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A FORERUNNER OF BORD NA MONA AT DERRYMULLEN

Leinster Leader April 6 1957
 
 
 
 
A FORERUNNER OF BORD NA MONA AT DERRYMULLEN
 
Bog development was being planned and attempted in Ireland 107 years ago by a company, the Irish Amelioration Society, which obtained a Royal Charter for the conversion of Irish peat fuel into charcoal and for the reclamation of the peat bogs in this country. A contemporary report of an official visit to the first of the Society’s works at Derrymullen is quoted below.
 
The man in charge was Mr. Rogers, C.E. who, shortly after the granting of the Charter, began operations at Derrymullen, near Robertstown. This we learn from the Illustrated London News of September 28th 1850, in which was published a page of pictures showing the bog, some of those working on it and one of the retorts for burning the turf into charcoal. These were to illustrate an article from the journal’s “Own Correspondent” at Derrymullen. From his contribution we quote now.
“No sooner was the charcoal station erected than it was besieged by the then miserable and half-starved specters who inhabited this dreary waste –
thereby proving that where employment was to be had the peasantry of this country are able and willing to work. For many reasons perhaps no better spot could have been chosen to erect this, the first of the Society’s stations (one of 200 which they are bound according to their Charter to build), from its lying on the brink of the Grand Canal with a great facility for conveying the materials when manufactured to a ready market.”
METHOD OF WORKING
Thursday, the 19th September 1850, was the day fixed for the opening of the Derrymullen station.
The turf-cutting machine is thus described: “two skanes are used to chop or make a long incision in the bank or bench from which the turf is taken with one forward cut or ‘thrust’ and the other having the side of it so turned up to enable the man cutting with it to take out a perfectly square turf measuring six inches by four, he then throws it to another man who stands on the platform raised over the bank and he flings it to a third who places it on a barrow and takes it away to a distant spot where he again passes it to women and girls who pile the pieces up and place them on what are technically called ‘short clamps.
These ‘clamps’ consist of hurdles at equal distance from each other so as to admit of the air passing through them and thus causing the turf to dry in a much less time than if placed as heretofore on the ground. From this layer of hurdle upon hurdle the turf is removed to the rick where it remains until conveyed into the furnace house.”
THE FURNACES
There were three furnace houses “each erected of strong plank; in the centre of main building are the furnaces, thirty-six in number arranged in rows, six in each, and are composed of strong sheet-iron of pyramidal form with iron framework and hood to protect the upper portion of the building from the flame and vast amount of heat generated from the fiery mass within the furnaces. Here, again, the turf is still further dried upon a framework arranged over the furnace and across the building when it is thrown up from below by men or women whilst others turn it about so that the heat from below passes through it. By this simple process and despite the weather, the dampest turf that can be sent to the furnace house becomes, in the course of six or eight days, ready for the furnaces; and when discharged from them as peat charcoal it is next conveyed to the other end of the building where the machinery is placed in a lofty tower divided into lofts or storeys, the prepared charcoal being conveyed by a shoot within which travel a set of elevators and it is ultimately sent down another shoot ready for the market.”
What the correspondent’s description failed to make clear was supplied in three sketches by himself and one by a Mr. W.A. Thompson.
MEET THE VISITORS
Having been shown by the writer through the works we return with him to the entrance outside “where we found a large assembly of well-dressed peasantry as well as a fair number of cars, cabs, coaches and other modes of conveyance which had brought together a crowd of anxious spectators from the surrounding country. Shortly after, arrived two special canal boats, bringing the Chairman, directors and their friends, as well as several ladies, all of whom had left Dublin at eleven o’clock. They were received with a hearty cheer and upon alighting they were shown over the works by the engineer and resident officers of the Society and expressed their wonder and admiration.”
Some hours later the crowd of visitors (excluding, it may be supposed, the well-dressed peasantry) “retired to the building where an excellent dejeuner was prepared for them by the Directors. In addition to the elegant fare, the arrangements of the entire building and the taste displayed in selecting the choicest flowers, lichens, mosses, heath and fern from the company’s bogs were admirable.”
FUN AND GAMES
The chair was taken at three o’clock by Lord De Mauley “supported on his right by Archbishop Whately, and on his left by Lord Clancarly, with other distinguished guest to the number of three hundred.”
A good time would seem to have been had by all, between the dispatching of the dejeuner and the drinking of the toasts proposed by “His Lordship, who spoke most cheeringly of the future of the Society as well as of the good work done by the neighboring peasantry”
To add to the enjoyment “during the day the scene was much enlivened by some delightful music from the band of the 40th Regiment, which had come down from Dublin for the purpose.” But the fun and frolic was not yet at an end. “Shortly after six o’clock such of the company as had to return to Dublin betook themselves again to the canal boats when, at their departure a most amusing scene was got up by some of the parties on board who tossed some coin amongst the crowd, for which a violent contest took place.The leaving of the boats was followed by a long and lusty cheer from those on the banks (the well-dressed peasantry again?) who continued to follow them so long as it was possible to keep up with the horses which quickly took them out of sight and many were the prayers offered up for their safe arrival.”
The stormy waters of the Grand Canal caused no disaster to the brave passengers.
WORKERS ALSO DINED
While the boats were doing the journey to Dublin, people employed in the turf charcoal works, numbering about 300 “were entertained to a capital dinner prepared for them in an adjoining house and were waited on by the Chairman as well as several directors who remained in town. Later still, after the workers had returned to their homes, filled with gratitude,” Mr. J.W. Rogers, whose residence, Peat House, Robertstown, was brilliantly illuminated, gave a ball and party to such of the directors and managers as remained in town.”
What afterwards befell the Irish Amelioration Society and its Peat Charcoal enterprise is not known to the present writer.
 
 
 
An article in the Leinster Leader of April 1957 reports on how bog development was being planned and attempted in Ireland in 1850 by a company, the Irish Amelioration Society.The Leader article quotes from a contemporary report of an official visit to the first of the Society’s works at Derrymullen.

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