In the two years we have been cutting turf the traditional way with a spade we have come to realise the magic of the turf bog. We have shown a few people around too and they have been suitably impressed. Whilst we are by no means experts at cutting turf with a spade, we are still learning all the tricks, we have become more aware of the significance of the turf bog and just how unique this environment is.
There is more to the turf bog than just cutting turf as you will discover!
Having toyed with the idea of developing a Turf Bog Tour we have decided to take the plunge and offer this service. It seems a good time to start as any Donegal has recently been described by National Geographic as the “coolest place” to visit in 2017 plus the Wild Atlantic Way touring route along Ireland’s western coast is only a short hop from our turfbog.
So what can you expect from a Turf Bog Tour? For starters, you need to get to this corner of NW Ireland where we can then meet you in either Belleek (home of the world famous Pottery) or in Ballyshannon (Ireland’s oldest town) before whisking you away in our 4×4 to the remote wilds of the turf bog. We will be able to also accommodate groups with their own minibuses as well.
The wide open space of the turf bog is something we could easily take for granted. Our bog is nestled below Breesy Mountain just inside County Donegal, however walk just 100 metres eastwards and you are in County Fermanagh! From this elevated site you can enjoy the views of Lower Lough Erne and surrounding countryside.
We will demonstrate the turf cutting process and you will get the chance to try using a turf spade. Depending on what time of year and the stage of the process you visit at, you could find yourself spreading, clamping or even bagging turf. More than this though we will show you how to bounce on a turf bog it really is like a trampoline. Darragh our resident wildlife expert will show you signs of grouse and maybe even catch a frog for you.
There will be time for tea and soda bread (Callum is taking on the role of baker) before we take you onwards to Lough Finn a hidden lough only accessible through a conifer forest. Standing lough side, marvel at Breesy Mountains reflections in the dark peaty waters.
We will then take you further up the hillside to where in 1944 during WW2 a Canadian airforce warplane crash landed on the turf bog. Miraculously, there were survivors, undoubtedly helped by the plane crash landing on the soft bog.
Heading closer to Breesy Mountain we will give you the chance to admire the panoramic views over Counties Donegal, Fermanagh, Leitrim, Sligo, Tyrone and Cavan.
Interested in a Turf Bog Tour? Then we advise that you come prepared. Wear suitable outdoor clothing (windproof/waterproof), walking boots, bring your camera, accept the unpredictable Irish weather (expect 4 seaons in an hour), sun block (well you never know!) and bring a sense of humour. We will bring the tea, soda bread, binoculars, local knowledge and midgie repellent.
4 March 2017Posted by
I am currently in training. I need to get fit, lose some winter girth. No more carbs, regular exercise and I am off the Devil’s brew (alcohol) too.
By now you are probably thinking I am preparing for a marathon or endurance race. But you would be wrong. The truth is I am preparing myself for turf cutting season. Physical fitness and stamina need to be at their peak for when turf bog operations commence this Spring.
Rather like an athlete, as well as training, I am also eating healthy. Porridge for breakfast, no bread and no pasta. But that’s only part of it, I am running five days a week. I am on my third week of this regime and I have to admit I feel good.
The excesses of December had to be addressed and January was a good time to start. The left over mince pies, tins of biscuits and sweets from Christmas have now gone and in their place are sweet potatoes, salad and nuts.
I have also started playing football (badly) again on a Friday night and trying to do a bit of cycling too. It all helps. My view is that if I don’t do something now, come turf cutting season I wont be able to “cut” it in the turfbog.
Once turf cutting commences in April (weather permitting) I will hopefully be a good bit leaner and with all that manual exercise plus fresh air I can then re-introduce some carbs once more. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
So in years to come when you hear that the latest healthy living fad is something called “Turf Bog Fit” you will recall where you heard it first!
31 January 2017Posted by
Looking back on 2016 we thought that we would share ten highlights of a year at the Store!
