For Peat’s Sake – Down the Old Bog Road

Anyone who knows about Ireland at all will have heard of the peat bogs.  Peat is still used extensively for heating.  On our previous trip to Ireland, in 2007, we had a peat fire in our rented home:

Peat fire
Peat fire

It is quite a warm fire and lasts longer than wood, but not quite as long as coal.  Near Clifden, where we stayed on both trips, there are lots of bogs.  One of the roads across the bogs is called “The Old Bog Road”, so naturally, there is lots of peat to be found there.  It is very actively cut.  Here are some piles, drying:

The Old Bog Road
The Old Bog Road – peat, drying.

It is still cut by hand (and foot).  They use something like an ordinary garden spade except it has an extra blade at right-angles sticking forward from one edge of the main blade, so that it cuts the chunk of peat off cleanly.  Here is a face in the bog that they got these piles from:

The Old Bog Road
The Old Bog Road – Peat Works

There is so much burned that when we last went through Limerick, the whole town was blanketed in a thick, yellow fog.  We got lost crossing the road, unable to find the other side because even our fingers were lost in the fog when held at arms length.

The bog is only about 7-10,000 years old, beginning with the end of the last ice age.  Some think it was caused by the advent of humans to Ireland, as we cut down many trees and started cultivating land, which started blocking streams and filling the land with water.  The peat is just thousands of years of growth of moss and reeds, which did not rot away because the soil and water is so acidic.  This preservative quality also leads to many fascinating archaeological discoveries because anything falling into the bog, including humans and other animals, are preserved very well.  In fact, for a while, a lot of the timber used in western Ireland was recovered from the bogs and reused.

Unfortunately, human activity has now used up about 85% of the peat and the rate of cutting is still close to its peak so soon it will all be gone except that there are now conservation areas where cutting is forbidden.  In addition to the loss of the habitat which supports a large number of unique plant species, the loss of all that stored carbon into the atmosphere is a large contributor to climate change.

Author: Eric Lawton

Eric is a natural philosopher living in rural Ontario

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