The Big Country

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The turf bog is a wilderness admittedly shaped by an element of human activity over the centuries but nonetheless it is still a vast natural space. For example looking out from our turf bog there is a seam of this bogland that stretches from here on the edge of Belleek all the way to Pettigo. That’s a distance of 12 miles and counting.

It is an upland area with spectacular views and big skies, not always clear skies it must be said! It can be easy to take all this for granted but taking folks out on Turf Bog Tours and showing them around gives us a new found appreciation for this landscape.


Visitors coming from urban settings are blown away by the sense of space of this landscape and the sky. They are also amazed by the quality of the fresh air and its purity. Testimony to this is the presence of lichens growing on the bog. Lichen only grows and thrives where the air is unpolluted. Needless to say we have lots of lichen growing here!
The combination of space, big skies and fresh air helps get visitors closer to nature and the chance to marvel at nature. It is the perfect opportunity to escape modern life with all its confinements and experience the big country.

Choose Turf Bog Tours

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It has been a while since our last blog, in fact it was all the way back in June. There have been some changes since then here at McAndrew’s Store. The big change is that in August we took the decision to stop selling turf online and to concentrate totally on Turf Bog Tours. Reaching this decision was one we considered very carefully and was not an overnight decision. After all we have been selling turf online since 2009. So apologies to friends and family who we discussed this option at length with! We are also appreciative of all the orders over the years from our loyal customers, we hope to see many of them on a Turf Bog Tour in the future.


Since introducing Turf Bog Tours in 2017 we have become aware of the huge potential in offering this niche visitor experience. Our Turf Bog Tours have proven to be popular with visitors and numbers are growing year on year. Since 2017 we have had visitors from the UK, France, USA, Canada, Spain and Argentina demonstrating the international appeal of Turf Bog Tours. We are convinced that if we concentrate fully on Turf Bog Tours we can develop it even further.


So we now find ourselves moving from retail in to tourism, but one thing that will remain consistent is that customer care will still be a cornerstone of Turf Bog Tours.


The format of Turf Bog Tours is a great blend, even if I do say so myself, with it combining the tradition of turf cutting, a bit of social history, environmental awareness and a chance to discover the wilderness.


We will still continue to cut a portion of the turf bog with a spade as we feel strongly that this most Irish of traditions should not be lost. Visitors will still be able to wield the turf spade and get that hands on experience.
Find out more at www.mcandrewstore.com and choose turf!

Seven Days in The Bog

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I am glad to report that all our turf is now cut. Having started to prepare the turf bank back on 30th March we managed to complete the cutting process on Sunday 26th May.  Generally speaking I don’t like to work on a Sunday, there is no religious reason, it’s just that I would rather have a free day to catch up on a bit gardening, odd jobs or head off cycling, kayaking or to the coast.  However between family commitments and Callum’s studying for exams eating in to our availability we had no choice but to work on the Sabbath.

It worked in our favour, we had a bit of drainage work to do before we could extract the final section of the third floor of turf.  With some expert guidance from seasoned turf cutter, Sean O’Loughlin we solved the drainage issue and got the final section of the turf cut.  We even listened to the Fermanagh – Donegal football match in the Ulster Championship on the radio whilst working.  Although peak productivity in my case is more likely to be achieved whilst listening to 80’s music!

The weather since 26th May has been unpredictable to say the least, cold one minute, sunny the next, raining the next, windy the next – you get the (very wet) picture I am sure!  Now that we are into June we really need some high pressure with warm sunshine and a easterly airflow to bake the turf.
Fortunately, a good bit of the turf is already footed.  Some of it remains to be turned before being footed but all being well we should have the turf dried, bagged and off the bog by July.


At this stage we have already started to assess our turf bog operations, particularly this first season on our new bog.  Our conclusion is that we need to speed up the cutting process and complete cutting earlier in the Spring.  Easier said than done,  as everything depends on the weather, so watch this space in 2020.  But for now we will concentrate on this years turf and keep watching the long range weather forecast, waiting to hear news of a heatwave.  Either way, we are sure to put in another Sunday shift at some stage.

 

From Bog to the Fireplace

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Our turf cutting exploits have been good so far this season.  We have enjoyed largely dry weather since starting work in the bog back at the end of March.  Bu there is a long way to go before we get the turf saved and home.  Did you know that by the time you burn the turf that there are 13 stages from the bog to fireplace?

  1. Pairing  – this refers to clearing the top layer of heather, moss and grasses from the bog
  2. Cutting – armed with the traditional turf spade, sods of turf are cut from the bog
  3. Barrowing – the sods of turf are piled on to the barrow
  4. Spreading – once the sods are tipped off the barrow they need to be spread out to commence the drying process
  5. Turning – once the sods have started to dry and develop a “skin”, then they get turned so the opposite side can start to dry
  6. Footing – once the sods have a “skin” on every side they are arranged in teepee like formations to allow the wind to circulate around them and further assist the drying process
  7. Clamping – once the footings of turf sods are well on the way to being dry, they are then stacked into clamps which are round shaped piles of turf.  Any remaining damp turf sods are placed on the outside which helps the drying process further.
  8. Bagging – once the turf in the clamps are all dry, then the sods of turf are put into sacks
  9. Extraction – involves moving the sacks filled with turf off the bog and onto the trailer for the trip home
  10. Stacking – sacks of turf are stacked in to the shed here at The Store
  11. Packing – as orders come in at www.mcandrewstore.com the turf is packaged ready for despatch
  12. Delivery – Parcelforce courier collects from us here in Belleek and within 48 hours customers will receive their turf
  13. Burning – set your fire, add the turf, sit back and enjoy the glow, aroma and connection to Ireland in the comfort of your own home many miles from the turf bog!

Of course, you can get familiar with our turf bog operations and many of these stages by booking one of our Turf Bog Tours!

 

Ten Reasons to Take a Turf Bog Tour

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In today’s hectic world it is good to have real experiences.  The world is full of white noise and technology.  So our Turf Bog Tours are a great way to escape the “noise” and re-connect with the great outdoors.  This year, 2019,  will be the third year we have offered Turf Bog Tours.  With our new turf bog and cutting season under way there’s never been a better time to book your own Turf Bog Tour. Here are 10 reasons why you should add a Turf Bog Tour to your 2019 itinerary:

  1. Make a connection.  Discover real Ireland and the craft of turf cutting.  It’s part of the celtic culture and identity of rural Ireland.  Immerse yourself in this tradition.
  2. Enjoy a tea or coffee out on the turf bog, plus some homemade bread – turf cutting makes you both thirsty and hungry.
  3. Get hands on and try cutting turf with a traditional spade (slean in Irish).  Cut a few sods from the turf bank and learn what goes into creating the perfect turf supply for the long Irish winter.
  4. Take in the surroundings, no traffic, just the sounds of nature, a big wide open space with an array of colours.  You will be impressed.
  5. Discover the flora and fauna, from heather to sphagnum moss to lichens that can act as firelighters.
  6. Get close to wildlife, frogs abound in the turf bog as do newts.  If you are lucky, in early summer
    you will hear the call of the cuckoo. Look closely and you will spot deer tracks and close to dusk you will have a good chance of seeing these impressive animals.  Bailey, our sprocker spaniel, likes to come along too.
  7. Fresh air in abundance – pure air – air to give you an appetite, air to give you a sense of Ireland and a good nights sleep.
  8. Skies  and light that are unique to this part of Ireland.  Big skies, bigger sunsets and even on stormy days the rolling clouds are impressive.
  9. Discover this corner of Ireland where Fermanagh and Donegal meet, get your photo taken with each foot in two different Counties!
  10. No Turf Bog Tour is complete without a bounce on the turf bog.  It is naturally sprung and will give you a connection to your inner child.So there you have it, our Turf Bog Tours speak for themselves – book yours today!

Winter into Spring

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This winter has been going on a bit too long now for my liking.  Whilst it has not been a particularly stormy or cold winter, it has been very dark.  To be honest I would rather have snow, ice and a few storms to experience the full range of the seasons.  At least they would be a distraction from the darkness!


I’m encouraged that there is now a bit more light in the mornings and that the evenings are also stretching too.  Spring is around the corner.


Of course winter with its dark evenings was made for turf fires and they definitely provide comfort.  A turf fire in the hearth is a means of heat of heat and just as importantly, a source of  light on dark nights.  A turf fire definitely helps me get through the winter.  The daily morning routine of cleaning out the ashes from the stove and setting it again are well worth it.


However now I am really looking forward to Spring.  The longer evenings and the freedom to spend more time outdoors in daylight cannot come soon enough.  Whether it’s doing a bit of gardening, walking Bailey Dog, cycling, and even trips to the turf bog, its the perfect appetiser for all the potential of the summer months to come.


Of course, to complement the outdoors lifestyle of spring and summer, there is nothing better than getting a turf fire going on the patio or a camp fire to finish a day outdoors.  Maximising the time spent outdoors is so good for the human condition and fresh air laced with the aroma of turf smoke is a prescription for contentment.

New Year New Turfbog

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Happy new year and I hope that 2019 is a good one. After the pre-Christmas rush it was good to get some downtime over the festive season.  It was an ideal time to take stock of another busy year at The Store.  It was not all introspection though, as we also made a key decision with regards to a turf bog.

