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 giddgoatstours.ie)
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)
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.