Our first blog post for ‘Bogs in Transition’ blog post highlights the women who are members of the Community Wetlands Forum who live in the Midlands of Ireland where our Just Transition funded project, Connecting Communities with Peatlands, is focused. Today we’re celebrating the women who are passionate about their peatlands, and who encourage their communities to see the beauty and importance of the landscape.
Caitriona Devery is from Pollagh, Co. Offaly. She grew up on the bog, spending summers footing turf, and for a long time took it for granted as a kind of wasteland, like so many others did.
I was very much influenced by that narrative about the bogs being wasteland. Weirdly also at the same time being aware that we very much relied on the bog for turf…We saw them as being barren but at the same time, you knew that they were very productive and useful.
It was only after growing up and spending some time away from the bog that she came to realise the beauty of the landscape and how amazing bogs are.
Caitríona Devery, Pollagh Heritage Group
After returning home from ten years working in the U.K., she helped to set up Pollagh Heritage Group. Caitriona says that the bog has shaped the history of the area. Local people depended on it for fuel, and turf was sold on a small scale, but also the industrial extraction of peat led to huge employment in the area for many years. The village is steeped in industrial heritage and has formed part of the people’s identity in the community.
Turraun wetlands was essentially the first site used to industrially extract peat. So in some ways that’s kind of a tragic history, but from a community perspective in Pollagh it was hugely important as an employer. It was this hugely vital community of people working and earning and being able to bring money home to their families, or settle in the area. That history is really important to us in Pollagh. It’s something that is very close to people’s hearts – there is a strong memory of that industrial heritage.
Pollagh Heritage Group has been very active since its establishment and now sees its role as being about natural heritage as much as social history and industrial aspects. Caitriona says that one of her proudest achievements was working with artist Rachael Champion, who she had met in England. She told Rachael about the bog, and from there they secured a small grant from Creative Ireland. Rachel carried out some research on the area, and designed and installed the Carbon Flux sculptures on Turraun Wetland, which was one of the first Bora na Móna sites to be rewetted.
Carbon Flux in Turraun Wetland. Credit: Rachael Champion
It was a reflection on the old geological past and the microscopic life in the bog that play a role in the carbon cycle, the Bord na Móna history, and then looking to the future – to climate science how can bogs be used to sequester carbon. She tried to capture the past, present and future of bogs.
Pollagh has been affected by the cessation of industrial peat extraction and the use of turf energy generation. Just Transition is a term that we hear more often these days and is a policy applied to the Midlands in the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. In 2020, the government opened the National Just Transition Fund for organisations, businesses, and communities to apply for funding for projects ranging from enterprise to community development initiatives. Several community groups have expressed their frustration with the funding process and the policy in general. Caitriona says that it is a slow process.
People feel like there has been a lot of talk around Just Transition but they haven’t seen activities that are directly benefiting them. If there has been feedback going to the people in charge of Just Transition in Ireland then maybe it’s going to start happening on a more local level. Hopefully, there will be more clear ways to access that funding which is really important, and more proactive outreach from the Just Transition agency.
Circus performers at Bord na Móna camps at Turraun Bog
Caitriona says there is a general shift in people’s mindset away from seeing the bog as a resource to be utilised for fuel to being a place of conservation and biodiversity. Turraun bog is so important in the evolution of Bord na Móna and in terms of Irish energy history. The heritage group did some oral history work in their Memories of Turraun project with some people who worked in the Bord na Móna camps in the 1940s and 1950s as they felt it was important for those stories to be collected and preserved. For many, peat remains an emotive issue as people’s identities are closely linked with turf cutting and the industrial heritage of the area.
Energy transition and the transition away from using the bogs in the way they have been used is a very emotive issue for people. Sometimes people don’t realise that they’re emotive about it until it comes up in conversation. I think people can feel they are being chastised sometimes for their role in peat extraction, even though it’s something they took for granted as being part of day to day living. This understanding that we need to move away from fossil fuels, the bogs need to be protected, is such an important conversation to be had, with all parts of the community. There is a certain amount of delicacy and sensitivity needed because not everyone has not had that realisation yet. At the same time I realise that change needs to happen quickly. It’s a tricky balance, but the outcome will be better if nobody is left behind.
You can follow Caitríona on Twitter @everytreecat.
Tina Claffey is an award-winning photographer, based in Birr Co. Offaly. She has been photographing bogs in Ireland for almost 10 years. She is a native of the area, but didn’t realise the beauty of the bog until returning from living in Africa for several years and taking a walk on Killaun Bog with renowned geologist and botanist John Feehan.
