Peat or Bogland use in Ireland
In Ireland peatlands are a distinctive part of the landscape. Peat lands or
bog lands have over the years have been used for a variety of purposes.
Peatland mammals, birds and wild berries would have provided a source of
food for the Stone Age people who arrived in Ireland over 6,000 years ago.
The Stone Age people also brought livestock to Ireland and would probably have
used boglands for grazing, a practice that still continues today around Gleann
Peat has being used as a source of fuel since before the 7th century. Throughout
the 18th and 19th centuries a number of alternative uses for peat were developed
including the manufacture of wrapping paper and postcards from peat fibre.
In fact, in many craft shops you can purchase decorative souviners made from
bog or peat.
Generally the lower layers of bog provided peat which was used for fuel. The
upper layers, of mainly raised bogs were used to produce peat moss.
Historically the most common use of peat in Ireland was as a source of fuel.
Its use as a fuel for domestic use began at least 1300 years ago when peatlands
were more widespread.
With the reduction of native woodlands, peat became the major source of fuel
in Ireland during the 17th and 18th centuries. Rights to cut peat on small
plots of land (known as turbary rights) were allocated to landowners.
Traditionally peat was cut by hand using a special turf-spade known as
a sleán/slane. The production of hand-cut turf in Ireland reached
its peak in 1926 when over six million tonnes of turf was cut. The amount
turf cut then declined steadily until World War II. Peat became a vital
fuel source again, as the supplies of coal, from Great Britain for domestic
almost ceased. The deep peat in raised bogs and the large areas of blanket
bogs resulted in both types of bog being cut extensively.
After the Second World War the low price of coal and oil resulted in a continued
decline and by the 1970's the annual production of peat was down to about a
million tonnes, most of which was from the blanket bogs in the west. However,
during the 1980's there was an increase in the amount of peat cut, brought
about by the introduction of tractor drawn turf-cutting machines. In the last
30 years mechanised extraction of peat using tractor-drawn auger machines has
become the norm in Northern Ireland and the tradition of hand-cutting turf
has almost disappeared. Overall the use of peat as a fuel continues to decline
with the increasing use of the more convenient oil fired central heating.
Milled peat can be compressed at high temperatures and made into peat briquettes,
which are then used as a domestic fuel. In the Republic of Ireland Board
na Mona use 1 million m3 of peat each year to produce peat briquettes. Briquettes
are a compact, user friendly product with predictable burning qualities.
They are popular in households that require a fast and readily available
fuel for occasional use.
During the last century there have been a number of uses for peat moss or milled
peat in Ireland. Certain uses required only a small amount of peat e.g. fine
peat dust was added to molasses as food for livestock as this was thought to
increase the amount of time the food would remain in their stomach and thus
allow for greater absorption of nutrients.
Building material and filters
The production of peat moss/milled peat for the horticulture industry has became
a major industry especially in the Republic of Ireland. The principle use
of milled peat in the horticultural industry is as a growing medium for container
grown plants with a small proportion used as a soil improver.
Peat has been mixed with many substances to produce a variety of building materials
e.g. peat moss mixed with materials such as tar made a very pliable material
which was combined with plaster of paris to make insulating material and wadding.
Peat itself was used as a building material in the 17th and 18th centuries
when poor families in Ireland who could not afford traditional building materials
used dried block of turf to construct small houses.
Peat is used in a number of applications to filter gases, odours and liquids.
Activated carbon from peat is used in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries
to absorb impurities in liquids or gases. Board na Mona have developed several
biofiltration systems where peat fibres provide a large surface area for the
attachment of microbes and chemicals. Puraflo is one of their peat systems
designed for the treatment of septic tank effluent.