 1997 to make other plans, but the truth of the matter is not 13 years, not 130 years would be enough time for people to accept that their land is not theirs. So, its a free world, I don’t have to agree with you. And it doesn’t matter because I am not the one cutting turf on a raised bog. I am just writing about it on my own private blog…….in some places it is still a free world.

  4. The police are not ‘spying’, they HAVE to gather evidence on people breaking the law for upcoming prosecutions. If these people weren’t blatantly ignoring the law then the police wouldn’t have to be there. So it’s no one’s fault but the illegal turf cutters that this surveillance is ongoing and taking the police away from other duties.

    The law in regard to the protection of a fraction of the nation’s raised bogs is not only justified, it is absolutely necessary. Why? Simply because, in a few short years, the last remaining raised bogs will be gone forever.

    Are fishermen allowed to catch cod or eels until there are none left? No. Are the fishermen happy to stop fishing when told to? No, but they do so because it’s for the common good. They realise that if they continue their unsustainable actions, these species will be wiped out. Do they argue that it’s their right to catch what they want or that it’s their tradition as it’s been done for 100s of years? No, they accept that it has to be done as modern fishing methods can deplete an entire ocean the same way as modern mechanised turf cutting eradicates bogs
    The law is there for everyone and it is not a menu. All of us can cite laws we think stupid or don’t agree with but unless the majority of the people don’t agree with them, they remain, as majority rules. That’s democracy.

    It’s unfortunate, after four decades of billions of Pounds/Euro being poured into this country by the EEC/EU, that some people who accepted free handouts for years now refuse to acknowledge the reason for the protection of these 53 sites and instead accuse the EU of trying to steal their private property even though they remain the owners of the land and compensation and alternatives are being offered.

    Furthermore, the illegal turf cutters and you criticise the laws on the preservation of natural heritage as being unjust and oppressive while you adamantly argue that the laws in regard to private property are sacrosanct and untouchable. Why? Simply because one set of laws suits you and the other does not. Under the Irish constitution, when it comes to the common good, private property is NOT sacrosanct.

    No one is stopping anyone cutting turf. The turf cutters can cut as much as they like but it has to be outside the 53 designated areas. Hardly a big ask.

    For the record: Barroughter, Clonmoylan, Ardraigue and East Galway turf cutters have some cheek to accuse anyone of bullying with their history. Let’s recap for a moment on their tactics to date:
    Naming individual NPWS Rangers.

    Publishing photographs of certain Rangers.

    Publishing the phone numbers, home addresses, car makes and licence plate numbers of Rangers.

    Requesting people to contact individual Rangers on their phones to “Let them know what you think of them”.

    Publicly personally abusing the Rangers.

    Publicly supporting suggestions that a Ranger be set on fire and another shot.

    Accusing individual police officers of assault.

    Publicly personally abusing writers of critical posts.

    Racially abusing writers of critical posts with non-Irish surnames including telling them to go back to the countries from which they came.

    Threatening those with environmental concerns over their actions that they would visit their homes ‘as a group’ to ‘educate’ them.

    Publishing the private details of individual environmentalists including photographs of their homes.

    Sending threatening material in the post to people’s homes.

    Threatening to shoot anyone walking on their land on sight.

    The turf cutters also openly admit supporting right-wing, anti-Semitic and bigoted religious groups.

    Screen grabs in support of the above are all copied and saved so all are provable so the illegal turf cutters can’t deny any of it. The Facebook pages of the illegal turf cutters (which you recommended) are now under police investigation. Do you condone the actions of these people?

    Bogs are wonderful places but their value is far greater than just as a source of fuel. A pristine bog is one of nature’s wonders that took tens of thousands of years to develop. Yet hardly any pristine bogs remain today. So 53 (less than 2%) have been put aside for safeguarding so that these can be saved for future generations as a small example of what we once had as a nation.

    In order to save them, the current users have been offered €1,500/year compensation plus an initial payment of €500 (€23,000) plus deliveries of several tonnes of turf/year for 15 years. Many turf cutters have accepted this deal as they understand the importance of preserving a sample of this rare heritage for their descendants.

