Back in the 60s and 70s cutting the turf was something that went on for three weeks as it was mostly done by cómharing, this meant people helping each other with the task.First of all the bank was cleared, which meant removing the top layer of up to six inches down. For a household it took three to four days cutting with a sleán to secure enough turf for the winter. On high banks in Kilgarvan, six or seven sods in height, four men were needed to spread it far out on the bank – the sleánsman, the man piking after the sleán, the man branching and the man spreading. Depending on the weather, it could take three weeks as bad weather halted the progress.
A day in the bog also secured a good appetite, the tea and food seemed to take on a unique flavour. Conversation was plentiful, but should there be too much conversation the sleánsman could put an end to that by cutting quicker thereby not allowing any time for conversing. Good sleánsmen who come to mind that I have known in Kilgarvan bog are: Johnny Kennelly, Farnastack; Ned Lynch (RIP), Kilomeroe; Micheál Kissane (RIP), Kilgarvan; Joe Foley, Lyre; brothers, Jack and William Walsh (RIP), Guhard; Tom O’Connor (RIP), better known as “Big Tom”, Guhard South; Paddy J. O’Connor (RIP), Guhard South and Mick Walsh, Guhard South and not least of all, myself!
The important thing in high bog was to keep a nice slope to the bank and to have a nice sleán. There could be a bit of fun in the bog also. One evening, Denis “The Black” Dowling (RIP) and Jack Walsh came to the bog. Denis shouted over to me, “ is there any chance you would dance a couple of Jerry Molyneaux’s steps up on the high bog”. I said I would if he was able to lilt it. He did it in style and I danced a couple of steps of a hornpipe wearing a pair of wellingtons and we had an audience within minutes.
Nowadays with the turf-cutting machine and Hymac, what was a week’s work with a sleán is reduced to a couple of hours.
In my time a day in the bog meant long hours of work. Now the highlight of the Seán McCarthy Weekend and The Dan Paddy Andy Festival is the walk and then the tea in the bog.
How times have changed!