At this time of year visits to the turf bog are not too regular an occurrence. Shorter days and poorer weather make the turf bog a far from hospitable place to frequent. That said, there are no midgies to contend with! However if conditions are favourable, say for example, on a nice crisp day in late Autumn, the turf bog is a great place for a walk and the perfect place to view the array of autumnal colours. At this point in the seasons, the 40 shades of green have changed to 40 shades of brown.
Back in the day, many folks had no option but to visit the turf bog over the dark winter months. Nowadays with tractors, jeeps and quads, when the turf is dry on the bog it is transported home in one or maybe two large loads. However, in bygone days and the era when horses and donkeys were the only means of transport, the turf was stacked on the bog in huge piles then covered in grass or rushes to weatherproof it.
Over the course of a winter, regular trips were made with a pony or donkey and cart to collect from this fuel supply in order to keep the homestead fires burning. Remember, turf was the only fuel in those days for heating and of course for cooking on, so there really was no choice.
This was true of the turf bog we source our turf from just over the border from us in Donegal. This particular turf bog has plots on it belonging to folk from Rossnowlagh on the coast, a distance of approximately 8 miles away. Not a huge distance to drive but imagine leading a donkey and cart laden with turf in darkest November? They were hardy folk for sure in those days, and I have nothing but respect for them.
Fast forward from those times to now, and consider the fact that through the combination of technology and courier services, that, if you order turf from us on a Monday we can get it delivered to you anywhere in the UK by Wednesday. That’s some leap forward from the humble donkey and cart!
16 November 2016Posted by
If you are still wondering about the merits of having a turf fire this Autumn, here are five reasons to do so!
1. The longer, darker and cooler evenings are just perfect for a spot of fireside relaxation. Light a turf fire, watch a box set , read a book or even just watch the cosy glow, it’s your choice!
2. Impress your friends and family who are unaware of Irish turf, convert them to become turf addicts too, they are bound to get hooked as they smell the night air full of peaty smoke!
3. By making a purchase from McAndrew’s Store you are supporting a rural enterprise. Over and above this, you are supporting the wider rural economy here in NW Ireland by way of our suppliers. We source our turf, cardboard boxes and sacks all within a short radius of the Store in both Fermanagh and Donegal. You are also funding the “salary” of an apprentice or two as well!
4. Indulge yourself and transport yourself back to rural Ireland courtesy of a turf fire. It’s good for the soul! Match up our turf with a mug of Irish tea, Guinness or even some Irish whiskey.
5. Go back to basics, get all rustic, light a turf fire and roast some chestnuts on a shovel over the burning turf. The turf adds a distinct flavour to the chestnuts.
So there you have it, five great reasons to burn turf this Autumn. For further evidence, watch our advert!
I am sure that you are left in no doubt now – happy burning!
15 October 2016
Running a cottage enterprise like McAndrew’s Store is a time consuming endeavour. The business is growing nicely with high levels of repeat business from our many loyal customers, so we must be doing something right! Patterns of demand are now established and we can meet the rush for turf at peak season during November and December. As well as fulfilling orders and providing quality customer care, product development is another area we dedicate a lot of time to. You might think that developing a product like turf further is limited but that’s not strictly true. In the past 12 months we have updated our product to include our own bespoke branded turf sacks. Lately we have made available for sale the Dozen Turf Box Order.
In meeting all these demands of managing the processes from the turf bog to shipping orders to developing our brand, our roles have evolved. Where once I ran the entire show, Callum has progressed from working on the bog (he never did like the midgies) to being our “packer in chief”. Chances are if you order turf from us Callum will have personally packed your Turf Box. At not yet 13 years old he has a good grasp of the enterprise and offers objective opinions on our operations, albeit sometimes in the style of Kevin the Teenager!
This year, Darragh came into his own out on the turf bog. He worked hard footing turf and packing it in to sacks for the homeward journey. He did this whilst enduring the clouds of midgies in return for a spin on the trailer along the bog road. Don’t tell the health & safety folk!
