Sunday, 19 July 2015

First harvest - bringing home the turf.

We are approaching Lúnasa, the month when wild fruits and crops are gathered, yet already tractors pass by the door laden with a different sort of yield from the land.

 The turf crop © Jane Brideson
For me the first harvest of the year begins when the turf is brought home from the bog.
 The local bog with turf  'footed' to dry © Jane Brideson. 
The dry, black crop will provide fuel for a household throughout the winter months. 

A visit to the bog is a visit to a strange land, another world.
A place of deep waters, black earth and big skies. Alone there, surrounded by deep silence broken
by the call of birds and whispering wind, you can feel the age of the land and see time written in
the turf banks.

Turf bank with dark waters reflecting the sky © Jane Brideson.

Turf has been cut and used as fuel for centuries and the early inhabitants of Ireland also 
sojourned there. To our ancient ancestors the unique atmosphere and dark, still waters appear to 
have been associated with gateways to the Otherworld.  
Discoveries of objects made from precious metal, pottery and stoneware deposited in bogs may represent offerings made to the gods across the ages.

 Coggalbeg bog hoard from the early Bronze Age © 

 To read the full story behind this find click HERE
These areas are still important for the people of rural Ireland, many of whom spend long hours saving turf.
On my local bog the turf is now cut by machine, rather than by hand but the process is still labour intensive, requiring good weather and the help of neighbours. 

Types of slane ©  

In some areas turf is still harvested using traditional methods. 
The slane is used to cut the turf into long sods, which are then spread out to dry.

Turf and golden hoards are not the only treasures to be found. 
My visit, on a fine summers' day, saw the bog coloured by heather, bog cotton and wild flowers.
The unique flora here once provided communities with herbal remedies and dubh-poill,  hole black,
a black dye used for clothing.
Turf was also understood to bring good health at calving when it was rubbed three times under the belly of a cow to protect her and her newborn calf from troubles.

Wild flowers, bog cotton & heather © Jane Brideson.

The bogs' association with the Otherworld meant that it was viewed as a source of protection against the attentions of the Good People and it was believed that scattering the ashes from a turf fire on the doorstep could prevent an unattended child from being taken by the fairies. 

Brighid's Cross made from turf © Jane Brideson.

Moulded turf is still used as protection in the form of a Brighid's Cross hung by the front door. 

Returning home from this other world visit I called in on neighbours for a chat and was given tea
and home made apple pie, then sent on my way again with gifts.

Gifts © Jane Brideson.

Freshly laid eggs & the result of last years harvest - apple jelly.

Lying in the grass was yet another gift...

Turf  by the roadside © Jane Brideson.

two sods of turf  by the side of the road which later went on the fire in the studio to fill the end
of the garden with its' distinctive scent.

 Burning turf © Jane Brideson.

Watch Jim's video on Irish TV by clicking the link below to hear his reminiscences of cutting 
and saving turf in the traditional way:


  1. Excellent blog post J B your absolutely correct, bringing home the turf is the first harvest of the year, an annual hard back breaking task. Where each piece of turf is handled six times before it gets to the fire and more if it is a wet summer.

  2. Thank you Heron. Yes it is hard work but also a great place to visit on a summer's day when the flowers are in bloom.

  3. Hello dear Jane: I need to view the video as I always wondered how people could burn what I always thought was just dirt. But it's late now and I better get some sleep!

    And now I am intrigued - can you describe its scent?

  4. Just watched the video - thank you - so educational and endearing, Jane!

  5. Fascinating, I didn't know that turf was used for anything other than burning (and peat based compost). I can almost smell that peat fire now..... :) xxx

  6. Glad you saw the video Carol. The scent is hard to describe but there is nothing like it on a frosty winter's night - smells like home :) I will post a wee piece to you to light in you hearth / stove then you will know for yourself.

  7. Hello Fran & thank you for comment - yes it's a grand smell. xxx

  8. Fascinating, Jane! I didn't know that turf was the foundation for all plants used for remedies either. I love your photos too. A re-visit to Ireland is high on my wish list!

  9. Hello again Valleypee - the bog is a fascinating place. When you decide to re-visit do let me know.x

  10. Beautifully written lovely pics....I can smell the smoke from them.

  11. Thank you Ita - and sadly we have the fire lit now - in August!


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