Getting Winter Ready

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No sooner had our Halloween bonfire been burnt and the last firework launched, we find ourselves in November. This being the final month of Autumn season will give us a taste of the winter ahead. It is a time to get Winter ready.

Part of my own preparations has involved getting the chimney swept, a task I take on myself armed with an extendable sweeping brush. There is a certain job satisfaction in dislodging the soot from for the chimney flue. It is also an important step to prevent the risk of chimney fire.

The next stage involves a deep clean of the stove. The stove not only heats the sitting room, but with its built in back boiler also powers radiators and provides hot water. Taking the stove apart involves lifting off the top of it and cleaning off the inside walls with a steel wire brush. Whilst this involves a bit of elbow grease it does help the stove operate more efficiently.

There is also the small matter of testing the carbon monoxide alarm too, every home should have one. These alarms should be replaced every 7 – 10 years depending on specific manufacturers guidelines.

Once these jobs are all done there is peace of mind when settling down in front of a lovely turf fire on a cold winters evening.

Get the Balance Right

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As traditional turf cutters we have a vested interest in the bogland landscape and its environment. As a reaction to the undeniable impacts of climate change, the Irish state owned Bord na Mona has ceased turf extraction on the vast industrial scale. As a result, those iconic peat briquettes produced by BNM are now hard to source. Now if you are looking for a peat based briquette, a variant containing lignite imported from Germany is now widely available throughout Ireland – go figure the environmental cost of this change!

Whilst I agree that turf extraction on a vast industrial scale is unsustainable, I would contend that turf cutting in a traditional manner for domestic use should be allowed to continue. I cannot imagine travelling through rural Ireland and not catching the unmistakable aroma of turf smoke in the air. It is as synonymous with Ireland as much as Tayto Crisps, Guinness and Massey Ferguson tractors. To ban turf cutting outright would be a sad day indeed.

Whilst the Government appears to be moving towards banning turf cutting, I think they would be at risk of ignoring tradition, heritage and culture. Whilst they currently ponder banning turf cutting, successive Governments have turned a blind eye to the huge problem of illegal dumping which occurs on bogland here in Ireland. Everything from domestic waste to furniture, domestic applicances and even old cars often end up in bogs. This situation is a huge environmental problem, not only is it an eyesore that will in the case of plastics take hundreds of years to break down but in the here it now it also poses a real danger to wildlife.

The Government want to leave bogs in their “natural state”, promoting re-wetting of the bogs and leaving them to nature. However turf bogs are a landscape created by mankind. Centuries of clearing the trees from the upland areas by the early farmers helped create the conditions that allowed turf bogs to develop into the landscape that we know today. In his book, Feral, George Monbiot makes this very point and he promotes the idea of re-foresting the bogs with a tree planting initiative. This would not be the planting of conifers like the mono culture plantations that are all too familiar here in Ireland but rather the planting of native species to Ireland such as birch, hazel and alder. Such an initiative on a proportion of bogs deemed no longer available for turf cutting could be a compromise whilst leaving some bogs available for turf cutting by traditional means for domestic fuel use.

In conclusion, I believe that the Government should take an overall view and be pro-active in its approach. Step one would involve educating people from childhood of the significance of turf bogs and that they are not a dumping ground coupled with enforcement of a zero tolerance approach to dumping of waste. Then step two would promote and fund re-forestation of some turf bogs and permit small scale turf cutting in order to preserve a traditional practice. This twin track approach would be a compromise that would strike a balance in everyones interest.

Turf Bog Soundtrack

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Working out on the turf bog is all very serene and peaceful but there are times when we need music to motivate us during the paring, cutting, spreading, footing, clamping and bagging processes

As relic of the 1970’s I love nothing more than reliving my youth by listening to 80’s music. OMD, Depeche Mode, New Order, Blondie, Madonna, Queen, Big Country and of course the Pet Shop Boys (not the Peat Shop Boys sadly) feature heavily on my playlist.

Today FM used to do a show called Friday Night 80’s which was a great listen. Well it was, until the time when we realised we’d ran the car battery flat by leaving the radio on whilst we worked in the bog. But at least we had tunes to sing/hum as we trekked the 3 miles home!

