Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Out Of The Bog

When I arrived in Ireland on May 2, I assumed I’d be safe. But I was immediately ambushed at the airport by an overpowering chill that kept me in bondage for days. I literally could not get warm. I slept in leggings and two shirts UNDER my pajamas…AND did I mention two pairs of socks and the wooly scarf…AND a blanket over my duvet? It would have been embarrassing if anyone had known. Now it just seems funny. I have acclimated well and am running around naked like the natives. 
Slices are cut from the bog bank
Ireland has never been famous for its sunshine and Pina coladas. And for centuries her people have depended on the bog to keep them warm. 

The stacked peat takes weeks to dry
Online sources say the bog covers about 16% of the island and is thousands of years old. When the ice (from the ice age) began melting, the combination of poor drainage and dead plant debris created conditions that resulted in the formation of peat. It goes to depths of about 2-12 meters in most places. Last year I visited the céide fields in County Mayo where extensive ancient walls have been discovered deep underfoot….a village swallowed up by the bog over time. 

We still have a ways to go
This copious peat has been like manna from heaven to the Irish…. a life-sustaining provision that many still depend upon. Most homes I visit on cold days are burning peat briquets in a wood stove and I will forever associate that distinct, earthy aroma with Ireland.

Sooooo….you can imagine how thrilled I was when Margaret asked me if I’d like to go with her to “foot the turf” one day. It’s a practice that has been passed down through the generations and, though changed a little thanks to big machinery, still in some ways remains the same. 

Bog cotton is common

First, the turf has to be removed from the bog. The older generation here can tell you stories of using sleáns (two-sided blades) to slice and dice it up by hand then toss the chunks to a helper with a waiting wagon. Today a tractor-like thing does that, thank goodness. The load is then dumped on dry ground, cut into strips and, after it dries a few days, it’s footed or stacked into small piles so it can dry out completely. You can see what I mean in the photos. Then it’s delivered to homes and kept like firewood.

It was worth the work. Thanks, John.
Everyone here either still foots turf every year or they have fond memories of it from childhood. Linda told me her granny always said, “The tea never tastes so good as it does in the bog”. I expect that’s because the tea was a welcome interruption to the backbreaking work of bending and stacking. Linda still has the aluminum milk can her granny carried with her. Paddy Doherty (age 90) says the first order of business was to place the can in a hole in the bog so the milk would stay cool and fresh all day for the tea. And his wife quickly added, “Oh, the tea is so good in the bog. Just lovely!”

And would you believe? When Margaret and I had been footing for a couple of hours, John (who owns this piece of bog land) calls us into his bog kitchen (yep, it’s just a kitchen right there by the bog) and serves us tea (and pie!). And I can attest, it never tasted so good as it did in the bog. 


  1. I'm glad to see you're doing your part to keep the people of Ireland warm at night. Maybe you could do a little more and tell them it's in my name, so they'll welcome me with tea and pie? I'm so glad you're having adventures. I'll be having my own as we go to a German family reunion on June 28. All the Striggows in Brian's family meeting at his sister's house in Hohenfels, then on to a two decker boat trip down to the Danube, turning around at Vienna. I ought to do some research into the one German family name I know of in my family....Dekle. They passed on a bad trait, known as the Dekle Streak (stubborness)lol I love your posts!

    1. Becky, I can't wait to hear about your adventures. I'll bet that cruise is going to be amazing. Take lots of pix and post them. Good luck researching the Dekles. Let's hope you don't encounter any worse "streaks". haha

  2. Your account of the bogs brought to mind that sad lyric in Letters From Kilkelly of the turf being too damp to burn.
    I think we spoke once of trying the tune at your Monday sessions but there were too many songs and never enough time.

    1. That is the saddest song I've ever heard. To this day, I can't sing it without choking up. But I do have good memories of the Monday sessions ( : Thanks for your comments, Joe.

    2. Oh my goodness. Singer Robbie O'Connell is a "friend of a friend" of mine, up in Massachusetts. This small world gets smaller with each passing year.

      "Tote that barge, lift that peat. Foot a little faster or you'll need another sheet!" With apologies to Jerome Kern.

    3. Oh you probably played in a band with him, right? It IS a small world.