Saving the Sod

The Turf Scheme in Creeragh, which began in June 1942, was only one of several turf schemes organised around Ireland during the war years. The Minister for Industry and Commerce at the time was Séan Lemass and the huge shortage of imported coal forced him into the initiative. I was unemployed at the time, like so many of the local men and I was anxious for work. I cycled over to Creeragh to meet Michael Coyne, the ganger, and was taken on straight away. Both he and Paddy McDonnell, the other ganger, were gangers on the roadworks for the County Council and it was the County Council who administered all the turf schemes around the country. I remember there
were about fifty men employed on the Creeragh scheme, which ran until 1945. Most of these men came from Lettergesh, Rossroe and Kylemore. The section of Creeragh mountain, chosen by the Council, covered about forty acres. Tommy Bodkin, John Coyne and Martin Coyne had the rights to this commonage and it was they who gave the Council permission to go ahead and open up the bogs for mass production.

All of the men on the scheme either walked or cycled to work. I remember having a Rudge bicycle at the time. The eight mile cycle usually took me about three quarters of an hour but I often had problems with bad tyres. It was impossible to buy new ones in those days on account of the war. We worked five-and-a-half days a week from 8 a.m to 5 p.m. each day. Lunch was a simple affair, usually consisting of homemade bread and butter and a bottle of tea. There was no machinery for doing any of the work. The turf was cut with sleáns and brought out to the side of the main road in cleaves. I remember, I had the biggest cleave on the scheme at one point and a friend of mine, Mattie Coyne, took pity on me and made me a hazel cleave which was much smaller and lightened the burden somewhat. Every man was expected to bring his own cleave. The cleaves were made from white sally rods. I remember the Salruck men, in particular, being very talented at cleave-making. I gave my old cleave to a man named Tommy Staunton who was in need of one. It was to prove too much for Tommy for he was the oldest man on the job. There were no donkeys used because the bog was too soft. Every cleave had a rope hanger attached to it which we suspended on our shoulder when carrying out a full load. I often walked up to a quarter of a mile with a full cleave of turf. It was hard work alright but the fact that there were so many men working together and that we were not unfairly rushed by the gangers made this work that little bit easier. Thinking back now I am sure it must have been an interesting spectacle for any passing visitors, the sight of this small army of men traversing the bogs with cleaves of turf on their backs. I do not think any of our young men today would put up with such labour, even if they were physically fit for it. I suppose it is probably a good thing that that kind of hardship is gone out of life for today’s young people.

Most of the men were very good on the sleán but I had no experience at all of cutting turf. The first morning I started I was sent off spreading turf with a few others. All the men on the scheme were young and good workers. The gangers were very fair to us and I have no recollection of anyone ever being sacked. Every man did his best and I do not remember any particular individuals really standing out. We were all on the same rate of pay, ten-and-a-half shillings per day so there was no point in any man trying to be more productive than the next man. There was no overtime either. Overall the scheme ran very smoothly. As many as five or six lorries used to arrive at a time to bring the harvested turf back into Galway city. The men on the scheme all got on very well together and we all enjoyed the crack and the beautiful weather. I have fond memories of those summers and I wrote the following recitation in honour of all the men who worked on the Creeragh turf scheme

Remembered by Mickey Walsh and written by Paul Gannon

Full Version Available in “The Way it Was”

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