Tuesday 26 September 2017

Helen Moorhouse: I understand these turf wars ... and why we need to preserve what is a precious part of us

TD Luke Flanagan turning turf on his own patch of bog in County Roscommon
TD Luke Flanagan turning turf on his own patch of bog in County Roscommon

THESE turf wars are quite nasty all the same. Machinery going on fire, tussles, scuffles, hospitalisations, Ming's beard... does anyone else think, however, that even if they could get the turf cut in the first place, what would be the point? In this weather, it would be like trying to get wet bread out of soup? Without caterpillar wheels, summer 2012 is, in practical terms, not a good one for the bog.

I grew up in the midlands, which makes me a bogwoman. The connection with bogs is part of my family history – some of the first turf-cutting machinery imported into Ireland was assembled on my great-grandmother's farm in Offaly, and when I was growing up, summertime meant one thing and one thing only – The Bog. Weeks of weather watching, making a dash for it while the sun shone - or at least while you could still stand up in the rain. Because once the turf was cut, then it was all hands on deck as men, women, children, dogs, cats and relatives from abroad were summoned to undertake the tasks of footing, bagging and getting it bloody well home.

In my teens, I was a champion footer – fit, short, fast, and as I had the social life of the Tollund Man, it didn't matter a whit how dirty my nails got. Bog work is physical, demanding, tiring yet satisfying and it was once something that so many families did as part of normal, daily life. But society moves on and nowadays we've got more demands on our time - as well as the 'boost' button. Which makes me sad that the bog probably ain't what it used to be. As rural populations get older, and heating your home gets easier, not to mention all of the current disputes, it's likely that harvesting turf will eventually become a thing of the past. Maybe it's time we thought outside the turfbox however?

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