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Making money from Ireland's bog

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Illustration by Caty Bartholomew
There is a young farmer over in the Sixmilebridge area who is doing a roaring trade these weeks in a most entrepreneurial fashion. Because of his brainpower folk are now able to save their own turf without having to go anywhere near a bog!

In these strange times when old rituals are being broken about every week by new European regulations, it is becoming increasingly difficult for traditional bogmen to cut their own turf.  It has something to do with protecting the dwindling number of raised bogs in Europe, not really applicable to Ireland of the endless bogs at all.

We are threatened with fines costing millions if we break the rules. So the traditional days in the bogs are becoming harder to come by.

What the young Clare farmer has done is special in my view. He has cleared several of his meadows of grass, cut machined turf in his own bog, and then transported the wet turf from the bog to his meadows.

It is what they call sausage turf.  It lies in long lines on the meadow. People are coming along, buying the yardage they need, and then deploying their families in the saving process, the turning and the stacking.
They have all the pleasure of saving their own turf without going into the soggy bogs at all!

It was always both a pleasure and a hardship to spend days in the bog. In the past, when men cut turf with "sleans" by hand, flinging out the slick sods with long smooth throws, those peat sods had to be barrowed away from the cutting area in flat barrows, and then spread out to dry atop the tough heather, and then clamped into small stacks to complete the drying process.

It was hard enough work, especially for the children and womenfolk. Ritually it was eased by draughts of bog tea and thick sandwiches.

And finally, if the weather was good, wiry little donkeys with flexible feet powered the carts that brought loads of saved turf out of soglands that no tractor could work in.

I do mean soglands -- beneath the heather there often lurked dangerous swampy areas. And the midges bit like hell.

Now, thanks to one man's enterprise, the job is a lot easier. Turf cutting has reduced in recent years.

Bord na Mona briquettes of compressed peat are often used now instead of the traditional long black sods. They are good fuel, those briquettes in their neat packs, but they do not aromaticate a hearth nearly so well as the old sods that reddened slowly along their bellies in the winter nights as they seemed to whisper ancient secrets of the bogs and maybe even the summer song of the wild birds and snipes of the bogs.

I'm off on my summer meanderings again and with the greatest of pleasure. Tonight I'm heading to the Willie Clancy Summer School in Miltownmalbay for the music and revelry there.

Early reports say that this is a very good year, like a wine. Vintage 2011 is already special.

Brother Cathal is there as always so I'm sure I won't get home until tomorrow morning – maybe tomorrow evening! The fiber of the craic in Miltown is the musical equivalent of those long black sods burning on the eternal hearth of the best of our tradition. I'll report back to ye later.

And I'm just back from Skibbereen after a splendid weekend in West Cork. Skibbereen is one of my favorite towns, it has a big heart and a bright soul. And there are great wisdoms down there too.

I met a man on Saturday afternoon whose grandfather served with Collins and we briefly discussed politics. The day was too good, we thought, to go into the grisly current details of our economic plight.

But he said something about the forthcoming presidential election (from which I'm glad our Niall O’Dowd has withdrawn) which one could scarcely disagree with. He said if there was ever a suitable time for the politicians to declare an agreed candidate and save the nation the cost of an election then this is it.

Neither of us ever voted for the Labor Party, but we amicably agreed that Michael D. Higgins would be perfect for the job.  Time will tell.

(PS: In response to an amazing number of good wishes can I confirm that our old terrier Friday is making a striking recovery from her motor accident.

The hind leg is now healing inside a lighter cast, she has the appetite of a small horse and the best guesstimate is that she should be back in the middle of the road serving as Cormac's Roundabout in less than three weeks.)

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