Mines, Moss and Moin

Mines, Moss and Móin: Tales from Girley Bog
Bogs are wetlands composed of peat. Their cultural and natural history are woven together, each
influencing the other. Historically, they have been sites of resistance and refuge, harbouring the
destitute and all manner of deviants and rebels. The British army mapped Ireland in the late
sixteenth century to help identify features of the landscape such as bogs that allowed them
‘enemies’ to hide or shelter. This story of refuge and resistance emerged when I interviewed a man
who lives near Girley Bog as part of an oral history project. Girley Bog is a raised bog in County
Meath whose name derives from the Irish word “greallach” meaning a marshy or muddy place. This
is what he told me:
“There was a safe house over there [on the bog] for the IRA in the War of Independence and it stood
up until not that long ago. You can still find tracks of it in the forest. I remember hearing a local man,
a strong republican, talking about the little bridges, the keshes over the drains, and they’d have a bell
on them and if someone stood on them a bell would go in the house, warning them someone was
I hadn’t heard this word ‘kesh’ before. It is an old word for a bridge over a bog drain, probably
stemming from the Irish ‘ceasaí’ which means a plank- or foot-bridge. I was curious about this story
and wanted to find out if there were records that would provide more detail about the bog’s
association with the War of Independence 100 years ago. Although I often tramp the laneways of
Girley Bog, I had never come across any evidence for this, thankfully as it turns out. I discovered in
Bureau of Military History Witness Statements that it had in fact been used as the location for a
workshop on how to make hand grenades run by Irish Volunteers:
“I established a workshop in a bog at Drewstown* for the making of road mines, hand grenades, and
bank mines. The workshop was a wooden hut. We raided several establishments for tools and
engineering equipment for use in the workshop, including vices, hacksaws, drills, and other small
tools” (Joseph Martin, Captain, Athboy Company, Irish Volunteers. BMH, 1913-21)
Ireland’s bogs and wetlands provided shelter, refuge, and warmth to people in the past. They were
also a source of Sphagnum moss for bandages in the First World War, and a source of fuel in the
Second World War, when Britain couldn’t export coal to Ireland. My storyteller told me:
“During World War 2, turf was brought to Dublin, to the Phoenix Park and used for the hospitals.
There was a lot of turf taken out of Girley Bog then and the road was added”.
We seem to have forgotten all the ways bogs have supported us down the centuries. Even now they
are considered by some as wastelands of little value. However, they are still providing refuge, for all
manner of unusual species adapted to their unique ecology, ourselves included. Nowadays, people
gravitate to bogs as places of wonder, wilderness, and solitude. Bogs also bring people together who
have a shared wish to protect what is left of them. Speaking of the cultural history of the bog can help
us remember their value, how they supported, and continue to support us. It is time to tell new
stories of the bog and its ecological, carbon storage, and climate value, while continuing to
remember its past stories and values.

*Part of Girley Bog is in the townland of Drewstown.