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Kildare Observer 28 April 1934      

Bog of Allen Festival

Turf Cutting Competitions

First Sod Cut by Mr. de Valera

Saturday was a red letter day in the history of Allenwood, Robertstown, Co. Kildare, which claims to be “the capital of the Bog of Allen,” when the local committee of the County Kildare Peat Development scheme held their first turf-cutting competition and festival in the presence of an enormous gathering of people, who travelled by car and omnibus from a wide radius.
The importance of the occasion was enhanced by the attendance of six members of the Executive Council, including President de Valera. The object of the demonstration was to bring before the public the importance of peat as a national asset.
The competitions were designed to show most of the operations necessary in the production of turf, and those who watched the different cutting teams at work were much impressed by their skill. The “cutter,” the “catcher” and the “wheeler” each did his part skilfully, while the “footing” and the “clamping” were also quickly done. In the six competitions which took place there were 77 entries, and the Findlater Cup, for best wing slean work, went to James Howard, of Kyledoon, whose wife was placed third in the footing competition. Footing is the second stage of the drying operation.
The Leinster Flour Mills Cup, for breast slean work, was awarded to James Connolly of Ticknevin.
The No. 1 Army Band and a local band provided a musical programme, while there were also held in connection with the event an Aeridheacht and Ceilidhe, which were well attended. Luckily, the day was fine.

Major de Courcy Wheeler read the following address of welcome:—

A Uachtarain,—
Is cuis broid agus athais duinn-lucht bainte na mona agus Muintir na duthaighe seo-fior chaqoin Failte a’ fhearradh romhat go hAlnhain Eachtach leathan laighin lais an sleaghan seo scapaimid siolta an charadais.
Le seo cuirimid ruaig ar gach miscarthanacht.

Mr. President,— We the members of the Management Committee of the Robertstown District – who have been asked to organise this entertainment to celebrate the inauguration by yourself of the first turf-cutting competition which as far as we are aware has ever taken place – we representing all classes of opinion without distinction have united to give you a very hearty welcome, believing that your visit here to-day will be for the special benefit of a very numerous, industrious and important class of our fellow countrymen whose claims for recognition in the industrial world have hardly yet been considered. Everyone present knows that the object you have in view is to bring the peat industry of Ireland prominently before the general public and by so doing to consult the good and prosperity of those who follow this way of livelihood not only in this district but throughout many other parts of the country and so encourage others to do likewise.
The peat industry centred in the bogs of Ireland has for ages been a problem which has not up to this been satisfactorily solved.
It may be of interest however to recall that 20 years ago in 1908 a scheme was promoted by the Central Ireland Electric Power Company the object of which was to utilise the bogs for generating electricity. The process sounds like “The House that Jack built:” the peat was to be converted into gas – the gas was to drive engines, the engines were to drive dynamos, the dynamos were to generate electricity and the electricity was to be distributed as light and power throughout Central Ireland. The process appears complicated but the bi-products arising from it were so valuable that it was estimated that they would cover the whole cost of production. Should the Shannon go dry for any reason it would be useful, Mr. President, to remember that the bogs are always with us and that they can be used to take its place but until then Robertstown and kindred villages would welcome a little light and power from its successful rival. I should not forget to mention that the power house and generating station were to be erected about a mile from where you are standing quite close to Robertstown which has always claimed to be the capital of the Bog of Allen.
But in the meantime we are here today to support you in a most interesting and novel event – an exhibition of skill combined with strenuous manual labour by expert turf cutters who earn their livelihood by this means. This precedent might be followed by other industries and a friendly rivalry encouraged in the production of work as well as in the pursuit of sport. It can hardly be realised what labour and time and hardship is undergone by the turf-cutters who live on and by the bogs from the moment that they have cut the first sod of peat out of the bog which you can see in front of you until it is delivered at the door of the house in which it is to be burned. And like the rest of the crops in the country the success of it depends upon the weather as this turf has to be cut and dried and saved as carefully as a crop of wheat; both crops can be spoiled by a bad season and rendered unfit for use – and the loss and hardship incurred can be very great.
We thank you Mr. President for your visit here today and are grateful for the opportunity which it gives of bringing the claims of the turf-cutters vividly before the householder who has very little knowledge of the skill required and the technical experience necessary to produce that delightful source of homely warmth which up to a very short time ago was looked upon in our cities as a luxury and accessible to the few.
Mr. President, with these few words of welcome and appreciation of your kindness in coming amongst the residents of this district I have the privilege of presenting to you the competitors who have entered most enthusiastically for this unique contest.
Before doing so we wish to draw your attention to this beautiful Challenge Cup so generously presented by Messrs. Alex. Findlater and Co. for the best all round work in the Wing-Slean Competition, and to The Leinster Flour Mills Challenge Cup, so kindly presented by Messrs. Odlum and Odlum for the best all round work in the Wing-Slean competition and the purpose of inaugurating these two principal events we have the pleasure of presenting you with the tools necessary for this purpose, the handles of which have been made locally out of bog oak dug out of the bog on which you are standing and the sleans of which have been brightened up in honour of the event.

