The Bog of Allen and Observations on Irish bogs

J. Stirling Coyne & N. P. Willis
c. 1841
Volume I, Chapter V-10 | Start of chapter

Instead of proceeding from Trim to Dublin by the more direct Enniskillen road, we preferred making a little detour, for the purpose of regaining the great western road, which passes through the pretty villages of Leixlip and Lucan, and the picturesque country bordering on the Liffey. A little to the westward of the straggling town of Kilcock stands the Hill of Cappagh, which, though not more than three hundred feet above the sea, is supposed to be one of the highest points between Dublin and Galway. From the summit of this hill the prospect extends over the rich pastures of Meath, the fertile plains of Kildare, and to the borders of the distant bog of Allen on the south. This immense bog, or rather series of bogs, stretches from the borders of the county of Dublin, across the county of Kildare, and the King's county, as far as the Shannon, and beyond it westward into the counties of Galway and Roscommon, spreading laterally through the counties of Meath and Westmeath to the north, and the Queen's county and the county of Tipperary to the south. It has been computed that it formerly contained 1,000,000 of acres, but by means of cultivation and drainage it is now diminished to 300,000 acres, and it is extremely probable that in a few years these immense and dreary tracts will be entirely reclaimed.

Although the bogs of Ireland in their natural state are unprofitable to the agriculturist, they are not without their advantages to the poor peasantry, who derive from them all their fuel; and those dingy and barren wastes, covered with patches of coarse grass and brown heath, which suggest to the mind only feelings of desolation, contain within their dark bosoms the cheerful peat that bestows warmth and light to the cotter's humble hearth. Great quantities of this peat or turf are transported from the bog of Allen to Dublin by means of long, flat-bottomed boats, which ply on the canal. The condition of the poor people, whose employment it is to cut and prepare this turf for sale, is miserable in the extreme. Their dwellings, which are mere hovels constructed of sods, are scattered along the banks of the canal, and present a melancholy picture to the eye of the traveller unaccustomed to the scenes of abject wretchedness which are too frequently to be found amongst the poor of Ireland. The manner in which one of these turf-cutters commences operations is exceedingly primitive, and reminds us of the operations of an emigrant making a first settlement in the back-woods of America. His first care is to rent a small patch of bog in a favourable situation, near the canal; his next, to provide himself and his family with a dwelling; for this purpose he seeks a bank in a dry situation, where he excavates his future habitation to such a depth that little more is visible than the roof, which is composed of sods pared from the bog, the herbage of which being turned upward, so perfectly assimilates with the surrounding scenery, that the eye would pass it over unnoticed, were it not attracted by a number of half-naked, chubby children, grouped round the door with the cat, the dog, and the pig, the joint inmates of the cabin; while a cloud of smoke, penetrating through, and curling over the vegetating roof, presents more the appearance of a reeking turf-heap than a human habitation.

The phenomenon of a moving bog has frequently been seen in Ireland; large portions of the surface sliding or flowing from their original position, cover the adjacent country, and in many cases cause a great deal of damage, by destroying arable land, and overwhelming houses, corn, and haystacks. In September, 1835, the inhabitants of the neighbourhood of the extensive bog of Sloggan, which lies near the coach-road, between Randalstown and Ballymena, were alarmed by several loud reports, like discharges of artillery or distinct claps of thunder, proceeding from the bog; an immense field of which, to their astonishment, they beheld slowly moving towards the road, which it completely covered to the extent of fifty perches, and continued its progress downwards to the river Main, into which it flowed and nearly choked up the channel. These singular disruptions are believed to be caused by the lodgment of a body of water between the porous bog and the substratum of hard clay or gravel upon which it usually rests; so that when the bog, as is frequently the case, lies higher than the land in its vicinity, and when the water has accumulated to a certain degree, it forces up the superincumbent mass, and carries it away to a less elevated situation.