Friday 18 October 2019

All change in the bogs - but signs of new beginning

Home turf: Colm Deevey, from Kilcormac, used to work for Bord na Móna in a briquette factory, but now rents out bikes to visitors at Lough Boora Discovery Park. Photo: Mark Condren
Home turf: Colm Deevey, from Kilcormac, used to work for Bord na Móna in a briquette factory, but now rents out bikes to visitors at Lough Boora Discovery Park. Photo: Mark Condren
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

From his crow's nest of a rusting 'loco' once used to ferry turf, Colm Deevey surveys the landscape at Lough Boora Discovery Park in Offaly.

"Kilcormac, Cloghan, Banagher, Tullamore, Edenderry..." he recites the string of power stations that were once the vital heartbeat of this place.

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His own story lies at the centre of it all, with 42 years working in Bord na Móna - mostly in the briquette factory on the road between Cloghan and Birr.

"It was dusty work," recalls Colm. But he and his wife Maureen reared their two boys from the steady income it provided.

His life was transformed five years ago when he retired. Now he works for his old Bord na Móna colleague Pat Barrett, renting out bikes to visitors at Lough Boora, a decommissioned bog now a beautiful public park.

He enjoys meeting people - as well as keeping an eye out for the shy brown partridges and other wildlife flourishing since the bog was allowed to run wild once again.

They even have a pet crow, Jack, who used to eat bread until someone turned his head with a Rolo and now he will eat only biscuits.

Sometimes there are concerts. "Ah Lord, it's mighty to hear the music coming through the trees, in the middle of a bog," he says.

But while his own story is one of transformation, Colm is sceptical at the idea that the Government might manage the same thing on a grand scale with its €31m Budget 2020 'Just Transition' fund to shift the focus of midlands employment from turf to environmentally sustainable jobs.

"They might get a few jobs, but they'll never get as many as was there," he says.

There is a buzz and flutter of flags on the main street of Ferbane, which is in the county final against Rhode on Sunday.

But locals speak of a once-thriving place which has slowly lost power along with the turf-fired stations.

"We still have our post office, but if we lose that, we're finished," says Carmel Larkin, who runs the dry cleaners.

She too is sceptical of the Government's plans, saying it is not fair to expect a 55-year-old, who might still have a mortgage and children in college, to re-educate himself.

In Browne's butchers, worker Frank Keenan tells how he and his wife raised seven children thanks to his job in the boilers at Bord na Móna. It was hard work keeping the fires burning 24/7.

"But it was OK. We looked after the boilers and they looked after us," he says.

Up the road is the old power station which had its towers blown up in 1999 and where a new battery power storage facility is being built, which will provide around 40 jobs between Ferbane and a sister site in Shannonbridge.

"It's part of the sustainable energy drive," explains project manager Cathal Miller, of Duggan Brothers.

The old way of living is hard to quit. But there are signs of new beginnings in Ferbane.

Irish Independent

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