peat. that rich loamy stuff that carpets much of Ireland. used for heating and, yes, gives off a particular scent when burned. Connemara is covered by blanket peat bogs, and driving up from Clifden bogs stretched in all directions in various stages of harvest. cutting of peat for fuel (called ‘turf’ once cut) has changed the landscape of Ireland. hiking in Connemara National Park (one of six national parks in Ireland) gave me an opportunity to see the stuff up close. there are two types of bogs: blanket and raised, the former prevalent along the more mountainous coastal regions in the west, the latter in the valleys of the middle of the island. it’s easier to harvest from raised bogs, and so consequently the bogs in central Ireland have been more greatly affected by turf cutting. the blanket bogs aren’t as deep, so they’ve fared somewhat better. while I was hiking, the loam looked so rich and inviting that I felt compelled to pry off a piece and really get my hands on it. the stuff is rich: it feels rich and smells rich and i suspect that if I’d been possessed to take a bite, it would also have tasted rich..
turf is cut with a special kind of spade in the form of bricks. usually they’re hacked from the bog in rows, cutting downward into the face of the bog, depleting the bog six-inches deep at a shot. once it’s cut, it’s left to dry on the bog for a week, before being re-stacked for further drying. in the second photo, you can make out where turf has been cut from the bog. there’s been quite some destruction to the size of bogs, particularly in the late 20th century. cutting of turf increased in the 1980s and, because they are made up of compressed plant matter, they do not replenish themselves nearly as quickly as they are harvested. if left long enough, and compressed enough, it can turn into coal.
I wish that I could remember some of the figures they had in the visitor’s centre at Connemara National Park, about how much peat the bogs lost in the 20th century, how much of Ireland is covered in peat, and all the other interesting history-of-peat tidbits they had. I went into the visitor’s center after my hike (as I did the trail in reverse of the “normal” direction) and got roped in to take one of many visitor’s surveys about my experience. in any case, if you’re ever in Ireland, then I recommend Connemara. and if you’re ever in Connemara, I recommend the National Park.