All this help in-house (for pocket money of course) means I can focus on on our marketing efforts and developing the Store further.
In the years to come it would be fantastic if the business could offer and sustain full time employment opportunities for all the Clan members. I am confident that if we continue on the current path we can achieve this.
1st October 2016Posted by
Well and truly stuck in middle age, I realise that getting outdoors at every opportunity is my form of therapy. Be it pottering around the garden, walking with Bailey Dog, cycling, kayaking, cutting logs and of course the turf bog, its a great way to clear the head.
My siblings are the same and this can be largely attributed to our Dad. He was a real lover of the great outdoors. Growing up in 1950’s Scotland, he was a boy scout and worked in a butchers on Saturdays. Therefore he could tie knots, pluck a chicken and start a fire – great skills to have for life.
Most evenings we would go with Dad as he walked the dog. My Dad always had a dog, something that I can identify with.
In summer months we would all go cycling with Dad, he must have had one of the earliest kids bike seats fitted to his bike for my brother. I doubt it would meet todays safety standards!
One particular adventure I recall, involves my sister, brother and I accompanying my dad on a fishing trip to Altan Lough in Northwest Donegal back in 1988. After an hour or so fishing Dad hadn’t caught a thing and having spotted the mountain on the far lough shore, Aghla More, decided that we should all “go climb that mountain”. So wearing wellies and carrying fishing rods and bags of tackle, the four of us trekked up all 584 metres of Aghla More. Though in my case and with a fear of heights I decided to not go to the absolute summit, so maybe I only scaled 574 metres (I think theres a photo somewhere to prove it!). Looking back now I think that perhaps it was a bit gung-ho of my Dad to undertake the scaling of Aghla More, but other than the fear of heights, I felt absolutely safe and didn’t doubt that he knew what he was doing.
Sadly Dad passed away in June 2010 at the relatively young age of 63. His influence continues and not just in the outdoors context. I now find myself telling my offspring the same things he told me, “put that light off”, “close that door” and of course “did you not think to put something on the stove?”. I could try to fight this transition but why should I, when I find it both amusing and comforting at the same time.
14th June 2016Posted by
May is normally a great month here in Ireland weatherwise. Typically he weather improves and with the lengthening of the days, plus a bit of heat outdoor living spaces come to life once more. This May has followed this pattern.
As the sun goes down you can prolong your outdoor experience and enjoyment with a turf fire. Simple to light with a few bits of kindling, a turf fire wont spark and will provide a solid warming glow plus that unmistakable aroma of Ireland.
Our Complete Fire Kit contains all you need to convert your firepit, chiminea or even camp fire into a real Irish fire. With Irish turf on your outdoor fire, your garden be it in London, Glasgow, Leeds or anywhere in the UK for that matter, could be mistaken for the wilds of rural Ireland.
Gathered round a turf fire with friends and family it helps make a social connection that is sadly often missing from our every day lives. Even on your own, sat by a fire outdoors with the stars overhead, it gives you time to relax and recharge. I guarantee that you will sleep much better afterwards.
Burning turf outdoors is a great way to reconnect with the natural elements and is a great way to experience even if just for a short while, a more simple way of life.
So here is to lots of good weather in the rest of May and on into the summer with ample opportunities for outdoor turf fires. Happy burning!
Spring has finally sprung here in the North West of Ireland. After the wettest winter that I can recall, it is good to get some sunshine and some warmth from the sun again. The climate here is dictated by the Atlantic Ocean which means lot of rain at any time of year but particularly more in the winter. Add in the shorter days of winter and the sense of gloom can be heightened.
