Friday, February 3, 2012

Turf fires - burning peat

While writing stories, my mind tends to wander. Before you know it, I'm clicking out of a word document so that I can go exploring. I found an excellent site: Old and Interesting: The History of Domestic Paraphernalia. One particular article caught my eye: Peat Fires. Many of my Irish ancestors emigrated from Omey Island off the coast of Galway. If there were trees on the island, you could count them on one hand, so they needed other sources of fuel. The way the residents heated their homes was with bricks of peat (i.e., turf) cut out of a bog with a long-handled tool called a slane. This was back-breaking work performed by the whole family. Here is more from Old and Interesting:

Cutting the turf in Connemara
with  the Twelve Bens in the background

Cooking and living with peat fires

There used to be many areas of northern Europe better supplied with peat bogs than with trees. Peat, also called turf, was a convenient household fuel when there wasn't much firewood around. Some regions of North America made use of peat for domestic fires in the 1700s and 1800s - and a few still do. (See quote lower left column.) It's been used for cooking, heat, and what we would now call background lighting for longer than history has been written.

Well into the mid-20th century there were places where peat fires were kept alight all year on the floor of a cottage. You can also burn turf, or sod, on open hearths, and in well-engineered fireplaces with grates. Natural, locally-dug peat is still used for domestic heating in Scotland and, famously, in Ireland where the slices of peat are always called turves and the fires are turf fires - even when manufactured peat briquettes are used. In the 19th century cutting peat for fuel was an important part of life in Scandinavia, and in fenland or moorland regions of England, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany...

To continue reading, please click on the link above.

I just wanted to share. :)


  1. Whenever someone talks about it in the stories, it is always described as smelly. If it were a difference of freezing to death, I guess I could live with smelly. (-;

    Thanks for the share!

  2. Sophia Rose, Turf fires have a "smokey" smell, but I found it rather nice.

  3. Interesting, Mary. I remember learning about this when I was in high school. Like Sophia Rose, I thought they were smelly too. If it is just a "smokey" smell, it might be nice. My in-laws heat their house with a wood burner and my favorite spot in the house is in the recliner right in front of it.