    Unfortunately, some turf cutters, mainly contractors, are refusing to accept the deal and continue to cut turf on preserved sites using massive machinery which extracts the peat rapidly and in huge quantities destroying the bog. They also dress up their selfish campaign in national colours and compare it to the past Irish history of landlordism, land evictions, oppression and abuse claiming that the preservation of these few bogs is a rouse to grab land for other purposes. They then try to gain Irish-American support by portraying themselves as the downtrodden rural poor who only want a few sods of turf to heat their homes in the winter.

    This is obviously not so as the bogs had to be protected under European legislation to which the Irish people democratically agreed in several referenda since 1997 and those affected were given a 10-year derogation to source alternative supplies if they so wished.

    It is difficult to be required to discontinue something you’ve done all your life but, for the common good and for future generations, it is sometimes necessary and is constitutionally legitimate. Doing so is an act of generosity towards those we’ll never know but it ensures that we’ll be remembered long after we’re gone.

    The Irish government has now written to 20 turf cutting contractors advising them that they are to be prosecuted and that they, and any others who have or are illegally cutting turf, are to be sued for all costs resulting from their disgraceful and blatant contempt of the law. The sum sought could exceed 10 million Euro.

    Furthermore, any individuals convicted of removing turf from a protected bog will now face a fine up to €500,000 or 3 years in jail.

    The illegal turf cutters are constantly waving the flag as if this is a national cause by patriots but how can the same people claim to be patriots while working to damage the Irish tourist industry and economy? A patriot would never threaten to ruin their own country as this group has done by targeting the tourist industry to dissuade people vacationing in Ireland. Such a move is nothing short of spiteful treachery. The illegal turf cutters have admitted it’s all about the money and they are holding out to try to get the government to increase its offer.

    Now, as so few of the original widespread intact and active raised bogs are left in the country, a handful are being put aside and saved so all the people of the country, whether now living or yet to be born, rural or urban, can continue to know and appreciate them as a vital part of their Irish heritage. These protected bogs have as much heritage value as the Book of Kells, Rock of Cashel and the Lakes of Killarney. Should the Irish people and government and Europe stand by while a small minority of selfish people destroy them? Absolutely not!

    • Thanks for the long and detailed comment Conor Kelleher. Again, another voice from the opposition. It is important to hear both sides of the story, so I have approved your comment.

      In particular I identified with the parallel story of fishermen taking too many fish from the sea. However, a plot of land is stationary, and if it has been bought or inherited, the concept is that it is owned. You can appreciate high emotions involved when the person who owns it is now told he can’t harvest his land and it is for the common good.

      An outside mediator is needed. Not the Irish government, not the NPWS, but each case needs to be heard in court if the turf-cutting contentions continue.

      Just a few quick remarks:

      1. “Spying” by definition is “An agent employed by a state to obtain secret information.” So by definition if these so called illegal turf cutters are breaking the law then the local authorities are gathering the information and giving it to the powers that be. Whether or not they are just doing their job is beside the point here. They are telling the government officials who is cutting turf on raised bogs and when. It isn’t a particularly nice word, but in effect that is what the police are doing. I mentioned to the Barroughter and Clonmoylan Bog Action group through a Facebook message two weeks ago that I do feel badly for the police, they are just doing their jobs, and it must be difficult to tell a neighbor that he can’t cut his turf or they will have to arrest him.

      2. If the bog owners were told about these SACs in 1997, that means that those who have not received relocation bogs have been waiting for 16 years, the derogation period you mentioned. So, maybe some bog cutters didn’t plan ahead, but by the same token, neither did the Irish government.

      3. Do you know for sure that anyone at the Barraoughter, Clonmoylan and Ardaigue bogs accepted the $1,500 compensation. Was the entire legal proceedings explained clearly, are there witnesses to such meetings? Some one such as a notary public might have been a good choice.