The turf bog we have rented each season since 2015 has served us well.  It enabled us to hone our traditional turf cutting technique and also allowed us to develop our Turf Bog Tours.  We have however been looking out for a remoter turf bog to add to the wilderness experience.  Therefore we are delighted to have secured a new turf bog that meets all our criteria.  It is still in County Donegal, indeed it is less than 1km from our former turf bog.  The views from this turf bog are also superior.  An ever changing 360 degree panorama takes in no less than 5 counties (Donegal, Fermanagh, Leitrim, Sligo and Tyrone) and includes loughs, hills, forests and of course Breesy Mountain.  We are sure that future visitors to the turf bog will find this bog an amazing off-grid location.


We are aiming, weather permitting, to commence turf cutting in April.  That really is not that far away so training for turf cutting season has already begun.  Training consists of a bit of running, cycling, swimming and playing indoor football (badly). Even at this early stage, 2019 is shaping up to be another interesting year here at The Store.

 

2018 Highlights

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As we approach the end of 2018 we take a look back at another successful year here at The Store.

Our Turf Bog Tours grew in popularity, Kathy from the USA even made a return visit! Our season kicked off back in February in the deep freeze and then continued during the heatwave in midsummer.  No matter the time of year, the turf bog is a magical place.  Youngest Clan member Ava, made her debut as a Turf Bog Tour Guide and was a big hit!  Also joining the ranks as canine tour guide was Bailey Dog.  Well we couldn’t let her miss out could we?!

 


Summer 2018 was a turf cutters dream,  a full-on heatwave and it was like the turf baked before our very eyes. In our four years cutting the traditional way with a spade, this year above all others, working in the turf bog a total pleasure. We took further advantage of the good weather and even managed to drain a big bog hole with the help of veteran turf cutter Sean O’Loughlin.


We still found time for adventures with a spot of sledging in the snow, a walk around Dunlewey in the shadow of Errigal Mountain, a midsummer midnight walk on Cuilcagh Mountain,  hitting 54mph (according to Map My Ride!) on the bike coming down a hill at Lough Navar Forest Park,  canoeing on Lough Erne and Lough Melvin and catching a spectacular autumn sunset at Little Dog.

On the product development front, in March we took delivery of a batch of new look Mighty Turf Sack, complete with smoke coming from the cottage chimney!  The Mighty Turf Sack now takes centre stage in our product offering and is proving very popular with our customers.  Some subtle changes to packaging has also helped the slickness of our packing operations.  We don’t sit still here at The Store!

 


In October we visited the GPO in Dublin to view the Easter Rising Exhibition.  It was a brilliant insight in to this huge event in Irish history.  We then hopped on the Luas to visit the impressive Collin’s Barracks and National Museum of Ireland.  A great day out for sure.

 

The final achievement of 2018 is fulfilling my plan to write a blog post every month and with this post that’s another tick!  What will 2019 bring?  Who knows but we will definitely #chooseturf and we hope you do too!

 

Winter is Coming

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The activity levels here at The Store are cranking up now.  Colder weather followed by Atlantic storms has seen orders flood in and made it feel a lot like our busiest time of year!

If you are a regular customer you are by now aware of our switch to selling our traditional turf in our Mighty Turf Sacks.  We made the decision in early November to enhance our traditional turf offering in this way. So far the feedback has been brilliant.  Our Mighty Turf Sack contain more turf than the Turf Box plus get a ready made storage solution for the fireside with one of our traditional rustic hesssian sacks.  Mighty Turf Sacks looked very good on the fireplace, even if we do say so ourselves.

 

Black Friday has come and gone, it was our busiest day of the year this far.  Don’t worry if you missed the Black Friday discount, by way of consolation we are offering 10% off when you purchase a Mighty Turf Sack with this discount code: aroma.


On the horizon is Christmas and our deadline for festive orders will be Sunday 16th December.  Keep an eye on our website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages for more details in due course. In addition we completed filming and production of our festive advert in just one day.  Take a look at it on our YouTube channel.

Keeping it Traditional

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I was recently at a presentation/discussion on how technology is changing how we work and that some jobs will in the near future be redundant due to automation.  Included in the list of jobs and professions under threat include accountants, marketeers, warehouse and distribution staff.

This got me thinking about this in the context of the turf bog.  In the bogland we operate from we are the only folk left cutting turf with a spade.  Over the last 50 years, the turf cutting machine pulled behind a tractor has displaced the age old spade cutting process.  One person driving a tractor with mechanical turf cutter attached can cut a seasons turf in a fraction of the time it would take a person armed only with a spade.


Likewise getting the turf extracted from the bog and home has moved on from the donkey and cart.  Tractors, quads and 4x4s have revolutionised this stage of the process.

