Outdoor Ireland

Wild Boglands
Photograph of Clara Bog

For a long time, peat—the"turf" of Irish country fireplaces—has been thought of only in terms of its usefulness to humans. Many countries have completely destroyed their boglands for fuel. As unspoiled bogs become harder to find, conservationists have worked to create a network of bogland nature reserves.

Just as places to be in, the boglands are refuges of peacefulness and solitude. On the western blanket bogs, in particular, the tawny grasses and bog-cotton of the turf shimmer in the Atlantic wind, lifting the eye to wide horizons and arching rainbows. But the fascination of the bogs comes with the closer look which reveals a living mosaic of richly-colored bog-mosses and vivid, filigree lichens. In close-up, the hummocks and lawns of this strange world become a stunning brocade of reds and oranges, greens and violets.

The plants of the boglands have to reckon with an impoverished environment. Their roots reach down into a saturated sponge of half-rotted vegetation, often several meters thick and holding hidden reservoirs of water. Common bogland plants, such as ling heather, cross-leaved heath, deer sedge, bog-moss and bogcotton and the exquisite bog asphodel, have adapted to these acid and nutrient-poor conditions. Others get their food carnivorously: the sundews and butterworts trap insects with their sticky leaves and digest them. In the pools, bladderworts suck insects in through trap-doors.

The raised bogs of the midlands and the blanket bogs of the west and the mountains have different structures and surfaces. The raised bogs are made of the dead parts of sphagnum moss, while the blanket bog consists of the remains of grasses and sedges.

The accumulation of peat is possible in Ireland because high rainfall and low temperatures result in poor evaporation and waterlogging. These conditions allow for the accumulation of dead plant material (or peat).

The raised bogs grew up from shallow lakes, but the blanket bog rests directly on the stumps of the pine trees of ancient woodlands, or on stonewalled pastures cleared by the Neolithic farmers of 5,000 years ago. The spiky stumps of "bog-deal" can. be seen in many of the lakes and bog-workings of the west, and archaeologists have been uncovering the walls of the ancient fields, as in Ceide Hill in County Mayo.

Raised bogs and some blanket bogs began to form some 10,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age. The formation of the great expanses of blanket bog seen today, however, began some 5,000 years ago. Raised bogs have a series of hummocks, hollows and pools on their surface, which are habitats for cranberry and bog rosemary and many other species. Blanket bogs contain hummocks and pools but, in addition, lakes with islands, natural drains and swallow holes are found. The vegetation is dominated by purple moor grass, black bog rush, bog-cotton and deer sedge among others. In both bog types the variety of habitats provide refuges for mammals, birds, frogs, slugs and a profusion of insects and other small creatures.

Walking on the bog for the first time can be a strange experience. There are seldom any permanent tracks or landmarks and the way is often blocked by patches of soft ground or deep pools. In some places, the surface quakes underfoot like a water-bed, a reminder that the skin of the bog is often a mere floating mattress of vegetation.

Whatever time of the year you visit Ireland's raised and blanket bogs you will find them alive with magical qualities. Depending on the season, colorful flowers, mosses, wild birds, insects and mammals can be enjoyed. Your visit will be a unique chance to photograph and learn about Ireland's wildlife.

You may want to spend more time studying the specialized plants and animals found here or to watch the breeding birds in spring or the wintering wildfowl. You will see powerful preserving powers of growing masses of peat which have covered ancient farmlands along the west coast, and discover that many of our national treasures have been recovered from wet, peaty graves.

Boglands to Visit

You can find a bogland by its number on our overview map. . .

1 - Pollardstown Fen, Co. Kildare (225 ha)

The largest remaining calcareous, spring fed fen in Ireland and of international importance. Among the many birds which breed there are the little and great crested grebes, lapwing and snipe. The fen is on the northern margin of the Curragh in Co. Kildare about 3 km from Newbridge. Bird hide and interpretative board on site. Information leaflet available from National Bogland Centre or the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Contact James Kenna, National Bogland Centre, Lullymore, Rathangan, Co. Kildare. Tel (045) 60133. Visitors are welcome but because of the dangerous ground conditions they should adhere to the pathway leading to the fen.

