Turf or Peat

Peat is an organic fuel formed by the accumulation and partial decomposition of vegetable matter in areas where the climate is wet and mild, and the drainage is poor. Peat deposition is the first step in the formation of coal. If the climate was drier the peat would decompose further. As it is, the moisture in the ground does not allow the vegetable matter to completely decompose. Peatland or bogland covers about 15% of Ireland. There are large expanses of "blanket" bog in County Mayo.

Peat in its natural state is 90 to 95 per cent water. In the summer time peat or "turf" is cut into blocks with a spade and set in stacks to dry. When dry, the blocks weigh from three quarters of a pound to two pounds each. Dried peat burns easily with a smoky flame and a very distinct (and pleasant) odor.

Peat was the source of heating and cooking in Ireland for centuries. It was also harvested and used in many parts of Germany.

The following pictures depict the cutting, drying, carrying and selling of "turf" or peat in Ireland. Turf burns without tending and remains lit even if moved.

When we were in Ireland in 2000, every pub we went into had a peat fire and we could smell the pleasant aroma of burning peat everywhere we went. Alas, on our trip in June 2004 most of the pubs had artificial fires (if they had any at all) and while you could frequently smell a peat fire it was not as common as it had been just four years before.

In September 2007 Robert McLoughlin wrote about the changes in the frequency of the peat fires in pups,

"One of the possibilities could be a change in pub ownership. For instance if a pub is family run it is much more likely to have a real fire - a family member will tend the fire etc. A pub that is owned by business partners will be more 'efficiently' run - a fire is to labour intensive (my brother owns a pub and can't get his staff to keep it going when the place is busy).

Another point is that engulfing 'affluence' which has swept the country caused the demise or the traditional pub. Many actually closed down because the trend now is buying at the 'off license' (liquor store) and drinking at home. There was a slogan on Irish radio a few years ago that "staying home is the new going out". Anecdotally I hear from many people at home that the smoking ban wasn't a major factor on pub attendance as fewer people smoke in Ireland now than ever before. The affluence has brought more interest in amenities and people are generally fairly active by comparison with other countries who share a similar climate."

Robert McLoughlin, September 6, 2007

"Going for Turf"

No postmark.

Postcard collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Cutting the turf

From a 1948 guide to Connacht, book collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Cuttin and stacking turf

Stoddard lectures Ireland, 1901

On an Irish bog. Home on Holiday, this Irishman shows he has not forgotten how to save the Turf.

Not posted

Postcard collection of Maggie Land Blanck

The following two images are from Moìn Mhòr (Big Bog) Ballynoagh, Clonbur. Co. Glaway. Michael Flynn from Clochbreac recognized the place.

Padraig Canny informs me:

"Officially it is called Ceapach na gCapall or Petersburg but Ballynonagh is the more correct name. It is no longer used for cutting turf. The hill in the background is called 'The Coreen'." (Aug. 2014)
Photo collection of Maggie Land Blanck

"Turf Cutting"

This postcard was clearly based on the above picture.

No postmark

Postcard collection of Maggie Land Blanck

"Ireland. Cutting Turf on a Mountain"

No postmark.

Postcard collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Photo collection of Maggie Land Blanck
"Gathering the turf"

Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly, April 1880, collection of Maggie Land Blanck

"Turf Gatherers"

Postcard collection of Maggie Land Blanck

"Bringing Home the Turf"

"Carrying Home the Peats"

No postmark

Postcard collection of Maggie Land Blanck

"The Dear Brown Bogs of Ireland"

Postmarked 1939

This card was clearly based on the above photo.

Postcard collection of Maggie Land Blanck

"Connemara Collen- Bringing home the turf"

Postcard collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Postcard collection of Maggie Land Blanck

"Coming form the bog"

The coal of the Country-Stacking Turf

Not posted

Photo collection of Maggie Land Blanck, 2004

"Stacking the turf for winter"

No postmark

Postcard collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Photo Maggie Blanck, 2000

Photo Maggie Blanck, 2000

The picture on the left shows the surface of the bog. The picture on the right, shows the dark brown layer of peat.

Stacked turf

Photo collection of Maggie Land Blanck, 2004

"A Turf Cart"

Stoddard lectures on Ireland 1901

Print collection of Maggie Land Blanck

Irish Sketches:Turf Market in the South of Ireland from the Illustrated London News, January 24, 1880

Photo courtesy of Christine Twycross

"Bridey and her Da cut the turf. I took the photo in 1973, but I do not remember exactly where in Ireland, just the name of the girl."

