There are three principal types of peatlands in Ireland. Fens have their origins in lakes and swamps left behind after the end of last ice age. From about 7000 BC plant remnants accumulated in the wetlands. The organic remains did not decompose and grew into fen peat. Layers of peat grew thicker and plant roots could no longer reach the mineral subsoils. Where there were sufficient rainfall mosses colonised the surfaces.
From 5000 BC there was a substantial growth in sphagnum bogs, which grew into domed raise bogs. Blanket bogs formed as a result of climate change around 2000 BC. They developed in hilly areas with heavy rainfall spreading across landscapes covering underlying rock and soil.
The reclamation of bogs has been subject of legislation for almost three centuries. From 1716 forward a series of acts were passed by the Irish parliament to encourage peatland reclamation. Numerous bills were presented to the Irish parliament to encourage bog reclamation in Ireland.
Between 1810 and 1814 four reports under the authority of acts of parliament delineated the major bogs parks and recommended how they might be drained and converted to agricultural use.
Drainage and use of peatland for agriculture increased through the 19th century. It was effectively a desperate measure by the destitute poor to find land to farm which they could not afford to rent. Once the fringe of land had become sufficiently improved to support crops or grazing it became subject to rent. Impoverished tenants were pushed further and further into the bogs to recommence the process.
Peat has been used as a fuel for hundreds of years. By the 17th century turf was the most widely used fuel. By the late 18th century some 30,000 tons a year of turf were transported on the Grand Canal to supply the City of Dublin.
The first industrial scale harvesting of turf took place in Mona bog along the Shannon. Beginning in 1825 over 5,000 tons of turf were transported by boat to Limerick each year.
By the early 20th century, the quality of available turf used in Dublin had deteriorated. By the end of World War, I coal outstripped turf as a form of fuel in Dublin.
Mechanical harvesting commenced in Ireland at the beginning of the 20th century in experiments by the Department of Agriculture. By the end of the First World War electric powered machines were put to work on an experimental basis. Machine turf contracted turf to a density of half of handcut turf and made it easier to transport.
In the middle of the 19th century the technique of compressing turf into briquettes was perfected. A factory was established in 1860 which harvested peat by harrowing and produced powdered form of peat. This was air dried, transported by rail to the factory and further dried and compressed into briquettes.
The upper layer of raised bogs consists of light moss peat. If is poor for fuel purposes but has other purposes such as peat moss used as livestock bedding because of its ability to absorb moisture. It was used principally for horses, cattle and pigs.
Peat gas was used in the 19th and early 20th century to produce chemicals, candle wax and gaslight.
By the early 20th century, the awareness of turf as a fuel source increased and a move against developing peatland as agriculture ceased. At various times when coal was scarce due to strikes or other reasons peat was used increasingly as a fuel.
The Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction undertook studies and reports on the the manufacture of peat fuel. The rebel Dail government established a national commission of enquiry into resources and industries in June 1919.
The Dail Peat Committee published a report in 1921. It recommended acquisition of bogs, conducting experiments on drainage, purchase of automatic machine, establishment of peat powered electricity stations and acquisition by the state of all larger bog lands.
The first major electric plant in Ireland was the 13kV plant in Hawkins Street in Dublin built by the gas company. By the 1920s there were 160 different electricity undertakings in Ireland. There were some early moves to generate electricity from peat. A Private act of parliament was passed to authorise development of bogs in Leinster for electricity.
The Fianna Fail government came to office in 1932 amid a wave of protectionism internationally. It sought to create a number of native industries including the Irish Sugar Company and the Irish Chemical Company. This coincided with the commencement of so-called land war in relation to land purchase annuities with the United Kingdom which led to a 20% tax on agricultural exports from Ireland to the United Kingdom.
The Government sought to develop e the native fuel resources of the State in view of the high price of coal reinforced by a levy on imported coal.
A proposal to build a briquette factory was made by investors connected to the PECO company. The government with ported the project and the PECO Company was formed and acquired Lullymore bog with the intention of building a briquette factory.
The Peat Fuel Company Limited was incorporated in 1934 with the assistance of government finance. It struggled in its early years for financial and technical reasons and received further financial assistance from the State in 1937. The Lullymore project proved an important learning experience in the development of briquettes plants. It introduced milled peat and developed certain equipment and machinery particular to Irish needs.
A scheme was established to stimulate private turf production, establish standards, fix prices and organise distribution. The government decided to implement the scheme (circa 1933) through the Irish Co-operative Society. 180 co-operative societies were established for marketing turf. Road building and drainage works were undertaken by engineers employed by the Department of Industry and Commerce.
Co-operative turf societies were formed where bogs could provide a sufficient supply of turf. A society must have at least 50 members who cut turf. The schemes were intended to a significant extent to relieve rural employment and operated between 1932 and 1939.
The turf was stacked and fenced by the turf scheme. Turf scheme-built sheds purchased turf at a fixed price. The scheme sold the turf to the public. Turf was required to meet certain standards.