Monday June 7, 2010
Since I arrived on Saturday, I’ve tried to understand this thing called peat, or turf. Before Saturday, I’d never even seen peat before-making it extremely difficult to understand its use as a natural resource and the community’s cultural and historical connection to Offaly’s unique landscape. Walking around our cottages in Belmont have allowed me to stomp around the spongy peat harvesting area, observe our neighbors loading peat into trucks, and the rows and rows of stacked peat drying before it will be storage. Since my arrival on Saturday the neighbors have been extremely friendly and willing to chat about something intricately woven into their lives-which probably seems a bit ordinary and mundane.
Near the cottages lies a range of peat or turf harvesting, representing both the industrial harvesting by Bord na Mona (the Irish government owned public/private operation) as well as plots owned by members of the community which have been passed down within the same family for seven generations. Today the family plots use the same or similar machinery to the industrial company-though some families still hand stack the peat to dry-called ‘footing’. I’m particularly interested in capturing the range of peat extraction, which occurs today-as well as learning more about the tools traditionally used to harvest peat. A brief chat with our neighbor Michael today allowed me to see a slane- a foot tool used to cut peat into bricks and then tossed into piles. I’m looking forward to Thursday when Michael is meant to show us the slain in action.