Eamon Ryan and his broader government peers may be playing with fire when it comes to turf.
It’s a substance that has been burned in Ireland since at least the time of Christ – while before that, our pagan ancestors knew all about moors as larders and mystical depositories for ritual sacrifices. This deference implies that they were also aware of its plentiful supply of fuel.
Fast forward to the 20th century and John Hinde’s image of the peat cutter’s donkey accompanied by red-haired children that made us all squirm. But it was the company’s best-selling postcard, which means it reflected some kind of truth.
The Irish have been associated with turf for untold generations – with even a healthy export market in this day and age.
The first bureaucratic intervention in the age-old practice appears to date back to the 1730s, when Georgians contemplated encouraging ‘moorland reclamation’ well before the establishment of an Irish Parliament. Dismantling was positively promoted on a broader basis.
But peat burning soon became downright patriotic after Jonathan Swift urged that we “burn all the English but their coal”. Ironically, Ryan repeated that historic phrase at a recent press conference, recalling visiting his grandparents as a youngster.
In fact, when the newly independent Irish state was finally formed, it saw turf as ripe for industrial use. So it is no great coincidence that the Turf Development Board was also formed in the 1930s of the economic war with Great Britain.
This new body soon became known as Bord na Móna, which would oversee all peat extraction and maximization of opportunities at home and abroad.
Through the purchase of machinery that seemed to mock the skinny Sleáns of yesteryear, the swamps soon became the subject of large-scale harvesting.
Briquettes (with B, N and M in their three sections) were seen in stores as compressed peat. Milled peat was used in power plants to generate electricity. And we sold sacks of “sphagnum” for horticulture and garden use.
As distinct from traditional fuel, peat refers to the dried up lumps that were once moist sods of peat extracted from the bog.
Of course, the old ways came into conflict with progress and especially progressive thinking. Ecology as a school of thought began to become mainstream in the 1970s. The rise of the Greens, beginning in Germany, was a sign that calls for alternatives to both oil and nuclear power were beginning to go mainstream. Ireland’s early game with a nuclear power station at Carnsore Point in Wexford was ended by this upswing.
We found our own reserves of gas, albeit not much offshore oil, but the discovery of a hole in the ozone layer in the 1990s ushered in an obsession with greenhouse gases.
Meanwhile, Ireland had joined the EEC in 1973, and the EU had adopted a range of habitat directives since the turn of the century that created protection for bogs, all of which came from a variety of good intentions. But there were “traditional” sacrifices.
Ming Flanagan’s political rise came about when the cannabis activist linked the issue to the freedom to mow lawns hampered by Brussels decrees. He first became TD, then MEP. His fiery speech also convinced the lawn mowers of their right to rebel.
The government soon made payments to the peat community in recognition of their waiver of claims. Others have retained the turbary rights. The EU has protected both raised bogs and fens, many of which are now designated as Special Protection Areas.
In January of last year, Bord na Móna announced that it had ceased all peat harvesting and peat extraction and was transitioning to climate solutions. The peat moss is already gone and the last briquette will probably be sold next year.
She had already reduced peat extraction in 2019 and suspended it a year later. What was literally a pioneering parastatal body is now pursuing a “Brown to Green” strategy.
In the words of the CEO, “We are now fully focused on renewable energy generation, recycling and the development of other low-carbon businesses.”
At the local level, with a way of life teetering on the brink of extinction, turf wars continue.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/eamon-ryan-is-playing-with-fire-as-irish-have-held-a-deep-reverence-for-turf-across-the-generations-41555501.html Eamon Ryan plays with fire as the Irish have had a deep reverence for turf for generations