1 EAGLETON NOTES: The Peats - Part 2

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Saturday, 25 August 2018

The Peats - Part 2

Harvesting the peats comprises a number of processes: turfing; cutting and throwing; turning; lifting and stacking into stooks or cruachan
(at least twice); and, finally, getting the peats off the bank and into a lorry/trailer and taking them home.

Turfing is a solitary, backbreaking job which requires strength and a very sharp spade to cut through the heather and turf to lift the top off the peat to expose it for cutting. The turf removed is placed into the (usually sodden) area left from the last cut. This provides a footing for the thrower in the next stage.

Cutting and throwing requires two people and a peat iron (to a Leòdhasach, a tairsgeir (pronounced tarashker) or to a Hearadh a iarann mònach);  a cutter; and a thrower (surprisingly). The cutter slices through the peat to a depth of about a foot and a width of about a hand. The peat will then drop into the hands of the thrower who throws it onto the turf either below or above the bank. A single set of cuts will usually be about 5 peats wide by the number of peats deep which for us varied from two to four. So room had to be found on the ground adjacent to the peat bank for a minimum of 10 peats at every cut. Throwing the peats onto the bank so as to minimise the space between each peat and minimise the effort (it was a very physical job because a wet peat is heavy) requires considerable skill, stamina and practice.

  
Our peat banks out on the Coll Common Grazings (with thanks to Adrian for improving the image quality)

Turning. When the peats have been cut for long enough to dry on the top (which, of course, depends on the weather) they are turned over to allow them to dry on the other side.

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Lifting and stacking into cruachan. This was, even in the '70s, considered 'women's work'. I recall being looked at askance (even by the females present) when I said in the office one morning that I'd been lifting the peats the previous evening. It was as if my very manhood was being challenged. The photo shows my tairsgeir which I keep for purely sentimental reasons. In the photo of our peat bank above, Carol is lifting and stacking the peats into cruachan. When in a cruachan the peats hopefully dry thoroughly ready for taking home.

Getting the peats off the banks was a 'family' effort. There was one drawback making it one of the hardest parts of the process for us: the bank was traversed by two drainage ditches. The peats had to be barrowed down to each ditch, dumped and thrown over to the next section until they ended up at the end of the bank which was elevated above the river. With hindsight I would have thought we would have put planks over the ditches but, presumably, there was a reason why we didn't. The 10 ton lorry reversed up to the bank and the peats were thrown into it. Once home the peats were unceremoniously dumped and we all retired for a beer or two.

To be continued....

13 comments:

  1. We call your tairsgeir a wheelbarrow, unless you meant that other thingy in the photo.

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    1. Mr RWP (Sunday name even though it's Saturday) the peat cutting implement in the top photo (there is one next to the wheelbarrow as well) is the tairsgeir.

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  2. I'm getting lost in the Gaelic too. Tried to look up 'cruachan' but according to Wikipedia it's either an ancient capital in Ireland, an Irish Celtic metal band, a Scottish mountain or the name of a Shetland pony mascot...

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    1. Interestingly, Monica, I didn't look it up before I used it because it's just a word I've used since I came to the Island. However I have now checked in the Gaelic Dictionary published by the Gaelic Publishing Company, Acair and one of its meanings is a small rick. Which is exactly what one makes the peats into - a sort of larger version of a domino house.

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  3. This is fascinating Graham. I am blown away by the scale of peat area in the photo. For some reason I always thought peat would come from a flat area, like a valley floor, not on a hillside.

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    1. Thanks, Lynda. We do have miles and miles of flattish areas of peat but it does also almost cover some of the hills too.

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  4. The old saying that your fuel (and wood) warms you twice (- or more )due to the collecting and heaving it about before it actually gets burnt is true. We are now in our fourth year of Oil burning only as we are unable to do the hard work involved. The dust in the house we now blame entirely on The Dog.

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    1. How true, Potty. You were never cold cutting the peats and burning them always covered the room in dust too.

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  5. My brother's house in County Clare was always warmed by a big peat fire in the wintertime so I am somewhat familiar with the hard work that preceded the appearance of dry peat blocks in the fireplace. No nancy boys in western Ireland either - they also left the easy lifting to the women.

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    1. YP anyone who thinks lifting and stacking is easy work then they should try it. It is absolutely back-breaking. I suppose that in times past women were a more used to bending double to tend the vegetables etc. By the way I'm not sure that the term 'nancy boys' is acceptable these days.

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    2. The words "baiting" and "bear" spring to mind.

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  6. I missed this. Sorry about that.

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    1. That's not a problem, Adrian. Thanks for the pic improvement.

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