Connemara, for Peat’s Sake

Bog in ConnemaraPeople tell you how green Ireland is, but they’re only telling you half the story. You never hear how brown the countryside is, grass turned to rust by the high iron content of the soil. Even the fresh mountain streams run a kind of gunmetal color with yellow foam breaking around the rocks. Some places the water is red as rust– Ruamheirg is the Irish word for it.

The peat bogs are a strange habitat. They are so saturated with water and tannic acid that there is no room for oxygen. In fact, the only place on earth where oxygen is scarcer is on the Senate floor when Ted Kennedy is making a speech.

The preservative quality of bogwater is so excellent that turfcutters will sometimes turn up a bog person dating back 2,500 years or more. You would think that bog baths would be in higher demand at health spas.

Time was when every man would grab his flachter and skroghoge and cut long strips from the turf to use as fuel. These days there are machines to do most of the dirty work. The Irish still burn turf in small zinc-plated barrel stoves. The peat is processed into compact briquettes and burns with more heat than light, much like coal.

From the boglands we swung by the Twelve Bens, sometimes called the Twelve Pins.

The region is beautiful beyond words. But it’s a pitiful excuse for a mountain range. Is this the best that Ireland can cough up? The tallest mountain in the country is just 3,400 feet, and the tallest Ben is about 2,400 feet. Seeing that mountaineering poses no challenge in this fair country, athletic types have taken to running the Bens. The goal is to climb all twelve mountains–combined elevation of some 28,000 feet–in a single day. If that isn’t enough of a challenge for you there’s always bog snorkeling. With or without a mountain bike. The championships are held in Wales.

There are no peat bogs in the US, that I know of. But if you want to rekindle memories of your time in Ireland you can always have real Irish peat delivered to your door.