Glencolmcille Landscape

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 Cholm Cille.

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.

Bog land, Glencolmcille


Peat for fuel

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.

Domestic use

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 of 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 use 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.

Peat briquettes
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.

Peat moss
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.

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.

Building material and filters

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.


Cut bog / turf   Cut bog / turf