57 years have brought a few changes!
This picture was taken at Barna. It looks like a fairly ingenious but precarious method of loading a turf lorry.
The photo was taken in the late 1940s. It's not of great quality as it was part of a series of photos taken by B na M engineers covering all BnM operations between 1947 and 1953. The photos were taken to record the work going on at the time and were for internal use. They were used to discuss means of improving work practices, like loading turf.
In response to my appeal last week, Tom Fitzgerald brought me an old Lyre journal with some stories from the Bord na Mona works there. Below is one of the articles.
Travellers Footing the Turf in BNM Lyreacrompane
A “floor” of turf consisted of 32,000 sods which had to be lifted and placed 2 on 2, four rows high with one on top – a total of 9 altogether. This method of footing was different from the local practice of placing the sods roughly in a pyramid shape. This method required a certain degree of skill and dexterity, and was required to ensure that the slean turf would dry. The machine turf was more compressed in its manufacture and therefore easier to “save”. This lent itself to the horizontal “foot”. The time required to “foot” a floor of turf varied according to whom you speak to and like the fish that got away, improves with each telling.
The work was often carried out by the whole family with children joining parents after school. Not all “floors” were equal, some being dryer or on better ground than others. Regardless, the job required that 484 foots be made per hour. This involved handling over 60 sods per minute or one per second.
The work was back breaking and the black turf would rip the less weather-beaten hands, but payment was by the “floor” so it was up to each worker to set his or her own pace.
Footing the turf was labour intensive and an unusual aspect was the influx of travellers each year to avail of the plentiful work. A verse written by John Joe Sheehy sums up the relationship that existed between this migrant workforce and local people.
The tinkers are footing
The times they are great
They’re camped by the river on Paddy’s estate
And old Charlie remarked as he pawed at the grate
The “bate” of the Lyre people
Cannot be found.
The neighbours so friendly
Invite us to call
The devil a refusal we meet with at all
And be sure t’wont be long
‘Till you’ll come the next time
As sure as my name is bold Charlie O’Brien
A bit of tobacco or even a fag
Or an old boiled potato to stuff in my bag
Or a sup of sweet milk you don’t need for the calf
And Charlie moves on
With his step and half.
Perhaps even more back breaking than turf cutting was work on the Collector. This machine was a long conveyor belt stretching across the full width of the turf bank. It was then driven forward as 9 men lifted the sod “foots” and threw them into the connector. The belts continuously conveyed the turf until it fell off to make one long reek about 7 feet long and 9 feet wide beside the loco tracks.
Later the reeks were “slated”. This was done by overlapping the outside sods in the manner that is tiled. The turf was then filled into the loco and brought to the “tip” where it was tipped into waiting lorries.
One of the biggest sources of discontent with the “Bord” was the speed of the Collector. The machine was the focal point of many a disagreement and the many accounts of workers taking direct action to slow the all engulfing monster.
This man is throwing sods of turf into a collector. Below is a picture of an automatic collector, which has taken all the drudgery out of taking the sods off the bog.
This picture is from Leonard Cohen's concert in Kilmainham last week. Cohen wrote on his blog
" There is no better audience than an Irish audience."
Meanwhile in Galway the flags are still out.
Great news story from The Irish Examiner