The Successful Turf Campaign of 2020
In the environs of Athleague, close to my home place of Castlecoote, a number of farmers used to grow beet/sugar beet for the Sugar factory in Tuam. The harvesting and delivery of the beet to the factory was referred to as ‘the beet campaign’ by its participants.
I referred to the traditional turf cutting ‘campaign’ of the fifties here last time with some references to the struggle to get the product out of the bog and home.
I’ll treat here of part two of that campaign: saving and bringing home the turf in these modern times.
I got three runs of turf this year. I know that many people refer to ‘hoppers’ of turf as a standard imperial measurement and I could probably translate my ‘runs’ into ‘hoppers’ but why bother?
My Commissar for turf has been my link to the turf mines for a good few years now. The turf was spread in my designated patch around Easter time. The weather through April was really perfect for advancing the drying process which it did. So after an inspection of the possibilities in late April, a concentrated attack was made on ‘footing’ the turf on Sunday, May 3rd. Covid social distancing was easily introduced to the bog for the duration, with our small retinue. Indeed, the Covid19 trauma was not a significant issue in this project apart from reducing the accessible labour force. They were there for the initiation day of ‘footing’ the turf. I really thought that this would be a stressful day of hand digging the individual sods (sads) with the hands but no, it responded well and was just properly cooked to facilitate the construction of decent ‘footings’. There are different styles of ‘footings’. One style just puts the long sods on their end and creating a rough tepee shape. The classic style in this region is a kind of Jenga with two on two on two until the structure reaches just short of being unstable. This can be strengthened by supporting long sods placed vertically on each side.
In the fifties/sixties, we used to toss/turn the turf and maybe turn it a second time. In good weather then, one could just put clumps of turf in a small heap tiling it with sods to ensure that rain ran off the heap. Then these small heaps were put into clamps especially if there was a danger that the turf might not be taken off the bog for a considerable period. In these clamps turf kinda seasoned better. The best place to dry turf is, of course, ‘on the bog’. Turf once clamped was regarded as safe.
Recently a senior man told me that some years ago he had taken the first two loads of three home in early June and that he took the third load home in October. By that stage, it might have become ‘green’ turf with the green coming from the colour that emerged from the moss algae that had attached to it due to the wet weather. In a pub quiz in the winter of the 80s’ I asked the question; ‘What product cannot be burned?” The prescribed answer was aluminium which melts as opposed to burns. One answer that returned was; ‘Last summer’s turf”
I digress. I was pleasantly surprised we completed the ‘footing’ element of the ‘turf-saving’ that Sunday afternoon.
With the weather being so good I began to feel that an assessment trip was sensible in the middle of May, just two weeks later. The five-mile restriction was elasticised and the possibility that turf saving qualified as an ‘essential’ labour was posited as a defence. Anyway, the assessment showed that the turf needed some more time on the oven before the wheels of taking away were put in motion. A second assessment, nearly a week later, demonstrated the weakness of the Jenga technique as the bottom sods were proving very stubborn along with a sprinkling of batch loaf style sods. This required the bottom to the top restructuring in ray or re-footing a certain amount of the crop. Some brittle material was cherry-picked into heaps for self-preservation.
Then it was trailer-on–the-bog-time. When my haulier announced that he had ‘dropped’ a trailer on my bank I knew that I had to get a body part into motion. I was quick to realise that the time was nigh. This was reinforced with a weather forecast of wind and rain. So that carriage was filled with low hanging sods and roughly covered to confront the coming rain.
The slight storm passed and some remedial adjustments were again made to the crop and the first load was deposited in Forest View. The turf store had been prepared by removal of debris from last season and it was the fate of some large un-split blocks to be buried for another year.
The real test was a big trailer which was a tough filling job but knocked a real hole on the quantity of turf remaining. If the summer turned sour when that was home the winter fuel requirement was, for the most part, in credit. That was a Saturday, May 30th.
That day Tonroe bog looked like a scene from Dunkirk with tractors and trailers, horse and cattle boxes, small car trailers, a dumper or two, front-loading forks for ‘bales’ of turf and digger buckets. All modes of conveyance were brought to bear on the turf banks with small groups filling them with serious intent as if to escape some pending hurricane. The sight of cars on the turf bank highlighted the top condition of the terrain. It was no John Hinde picture card of a donkey with balancing creels and a red-headed Connemara Collen and her freckled-faced brother. The weather continued and the turf loads raised the dust on the narrow bog road as the traffic lined up as if competing for flight slots. It has to be said also that the camaraderie, goodwill and consideration on the narrow exit road were of the highest order.
The ‘big’ trailer was home and its cargo deposited in its store. This left just a third, final and lesser trip. There was no discrimination this time as the loaf style and stubborn ‘bottom’ sods were hand-shovelled onto the transporter. This was topped off with the ragged timber pallets that had expedited the process around depressions on the bank. The neighbour now had a full runway to work with as the Conboy bank was clear and clean.
The turf campaign of 2020 was over. This year it was short, sharp and successful. It was just the first days of June and the December fires were secure.