We stayed at Adrianâ€™s parentsâ€™ home for two nights before continuing on the bike ride. Weâ€™d been caught in a passing rain shower before arriving so I was a bit nervous to meet them un-showered and bringing sopping wet bags into their house but, after a delicious meal and a few bottles of wine, there was nothing I could do but relax and enjoy their hospitality. Both nights we retired to the lounge after dinner to sit by a cozy fire and transition from wine to hot toddies. We watched reports on the Queen’s visit to Ireland, talked about Irish poets and argued over the merits of Facebook.
Adrian’s mother Joan asked me if I’d ever burned peat in a fire. No, but that would explain the bucket of what looked like clumps of rich dirt next to the fireplace. She threw some into the fire and told me that the smell of peat burning is very relaxing for Irish people. It’s a smell from her childhood when she would go to the fields to cut turf with her father.
His father further stressed how much peat was part of Irish culture. It comes from bogs that cover one sixth of Ireland’s land surface and has traditionally been a major source of fuel for homes (heating, gas stoves), particularly in rural areas. Later, another man would tell us that anyone who has bog land on their property has the right to harvest peat from it and we would see many farms drawn with lines of cut turf. We also often biked through neighbourhoods scented with burning peat and Joan was right, the smell is very relaxing and could make a rainy hour feel warmer.
Unfortunately, like many other fuels, peat is not sustainable. Harvesting it destroys the homes of many rare organisms unique to bog land and it’s estimated that there are only 25 years of peat left in Ireland anyway. Alternative energies are being considered but I imagine it’s a hard conversion, asking people to give up a tradition and a fuel so tangible, that has shaped the landscape they see and scented the air they smell.
Peat harvested into logs and left to dry: