Wednesday 18 March 2015

Walking across the bog

“Doctor Ceitinn and I walked right across the bog, with Poll na Cailli west of us and Poll na Chapaill to the east, as far as Mocklers where we had baker’s bread with butter and a strong drop of whiskey.

We walked over the bog collecting wild plants: water-mint, bog-cotton, common self-heal (a small coarse plant with a purple head or flower), common milfoil, which has a thousand petals and a brown stalk.

We saw a lovely girl kneading wet turf. She had slender feet, calves and knees white as bog-cotton. Her father was once a well-off farmer, but the difficulties of life caught up with him; he lost everything, and the landlord took his crops. The tithe-collector took away the table, the pot and bed with him, and they all drove him out to wander the roads – himself, his wife and his handsome young children. That is why he was in a small cabin at the foot of the mountain, and why his beautiful young daughter was kneading turf.

A thousand young boys and girls danced to music nearby, on top of Moinn Rua, a high platform in the middle of Poll na Chapaill. The reddish-brown hillock was shaking under their nimble feet. They are having a fine life here, if it doesn’t end in beggary.

I can see how turf grows. There is a kind of moss called susan, growing in bog-holes, which when it withers turns to pulp. The pulp fills the bog-holes in time, and thus builds new banks of turf. If the susan has not completely withered it is cut with a breast turf-spade, but if it has, is cut with a winged turf-spade. It is spread on the banks to dry. But this is not the best kind of turf. The best is that which, after it has been shovelled up out of the hole onto the bank, is kneaded by the hands of women.”

-- From the diary of Tomas de Bhaldraithe, County Kilkenny, 12 July, 1827. 

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