A Bog's Life

A Bog's Life

As Ireland contemplates its energy future, a Notre Dame student works to restore its ecological past.

On a typical gray, rainy day along Ireland’s west coast, Tom Nee leads a group of Notre Dame students around the grounds of his sheep farm along the Killary Fjord. On the far side of the inlet are steep hills, with hints of jagged stone peeking out through a blanket of green. On the near side, the students watch as Nee leads a sheepherding demonstration. He gently vocalizes commands to his sheepdog, Holly, who in turn jogs on either side of the herd, moving and coaxing the animals into the desired position.

When the demonstration is over, Nee guides the group over a gentle incline some 200 yards away, stopping at a small cliff that looks as though it had been chiseled into existence. Layer upon layer of dark matter is exposed beneath the green of the topsoil. As the spongy ground beneath them likely signaled, this is a bog. The near-black soil is peat.

There are peculiar rectangular indentations cut into the earthen wall, and soon Nee shows how those features came to be. He takes a tool known as a slean — a sort of mix between hoe and shovel and post digger — and pushes it into the soil. When Nee draws the slean from the earth, he deposits a rectangular log of peat onto a pile. The logs are stacked by the pit to dry.

This is called “cutting turf,” and it’s a generations-old tradition in rural Ireland. Nee explains that once the logs are dried, they will be burned for fuel at his elderly mother’s house. But then he relays something else.

“We need to stop doing this at some point,” Nee says. “Environmentalists are telling us it’s hurting the planet.”


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Categories: Global