Bogs have been a part of Irish consciousness for centuries. They have inspired poetry, provided a window to the past and a home for wildlife.
In the 20th and 21st centuries, peatlands have inspired artworks such as le Brocquy’s Bord na Móna tapestry, commissioned by former Managing Director, Lewis Rhatigan, and a series of paintings by Maurice MacGonigal.
Bogs seem to particularly inspire sculpture: in the 1970s Michael Casey began to sculpt using wood that had been buried in bogs for centuries. Bord na Móna collaborated with him to create Celtic Roots, a co-operative studio representing artists who used bog wood and also trained apprentice carvers. A more recent collaborative effort, Sculpture in the Parklands, has placed several permanent outdoor sculptures in the Lough Boora Parklands. A variety of artists continue to complete residencies in the Parklands, creating evolving works of art.
Peatlands also regularly provide unique and valuable insights into the past. As well as items like butter, shoes and pottery, the bogs preserved the Corlea Trackway and the Faddan More Psalter. Bord na Móna has built a relationship with archaeologists and the National Museum to dig for and preserve items found in bogs. In the 1980s, so frequent were finds in the peat that employees were given standardised forms to return to the National Museum.
We have no prairies To slice a big sun at evening – Everywhere the eye concedes to Encroaching horizon,
Is wooed into the cyclops’ eye Of a tarn. Our unfenced country Is bog that keeps crusting Between the sights of the sun.
They’ve taken the skeleton Of the Great Irish Elk Out of the peat, set it up An astounding crate full of air.
Butter sunk under More than a hundred years Was recovered salty and white. The ground itself is kind, black butter
Melting and opening underfoot, Missing its last definition By millions of years. They’ll never dig coal here,
Only the waterlogged trunks Of great firs, soft as pulp. Our pioneers keep striking Inwards and downwards,
Every layer they strip Seems camped on before. The bogholes might be Atlantic seepage. The wet centre is bottomless
Irish people have used bog wood for centuries. A. T. Lucas’ 1954 report, Bog Wood, records how it was used for roofs, furniture, vessels and all types of ropes. In the 20th century Michael Casey began to create sculptures from bog oak, yew, and pine. His pieces can be seen in hospitals, churches and colleges all over Ireland. Inspired by his example Bord na Móna collaborated with him to set up a studio to train wood carvers.
Bog wood is not the only trace of the past to have been discovered preserved in peat. Bord na Móna workers have discovered many items buried in the peat as they work. In 1977, James Wynne and Kieran Corcoran discovered an ancient crozier at Leamonaghan. Director of the National Museum, Dr. Raftery said it was “A first class object of early Christian Ireland, on a par with the Cross of Cong and St. Patrick’s Bell”. In 1978, David Conroy discovered a decorated wooden bucket at Garryhinch, Co. Offaly. The National Museum estimated that it dated from the 8th or 9th century A.D.
Since then many other items have been found in the bogs and Bord Na Móna employees are trained to report finds immediately.