2 - Ardkill Bog, Co. Kildare (60 ha)

Situated near the town of Carbury this small easterly raised bog contains an undulating hummock and hollow surface together with a full range of raised bog plants and mosses. Guide and leaflet are available - contact Mr. Cecil Potterton, Ardkill Farm, Carbury, Co. Kildare. Tel (0405) 53009.

3 - Clara Bog, Co. Offaly (460 ha)

One of the few large raised midland bogs remaining substantially intact. It has a wide range of vegetation types and habitats and classic hummock and hollow surface. It is one of the only raised bags in Ireland with a well developed natural drainage system or I soak". The bog lies 2 km south of Clara town. Visitor leaflet available from the National Parks and Wildlife Service or the Irish Peatland Conservation Council.

4 - Slieve Bloom Mountains, Cos. Laois and Offaly (2,100 ha)

Our largest national nature reserve, these mountains contain several stretches of mountain blanket bog, as well as walks through conifer forests. The best scenic route for bogs is through the Cut, beginning 8 km south of Clonaslee on the third class road to Mountrath. It gives access to Wolftrap Mountain and an area of intact mountain bog. Visitor leaflet available from National Parks and Wildlife Service or the Irish Peatland Conservation Council. Environmental exhibition on the Slieve Blooms is displayed locally between May and September. Contact Marie Brady, Outdoor Education Centre, Roscrea Road, Birr, Co. Offaly. Tel (0509) 20339. Visitors are asked to keep to the roads and tracks as parts of the bogland are very soft and unsafe.

5 - Roundstone Bog, Co. Galway (4,250 ha)

This is one of the most spectacular tracks of blanket bog, lying in the heart of Connemara, situated between Roundstone and Clifden. The bog surface comprises a rocky, lake-strewn complex, blanketed by peat and is of international importance. The area is a feeding and roosting ground for Greenland white-fronted geese, merlin and golden plover. Part of this bog is included in the Connemara National Park. Access to the bog is from the minor road from Clifden to Toombeola.

6 - Knockmoyle/Sheskin, Co. Mayo (1,574 ha)

Lowland blanket bog, densely pool studded with interesting flushes. Access from the T58, along a minor road beside Bellacorick power station. Information leaflet available from National Parks and Wildlife Service or the Irish Peatland Conservation Council.

7 - Owenduff, Co. Mayo (6,000 ha)

This wild and windswept area of blanket bog, the largest stretch of undisturbed peatland in the country, includes streams and rivers and is important in winter as a roosting and feeding site for Greenland white-fronted geese. From Mulranny, take the T71 towards Bangor. At Bellaveeny, take the third class road due north to Bellagarvaun. Follow the track eastwards to Shrahduggaun.

8 - Ceide Fields, Co. Mayo

Situated 8 km west of Ballycastle where the main road runs along the cliff edge, Ceide Fields is a unique 'double landscape' which combines spectacular cliff and bogland scenery, geology, botany, birdwatching and the most extensive stone age monument in the world. The cliffs of 300 million year old rocks are close to 400 feet high.

Ceide Fields is an area of 2,500 acres of ordinary stone walled fields which are built over the hills and valleys in this area. The man-made countryside of stone walls is similar to that found in other parts of the west of Ireland - it differs only in that it lies underneath the bog which has been growing for almost five thousand years. This is the unique 'double landscape'. The bogland which covers the Ceide Fields area and extends westwards and southwards over 400 square miles is of interest for anyone interested in the vegetation and character of the modern bogland little affected by the hand of man. But where the bog has been cut away, the manmade, highly organized countryside of 5,100 years ago is visible on the old ground surface beneath. At Ceide Fields then, as well as the sea cliffs, birdwatching and bogland attractions, there is the unique opportunity to step back into the past which lies under the modern landscape and to walk in the fields and countryside of 5,000 years ago. 5 miles west of Ballycastle on the Belmullet Road is the Ceide Fields Interpretative Centre.

Keep in Mind

The Irish Peatland Conservation Council is a voluntary organization which promotes the creation of bogland nature reserves. Information is available from Capel Chambers, 119 Capel Street, Dublin 1.

Inexperienced visitors should not ramble the bogs alone and should not be dismayed to get their feet wet or their clothes dirty. Insect repellent may be useful.

Many Irish boglands—especially the surviving raised bogs of the midlands—are endangered habitats, sensitive to human disturbance. Visitors should take care not to damage them in any way: in particular, no fires should be lit.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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