He gave us each a little hand lens. As he walked and talked he was encouraging us to look through the lens at what he was passing to us. It blew my mind really that what we were walking on was alive. I never associated it as a living landscape at all. I always thought of it as a wasteland.
Tina was hooked from then on, investing in new camera equipment that would allow her to capture this microscopic world.
I missed the wilderness where I lived [in Africa], and then I discovered this new wilderness on my doorstep but everything was so tiny I had to invest in a macro lens and I became fascinated straight away because I could see this other world right where I was walking.
Tina started her photography of the bog on Killaun Bog, starting with an hour or two then eventually whole days photographing on the bog. Over time she began to explore other bogs.
I’d go to Scohaboy Bog, Abbeyleix Bog, Girley Bog, Clara Bog, Boora Bog – every bog is different. There is a different kind of energy from every area I go to and every bog has something different to offer…There’s something new to find every time. I am fascinated with how ancient it is, there are species in there that precede human habitation. It blows my mind a bit – these ancient lifeforms within the bog.
Natures Eye Credit: Tina Claffey
Tina’s photographs capture the flora and fauna of the bog that the naked eye wouldn’t be able to see. The images she captures bring the bog to life. Tina says her biggest achievement to date was when she presented for COP26 as part of the Irish Peatlands Gathering.
…that was a really huge highlight and honour for me. I was included with all these experts, mine was just purely visual, but I think a photo can speak a thousand words. I like to think that I’m able to showcase the beauty within the bogs and that in itself is a tool for conservation.
Tina says she feels positive about Just Transition in the Midlands as more communities work to restore and conserve their bogs.
Killaun Bog is being given back to the community. It’s a massive area now, not just the little bog that they had. They put a new boardwalk in, and they’ve extended the area and they’re going to have trails going right around it. It’s been taken over by the school here. It goes to show how people’s mindsets have changed.
Tina continues to traverse the bogs of Ireland with her camera and is compiling her second book ‘Portal’ which will be on shelves this summer.
You can find Tina on Twitter @TinaClaffey
Great Sundew Credit: Tina Claffey
Frozen Sphagnum Credit: Tina Claffey
Bernie Henry, living in Clara, Co. Offaly is originally from Dublin. She says when she moved to Clara she had no choice but to be involved with the bog.
It was a ritual every year. Come June everyone was talking about the bog and the turf. I eventually decided that we might just do our own turf. So we tried this turf business, which seemed like great fun, we realised the first year the kids were all on for it, all helping, but the second year they just couldn’t seem to find the time. Mé féin used to go out late in the evening and maybe do an hour or two on the bog and I just grew to love it. I loved being out there, I love the empty space, I loved the peacefulness, I loved its connection with our ancient past.
Bernie is a member of Clara Bog and Heritage Society. She notes the importance of the bog in our ancient and modern past.
Our ancient ancestors used this land as a spiritual place, with healing powers and it has provided fuel for generations, feeding family homes throughout the cold winter. The bog was a place that provided social interaction for people. Everyone was on the bog on a June evening. And while the work was tedious and hard, people met there and they interacted with each other and often had great fun on the bog. The nature of the bog’s role in our community has changed, and its ecological value is now treasured, but its capacity to provide social interaction remains and has been helped by the development of magnificent boardwalk in Clara.
Harp and fairy dance at Tony’s Hill
The heritage group successfully organised an event on Clara bog last summer to celebrate the summer solstice.
We were joined by another community group Rahan who played music. It was low-key because of Covid but it was so magical to hear the live harp on the bog and watch the fairy dancing in the distance. And to see people connecting to the Irish music and talk about the landscape, it was as if the bog had connected these communities and it was just magical to see and magical to feel.
The Clara Bog walk has recently been extended to include a walk around Tony’s Hill, a natural lime formation in the middle of the bog, named after a man that once lived in a house on the hill. Bernie says that it is a magical walkway.
Clara Heritage Society have a copy of the birth certs and baptismal certs of the last family, they were called Malone, who lived on this hill. There’s a truly magical walk around Tony’s Hill…The silence and smells for me on the bog tells a story of the past.
Women have always had a connection to the bog. Historically, on a domestic rather than industrial scale. Bernie highlights that for women it was important to have turf available for the winter and to manage their households.
Women’s relationship with the turf was more with the sod itself, and the turf fuelled their energy because it gave them fire, it was really important to have heat, it fed the cooker, without the turf burning in the range there was sort of an empty feeling in the home. Women also partook in the rearing of the turf and women loved to have a shed that was good and dry and full.
People’s relationship with the bog has since changed with policies around conservation and restoration for peatlands in the area. Bernie recognises that the Just Transition policy will be challenging to implement without supports for communities.
