This is a common sight in rural Ireland—a neat stack of turf. But what is it? You might know it as peat. Indeed, the machine-processed form sold at petrol (gas) stations here are usually referred to as ‘peat briquettes’. In the winter, these are burned in household fireplaces and solid-fuel burners in addition to wood and coal. Peat smoke has a distinctive scent (you’ll nose it on a Scotch whisky but rarely on an Irish whiskey, but that’s another story).
Footing a Field
It’s still a regular summer activity out where I live for families to spend a weekend out in the bog to cut the turf and lay it out to dry in the sun. Traditionally, this was done with special, thin spades. More recently, it is done with machines—and some controversy.
‘Footing’ the turf is the next step. Basically, propping the turf on an end and in a mini stack to have it dry further. Footing a field of turf is hard and dirty work.
Usually a tractor with a trailer (but sometimes a car) then trundles down the road from the bog to the family home where the turf is stacked ready for winter.
More often than not, a sod or two will fall off onto the road. This is the easiest (if not the safest) means of getting your hands on a bit of turf if you’re a tourist.
Alternatively, you can buy a clingfilm wrapped piece sold by a local entrepreneur. (In this case, a fourteen year old had the notion.) I should add, the age claim is not false advertising. Decomposed plant matter accumulates at around 1mm per year in a bog.
If you’re interested in learning more, I recommend this article from the Irish national broadcaster, RTÉ: All You Need to Know about Turf Cutting.
P.S. If you’re from Australia, forget about taking any turf home. It’s an organic substance you’ll need to declare and hand over to Quarantine.