Country’s Resources

Mr. de Valera, in replying, said that he was very grateful to the Committee for having invited him, and desired to express to them the thanks of the Government for their enterprise. It was very necessary that the work on which they were now engaged – the work of developing the resources of the country – should get all the assistance which competitions of the kind afforded. On that account the Government was grateful, and was hopeful that throughout the whole twenty-six counties they would find people of enterprise such as they had there, who would help the Government in the work.
“We want their co-operation,” he said, “and it is a very great pleasure to us to know that, no matter what political differences there may be, we can be united in work of this kind. Already this year a very good beginning has been made. We began last year, and the fact is clear in the reduction of our imports of coal. We hope this year it will be possible to calculate on from 300,000 to 500,000 tons of peat being cut, distributed and used. That is not going to satisfy us, but if we could do that last year we ought to do twice that this year. Already 8,000 workers are getting seasonable employment at this work, which is only one indication of what we propose doing to develop the resources of the country.”
In conclusion, he thanked the donors of the cups which had been presented.

The Luncheon

After luncheon Mr. F. B. Barton proposed the health of President de Valera, and said that they were inaugurating something entirely new in their country life, and something that was going to be of great benefit to those living in the bog districts. They were deeply indebted to the President for giving them a hand in the start of that great enterprise. Those who attended were of all shades of political opinion, but they had come along as friends anxious to further the great work of popularising home fuel.
Mr de Valera, responding, again thanked the Committee for inviting him, and said that their work would be an inspiration to other parts of the country.
Major H. de Courcy Wheeler, Chairman of the Committee, who presided, proposed the health of the members of the Executive Council.

Much Criticised Scheme

Mr. Lemass, Minister for Industry and Commerce, replying, said that it was a source of pleasure to members of the Government to take part in that festival. That pleasure was enhanced by the fact that behind all those entertainments there was very serious business. No activity ever planned had met more criticism or more scepticism than the scheme for the development of turf as fuel. That criticism was not confined to one party. The success of the scheme was all the more remarkable in so far as it was unexpected both by those who opposed, and those who promoted that particular form of national enterprise.
It was a matter of very considerable importance that the plans which had been made for the development of the peat resources should be successful. The importance arose from the fact that it was not only sound national work, but also that it was good business. Many people who used turf for the first time last year for patriotic reasons had since decided to use it for preference. They had found it to be good fuel, cleaner and cheaper than coal. No doubt, as a fuel it had its difficulties, like every other fuel; but it had also its advantages.
It was of great importance that that should happen, because the development of the fuel resources was not merely conducive to increased employment. It not only would mean the conserving of national wealth, but also would enable those people who had hitherto been endeavouring to secure a precarious livelihood on the poorest land to gain an adequate means of assisting themselves by their own labours, and towards that end they were not asking for any greater measure of Government assistance than other industries had sought and obtained.

