There are a lot of geographic features in Ireland. Areas vary from the granite, sandstone and limestone mountains to the karst area of the Burren, with limestone, shale and sandstone to the basalt columns of Giant’s Causeway. There are fields and fields full of sheep. And some of those fields are bogs.
I saw a lot of bogs. Ireland has around 4,600 square miles of bogland. The whole country is 32,595 square miles, so that’s a pretty large percentage. There are actually two kinds of bogs, blanket bogs and raised bogs. And there are two kinds of blanket bogs.
If you are driving, especially on any of the roads that kinda circle the outside of the island, you are going to see blanket bogs. They are way more common than raised bogs. Blanket bogs look like a blanket.
Anywhere you see blanket bogs used to be farms a really long time ago. Farmers cleared the land thousands of years ago. Before that, Ireland was all heavily forested. Trees were cleared to create farms, evidently some 6000 years ago. Then, the farms were abandoned to heather and rushes. Over the centuries, this plant matter accumulated and the soil became more acidic, creating peat. Blanket bogs that have not been harvested can be ten feet thick.
There are two different kinds of blanket bogs, Atlantic Blanket Bog and Mountain Blanket Bog. As you drive south from Dublin and around the bottom of Ireland, you see Mountain Blanket Bog. Atlantic Blanket Bogs are on the Atlantic coast.
County Mayo has one of the largest expanses of Atlantic blanket bog.
If you want to know more about how Blanket Bogs are formed and their conservation, visit the Irish Peatland Conservation Council website.
Raised bogs are mostly in the middle of Ireland, in the area that drains into the River Shannon.
Raised bog forms where lakes used to be. The reeds at the edges of lakes accumulate to form fens under the water. Eventually the plants accumulate and decay to fill the lake. Plants continue to grow and pile up higher, so what used to be a lake becomes higher than the surrounding area. Some raised bog areas form within blanket bogs.
Raised bogs that have not been cut can be nearly 40 feet thick.
If you want to know more about Ireland’s Peat Bogs, see graphics on the development of blanket and raised bogs at Travel Through the Ireland Story.
Peat or Turf
Irish people have cut this preserved plant matter, called peat or turf, and burned it for centuries.
In the 1940s, peat harvesting machines were invented.
Peat briquettes are still used for home fuel. Peat is even used to generate electricity.
How is Peat Cut Today?
Peat is still cut, mined, harvested… whatever you want to call it. There are smaller tools for people to cut their own turf from their own land for their own use. There are mechanized versions, that look a little like a rototiller.
There are bigger machines to cut turf. And there are machines to load it into a hopper or spit it out on dryer ground.
After it is cut, the peat is left to dry. There are machines that drive around to pick up the dry peat.
This is a tractor mounted sod peat cutter. It attaches to a tractor. It is like a chainsaw with long cutting/digging blades up to 6 1/2’ long. The piece to the right forms the peat into briquettes.
Herbst Turbo Peat Cutter
Herbst Difco Peat Equipment is world wide known as the most practical and economical way to produce peat from bog lands all over the word. The main advantage of the equipment is that it is very cost efficient and very solid build requiring only standard agricultural tractors and applying technology locally known.
The machines are predominantly working in Ireland and have produced millions of tones of peat but also have been sold to most parts of the world where peat resources are exploited.
Michael Herbst the president of the Herbst Group has given many papers at the international Peat consortiums in Indonesia, Jamaica, Finland and many other countries promoting his revolutionary low cost approach to peat production.
There are even machines that cut and load all in one continuous operation. The trucks that drive on the bog have to have low ground pressure and even weight distribution. They come with big wide tires or with metal track shoes, like a tank.
Kerry Bog Ponies
Kerry Bog Ponies are from what is now County Kerry, in the southwest of Ireland, areas with peat bogs. They were used to carry peat. They have a “low weight-to-height ratio and an unusual footfall pattern, which helped it move on soft ground such as peat bogs.”
Bog Ponies are 4 feet tall or shorter. They can eat heather, sphagnum moss and kelp. They are tough little things.
And they very nearly disappeared. If it had not been for John Mulvihill.
In the 1990s John Mulvihill from Glenbeigh, Co Kerry became aware that these ponies had disappeared from view and were almost extinct. His searches found that in 1992 only 20 mares and six stallions were known to exist.
The Kerry Bog Pony Cooperative Society
You can see Kerry Bog Ponies at the Kerry Bog Village, a museum in west Kerry focused on the history and culture of Ireland.
A lot of different plants and flowers grow in Ireland’s bogs. The most noticeable is heather; common heather and bell heather. The photo above is from England, not Ireland, but it looks the most like what I remember.
There are a lot of grasses and rushes; hare’s-tail cottongrass, common cottongrass, black bogrush, heath bedstraw, moor matgrass. and soft rush growing in the bogs.
Carnivorous Sundews plants like round-leaved sundew, oblong-leaved sundew and great sundew grow in Ireland’s bogs.
You can also see cross-leaved heath, bogbean, bog-rosemary, common cranberry, bog asphodel, bog myrtle, Pedicularis sylvatica, species of Utricularia, Juncus squarrosus, common tormentil, Euphrasia scottica, green-ribbed sedge, little green sedge, black crowberry, northern firmoss and wolf’s-foot clubmoss.
Where raised bogs have been cut, birch and alder trees grow like downy birch and black alder. You can also find willows; grey willow and crack willow, and remote sedge.
You are also likely to see more fern where peat has been harvested; royal fern, broad buckler fern, and narrow buckler fern.
Oak and other trees that are found in bogs are preserved. Some of them have been there for centuries, but because there is no oxygen, the wood doesn’t rot.
When peat is harvested, the old oak is exposed. The material is highly prized. It has been used to carve things. You can find jewelry and other things on Etsy made of Bog Oak.
Featured Image: Bog at Ardnacloon
Peat bog covers much of the square. Here it has been cut and laid to dry (optimistically).
Photo by Graham Horn