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Joseph Woulfe takes a break while saving his turf in a bog at Kilmihil. Photograph by John Kelly

We will have to keep the home fires burning

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Joseph Woulfe believes the energy crisis means we must continue to burn turf


EVERYONE in our family visits the bog almost every year. It’s our pilgrimage in some ways. it has been done for generations – to use what nature offers in our locality to heat us through the winter period.

I remember my late father, Charles, building a special timber wheelbarrow to bring the sle’an turf from the bank and carefully laying the sods out to dry in the summer sunshine at Jack at Rita Moroney’s Bog near Mullagh.

On the way home from a hard day’s work, we would be given a treat (or perhaps you could call it a bribe) of ice cream at Sexton’s Shop in Mullagh or the Crosses of Annagh.

Over time, we moved to a more mechanised bog system in Kilmihil where the Coughlan family use a hopper.

In primary school, we learned all about fossil fuels, how they grew and, over time, what they changed into.

They come from the decayed plants and trees that form black peat in Ireland when it was covered by ice during the Ice Age.

If this material was covered over with other layers of material like rock, heavy soil and water, the trapped material formed coal, oil and gas. All these materials were created by nature.

So, this being the case, importing a peat fuel with added transport from Eastern Europe makes zero sense to me, and many others. It is unsustainable and adds a far greater transport footprint.

To bring peat from the likes of Germany, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine is off-the-wall crazy, especially when we have it locally.

In recent weeks, the move to ban the advertising of indigenous Irish fuel (turf) while continuing to allow the advertising of imported oil is pro-international trade deal, but anti-domestic enterprise decision.

So the billionaire Shell and Exxon Mobil companies will make further wealth and local enterprise will suffer.

Does the home heating oil industry, with prices of a continuously upward direction, need to be given an even more dominant position in Ireland?

In recent times, with the Russia-Ukraine war, my view would be we should use local fuel to get us through this period and import less foreign heating substances.

If Europe requires gas for this winter, we could be asked to export to them. This is not the time to reduce home heating options. Remember how all fossil fuels come from the same source.

This summer, our family will continue to support a local model and have a cosy home for the winter ahead, with no worries about supply availability or price hikes issues.

Now of course the work of saving the turf takes a good deal of time in the summer. But these chores have rewards. An oil or gas burner, or an electric fan, cannot compete with the magic of winter’s night in front of the fire, when you see the flames glow in the different shades of light and half light, and hear the odd creak and crack that the fire makes. The smell of the peat is just unique too.

I will leave you with one final thought. If one was to knock over a bucket of turf onto the ground, it won’t damage the eco system, but if you spilt a bucket of oil that would be a completely different story altogether.

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