Throw in some contemporary stuff from the Killers, One Republic and the Weeknd to modernise our soundtrack. The playlist however is always being added to, for example I just rediscovered the track “I just died in your arms” by The Cutting Crew – kind of appropriate that a turf cutting crew listen to it don’t you think?

Summer Update

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Since our last blog post back in late June we have managed to get all our turf home. The heatwave in mid July played a big part in getting the turf dried and ready for the Store. It enabled me to get all the turf bagged in advance so that on the day of the extraction process (think military type planning) we got all the turf home with the aid of a quad in record time.

Shortly after getting the turf home the weather turned to a more typical series of low pressure fronts coming in from the Atlantic Ocean. In fact in recent days there have been severe and torrential downpours of rain which has caused flooding on scale I have never seen in my 22 years of living in these parts. Had our turf still been on the bog we may have well needed the kayak to extract it!

As the summer months have progressed the Covid19 restrictions are gradually lifting and life is returning to something closer to what was normal. We are hopeful that soon international visitors will return in big numbers to Ireland and be looking for their very own Turf Bog Tour, albeit realistically this will be in 2022. It is hard to believe that the last Turf Bog Tour we operated was back in October 2019. When the time comes we are looking forward to getting back to operating tours once more and meeting visitors from all over the world. Keep checking our website and social media channels for updates on when Turf Bog Tours will return.

We have also further enhanced our Irish Log Torches. Every Log Torch will now come with a quantity of turf chippings to add to the fire. Not only will this provide that unmistakable smoky aroma of Ireland it will also help keep midgies and other flying insects at bay.

Waiting on Summer

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After a cold Spring, a disappointing May in particular, I was hopeful that June would herald the start of summer and some much needed sunshine. However the reality has been more cool weather and not a whole lot of sunshine either. This far it has been a rare day that the thermometer has ventured beyond the high teens and into the sultry twenties.

In contrast, Spring 2020 was a dream, all our turf was cut, dried and home by the last day of May. This year despite having all the turf cut by the end of April (earlier than in 2020) it is nowhere near ready for home. In fact, I have only started footing the turf this week. My guess is that it will be mid July before we have the turf home.

In the meantime we have been kept busy perfecting our Irish Log Torches and are now including some turf chippings to add as the Torches burn. This will ensure a measure of a peaty aroma mixed with the pine wood smoke.

Heading now for the final few days of June we are hoping for a summer heatwave. This would be perfect for outdoor living (think outside fires of an evening) , a spot of camping (think campfires) and of course to get the turf dried and home for winter fires.

The Bog is Calling

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The weeks are flying by and we are getting ready to commence turf cutting operations for season 2021.

Hopefully we are in for as good a Spring season as 2020. Then the fine weather made the whole process very easy, with all the turf home by the end of May.

Ahead of getting out on the turf bog, we have made the decision not to operate any Turf Bog Tours this year. This decision was taken in light of the Covid 19 situation and restrictions. Things do seem to be improving with a gradual re-opening and easing of travel restrictions. However we are realistic and recognise that it will be 2022 before travel and tourism, particularly overseas visitors, return to anything near what we called “normal” back in 2019. Incredibly it was October 2019 when we last operated a Turf Bog Tour. We definitely miss the interaction with visitors and showing off the craft of turf cutting.

In the meantime we will keep the tradition of turf cutting going and post regular updates from the bog on our social media channels. Rest assured that the turf bog will be waiting for you.

We also have the small matter of training in our newest bog hound. Charlie, a labrador/collie cross aka Borador, joined the crew at Christmas and is doing well under the tutelage of senior bog hound, Bailey Dog. The vision is that Charlie will also be able to join us on Turf Bog Tours (subject to client approval) and provide some additional canine charm.

No Standing Still

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We have started the new year being kept busy on a range of fronts. It is good to have the distraction of the Store and the great outdoors on our doorstep during another Lockdown.

