Energy from the Bogland

The first time I heard the term “bog” used after my arrival in Ireland was while I was sitting on a bus, listening to our driver, Joe, talk to us about the surroundings. When he mentioned the bog, I found myself confused, as my initial thought was “Bog? I don’t see a swamp around here…” My eyes were looking at lush green fields with some trees lining the roads and large hedges covering stone walls. None of these things were what I associated with the word “bog”.

It wouldn’t be until a few days later that I fully understood what all these Irish people meant when they referred to the bog. This understanding also came to me while sitting on a bus, rolling through the Irish landscape. Only this time, we passed a field that had several small, brown rectangles that looked like bricks, arranged in tiny tee-pee shapes. Our driver, Desmond, referred to the bricks as turf. He then explained the process of how turf is made.

Turf being cut in the bog.

The bogs were formed during the Neolithic Age after people settled the land. When settling the land, they cleared trees. Previously the trees had caught the rainfall before it reached the ground floor, but with the ground fully exposed, coupled with high amounts of rainfall, the land became waterlogged. When the land became waterlogged there was also a lack of oxygen, which caused partial decaying of the plants that covered the top of the soil. This process continues and accumulates over time, taking about one thousand years to form one meter of bog.

Turf is often sold as briquettes, pictured here.

Now, the bog covers a large portion of Ireland. The turf is cut from the bogland and dried. Once it is fully dried, the Irish people then utilize the turf to heat their homes, burning it in place of wood or coal in their fireplaces. Walking in to many places in Ireland, you’re greeted with the unforgettable scent of turf burning. The scent reminded me of a tobacco barn on a chilly fall day in Kentucky–it reminded me of home. Likewise, turf is not merely a major source of energy for the Irish people, but is a symbol of home as well.

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