The Beauty and Diversity of the Irish Landscape – (1) her Peat Bogs

We may be known for our coastline, mountains, rivers and lakes but I’m starting with my personal favourite – can there be anything more mysterious, bleak and beautiful than an empty bog.

And bog we have aplenty! – one sixth of the island is peatland. Traditionally, the land has been associated with poverty and considered useless apart from the provision of cheap household heating fuel. As more and more of the planet’s bogs disappear due to reclamation and development, a new appreciation for what’s left of this ecological system has emerged in the past few decades and we are now finally proud to perceive it as part of our identity and heritage.

So – what is a bog?

In very simplified terms, a bog is a flat wetland that accumulates dead plant material over thousands of years. This accumulation can eventually measure anything from 2 – 12 metres in depth.

Although most bogs appear similar, there are 2 distinct types. Blanket Bogs are the most common and found wherever there is high rainfall so are typically found in the west of Ireland and in mountainous areas. They are actually manmade – in so far as they are found in areas where original forest was cleared by our first farmers.

Raised Bogs are found in the centre of the country and were formed naturally when the Ice Age left behind a bumpy, poorly drained, plain with thousands of tiny lakes which eventually filled up with decomposing vegetation.

Sphagnum Moss forms the living heart of the bog. Floating on layers of partially rotted plant material, it acts as a sponge – trapping and holding as much as 20 times its own weight in water.

From the 1700’s, bogs were cut by hand for personal use in the home…

Days were spent in the bog, cutting each sod by hand. They were left to dry and then stacked into small heaps, eventually being transported back to the homeplace to be stored for winter. Nowadays, most are cut by machine but the piles of sods can still be seen along the side of road – ready for collection.

The Raised Bogs of the midlands may cover less area but they are deeper and therefore have been exploited commercially for decades. Thankfully – better late than never I suppose – the commercial, mechanical destruction of the bogs has ceased and they are now being developed as nature reserves where their unique flora and fauna can once again flourish.

Some bogscapes from Ireland’s west coast and midlands for you to enjoy….

The Will-o-the-Wisp has long been sighted by weary travellers at night – particularly over the bogs. Attracted by an eerie glow that looks like a lantern, they follow the light deeper and deeper into the bog until – well – until they drown in the bog itself- either due to a misstep or exhaustion! Of course, science will tell us that it’s actually bog gas seeping up through the earth and interacting with the natural resources to create blue flames – but we know better!!!

Isn’t this great – its the Corlea Trackway – a stretch of road across the bog dated to 148BC. Metal axes were skilfully used to split oak logs into planks which were pegged to the underlying peat and gaps were filled with saplings and brushwood. It’s reckoned that hundreds of workers were needed for such a project, suggesting that it was more than a typical causeway across the wet ground and was perhaps a ceremonial route linking regional royal and ritual sites. Alas, its very magnificence was its undoing – it was so heavy that it sank into the bog within ten years, remaining perfectly preserved for almost two millennia!

Today, this 18 metre stretch of track can be viewed in its original location. At the Visitor’s Centre, you can learn about the excavation and conservation process. ( Open March – Nov : No Admission Charge).

31 thoughts on “The Beauty and Diversity of the Irish Landscape – (1) her Peat Bogs

  1. I was fascinated in Scotland when we went to the bog. It’s amazing what it naturally does. The smell of it burning is so distinctive. Great photos. Thanks for sharing.

    1. This is unexpected – from yourself and Alison – I never thought of it from the view that most people have never actually seen one. Another reason why everyone should come here on vacation!!

    1. They are landscapes that we tend to drive through en route to somewhere else and therefore we have been slow in appreciating them for themselves. That’s changing now thankfully. XXXMarie

  2. I know that the word ‘bog’ doesn’t exactly evoke the most ideal mental imagery, but bogs are, in fact, extremely idyllic. The bog is a precious ecosystem and habitat, home to wildlife and plants. Playful otters live all over Ireland, including in bogs, where they enjoy the mix of land and water. Hares once featured on the three-pence coin, also call the bogs home.

    For visitors arriving in parts of Ireland in winter, they will notice the rich, distinctive smell, which many Irish people living overseas long for – the smell of the home fires. I’ve been following the controversial issue of harvesting bogs for some time now and can easily understand both sides – it is a right and a tradition and at the same time it’s a danger to wildlife habitat and Ireland’s ecosystem. Either way, I am glad to see that many bogs are finally being restored and protected by law, and some have been developed into nature parks. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva x

    1. It has certainly been controversial. I’m glad the mass stripping of the raised bogs has ceased but I can still remember my uncles in Donegal heading off to the bog for the day to cut enough turf for the family for winter. I hope that the cutting of turf for personal use stays…

  3. This is so interesting, Marie! I’ve heard of peat bogs before, but I never really knew much about them. Thank you for educating me today. I enjoyed learning about the bogs and seeing your wonderful photos.

    1. That’s great Kellye – I’m delighted with the reaction – as I keep repeating – we take them totally for granted. XXXMarie

  4. Great stuff. I know peat bogs from my childhood in the Peak District, particularly the one on the top of Kinder Scout, where many a hiker has lost their way and abandoned the Pennine Way on Day One! My Nan used to speak of Will-o’-the-Wisps, she was a firm believer that they were the souls of those who had perished in the bogs, discontented souls who were luring others to a similar death. Marsh gas? Nah!!!

    1. People HAVE been known to disappear in the bog so stories would have definitely grown around such events. I’ve managed to stick a foot in the odd boghole over the years – I can imagine the panic of it happening at night with no one to pull you out –

  5. greetings from Chicago. I will now have a real explanation of bogs of Ireland to offer folk.
    Stay well Marie.

  6. Ah, the smell of the turf fire, takes me back to a long, long, time ago. As a child of about 9 or 10, I also remember picking flax which grew by the bog, I think we got sixpence for a whole day’s work on Saturday and NO, it was NOT child labour, we loved it. Picking flax was fun, we got to eat corn beef sandwiches and cake and drink lemonade, and sixpence bought an awful lot of sweets in those days. your photos are amazing as always and you’ve brought something alive that was probably unknown to most of your readers. Incidentally, do you know the work of Eamon Maguire from Belfast who works a lot in bog oak?

    1. So was the flax sent to a mill then? I’ve never seen that much flax in a bog……
      I don’t think I know him Mari but there was a lovely bog sculpture in the Corlea Centre – I should have included a photo – it’s a lovely art form isn’t it..

  7. I know this sounds drastic, but I absolutely love a bog!! I think there’s something really mystical/magical about beautiful open and big landscapes like this – and it always feel like whatever the weather, you’re totally exposed to it and isolated. I love a bog walk!

    1. No – not drastic at all – I agree with you. There are lovely bog walks in the midlands now and while the scenery isn’t as dramatic as the west coast, it’s amazing how much there is to see – The information boards are great and focus the eye on things we never actually SAW before (although we were familiar with them for years). The west coast then is wilder and bleaker and of course has it’s own beauty.

  8. Bog and turf are part of Irish traditions, alive in the countryside, a little forgotten in the cities. I have, however, brought back pieces of turf left along the roadsides to burn in the chimneys of Dublin.

Leave a Reply