A Day in the Bog


In those days all the small farmers of the parish helped each other by a system known as “comhair”.  They used it to the spring work, hay saving and so forth.  So this system of “comhair” was applied to turf cutting, and as farmer, labourers and others living in the vicinity of a bog and availing of its resources for their years fuel supply, “comhaired” for the turf-cutting session.  The work commenced in April and continued to the end of that month.  A certain amount of spring work, tillage would be done before the turf cutting started.

Twenty-five to thirty families used the bog for their fuel supply, so four or five “meitheals” or gangs would operate at the same time.

The “meitheals” consisted of a sleansman, smitherman, catcher and three barrowman.  This was the set up for a low-land bog.  Water was always a hazard in this type of bog, and the work had to be done in as short a time as possible.  Three men would accomplish the same amount of work on a mountain bog, as the water was not a problem there.

The work commenced about half past eight in the morning, all the “meitheal” would be assembled, and after the preliminaries of discussing the weather or some world event, an older member would say, “We’ll make a start in the name of God”.  There was no boss in the meitheals only a leader, and he was the sleansman, as he dictated the pace of work.

The smitherman cut the back and sides of the sods, the sleansman push the blade under the sod and pitched it to the catcher, whose job it was to place it the wheelbarrow.  The catcher was usually a lad of ten or twelve who was kept home from school for that day, or maybe a girl in her teens.

Three barrowmen were necessary as spreading area was confined to a perch or perch and a half in width.

There was no stopping by the sleansman unless a root of a tree or an inrush of water caused it.  No mater how much one’s muscles ached or how much one suffered from hunger or thirst, no one flagged.  The midday Angelus signalled the first break, and by that time the midday meal had arrived.

The housewife of the family whose turf was being cut would have brought this from home on a donkey and cart, or pony and cart. A three gallon earthenware jar of tea, sugared and creamed standing in a butter box packed with hay or straw to keep it from breaking.  No tea ever tasted better.  Plenty of home backed bread cut in slices and liberally plastered with butter, and a pair of hard-boiled eggs for each person.  The sleansman got three eggs, this being the menu for the bog.

When everyone had ate and drunk enough the older men filled their pipes and settled down for a smoke.  The younger men slunk away to some quiet place for a drag of a woodbine.  Young men did not smoke opposite their elders in those days.

No ‘strong’ language was tolerated by the men in those days, and if some young man used a curse word, he was quickly put in his place by an older one.

When the work resumed after the midday break, it continues until the “four-o’clock” arrived, which was more bread and tea, and a short break was allowed for this.  This meal was necessary; as the fast was considered too long until the men arrived home in the evening for their principal meal of the day.  Work continued until the Angelus rang at six o’clock.  Each man was glad when the work was completed, and when the owner wished them “The Lord spares you the health”; it was great days work, the glow of pride on the older men’s faces would not be much more evident if they won an Olympic Gold medal.  They had cut their neighbour’s fuel supply for the coming year, and that was something.

Most of those men had done a couple of hours work on their own farm in the morning before coming to the bog and would do another hour’s or so work after returning home.

In one day a team would work through about 1000 cubic feet of heavy wet material.

This work is reprinted from an article written by Chlarair O Mona, from the Parish book for Murroe and Boher, 1979.

Last Updated on Thursday, 08 April 2010 05:42