“Stand firm, try not to lose your balance!” says Tom Nee, the sheep farmer at Killary Sheep Farm. I am deep in the earth and surrounded by a ton of what looks to be a dirt-like substance. I slowly and carefully stick an odd shaped tool called the Sleán into the ground and pull out a heavy brick shaped mass of peat. This action is referred to as bog cutting—a traditional method of using a sleán to obtain fresh peat. Tom’s bog is located on his working mountain farm where he uses his peat as a source of energy for heating his home and his establishment at the farm.
The Irish save a good amount of money on domestic heating through using turf instead of electricity. While the sheep farm was my first experience harvesting the actual peat, a few days prior we visited the Céide Fields, a natural blanket bog. What was particularly interesting about this visit was that researchers were able to find out an incredible amount of information about ancient communities because of the bogs. The peat within the bogs preserve the site, as it is acclaimed to be the oldest known field systems in the world. The remains of the community include stone field walls, houses and megalithic tombs. These things are all preserved beneath the blanket of peat that runs over many square miles. Researchers in the lab have been able to take a look at the remains and see the story of the everyday lives of an old farming community.
What an incredible discovery that a bog can not only provide energy, but also preserve ancient societies. Samples that were sent to the lab returned with large amounts of information on many different aspects of the organized society. Things like their spiritual beliefs and their struggle against a changing environment that they had no control over were uncovered. Unsurprisingly, bogs able to naturally preserve a human body. “If you ever want to hide a dead body, DO NOT think to hide it in a bog!” said Charlie, the co-owner of the Cnoc Suain Gaelic cultural experience center.