Guaranteed Markets

In the course of the last year all the peat that had been made available under the Government scheme had been disposed of before the winter was half way through, and at a time when they thought it would be necessary to intensify the publicity campaign they had to terminate it, so that the demand for peat would temporarily subside.
This year they hoped to increase very considerably peat production under the Government schemes, and for the 500,000 tons to be produced they were prepared to guarantee a market. They had been assured by coal merchants and others that there would be no difficulty in disposing of that quantity under the Government scheme, without any element of compulsion. The demand was bound to grow, and, although there was no use shutting their eyes to the fact that the difficulties associated with the scheme would increase with the future they had confidence that those difficulties would be overcome.
When they had secured the organisation of the requisite number of co-operative societies, when they had brought into existence the central marketing organisation which had been planned, when they had utilised the large sum of money which the Minister of Finance was going to place at their disposal to secure drainage works, the Government would be able to withdraw from Government participation in the scheme the officers of the Department of Industry and Commerce who were now the guiding spirits and life of the co-operative movement. After that had been done the Government would always be willing to give assistance or advice.

A Peat Factory

They hoped in a district not far from there to establish this year a factory for the production of peat briquettes. The work of construction would begin shortly. Those associated with that enterprise were confident that it would mean not merely the production of fuel for the use of this country which would be second to none, but also for export. He had been informed that already an offer from a neighbouring country to take 50 per cent of the total production had been received.
An Industrial Research Council had been established to investigate the possibility of using peat for purposes other than fuel. Various propositions for using peat for different industrial purposes were being examined.
He pointed out, in closing, that in this country coal of a better quality than that used on the Continent for household and industrial purposes was bought, and they could face the possibility of promoting the use of peat to the restriction of other forms of fuel without any qualms.
They had always used for fuel purposes not less than 4,000,000 tons of peat each year in areas adjacent to the bogs. The 500,000 tons were production under the Government scheme for districts where peat had not been used previously.

Army Co-Operation

Mr Frank Aiken, Minister for Defence, proposing the health of the Chairman and Committee, who had arranged that festival, congratulated them on what they had achieved. It showed that the men on the bogs were prepared to work if they got a fair return, and also that consumers were willing to pay a reasonable price. Irish turf was as good a fuel as there is in the world. It was clean and handy, and in most parts of the country was cheaper than coal. In the year before last, he said, the Army had used 1,000 tons of peat, and last year they had used 2,500 tons. It was found on the Curragh that peat was cheaper than coal, although they got coal there at 29s per ton. The officers and men of the Army had co-operated with the Government in getting the turf scheme going. They were enthusiastic about it, and he was glad that they were helping the turf-cutters to get a living.
The Chairman, replying, thanked the members of the Executive Council for attending, and paid a tribute to the members of the committee, who had helped to make that event such a success.
Mr. T. Harris, T.D., presided at the presentation of the prizes to the winners by Mr. de Valera.
Mr. de Valera said he did not think there had been such a hosting on the Bog of Allen since the days of Finn and Fianna. He hoped it was going to be an annual event. It was particularly appropriate that the work should have been started on the Bog of Allen, because when one thought of Irish bogs one could not help associating the Bog of Allen with them.
“The bogs of Ireland,” he said, “were called in the past our gold mines. I hope they will prove so still, and be the means of giving a livelihood to many people living on the bogs who have found it difficult to get a living.”


