Archive for ‘bog’

July 17, 2012

Finding our bog

by Ciaran Burke

View of our plot of bog

“Samhradh, samradh, bainne na ngamhna, thugamar féin an samhradh linn…” Hanna was singing while walking down the road, she wore her heavy winter coat. It certainly was not the weather that inspired her performance, but more a plea to the gods to bring the summer weather, “summer, summer, the honeysuckle, we brought the summer with us”. I hope they were listening. The sky above was grey but had not yet released it watery blessings, just as well, for we were walking down Askey Road, on our way to look for our plot of bog.

Burn stems of Ulex europeaus- Aiteann gallda- gorse, whin, furze,

Many of the old houses in the west of Ireland come with turvery rights. For the last eleven years I have known that we have a plot of bog from which we can take peat from a plot of the bog for use on our property. For generations people in rural parts of Ireland have been cutting turf to use as fuel. It has been the cause of trouble recently as areas of bog are under protection due to EU rulings. We do not intend to cut turf from our bog plot, but I wanted to eventually locate our plot, I knew whereabouts it is, but there is a difference in knowing its out there and actually standing in your own bog. I deliberately say “in” and not ‘on” as bogs can be wet and soft, you definitely stand in a bog and not in it.

It is the wet conditions that prevail in this part of the world that actually give rise to bogs. Our bog is a raised bog, formed thousands of years ago. Peat forms in the bog where old plant material does not fully decompose, mosses contribute the majority of the plant material. Here is the conflict; it takes thousands of years for the bogs to form, they are home to unique flora and fauna, yet they are traditionally a source of affordable fuel to local populations, but it is a finite resource that requires habitat destruction in order for the material to be exploited. Bord na Mona, the semi-state company exploits large tracts of bogland for supply to turf burning electricity generation stations, manufacture of peat briquettes and for use in the horticultural industry. Small scale turf cutters and individuals cutting turf for their personal use feel aggrieved that they are not allowed to continue cutting their plots while the large scale operations continue. Compensation schemes are offered, but they will say that their is an emotional attachment to a plot of bog that has been the source of fuel for their ancestors.

Cut bog

One can stand on the outside looking in and be cold and rational and come to the conclusion that any exploitation of bogs is habitat destruction, and point to the fact that removal of turf from the bog contributes to global warming as carbon dioxide is released as peat is extracted. An it is true that peat from Irish bogs will not last forever, it will run out, just as oil is doing and coal has in many regions. But does that mean that large parts of the country are to be left to nature and never be used? I want to reduce my use of peat by my horticultural practices, more and more we are using peat free composts, we do not plan on cutting turf but having found our plot of bog I can understand the attachment that generations of ownership can develop, it felt good standing, or more accurately, sinking, in my own bog.

Vaccinium myrtillus – Fraochán – billberry, wild blueberry

We walked along the tarmac road where the vegetation attempts to reclaim the paving from the centre and the edges. On the ditch we picked a handful of Fraochán berries, the fruit of Vaccinium myrtillus otherwise known as billberries. We turned to the track, preserved as passable by the occasional tractor that drives along it. Along the centre spotted orchid flowers blossom in the long grass, different colour variations of Dactylorhiza maculata. The red buds of a St John’s Wort, Hypericum pulchrum known as Beathnua baineann in Irish, flowered to the side of the path. I heard  a squeaking sound behind me, an all too familiar noise. One of our cats, Danzig, decided to follow us, he came bounding along the tyre tracks stopping to whizz on the odd orchid along the way.

One of our cats, Danzig, joins us on the path to the bog…

Dactylorhiza maculata – Na Circíní- heath spotted orchid

Hypericum pulchrum – Beathnua baineann – flower buds

Grasses, Molinia caerulea, heathers, Erica tetralix and a multitude of mosses are thriving, here and there the blackened sculptures of burnt gorse, Ulex europaeus stems reach out, evidence of the bog fires that cleared the vegetation just over two years ago. We were consulting a map, one which accompanies the deeds for the house. On this map, clearly marked in thick lines, the boundary of our plot. Not so clearly marked, the boundaries of our plot on the bog. We think we have found our plot, assuming that the map is to scale and looking at the uncut ridges that seem to define old plots. It is a long time since anyone has cut turf on this are of bog. Fifty years ago there were eleven houses on our road, the population a thriving 68 souls. Now there are 5 permanent residents in three houses, not many people are left to cut turf.

Narthecium ossifragum – Sciollam na móna – bog asphodel flowers on the bog

We found a way over the ditch, walking carefully so an not to trample the orchid, Listera ovata, with its conspicuous pair of round leaves and inconspicuous tiny green flowers. The bog myrtles, regenerated after the inferno, fragrance the air, some of the sweet aromatic foliage collected to flavour a mead which I made when we got home. Red sphagnum moss forms a deep pile above the wet peat, our boots sinking with each moment spent stationary. We had to keep on the move!

Drosera rotundifolia – Drúchtín móna – sundew

Three species of heather, two species of Erica flowering, a Calluna with its buds, deer grass, Trichophorum cespitosum and swathes of the tiny yellow bog asphodel, Narthecium ossifragum were amongst the plants that caught our immediate attention. Almost buried amongst the red sphagnum was the real little gem, the insectivorous sundew, Drosera rotundifolia. This carnivorous plant traps insects on it’s sticky leaves and then releases an enzyme which digests the nutrients from the insect. One old belief was that the sundew could be used as a love charm due to the little plants ability to lure and entrap other creatures. Well, our bog lured us, and we love it. We will make frequent returns and observe the flora and activities of the fauna. Danzig our cat might return too, although he was quite tired walking home and did not object in the slightest to being carried by Hanna for the final leg of the journey.

Tired from his trip to the bog, Danzig is carried home…

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