That said, the cutting  and transporting of the turf are only two aspect of the overall turf havesting process.  To the best of my knowledge, there is no machine yet that has been developed and widely available to turn turf sods, foot them, clamp them and finally bag them.  These are all labour intensive and back breaking tasks.  It is also a childhood memory for a lot of Irish folk and not always fondly recalled!

Maybe in the future a Terminator-esque cyborg will displace the McAndrew Clan and other turf bog traditionalists.  A Terminator will definatley be immune to the midgies but I am not so sure that their circuit boards will handle the damp landscape and climate so well.


So the next time you burn some of our turf, you can rest assured that it still has had the human touch all the way from the turf bog to your fireside.

 

 

Ten Reasons to Burn Turf this Autumn

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Autumn is well and truly with us and turf fire season is just getting going.  If you still needed convincing that a turf fire is the best option for the long evenings, then the following 10 reasons will convince you to choose turf.


1. Turf is a non-sparking fuel so it is safe and wont startle family pets like our Bailey Dog who is gun shy and hates any form of loud bang.

2. A turf fire is high in emissions of nostalgia!  It can transport you to the Ireland of your memories.  Good for hearth and soul!

3. The Celtic people always loved a good fire, it’s a spiritual thing.  Keep the tradition going with a turf fire.

4. Being all cosy indoors by a turf fire whilst the rain batters off the window and the wind howls on a dark night is hard to beat.

5. That unmistakable aroma. Pop outside in to the dark and enjoy the aroma of the turf fire hanging in the night air.

6. Get 10% off a Mighty Turf Sack with this discount code: autumn

7. A turf fire is the perfect indulgence or as a unique gift for a birthday, anniversary or just to show you care.

8. There are currently great deals on bulk orders with our Dozen Deals on Bord na Mona, Turf Boxes and Mighty Turf Sacks – more details here

9. Sitting comfortably? A turf fire is the perfect accompaniment to a mug of tea (Lyon’s of course!), a glass of whiskey, Guinness or your favourite brew.

10. Support trade along the Fermanagh – Donegal frontier, who knows what Brexit may bring but fear not,we will find a way of getting the turf in from Europe!

Brexit & The Turf Bog

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Since the the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU in June 2016 produced a result in favour of leaving, Brexit has meant a lot of uncertainty on the island of Ireland.
Based here in Belleek just inside County Fermanagh and Northern Ireland, we are going to be leaving the EU along with England, Scotland and Wales.

Ava in Fermanagh, Darragh in Donegal

However, incredibly now 26 months on from the result of the referendum we are still no wiser as to how the issue of the Irish border will be dealt with. Talk of hard and soft Brexits leave me perplexed.  It has become apparent that the UK government cannot reach a consensus amongst themselves and that has left the populations of the UK, Ireland and wider EU uncertain.  The EU are awaiting a definitive proposal from the UK and the Irish government have a font row seat as the saga continues.
History has shown that decisions concerning a border on the island of Ireland have had negative impacts on the people, trade and freedom of movement.  I hope that the dealmakers are cognisant of this fact.  Peace on the island of Ireland was hard to achieve and in the interests of everyone its continuation  must be paramount when.  As Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek Finance Minister said “Borders are invisible from space”.

Callum & Darragh on bridge between Fermanagh and Donegal

Personally, I voted to remain in the EU.  The EU is by no means perfect but in my opinion it has done more good than harm on the Island of  Ireland.  The EU has provided a source of funding to the Border Regions which has reinforced the Peace Process.  Will the UK government pick up the shortfall and continue to provide such funding for building infrastructure and improving community relations in Northern Ireland? I am not convinced.
Since June 2016 we have regularly seen members of the UK government jockeying for position and talking up global trade deals post-Brexit.  That is understandable but if they cannot find a workable proposal for the Irish border then it does not bode well for their negotiations with potential trading partners and in particular a certain Mr. Donald Trump.

Turf ready for home

Theresa May the UK Prime Minister was here in Belleek two weeks ago.  A flying visit to Belleek Pottery was well choreographed with plenty of media coverage. Incredibly it was her first visit to the Irish Border since becoming Prime Minister. Unfortunately she was not available for one of our Turf Bog Tours.  Had she come along I would have asked for her vision on how we will get our turf home from the bog in County Donegal post Brexit.  Likewise, will Bailey (our sprocker spaniel) require a pet passport on her regular evening walk over the fields and across the border? These questions may appear flippant but they are good examples of the need for clarification on what form the border will take, trading arrangements and freedom of movement for people and goods.
October is the deadline for the UK withdrawal treaty deal to be agreed and 29th March is Brexit Day. We will watch on in hope.

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