Christine Twycross, August 2007

Selling Turf during World War II

In December 2015 James J Bunyan wrote to me about his friend Michael Kelly whose father, "John Joe Kelly was actively involved in the production of turf and it supply to shops in Limerick and Tipperary during the years of World War 2."

James added about his own father:

"My father bought 2 lorries and became a turf supplier - probably hauling the turf from the bogs and storage places in North Kerry to shops in East Limerick and elsewhere. I remember being with my father in Old Pallas in East Limerick in the late 1940's or in the early 1950's. I attach copy of text of letter, which Mr. Leonard, shopkeeper Ballyhooldy (not far from Fermoy, where I live) sent to my father in early January 1944."
The letter:
Jan. 17th, '44

Dear Mr. Bunyan,

Please find enclosed money order for £35.8.0d, price of two wagons of turf received. The last lot is nearly gone again, but I am afraid there will not be much demand when wagons are plentiful, as farmers will get in wagon lots.

It is hard for me to quote a price from Listowel as the price is too dear and I enclose cutting from The Examiner re turf in Rathmore. It is now costing me nearly £5.3.0d per ton and I would have to quote at least £5.7.0d for small wagon lots.

Do not load any more rail wagons after this week as it takes me too long to empty them and they have to remain all night at the station only a few yards from the public road. Do not put any more than 6 tons in any wagon for the future, as it is easier to dispose of them. I am giving you £2 per ton for last wagon, although I have little or no profit at it is, but of course, the turf is satisfactory and I have made a lot of new customers. The other merchant got a very wet wagon of turf a few days ago. It is not worth my while to look for the second wagon per week now, as the beet season will be over on the 26th, and I can manage with one until then. I did not answer the other ad from Listowel since, as I got let down too often by some of these people.

I have just received an order for a wagon lot of 5 or 6 tons from a Mr. John Fleming, Cornhill, Glanworth to be forwarded to Fermoy Station. I suppose it is better to invoice myself, although there will be a delay in letting him know, as he is living 3 or 4 miles from any village or station. There is no great hurry with it as soon as can get a small wagon, but do the best and send good turf.

I think it would be quicker after all if you sent himself a card when the turf is sent on, but do not give him your name or address. I could not sell any wagons, if farmers found out where I was getting turf, as I had to pay for my experience in the turf trade and several people asked me where I am getting it.

I will give you every order in future and if the farmers do not like the price, they can try elsewhere, but I am sure they will not get good turf and I am guaranteeing any turf coming from you.

Yours truly,

Michael Leonard.

The following excerpt was taken from James's article on Turf Activity and 1943 General Election Nostalgia:
"It was inevitable that commercial turf activity would play a significant role in the 1943 General Election. The economy in North and South Kerry in that era was all about cutting, saving and selling turf to earn money to survive and to keep the home fires burning.

It began with the establishment by the Fianna Fail Government of the Turf Development Board.

In the early 1930s Fianna Fail had made electoral promises to develop Ireland's bogs. Frank Aiken developed a scheme for the expansion of turf production and in 1933 C.S. 'Todd' Andrews was appointed to the Department of Industry and Commerce to implement the scheme. The objectives of the scheme were to stimulate private turf production, establish standards for density and moisture content, fix prices and organise distribution. Co-operative societies for the marketing of turf were formed under the aegis of the IAOS.

In 1934 the Turf Development Board (TDB) was formed "to develop and improve the Turf Industry..." and ".. to operate and drain bogs.." Following a visit to German and Russian peat-producing areas by a Government delegation in 1935, proposals were agreed by the Government for bog mechanisation on the German model. In 1936 the Turf (Use and Development) Act was passed, giving the Minister for Industry and Commerce compulsory purchase powers on behalf of the TDB. In 1936 the Turf Development Board purchased large bogs at Clonsast near Portarlington, Co. Laois and in Lyrecrumpane. The bogs were drained and developed for use with German excavating machines otherwise known as 'baggers'.