      4. With regard to photographs of NPWS rangers, if the law in Ireland is the same as the law in America, photographs on private property are legal, that is in the case of the bog owners actually owning the bogs; and photographs on public property are legal (unless specifically stated otherwise), that is the case of the Government owning the bogs. Here we call it citizen journalism, if there is a skirmish on public property, and a person with a camera nearby, then the law is on the citizen journalist’s side.

      5. Now if threats have been made, that’s unacceptable. Until the law can decide one way or another who owns the land, people who feel threatened make threats, let’s hope they are idle threats though. I don’t agree with phone numbers being made public, or addresses being made public.

      6. Why do I keep hearing that some bog owners feel that certain raised bogs were unfairly designated?

      7. Does Bord na Mona own any raised bogs, and if so, have they ceased harvesting peat from them? Is anyone paying attention to the “strip mining” type turf cutting done by Bord na Mona, and where all the peat ends up?

      I am all for the protection of the environment for future generations. However, being told that the land you own is no longer the land you own is a tough pill to swallow. Until the ownership of the land has been sorted, regardless of whether it is for the “common good” or not, the turf-cutting on raised bogs in Ireland will remain contentious.

      • The word ‘Spying’ has certain connotations and the term is used by the illegal turf cutters to give the impression that they are under covert surveillance to garner sympathy. In fact, the police are openly guarding the protected bogs in marked cars 24 hours a day to prevent further removal of peat. The National Parks and Wildlife Service Conservation Rangers who also have police powers and right-of-entry to private property where they suspect a crime is being committed, initially patrolled the bogs but, due to serious intimidation by illegal turf cutters, they no longer do so. Rangers have been threatened with being shot and burned and have also been followed to their homes.

        Any bogs that are owned will remain in the same ownership so no one is having land taken from them. Also, some of these bogs are not owned by the people who cut them. They simply had turbary rights to extract the peat prior to the bogs being protected. Now that they have been protected they have been offered substantial compensation to either cut turf elsewhere or agree to having turf delivered directly to them. Remember, 98% of the bogs in Ireland continue to be available for cutting. It is only these 2% that are being preserved as the best examples of what remains of this now rare habitat.

        Bord na Mona do cut raised bogs and environmentalists have been campaigning since the 1970s for the practice to stop. Most of the BNM bogs are now completely extracted and destroyed and, in a few years, the remainder will be gone and then BNM will have to find something else to do. None of the raised bogs owned by BNM are designated conservation areas as they are not pristine enough. All are damaged by extraction and/or draining and drying out.

        The previous government knew just how contentious this issue was going to be so they wrangled a ten-year ‘derogation’ for turf cutters which should never have been put in place. Once the ‘derogation’ was in place, neither side did anything proactive to resolve the issue before a ban was enacted. Both were probably hoping it would just go away or be someone else’s problem after the decade. The present government inherited the issue when the ‘derogation’ ran out on its watch.

        I don’t know what discussions took place as I wasn’t a party to them having no personal interest in turf cutting. I also don’t know if some turf cutters using the bogs at Barroughter, Clonmoylan and Ardraigue agreed to the offered deal but, even if some welcomed the deal, pressure to refuse it would have been immense from local contractors who are specifically hired and paid to mechanically cut turf for others but are then allowed to harvest peat for their own use or to sell it on to third parties. These contractors stand to lose alot of money due to the ban.

        In a perfect world, what environmentalists like myself would like is a complete countrywide ban on turf cutting on raised bogs by everyone but can you imagine the uproar if 100% of raised bogs were designated when designating only 2% has generated such vitriol?

  5. Again, interesting and insightful, Conor. But you nor I will solve nothing here. I was fully aware of turbary rights, and of course the idea that you have been cutting turf for years and must now stop will not sit well with anyone who has turbary rights on a protected raised bog.

    I suppose the feeling among those 2% are that “Bord na Mona, a government owned entity, has destroyed their bogs and now they want us to stop using ours.” Most of these protestors are rural folk who appreciate the land for what it yields to feed a family and heat a house. To them this has been a natural way of life for years and years. I think each case will probably end up in court. But I hope no one gets hurt in the meantime. That’s why I keep using the word contentious, and it seems to be escalating.

