Bringing home the Turf.

Me, Grandad Ned and the Ass-Cart

As a child, I have fond memories of spending summer times on holiday in Galway, Ireland with my maternal Grandparent, and on speaking to my mother recently about this, it all came flooding back. 

Looking through some old photos, I found the above old photo of me with my Grandfather Ned, bringing home the turf in his Donkey-Cart, or "Ass-Cart" as he always called it. I was about 12 years old at the time. [“Turf” is the name used in Ireland for dried peat.]

It may seem strange to many people nowadays  that even in the 1960’s peat was still been cut from bog-land and widely used to heat the homes in rural Ireland, but this was the norm in the small town where my Grandparents lived, indeed it is still very common to this day to see people using this fuel in the home. My Grandparents would have paid the owner of the bog land a certain price per yard for the right to cut turf for their own use, although at one time the family did own some bog-land of their own.

The photo above shows the type of cart many people had in their back yard, ideal for being pulled over wet bog-land because of it’s large wheels, by a donkey at the time…..can’t remember the name of the donkey, if indeed had a name, but my Grandfather always seemed to have a donkey around on land at the back of their house, as many others did, and I remember going to sleep one warm summer’s evening with the bedroom window wide open, to be woken up in the morning with the donkey sticking it’s head through the window and braying for food!

My Grandfather, assisted by his brother-in-law, Tommy, had the job of cutting and then transporting the dried turf back home.

Cutting the turf was very labour intensive in those days and involved cutting into the wet bog with a specially shaped shovel called a ”slean”.

The Slean
“Saving” the turf involved turning each piece of turf to ensure the sun and wind could help in the drying process. The turf was then placed upright or 'footed' for further drying. Footing the turf involved placing five or six pieces of turf upright and leaning against each other in a small stack in order for the wind to get between the turfs to full dry them out fully, ready for storage.

I well remember seeing the sweat on Tommy’s brow, cutting turf on a hot summer days, then stopping for a rest and a cigarette. He and Grandad then loaded it on the cart after drying and brought it the few miles home to be used through winter.

Their home had a large black range in the kitchen which heated the house and was used for cooking as well. It seemed as though we were continually going outside to the shed for another hand full of turf to keep it stoked up, and then emptying the ashes out because it filled up quickly due to the peat not lasting long. Today many people use commercially cut blocks of peat, which are compressed and therefore seem to last a lot longer.

Back-breaking work!

My mother remembers friends in the town, although not in her time, as children having to each take a piece of turf to school with them every morning in order to heat the classroom, otherwise there was no heat for the class!

And just to finish with, I still have the wonderful smell of burning turf in my head from those happy times years ago.

Drying turf stacks

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