Despite it being midwinter, we have been out to the turf bog to check on it. The visits to the turf bog have also been used to introduce our new team member, Charlie Dog, to the environment. Charlie was a Christmas gift from Santa to my youngest daughter. A labrador collie cross (borador) he will be trained by ourselves and mentored by Bailey Dog in the ways of the turf bog. In time and when they resume, Charlie Dog will hopefully have enough manners to accompany us on Turf Bog Tours. Absolutely no pressure on his trainers and mentor on that front then!

Currently we are planning and looking ahead to the start of the new turf cutting season which could be, weather permitting, around eight weeks away. With this in mind, we have had the turf barrow “serviced” and it now just needs a lick of (black) paint before being deployed on the turf bog once more.

We are also scaling up production and promotion of our Irish Log Torches and these will be back on sale very soon. Not only are they good for outdoor gatherings in these times of social isolation they are also handy for spring/summer evenings on the patio, camping and arguably most importantly, boiling a kettle!

We are also continuing to sell our turf online. Post Brexit, we are glad to report that there have been no issues getting our turf across the Irish Sea to our customers in Scotland, England and Wales.

This far 2021 has been a case of onwards and upwards – long may that continue.

Highlights of a Strange Year

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As 2020 draws to a close we have taken the opportunity to look back upon what can only be described as a strange year. We wont dwell on the negatives but rather look at all that was achieved in the past 12 months.

Back in Febuary 2020 Turf Bog Tours received great coverage in The Fermanagh Herald. Little did we know at that point that Covid19 would soon come along and wreck our plans to operate tours in 2020.
One consequence of the Global Pandemic was homeschooling. Coupled with great Spring weather the offspring were tutored in the art of turf cutting. There was of course, always ample time for a brew and a book! The turf was home in record time too, with the turf shed filled by the end of May.
During Lockdown and the fine weather in Spring and Summer we spent a lot of time outdoors. Having a fire outdoors on the patio or camping is an essential part of the outdoor experience. No surprise then that we developed our Irish Log Torches. Expect to hear and see more on this front in 2021!
Continuing with the outdoor theme, once travel restrictions were lifted in early summer we made a bee-line for Gortahork in Northwest Donegal for some wildcamping, campfires and craic.
Another project was the creation of The Bog Team. It is a collection of leisurewear that is perfect for casual/outdoor purposes Choose from hoodys, T-shirts, sweat shirts and caps. More details here
Then to round the year off, Santa brought youngest daughter a pup for Christmas. Happy to report that Charlie is settling in well to life as a bog dog and is being well schooled by Bailey Dog.

Crystal Bog Gazing

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What will 2021 herald for Turf Bog Tours?  With no tours operated during 2020 we are now watching with interest how the Covid19 vaccine will be rolled out and how we can all possibly transition back to something near normal life. Due to the Pandemic, our tour business has generated zero income in 2020. Fortunately we were able to fall back on our online sales of turf to generate income.  Luckily we had that previous experience and the ability to kickstart that side of the business.

Transition is the key word though.  For tourism operations such as Turf Bog Tours we are very reliant on overseas visitors.  Not surprisingly 75% of tourism in Ireland is down to overseas visitors.  In the case of Turf Bog Tours our key markets are visitors from the USA and mainland Europe.  So whilst hopefully the global pandemic and its impacts are greatly reduced in 2021 I believe that the number of international visitors to Ireland will not return to 2019 levels until the middle of this decade at the earliest. 

Then on a human wellbeing level, will people opt to stay more local for their holidays and short breaks – is the staycation the new norm? Will the French keep it local and forsake Ireland for the Alps or the Pyrenees? Will people think twice about hopping on a plane?  What are the impacts on both short haul and long haul flights?  There are so many unknowns.

We are keeping in contact with tour operators such as our good friend Pascal at Une Bouffee D’Eire to see how business levels return for him.  That will give us a good indicator to see how European markets start the recovery process. 

Then there are are other economic factors to consider in this recovery.  How quickly will international economies recover?  At this stage no one really knows the long term impact of the Pandemic on unemployment numbers.  The installation of a new President of the United States, step forward Joe Biden who is proud of his Irish ancestry,  and its impacts will be of interest this side of the Atlantic Ocean.  Likewise how the fiasco that is Brexit ends up could have impacts on N. Ireland and adjoining counties in the Republic. 