    It is interesting to note that in Scotland big multinationals who persist in extracting peat from SAC Raised bogs are challenging the EU, and are still extracting peat for horticulture;
    “US multinational Scotts also has peatland sites in Scotland including Carnwath Moss, which is a designated SSSI. Company spokespersons have indicated that they will continue extraction there for the ‘foreseeable future’.8

    Diageo also own two active peat extraction sites in south west Islay, the main supply for the whisky industry on the island. Both are listed as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and one is a Special Area for Conservation (SAC)” Both are US owned companies.

    Let people read my initial blog post and your comments in addition to the others and they can make their own minds up regarding this.

    Thanks for the comment.

    • The main thing is for people to realise that there are two sides to this argument and the picture of poor rural folk personally and manually cutting turf for their own use is not an accurate one. Such activities are a part of Irish history and, in 21st century Ireland, turf is extracted by the 100s of tonnes by massive machines that have destroyed an estimated 38% of the raised boglands of Ireland between 1995 and 2013.

      BNM is the main culprit but now that so few raised bogs remain and none of the BNM bogs are pristine enough to be designated for conservation, it’s down to preserving 53 bogs – just 2% – of the bogs outside of BNM control. The owners will still own these bogs and they could be used for activities other than cutting and 1) alternative bogs are being provided to the owners so they can cut elsewhere or 2) €1,500/year is being offered to the affected turf cutters so they can purchase turf or 3) they can opt to have free turf supplies delivered to their homes.

      These people are not being ‘oppressed’ into giving up their lands or doing without a winter fuel supply. That claim is just spin by turf cutting contractors who will lose money by not being allowed to cut turf on these 53 bogs anymore.

      Next week, the contractors have organised an event on one of the protected bogs which they are calling ‘Sleán Day’. A ‘Sleán’ was a traditional turf cutting implement – a special kind of spade/shovel – that was used to manually dig out turf in the 19th and 20th centuries. It ceased to be used 30 or 40 years ago when huge industrial machines rendered it obsolete. The contractors are hoping that the media will photograph and film people using this tool so that the images will add to the widespread but false impression that this is still how peat is harvested in the 21st century and that the turf cutting ‘ban’ is nationwide and targets the humble country people who only want a few sods of turf to heat their humble dwellings! It’s a total PR stunt and, as the police will have to be present as the site’s protected, the organisers are hoping that the images of little old men using sleáns being told to stop what they are doing by burly police officers will garner further sympathy for their cause which is simply to continue making large profits from these 53 bogs at the expense of the Irish people.

      If people want to read the other, scientific and factual, side of the story and keep up with events as they occur, they should check out the ‘Irish Peatlands’ page on Facebook.

      Thank you for allowing balanced debate on your blog. There is much propaganda out there on this contentious issue and, before making up their minds, people should investigate all sides of this argument. I’m confident that, once the full facts are known, people would decide that the preservation of these 53 raised bogs is essential for future generations and that the various deal options offered are more than fair to those using the turf from these few bogs.

      Now as your blog is objective and balanced, I’ll certainly nominate it for blog of the year.

      • Again, much thanks. I will do a bit more research today and write a post to show “the other side” of the story.

        I mentioned in a previous reply that the primary purpose of this blog is to show that thought/opinion is not stagnant. The more we question, and listen, the more critical thinking we do, the fairer the outcome.

        I don’t think this will be an easy transition for the raised bog owners who persist in cutting turf. I was shocked when I discovered in 2009 that Bord na Mona was shipping peat to their US base in Maryland to make Puraflo filtration systems. I had images of barges brimming with Irish soil crossing the Atlantic whilst the midlands of Ireland became a massive pit hole.

        Because of the recent banking scandals in Ireland and more recently the Drumm telephone conversation tapes, the opinion of the Irish of their own government is low. With regard to the owners of raised bogs, their attitude is one of “it is us against a corrupt government.” Considering how Bord na Mona has treated the land, they wouldn’t be too wrong.

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