I think deep down inside I think everybody probably had some sort of an inclination that this couldn’t go on forever. It’s still very challenging because old habits die hard, and this has been a habit for generations.
Walkers at Tony’s Hill
Especially for older people, a full shed of turf for them provides security…It’s a massive transition to change our thinking from the bog being a wasteland where we drew turf from, to being a treasured ecological landscape and a place where we can find a spiritual connection with our ancestors. The momentum can only happen by raising awareness, and by increased engagement.
Bernie is a champion and promoter of Clara Bog as a place of well-being and spirituality. She says that Clara Bog belongs to all of Ireland, not just Clara.
I love nothing more than being on the bog. For any human being to be out on the bog on that landscape, it’s really good for mental health and spiritual well-being.
She hopes that more people will come to experience the majesty of Clara Bog to feel connected to the landscape and their ancestors.
You can find Clara Heritage Society on Facebook.
Deirdre Lane is a protector and bog custodian in the land of Brigid of Kildare. She founded the ShamrockSpring movement and co-runs the Kildare Environmental Network, is a part of RePeat, and Ambassador for Earth Hour in Ireland. Deirdre is an award winning published author and composed and performed this “Is Mise Brigid” piece for an art and ecology Breaking Cover Collective performance emerging from the Irish Museum of Modern Art art and socio-ecological activism collaboration. The Brigid and bog-inspired piece has been performed internationally and Deirdre is kindly sharing this with us for International Women’s Day.
I am Brigid of the bog
Alive yet dead
My body soft spongy quakey decayed
My plants matter
I call them my peat people
My Lungs are your lungs
Lungs oxygen-poor nutrient-poor
yet those who choose to dwell among me thrive alive
Frogs in my bogs
Lizard lounge on sunny days
Restore, manage, preserve, conserve
Peat nature deserves reserves
Yet you slash and burn
You gash my cloak
You cut my core
You burn my flesh
Still I swell
In defiance I rise a millimetre per year, yes I swell
Still you slash me cut and burn me
You need to mind me
Yet you Mine me
My cloak steeped in rainfall Blankets bogs
My body blankets hills and the low lands, the valleys and the Highlands
You call them ecosystems
I call them welcomes
Home to the sun dew and to the curlew habitat to the wild
Water thru my veins you drain
I am that sponge and still you drain
I am the Irish Amazon you slit with your slan
Still you cut me
Slash and Burn me
Protect me I am old and shrinking
Still I swell
Keep Peat in the Ground
Keep my peat in the ground
For the Gorse
For the Grouse
For the Treasures
For the Futures
Not lesser Moores
The Grouse go Back go Back calls
I sponge your floods
I catch your toxic Fields and road run offs where once my body rested with our peat people
My sisters in Siberia sweat and melt revealing once hidden Mammoth treasure
I slowly grew post a recent ice age
As Climates change so we too do
Come Quake and play with me on my bogs
1 2 3 4 5 feet to bounce in and on and on and on
You drink of my peat Uisce Beate infused with blessed life blood
The blood of the bogs
The blood of the bog grouse on your soul
I protect peatland wildlife
Yet you slash and burn and stash my Grouse to flush a flash of fire
Still I swell with their every bloody drip
Meet me as I greet you on the fens, the bogs, the Moores, the Mires
My mist embraces you
My midge munch on you
The Great Elk once leapt upon me now he lies within me
All lie hidden below
Those birds who prey
Hen Harrier nuzzle and nest protected on my skin.
Merlins hunt and feed on my under belly
Chasing Meadow Pipits, their favourite prey
So I mind them
The Buzzards cry overhead.
A Falcon swoops at speed at prey
The cuckoo roosts home to me
The Swallow comes to mate by me
The waders walk upon me
Fáilte feather friends
Their long bills peak inside my flesh as they too search and seek my food
The Snipe bleats its tail feathers as it flies by, marking its territory on my chest
Snipe nest in tussocks on my face and fly by in their zig zag way
Naturally Driven – moto of the bog cutter
Bogs shudder as your sausage machines claw my flesh and spew my blood to the cold damp open air
You sell my earth
What a price
Your share price
Is that a fair price?
What’s left of my blanket striped mined away
Habitat destruction and predation, adaptation mitigation
Mind me don’t Mine me
The call of the Curlew gone and still I yearn for its return
To once more share a fáilte to old feather friends
Midges play with you gentle nips as they chase all away with fall of the cool eve on all
They mind and fed my bog friends
Don’t mine me
Is Mise Brigid of the bog
Is moine mise
Je suis Mona
I am Mona your friend and cover Mona
Achoine an móin