For now, it is all a waiting game. The fingers (and toes) are crossed for the resumption of Turf Bog Tours. 

November – A Survival Guide

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November in a “normal” year is a challenging month. Nights drawing in, plenty of rain and the old mojo is flatlining. However 2020 has been the ultimate curve ball and with Lockdown 2.0 confining our activities and movements it is a testing time like no other November.

Here at McAndrew HQ we have a few coping mechanisms, not all strictly healthy but if it gets you through……

Drink plenty of tea. Mrs Doyle wasn’t wrong, everything does seem better after a lovely cup of tea. Ah go on, go on, go on, go on………

Tunnocks Caramel Wafers
Linked to the tea theme is our favourite accompaniment to a brew which is a Tunnocks Caramel Wafer. A Scottish delicacy with a big following here in the Emerald Isle. So glad that we can get them here in Belleek!

Get Outdoors
Daylight might be limited and not every day suits, but we do try and get out for a cycle or even a run when there is a window of opportunity. No matter what though, Bailey Dog needs a walk every morning and evening.

Take time to chill out, read a good book or watch a movie/boxset on Netflix (btw…Leave no Trace is a great movie). Just remember not to become a complete couch potato!

Hearth Therapy
There is no doubt that a living flame on an open fire or in a stove is therapeutic, providing warmth and light in equal measure. Throw a bit of turf on for the real deal!

Turf Bog Resilience

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This year we have been unable to operate any of our Turf Bog Tours. However we are confident that once we are through the Covid19 Pandemic that better times lie ahead for Turf Bog Tours. In the here and now though, the current reality has seen us adapt our business model.

In summer 2019 we had taken the decision to discontinue selling turf online and to concentrate solely on developing Turf Bog Tours. At that point we had no idea what 2020 would bring. The outcome has been that by summer 2020 we were back selling turf online.

We then also looked at other complementary products that we could create and sell. We did not stray too far from the fire theme with the development of our Irish Log Torches. They are already proving popular on patios and on camping expeditions. They may even be the answer in these times of social distancing and when we can only meet friends and family outdoors. The Irish Log Torch could provide heat and light for any winter gatherings!

Then our latest development is our foray into the world of leisure wear suitable for anywhere including the turf bog. The Bog Team will provide a retro feel to practical comfortable clothing and even mugs.

While that vision of a sole focus on Turf Bog Tours has been dashed we have adapted and other strands to the McAndrew’s Store portfolio. You have to be made of strong stuff to run a micro enterprise in the North West of Ireland and none more so than now. I have no doubt that our endeavours in the turf bog have given us the capacity to be resilient, adaptable and flexible

Turf Bog Therapy

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Our last blog post highlighted just how dependent Turf Bog Tours are on overseas visitors.  Following its publication I was chatting to a friend who concurred with my observation that many Irish folk are still traumatised by their childhood experiences in the turfbog.  Now faced with a huge drop in international visitors just how can Turf Bog Tours be attractive to the people of Ireland, many of whom are suffering from PTSD (Post Turfbog Stress Disorder)? 

Well, here is our charter and guarantee to the people of Ireland to reassure them that a Turf Bog Tour is nothing to be scared of…

  1. A Turf Bog Tour lasts only 3 hours.  It isn’t a sentence or a punishment, honestly.
  2. It is a tour, a visitor experience, it is not forced labour.  We wont make you use the turf spade, spread the sods, foot, clamp or bag the turf – however if you do want to do some grafting we wont stop you either!
  3. We do provide tea/coffee as part of the tour experience but rest assured it is dispensed from a flask not milky lukewarm tea produced from a glass bottle wrapped in a sock.
  4. As a precaution we bring midgie repellent with us and it does work….
  5. By going on a Turf Bog Tour you are confronting your past head on and we are hopeful that by the end of your tour you will view the turf bog in a more positive way

So when we are back up and running and you are on a staycation be sure to book your Turf Bog Therapy…I mean Turf Bog Tour!

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