Sunday, 4 September 2016

Dark Spirits of the Bog

The brooding presence of the bog is strongly felt when travelling across the midlands of Ireland.

Once covered in ancient forests, the vast boglands have been inhabited by humans since Mesolithic times. 
The preserved bodies of these people, their homes, their offerings and ancient roadways have been unearthed from this cauldron of peat but beneath the turf lies another treasure, unique to the peat bogs of Ireland and prized for its’ strange beauty. Bog Oak.

Bog oak sculpture in St. Joseph's Square, Maynooth University.

Bog oak or bogwood describes the remains of trees preserved for over 
4,000 years and encompasses several types of wood including Oak, Yew and Pine.

'The Flight' by Larry Harney of Bog Oak Sculptures.

Bog oak is black in colour, a result of the chemical interaction between the gallic acid of the oak 
and soluble iron in the bog water. 

Bog yew polishes to a glowing red brown.

Silvered bog pine.

In the past bog pine, known as bog deal, was used to make roof-beams, torches, simple furniture and rope.
Locating the buried wood was a craft in itself and the local bogman could provide vital information before a spade was lifted.

Morning mist across the bog in Co. Offaly.

A visit would be made to the bog in the early morning and a spot where the dew or frost had disappeared indicated buried timber. This area was then explored with a long metal probe, a bior.
An experienced bogman could tell from the probe exactly what lay beneath the surface, he knew not only if the wood was undamaged but also its’ size, orientation and species.

Woodcut of a bogmen with bior.

The bog oak sculpture which greets visitors arriving at Keadue, Co. Roscommon.

Over time bog settlements grew and now villages and towns are strung out like islands across the bog.
Many choose black bog oak to announce their place in the landscape.

At Shannon Harbour the bog oak sculpture shows the confluence of the Shannon 
and Brosna rivers and the Grand Canal.

In others bog oak is used to honour the dead of the community

Pollagh, Co. Offaly. The glass tear drop inscription reads:
“A garden of beautiful memories, sprayed with a million tears.”

or to celebrate the life of a village. 

Ballinahown village fountain made from bog yew and bog oak 
by Michael Casey with Celtic Roots Studio.

In many churches locally sourced bog yew is seen as part of the sacred heart of the village.

St. Mary’s church at Pollagh. 
The altar, tabernacle, font and chair are made from bog yew and carved by Michael Casey. 

After driving across undulating bog roads, a visit to the parish church in Ferbane revealed this bog yew font, which stands like some ancient mother risen from the bog to bless her children.

Roots of a great yew over 8 foot tall, 
by Michael Casey in association with Celtic Roots Studio.

Many present day druids hold a similar belief.

Bog oak and quartz crystal wand made by Adge.

Bog oak is highly prized by sculptors for its’ hardness, beauty and primeval forms.
Each piece hides its’ true character, its' dark spirit, until the artist cleans and slowly carves to reveal the image within.

Bog oak salmon at Abbeyshrule.

Animals, mythic figures and woodland spirits, long trapped under the bog are released

‘Fionn and the Salmon of Knowledge’ by Joey Burns.

‘Sinann’ Goddess of the River Shannon & ‘Pillow Talk’, based on the first chapter of the Táin.
Courtesy of Joey Burns at Irish Wood Sculpture

to be reawakened and celebrated in the landscape.

Bog oak island sculpture at Lough Boora Parklands

I was recently given a gift of this piece of bog oak and its’ true form, hidden for thousands of years, has yet to be revealed.  

Over the coming months it will be cleaned and smoothed until finally another dark spirit from the bog 
will be reborn. 

"Bog Oak Sculptures - In the Bog" - a short video by Laurence Harney.


  1. The sculptures are mesmerizing! And how wonderful that you were gifted of piece of bog wood, Jane.

  2. They are really fascinating Carol. Yes that piece of bog oak was a great gift - will take awhile to clean etc but who knows what lurks within! xxx


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