In 1941 coal imports for domestic use fell drastically. Hugo Flinn T.D. was appointed Turf Controller and under his direction four major projects promoted the saving and distribution of turf:

  • A County Council scheme was established whereby each Council took responsibility for the production of turf. This scheme produced over three million tonnes of turf in the period to its termination in 1947.
  • A major Government campaign was organised to encourage private turf production; the Turf Development Board handled the publicity and marketing.
  • A crash expansion programme on the large bogs of Kildare and adjacent counties, the 'Kildare Scheme', was entrusted to the Turf Development Board. This scheme involved the drainage of 24,000 acres of bog and the building of fourteen residential camps to house the workers. The scheme produced some 600,000 tonnes of turf in the period to its ending in 1947.
  • The Turf Development Board produced high-grade machine turf at its three bogs and this was allocated to cheap fuel schemes for the urban poor. The TDB also re-started Lullymore briquette factory (see below) and the briquettes were allocated to priority industries and the railway system.

C. S 'Todd' Andrews stated with absolute certainty "as a result of these schemes, during the war no-one died of cold ... or had to eat un-cooked food!"

Tim 'Chub' O'Connor, Fianna Fail candidate in South Kerry inserted an advertisement in the Kerryman with the heading "Turf Turf Turf - 3,000 votes wanted. Calling all turf men from Killorglin to Iveragh and through to Sneem......."

John Joe Kelly was elected as a labour party member of Kerry County Council in the local elections in 1942. Ned Joe Walsh, Tullamore, member of Fianna Fail and Paddy Finucane, Urlee, member of Farmers' party were elected.

John Joe was actively involved in organising gangs of men for labour intensive turf production and supplying it to distributors in counties Cork and Tipperary. The scale of turf activity in Coolkeragh in the early 1940's enabled my father to purchase two lorries to deliver supplies to the Flying Boat Station in Foynes and to shop keepers in towns in East Limerick. He told me I had the privilege of shaking Paddy Ryan's hand - the one that won the Olympics hammer throwing gold medal in Los Angeles in 1920. Paddy had returned from the USA and lived in Old Pallas. My father knew him from regular delivery of loads of turf to Michael Connolly's shop.

North Kerry turf cutters produced huge volumes of turf for delivery by lorries to shops in Hospital, Knocklong and to Ballylanders via Connolly's contacts. My father often recounted the difficulty lorry drivers had in negotiating the acute bend in the road in Askeaton. The gable end of a house protruded on the road and remained that way up to the time I hitched lifts to Limerick in the early 1960's.

In January 1944, Michael Leonard, shopkeeper, Ballyhooly, Co. Cork put pen to paper and wrote to my father. The letter admonished my father for the poor quality of the turf in the last wagon, which he sent to Mr. Leonard for sale to his customers. Mr. Leonard's advice towards the end of the letter was "I could not sell any wagons, if farmers found out where I was getting turf!"

Michael Kelly recalls the excitement of buying bulls eyes, blackjack and other rare sweets in Mullany's shop during visits to Limerick. He remembered the name of Bertie Trindle, a lorry driver that came from Cork City to collect North Kerry turf. He reminded me Dan Moloney was actively involved in turf activity in the early 40's. He was the Fianna Fail candidate in the by election in 1956, which was won by Kathleen O'Connor, Clan na Poblachta. The by election was caused by the death of her father Johnny O'Connor. Dan Maloney was elected a Fianna Fail TD for North Kerry in the 1957 general election.

The heading in The Kerryman on the Friday after the 1943 general election was: "Kerry Changes Dail Team - Fianna Fail and Fine Gael Lose Seat Each - New Labour and Farmer Deputies" Eamonn Kissane headed the poll; Thomas McEllistrim was second and Paddy Finucane was 3rd John Joe Kelly was last with 2,352 first preferences.

Michael confirmed his father contracted Tubercolosis, probably while canvassing during wet weather on his bicycle. He died in 1946 aged 39."

If you have any suggestions, corrections, information, copies of documents, or photos that you would like to share with this page, please contact me at maggie@maggieblanck.com

The Potato and Other Crops
The People
Irish Life

Please feel free to link to this web page.

You may use images on this web page provided that you give proper acknowledgement to this web page and include the same acknowledgments that I have made to the provenance of the image. Please be judicious. Please don't use all the images.

You may quote original text from this web page and use any cited quotes on this web page provided you give proper acknowledgement to this web page and include the same acknowledgments that I have made to the provenance of the information.

Please do not cut and paste the whole page.

You may NOT make use any of the images or information on this web page for your personal profit.

You may NOT claim any content of this web page as your original idea.



This page was created in 2004: Latest update January 2016