When we purchased our little acre in West Cavan we were novice gardeners but we soon found out that in our townland we were thought to have enviable gardening soil. It was rich in peat and while that is highly acidic it also is very fertile. The blackberries and nettles that flourished confirmed that local opinion. The peat rich bog land hosts a wealth of natural flora. My personal favorite is seeing the appearance each spring of bog cotton, which most certainly does seem like the fiber that fed the engines of the Industrial Revolution. This plant is completely rural though.
There is a sort of saucer shaped dip in the southwestern corner of the field where a previous owner had harvested turf to burn for fuel. We have never done this but there are plenty of locals who have turf rights to cut sods from the bogs on common land on Boleybrack. Handcutting and ‘footing’ of the sods is still done in the early summer and the turf is stacked to air dry before being carted home for a family’s consumption.
Machine harvestings has become outlawed on blanket bog which is now conserved. The blanket bog on Cuilcagh Mountain National Park has been brought back into good heart with the help of the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark. Harvesting had adversely affected water run off into the lower lying land in counties Cavan and Fermanagh. Flooding became more prevalent in the underground caverns that zigzag beneath the international boundary between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Conservation management measures create a win-win for natural habitat and humans who can be affected by flash flooding. Apart from being used for home heating there is another product from the bogs.
Turf Stacks near Cavan Burren Forrest
When we started to create our garden on this peat rich acre we needed to deal with one problem – drainage. In came the JCB. In the course of creating a series of ditches for rain run off the digger also unearthed some bog oak. Both bog oak and bog fir have macerated and been preserved for thousands of years in peat. One of the first human residents might have used a flint axe to fell that tree. Or perhaps weather or other non-human agents topple the preserved wood that has been buried for thousands of years.
This naturally hard wood is used by Irish sculptors to create many works of art and jewellry. Welsh born artist Idris Bowen is just one artist who uses this material to create unique carvings that are inspired by Irish myth and Celtic legend. http://www.irishtwistedspirit.com/celtic-pate.html
The moorland bogs that surround our part of the Cavan section of the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark is rich in legend and lore. Coming across the Bellavally Gap one dark night we spotted a will o’the wisp, a spectral light darting across the lonely moor. Now there may be a scientific explanation (escaping methane?) or it might be fairies. Or perhaps it was the ghost of a murdered maid servant whose perfected preserved body was accidentally exhumed by turf cutters fifty years after her disappearance!
The moors high up on Cuilcagh and the other mountains along this border feed those underground caverns that I mentioned criss-cross this international border. The mighty River Shannon has its source in those underground caverns in County Fermanagh before it bubbles up on the Cavan side of the border at Shannon Pot.
This cauldron shaped ‘pot’ is alive with Ireland’s own creation myth where it is Síannan, rather than Eve, who is hungry for knowledge. In this case she seeks the salmon of wisdom, the oldest animal on earth, who is key to knowledge rather than a fruit on tree. There are trees in Ireland’s legend, too, but they are nuts of wisdom from the hazel that fed the salmon.
I’ll close with a poem I wrote after that JCB departed from the acre and I was left to ponder the three bog oak logs that had been unearthed.
This is what is made by
time, temperature, water,
the patience of insect life
under the cover of peat
its acidity burnishing
earth’s black gold.
When the man with his
mechanical digger exhumed
the three bog oak logs
and shook me
by the shoulders.
Eternity is not hard won
or over in an instant.
What means the millennia
that was in the making?
Now the light and air
gives the appearance
of brittle bark
but let them stand in the rain -
their heart is ancient
and indissoluble as