The History of Turf in Ireland
Many people in Ireland have used poetry, prose, song and sculpture to express their special relationship with bogs and the animals and plants that are an integral part of them. Appearing at first to consist of large expanses of bleak wilderness, on close inspection bogs yield a wealth of colours, smells, sounds and treasures. It is little wonder then that those who take the time to look and listen are inspired by their natural beauty.
Bogs have always been treacherous places requiring the expenditure of much time and effort in building trackways to link villages on either side or to gain access for removal of turf. Ever since bogs became recognised as a valuable source of fuel for heating and cooking many summer days have been spent in the bog cutting turf. This labour-intensive chore often carried out as a solitary activity brought people into direct contact with nature. Saving the turf and bringing it home engendered much neighbourly co-operation and social interaction.
During long winter nights the turf fire provided not only heat but also light. Families and neighbours would gather, and many stories and yarns were told sitting round the turf fire.
So much of people’s lives were interwoven with turf and bogs it is not surprising that poetry, prose, songs and works of art have been created in appreciation of this unique, rich habitat.
In Ireland peatlands are a characteristic part of the landscape and over the years have been used for a variety of purposes. Peatland mammals, birds and wild berries would have provided a source of food for the Stone Age people who arrived in Ireland 6,000 years ago. The Stone Age people also brought livestock to Ireland and would probably have utilised peatlands for grazing, a practice that continues today on upland bogs.
In Ireland the first written records of peat being used as a source of fuel date back to the 7th century but evidence suggests that peat was being used before then. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries a number of alternative uses for peat were developed including the manufacture of wrapping paper and postcards from peat fibre.
In general the lower layers of peatlands yielded peat which was used for fuel. The upper layers, of raised bogs in particular, were used to produce peat moss which had a number of uses.
Historically the most common use of peat in Ireland was as a source of fuel. Its exploitation as a fuel for domestic use began at least 1300 years ago when peatlands were more widespread. Peat has been the traditional domestic fuel in Ireland but it was also used in industry. In the last 150 years the types and methods of obtaining fuel peat has changed dramatically.
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