Friday, September 7, 2007

Turfs Up.....and a Heroic Red Tractor Delivers It!

Isn't it about time that 'Unrepentant Communist' hosted its first image of a Red Tractor? No self -respecting socialist realist publication can be without its obligatory scarlet hued agricultural machinery, and we here at 'Unrepentant' will not permit anyone to suggest that we are depriving our readers of their fair share of this classic socialist imagery, so heres a special picture here for all you. This being one of the wettest summers in Ireland in the past three decades, has delayed the traditional saving, footing, and delivery of turf. This is a fuel still widely used in many parts of rural Ireland, it has been a staple of Irish life since time immemorial. Turf is actually peat, and is cut usually around Good Friday from the bogs, which are widely found all around Ireland . It was once cut by hand using a sleán, a special turf cutting spade, this has largely been replaced these days with machines which cut sods of turf slightly larger than the old hand cut turf.In the midlands and west of Ireland over 1m tonnes of sod peat or turf are cut annually, generally by local people who use the turf for domestic heating and cooking if they possess 'range' cookers. It is loved because it burns well and quite slowly, on an open fire it produces a heat which is less intense than coal, but also pervades the house with a distinct aroma which must be one of the most unique smells in Ireland. So distinctive is it that enterprising businesses sell little packages of turf to be burned in apartments in America and Australia, so that the homesick Irish exile can inhale the delicious blue heathery smoke of a turf fire and thus trigger instantaneously a huge deluge of memories of home. When the sod is cut, by machine or by hand, it is spread to dry on the adjacent spreading ground. After a week or ten days the sods are turned, then after a further period, (this summer because of the wet weather conditions, the period of time was extended ) the sods are “footed”, which means stacking four or five sods on end, leaning against each other. After a further week or so, the sods are built into “clamps” or stacks. Then the turf is brought home and stored in outdoor sheds or in ricks, which later are covered over for the winter. The whole process is extremely labour intensive, since to allow the air to circulate around the sods and to dry it is essential that they are regularly turned and moved, which obviously involves a lot of bending and picking. This summer the battle was to get the turf to dry, and the heavy rains made this very difficult, so the turf had to be footed and refooted more than normal. There are other aspects of work in the bog, there is a great sense of cameraderie amongst the people working in the bog, and it is usual for people to help each other out. Because it is so labour intensive, bog work is probably one of the last preserves of the 'meitheal' , this is an Irish word which means a 'gathering or collaborative group', so people readily help each other and in turn you help them out. In my case, four friends who also get their turf from the same bog, helped turn and load the turf. I first encountered turf cutting when I accompanied my Grandfather on his bog on the mountain bogs overlooking Tralee, it was even harder work then, since we walked to the bog and it was all cut by sleán, I remember particularly well though the enjoyment of tea brewed on a woodfire, and eating thick ham sandwiches, it is true, even if oft repeated, that food and tea eaten and drunk in the bog is wonderful. In Ireland there are people who like to talk about the joys of the bog, and there are those who really like it. What I love about it is the solitude, and being surrounded by nature. Your mind is relieved of all the stresses and strains of modern living as you undertake the repetitive and really quite mindless tasks of footing or stacking, but in that rhythmic work there is a slowing and a grounding which makes you tune into the sound of the wildlife and become aware of the small almost imperceptible alterations in the breeze, the clouds, and sometimes, even the sun.


Chris Paul said...

Any time your ready with that promised link ....

Chris Paul said...

your? you're ... peat is great in the grate btw

Gabriel said...

thats sorted now Chris...cheers. Gabriel

Alejo said...

Hi there!. I read your post of the workers mob in Chile and i have to say that i'm glad to read about this topic in this blog. I'ts a complex situation and requires an external opinion...


Sara said...

Interesting reading there. Being in nature is truly special! I always think of the film 'The Field' when I think of turf and peat. Richard Harris plays Bull Mccabe so brilliantly aswell. I also find Irish history info interesting due to my Dad's heritage being of Southern Irish!
Glad to be posting on Unrepentant Communist dear Comrade ;-)

Anonymous said...

Isn't 'socialist realist' an oxymoron?

Anonymous said...

Howya Gabriel,

This Irish communist (living overseas) spent many the day saving turf, in bogs too wet for tractors (red or otherwise!)

Had too carry it out on the back to the road in 10-10-20 bags!
I'd swap a fair bit to be back doing it again. Happy days.

Fraternal regards

Seán said...

Looking at your pictures reminds me of this:

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner's bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away

Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I've no spade to follow men like them.

Digging, Seamus Heaney.

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