13 things you'll remember if you grew up in the Kildare bog

Niamh O'Donoghue and Conor McHugh

Reporter:

Niamh O'Donoghue and Conor McHugh

Email:

conor@leinsterleader.ie, niamh.odonoghue@leinsterleader.ie

Tall tales and glossary from the rich pageant of Kildare bog life

Compiled by the Bog of Allen’s answer to the Rubberbandits, the Turfbandits - Bogger one: AKA Niamh O’Donoghue, and Bogger two: AKA Conor McHugh

A bog hole

The bog hole

The mystery of what lies beneath. The “undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveller returns” as Shakespeare might have said.

Parents warned us to avoid them at all cost. A stray rubber boot, a dog, a horse, a ass or at worst a neighbour’s tractor may have been lost beneath the murky bog water, or so legend would have it.

“Stay away from the bog holes,” was the mantra. All very understandable now, but to a child bursting with imagination, it was like a vortex, a black hole, a portal to another universe. Something akin to a gateway for monsters, half bloods and wizards. It had a magnetic pull on all who traversed the Bog of Allen in their youth. John Wayne had quicksand, we had bog holes.

It should added, in the interest of fairness, that there there is no finer stuff for cleaning bog dust from your hands (prior to tucking into half a tonne of hangsagiges than the water in these bog holes.

Such was the all pervasive place of the boghole in the consciousness of locals that the quality of man’s manhood was occasionally referred to thusly: “He has a p**ker that would bate an ass out of a boghole”.

Oul tae and Billycans

This is more for the older generations (like really old...over 50) - a source of nourishment on a long day in the bog.


Two durty feckin' midges beside a one euro coin (for perspective).

Midges

A childhood spent on the black plains of Kildare, caked in bog dust would not be complete without the lovely swarms of midges. For some, they were merely irritating insects, but for others who they took a shine to (AKA boggers one and two), they devoured the flesh as if they hadn’t eaten in months. A trip to the bog often left one with swollen eyelids, and a big long itchy welt across the base of the back where your jacket pitched up, as you footed your way up the row. Attempts to shield yourself from these tiny but persistent predators proved fruitless. As evil as the Borg in Star Trek, “Resistance is futile” when it comes to these tiny menaces.

“Dem midges would ate ya, deh durty feckers,” is a common greeting.

They tended to get worse as the light faded on long summer’s evenings.

Stray sods

The stray sod

Preparing for home, when loading the trailer with turf, the golden rule was to stay on the same side as everybody else. If you ventured over the far side, you were likely to be hit with a stray sod in the head by a misguided throw. Converging together limited the amount of damage likely to be inflicted on limbs and other extremities. Make no mistake about it, a clout in the snout with a sod of turf hurts.

Nothing like a good sinking

She’s gone to the axles - a good sinking

The excitement of a good sinking incident, to children only. Every man and machine from 13 surrounding plots was called upon to scratch their heads, join in the cursing, offer sympathy and useless advice, accompanied by far fetched tales of something along the lines of "I seen one of the Bórd na Móna lads doin' dis beyont in Ticknevin".

As children we thought Ticknevin sounded very exotic.

She’s gone to the axles - the dreaded words every adult bogger hates to hear. The trailer, or tractor pulling aforementioned trailer, has sunk.

The key to getting out across swampy soft bog terrain is to drive like her like you stole her. Put the foot down, skim across the surface, black muck flying off the wheels. Don’t stop until you get to the roadway.

All the helpers look on, collective breath held, praying she doesn’t suddenly disappear from sight! (All tractors are 'she').

If the inevitable happens and the wheels are dug in, gouging the bog muck out from around them doesn’t really work. Planks are placed in front of the offending wheels in a bid to gain traction and extricate the tractor and trailer from this unfortunate situation.

If matters are not resolved, then comes the unenviable task of emptying some of the load to take the weight off and effect an escape.

Bog cotton

Bog cotton

As children, we could have rivaled Fruit of the Loom if we wanted to, but we were too distracted by not falling into bog holes. It was beautiful, and useless.

Double-wheelin' preventing a sinkin'

Double-wheelin’

This is the addition of extra wheels on tractors, to make them wider, and thus continue the noble (and forlorn) search for a solution to the plague of sinking tractors.

Health and safety me arse

There are 35 year old photographs of Bogger Two, with siblings and cousins, sitting on the top of a trailer of turf, being pulled home by a tractor, along a bog road, not a safety statement, manual handling course nor a high viz vest between them.

They talk about getting one’s sea legs, but there’s many a sailor would get it hard to balance on a buckrake at the back of a tractor going across the bog.

Footings

Footing

Footing turf takes a certain amount of hand-eye co-ordination, and a good back. To help ease the task, a radio helps time pass as well as the mandatory bottle of water. It’s thirsty work. The key to making a good footing is to select two big sturdy sods upon which to base the construction. Never go too high, because they will only topple over. Five sods high was as much as you could hope to manage. Six might earn a stern rebuke from your oul fella that you were “only blaggardin’.”

Other methods of turf drying include heaping the turf in loose piles to let the air circulate through the mound.

.....and the fortune I'm payin'

This was the refrain of many's a hard-pressed tormented father trying to drag his brood off the couch, away from the television and to the bog. The urging, the pleading, the promises.....

"...and the fortune I'm payin' for them hot showers

"...and the fortune I'm payin' to keep yiz warm in the winter.

There would be an invocation of the neighbour down the road who "has four trailer loads home and in the shed already" and whose "young lads" would be praised from the high heavens.  

Some children were offered fivers and tenners, a trip to the cinema, a go on the tractor or, to employ another tactic, the wooden spoon and/or no dessert/holiday/trip to the cinema if they didn't go.

All of this would be wound up with "it's cheap heat compared to the price of oil".

Reeks

A reek of turf was the next step, as you gathered  (or goddurred as some used to say) the footings into larger distinct piles. Different people or areas had different ideas for what constituted a reek. Some viewed it as a long, low pile, while others, the artistes among us, piled it five or six feet high, with a 'wall' at the front and a natural flow at the back to let the rain run off.

Work wear

Gloves are an essential part of kit, but some hardy boggers prefer to go without protection, because... well, because they are hardy. Then there were was the hanky tied in the four corners for a hat, when a certain sartorial elegance was called for. Other than that, dress appropriate to the weather, unless it was late evening, in which case midge-proof wear was needed.

The High Bog

The High Bog

The high bog was usually covered in heather and provided a place where work-shy children tried to hide from the toil.

From up there, you could see for miles and miles, which was slightly scary, because there was nothing to see except heather and the prospect of more work.

Quality

The quality of the turf, like cannabis and coffee, was determined by how dark it was. The darker the better.

In the same way that Eskimos have 36 words for snow, there were quite a few to denote the quality of turf - starting with the driest: Dust, brittle, dry, soft, lumpy, very soft, rale soft, mush, pure shite.