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Three to a spade
on Wednesday 22 February 2006
by WebMaster author list
in article > History
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Planted boglands show that time has changed the farmer’s way of life. From the 1930s until oil succeeded turf as the most popular fuel, Tommy Johnston worked on a bog at Coolnasilla. He says, “fifty families cut turf out there and you know there’s not one in that whole area now”. When the weather is good enough, Tommy still wins turf from a small bank but such farmers are now a rare sight.

Turf, being so plentiful in the area, was the only fuel used around Killyfole before and during the War. In an era when everything was done by hand, wood was rarely burnt as fuel. “There was no such thing as a chain-saw” says Tommy, “there was a big, long saw and a man at each end of it. That’s what you called a cross-cut. So you motored away at that and I tell you, it was a big job tossing a tree and getting it cut up and lifted.”

Tommy began working at the bog as a ten year old child. Besides acting “the Canat” by throwing clods of turf at his friends, his tasks included carrying the food basket over the mountain to the bog, lighting the fire and cooking meals of tea and boiled eggs, which everyone ate at the bog. Work in the bog was hungry work and lasted all day. It took at least three people to work the bog; one to cut, one to throw the turf into the wheelbarrow and another to spread, that’s what they called ‘three to a spade’ explains Tommy.

The only time two people could work a bog was during the cutting of Bentey turf. Bentey turf was only one floor deep so there was no need for a wheelbarrow to bring the turf away. The person collecting the turf could simply throw the turf on to the bank to dry. Tommy says that the Bentey turf was very tough : “You could throw a piece to the road and it wouldn’t break. They are the best turf you can buy”.

There were almost 20 bogs worked by local farmers at one stage and some farmers made mud turf instead of the usual turf. Mud turf was soft turf mixed with water. Farmers mixed the water and clods of turf into a thick mud and laid it out in layers on the bank. They marked it into squares the size of turf and when it was dry, the turf would rise up in the shapes of squares.

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