The awards were as follows:—
Wing Slean (open) – Findlater Challenge Cup for best all-round work – 1, James Howard, Kyledoon; 2, Frank Donnellan, Derry, Co. Kildare; 3, William Cross, Giltown; 4, Pat Norris, Timahoe, Coolcarrigan.
Do. (Veterans) – 1, Pat Lynam, Timahoe.
Breast Slean (open) – The Leinster Flour Mills Challenge Cup, presented by Messrs. Odlum and Odlum, Naas, for best all-round work – 1, James Connolly, Ticknevin; 2, Patrick Brennan, do.; 3, Patrick Farrell, Allenwood; 4, John McGrath, Killanna.
Do. (Veterans) – 1, Patrick Brereton, Robertstown.
Clamping Competition – 1, Thos. Connolly, Ticknevin; 2, Michael Ward, Hodgestown, Coolcarrigan; 3, Maria Reddy, Prosperous.
Footing Competition (confined to women) – 1, Mary Melia, Ticknevin; 2, Mary Dempsey, Kyledoon; 3, Mrs. Howard, do.; Mary Kearney, Walterstown.

The traffic regulations during the Festival were admirably looked after by the Garda Siochana under Chief Superintendent Murphy and Superintendents O’Halloran and Heron. Sergeant T.B. Brennan, Divisional Officer, G.S., Naas, acted as chief steward in which capacity he rendered valuable services.

Distinguished Attendance

Those present included – Mr. Sean T. O’Kelly, Vice President of the Executive Council; Mr. Sean MacEntee, Minister for Finance; Mr. G. Boland, Minister for Posts and Telegraphs; Dr. Ryan, Minister for Agriculture; Mr. Hugo Flinn, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance; Senator Cummins, Mr. W. Norton, T.D.; Mr. T. Harris, T.D.; Major-General Brennan, Chief of Staff; Major-General H. McNeill, Assistant Chief of Staff; the Attorney General, Mrs. Con Maguire and party, Mr S. Davin, Gen. Sec., Fianna Fail; Mr. Eamonn Donnelly, T.D.; Mr. P. J. Little, Parliamentary Secretary to Mr de Valera; Mr. P. Morrissey, Fianna Fail Organiser; Mr. Eamonn Cooney, T.D.; Mr. Seamus Moore, T.D.; Dr. J. B. Lynch, T.D.; Prof. T. Dillon, U.C.G.; Mr. Aodh and Mrs. De Blacam, Miss Kathleen O’Connell, Private Secretary to Mr. de Valera; Mr. Charles Lambe, (who intends to paint a picture of the Festival), Major-General Sweeney, G.O.C., Curragh District; Col. Costello, Col. D. McKenna, Major McNally, Major Hoolian, Major Egan, Major O’Connor, Comdt. Maher, Capt. L. Collins, Capt. Duffy, Capt. Burke, Dr. Henry H. Kennedy, I.A.O.S.; Mr. Sean Leydon, Dept. of Industry and Commerce; Mr. J. Hanley, Chief Science Inspector, Dept. of Education; Col. Broy, Chief Commissioner, Garda Siochana; Mr. E. Childers, Miss D. Macardle, B.A.;  Mr. D. Findlater, Mr. J. J. Irwin, Private Secretary to the Minister for Defence; Rev. Fr. Prior, Dominican College, Newbridge; Rev. Fr. O’Donohue, Carbury; Mr. A. Connolly, Private Secretary to the Minister for Industry and Commerce; the Misses de Courcey; Mr. P. D. Harrington, Dr. and Mrs. Blake, Mrs. Hughes, Mr. A. de Courcey Wheeler, Dr. and Mrs. O.C. Fitzsimons, Dr. Kirby, Mr. J. P. O’Brien, General Manager Irish Tourist Association; F. McDonald, C.C.; Rev. H. Armstrong, District Justice and Mrs. Reddin.
Telegrams expressing regret at inability to attend were received from Mr. McDermot, T.D., and the Lord Mayor of Dublin, (Ald. Byrne, T.D.).

[Spellings and text remain as in original. Note. The de Courcy Wheeler family name is shown with differing spellings (de Courcy and de Courcey.]

Re-typed by Chris Holzgräwe

President Eamonn de Valera cuts the first sod at the Bog of Allen Festival. A report from the Kildare Observer of 28 April 1934. Re-typed by Chris Holzgräwe

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