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This bog is a special place... stopping us digging won't cut it; Turf cutters' legal fight goes on; EXCLUSIVE.

Byline: BRIAN McDONALD

THE washout summer has left our bogs in a soggy mess - as turf cutters pray for a break in the rain.

But the lucky few who managed to cut and save the sods of brown gold during the few short rain-free spells are thanking their lucky stars as neighbours now struggle to stock up for winter.

But even on a damp day, you can't beat a day in the bog.

It's one of the last refuges of a rural Ireland that is fast disappearing. And more's the pity.

Just ask any of the hardy locals who make their way to Clonmoylan Bog in South-East Galway, no matter what the weather is doing.

Dermot Moran told the Irish Sunday Mirror: "For people like us, it's part of our heritage, our culture or whatever you want to call it and it goes back thousands of years.

"I suppose it's in our blood and we wouldn't be without it."

He was introduced to the bog more than 50 years ago by his grandparents and later by his aunt and he cherishes the treasure contained in the brown land banks of the quiet Co Galway countryside.

His aunt Kathleen Heffernan is 85 but is still drawn to the bog just as much as when she was a young girl.

Though not as active these days, Kathleen makes light of the arthritis in her neck and the rugged territory to join neighbours and friends just as the kettle on the open peat fire is about to boil.

She said: "The bog is a special place. We're lucky to have it."

The group gathers in the early morning. You never go alone to the bog as family and neighbours work as one.

It is back-breaking work but nothing like as wearing as it once was in the past.

Now a digger will cut the turf and a hopper will spread it, unlike the traditional means of slicing into a bank with a slan (turf-spade) and extracting it sod by sod to dry nearby - hopefully.

The laid-out soggy sods tell their own story of summer 2015 and provide graphic evidence of the formal Met Eireann verdict for July of "cold, wet and windy everywhere".

And don't hold your breath for August.

But it's the working together, the camaraderie and the craic of a day spent working in the bog that makes it an occasion to remember.

Probably the best part is the tea-break. The precious few dry sods of turf are quickly blazing away as the old boiling kettle is gently overhung for a brew-up.

Mugs of tea are being passed around and the home-made brown bread and fairy cakes quickly disappear from old biscuit tins.

Dermot says: "It's the sheer strength of the tea and the smoking fire gives it a taste you won't get anywhere else."

But such an idyllic picture has been seriously threatened by the EU Habitats Directive, designating Ireland's 53 -s d ied raised bogs as Special Areas of Conservation. Under the directive, turf cutting is prohibited and failure to comply could result in fines of [euro]12million being levied against the State each year.

istthp The directive has met fierce resistance on some of the bogs, notwithstanding a compensation and alternative bog scheme introduced by the Government. The two sides have each claimed to have majority support among plotowners.

The dispute has sometimes led to gardai being called in and has resulted in arrests and court cases. A leading representative of the turf cutters association, Michael Fitzmaurice, won the Roscommon-South Leitrim by-election last year.

The Government said more than 3,200 turf cutters had applied for compensation payments up to the end of last year.

It also claimed the same number had signed on for free turf deliveries and 80% of turf cutters were co-operating with the ending of the time-honoured practice.

But Mr Fitzmaurice has insisted they are in "cloud cuckooland" if they think the problem has been solved. He claims around 1,500 of 9,000 plot owners have signed up to the schemes.

Nowhere has the fight been more fiercely fought than in Clonmoylan.

In 2012, up to 100 gardai were called to the bog as turf-cutters refused to allow their machinery be seized and a stand-off lasting well into a second day developed.

Dermot recalls: "We sat down with an assistant commissioner and a chief superintendent and we told them the machines had to stay.

"They backed off but there's still a court case going on.

"Two lads have been charged with bringing machinery on to a protected site and the case has been postponed many times."

news@irishmirror.ie

CAPTION(S):

Protests: the campaigners

Turf love: Kathleen

For peat's sake: Dermot Moran

Break: Sean and Padraig

special BREW The group stop for a quick cuppa in Co Galway
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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 9, 2015
Words:805
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