The bogs play a remarkable role in Irish life. For generations, Irish people have cut turf from the bogs to burn as fuel. Visitors arriving to parts of Ireland in winter notice the rich, distinctive smell, and Irish people living overseas long for the smell of the home fires. Bogs have also preserved and eventually yielded up incredible treasures from the past ranging from hoards of gold to human remains. The ph balance of bogs is similar to that of vinegar, so it preserves things much like pickling does. Bogs are a vital clue to our origin story.
Approximately 17% of Ireland is boglands. Only Finland and Canada have more bog than Ireland. Ireland has two different types of bog, and they are quite unlike the cranberry bogs of the New England coast. On the west coast of Ireland, we have blanket bogs. These bogs form in wet, cool, mountainous terrain. Raised bogs, which develop in former lakes, are more common in the midlands. That’s why ‘bogger’ is a teasing insult for people from the rural areas in the center of Ireland.
Sadly, the bogs are in danger. Harvesting of turf for fuel has become a controversial issue, with some arguing it is a right and a tradition while others cite the danger to wildlife habitat and Ireland’s ecosystem. Today, bogs are being restored. Many bogs are now protected by law, and some have been developed into nature parks.
Treasure in the Bogs
Many ancient treasures have been found in Irish bogs. Gold hoards, tools and other items give us a priceless insight into how our ancestors lived centuries ago. But the most valuable treasure in the bogs is timeless. It was there in the days of the druids, and it is there now: Irish nature. 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.
But perhaps birds are the stars of bog wildlife. The sadly rare Irish curlew with its distinctive long, narrow beak, nest in bogs. These beautiful birds are currently at risk of extinction. Red grouse were numerous in Ireland from the end of the Ice Age until the last century when massive amounts of turf were taken from the bogs, a prime nesting area for these birds. Today, thanks to efforts to conserve habitats, red grouse numbers have stabilized after this grouse was listed as at high risk of extinction.
Protecting Irish bogs is critical to preserve the wildlife that is part of our heritage. While burning turf is a tradition, and it smells wonderful, if we don’t balance our consumption of it, we put our natural heritage and distinctive bogland and its inhabitants at risk. Creating nature parks in bogs gives us a new way to enjoy and cherish the Irish countryside.