Saturday June 5, 2010
I’ve decided to come to Ireland because I am interested in local history, heritage, and how people perceive a personal sense of place. Coming from upstate New York with its large markers of abandoned industry (such as mills and factories) has made me curious about how towns in Offaly are transforming themselves even as the peat industry is winding down. What will all the old workers do? How are bogs being transformed into parks or other useable spaces?
As I’ve read to prepare for the trip, I can’t seem to get past the fact that I’ve never seen peat and I’m having a difficult time wrapping my head around how the excavation of this material fits into the lives of people in Offaly. Luckily peat cutting was the first thing I saw in Ireland after arriving in the county. Just beyond the cottages where we are staying are peatlands being excavated by a nearby family who has been using the land for seven generations. Being an unusually sunny day allowed the family to begin to collect and store the peat-which had been cut into bricks a month before and stacked to dry as best it could in the damp Irish weather. As well as being a sunny day, Saturday also marked the beginning of the holiday weekend, when people would have more time to do household tasks. First impressions of the peat-am amazed at how despite the machinery, elements of it still seem to require handwork (such as making the footing or stacks). Talking to the folks gathering up the peat on Saturday, I also learned about changing government policy to stop peat cutting and protect the lands, which made me think about the intersection between environmental concerns and heritage-and how to balance the two.