Stuck indoors for a lot of the winter time people here spend their time watching TV, dvds, box sets and online too. Imagine though it what it must have been like in bygone days before TV, phones of any type, computers and even before the wireless (radio, not broadband!). What did people do for entertainment? I think that this is where the old Celtic art of storytelling came from. Having recently read the classic Irish book “The Hard Road to Klondike” in which Micheal MacGowan describes his remarkable life adventures. It starts with his childhood in the remote reaches of 1860’s Donegal. Micheal describes gatherings of neighbours in each other’s homes. Gathered round turf fires there would be storytelling and even the odd drop of poteen as the darkness fell outside. A good storyteller was a popular person in the community.
Closer to home, I can recall as a small boy my own grandma telling me stories of fairies. Like Micheal MacGowan she too came from Cloghaneely in County Donegal. She had a great story telling ability and I actually believed that she went on picnics in the caves in the hills above her family’s homestead and shared her hard boiled eggs with the wee folk. She had the gift of painting a picture with words. Even yet when I return to that part of Donegal I look up at the hillside looking for signs of the fairies! I have no doubt that her upbringing was hard but she made it sound idyllic.
Interestingly enough, my grandma was good friends with Micheal MacGowan’s nieces. I think they went to school together in Gort an Choirce (Gortahork). The two nieces went on to run the village’s Post Office and and I can remember going there with my grandma. As soon as she entered the Post Office she reverted to Irish, her native language. This amazed me as my grandma had left Donegal at the age of 16 to work in Scotland only returning to Donegal each summer. She may have physically left Donegal to make a new life in Scotland, ultimately raising a family there, but Donegal never left her.
My grandma passed away nineteen years ago in April 1997, and one of her legacies was to instill a love of Donegal in me and an appreciation of Celtic Culture. When I picture her now, I see her in her wrap around jacket style pinney and shuttling back and forward to her scullery (that’s what she called her kitchen) to fetch never ending pots of tea, sandwiches and Jamaica ginger cake. She really was like Mrs Doyle from Father Ted! She could also set and keep a great fire going, I guess that is something I also picked up from her as well. Eileen McGee was some woman for one woman!
5 May 2016Posted by
This is our first blog posting of 2016 so it seems an appropriate time to look back at the highlights of 2015. We have compiled a list of 10 of these highlights below.
1. Our new logo was developed over the early months of 2015 and it made its debut in May 2015. It represents our brand perfectly and is now featured on website, social media pages, publicity materials and even turf sacks!
2. Cutting turf the traditional way with a spade. After much discussion, we acquired a bog and got turf cutting operations under way in late April. We endured the washout that was late May and all of June. Despite this, the first of the turf was miraculously dry and ready for home by mid July.
3. Starting this blog. Experts say you need a blog to connect with customers and grow your following. But how do you regularly write about turf? Numerous blog posts later it doesn’t appear to be a problem.
5. Getting a jeep/suv, perfect for trips to the turf bog for collecting turf. It is also the ideal vehicle for providing tours of the turf bog. It has also been ideal for coping with the winter floods here in Ireland.
6. Our sales continued to increase in 2015 and our customer base grows with repeat business rates remaining very high. A feature in the Irish Times Weekend Magazine in February gave us national coverage here in Ireland, thanks to Think6 Marketing for that opportunity.
7. The Indian Summer in October was much needed after a very wet summer. The most amazing sunsets were a nightly feature. It reminded me of why I live here and was ideal for photography.
8. In Autumn we took delivery of our custom turf sacks. These hessian sacks feature our new logo and really look the part. They can even be personalised.
9. Discovering the abandoned village of Port in Southwest Donegal. After many years of talking about it, we took a trip here in the Autumn. It didn’t disappoint with stunning views, perfect for photos. On the edge of Donegal, Ireland and Europe you can’t help but be in awe of the hardy souls who eked out a living here in bygone times.
10. Our turf shed was greatly needed as the business had outgrown the garage! It now acts as a storage facility and despatch point for courier uplifts. Thanks to Barney O’Loughlin for the construction and our very own PeAt Shop Boys for the official opening.
It’s been a while since the last blog posting. This can be put down to lack of available time as our orders have gone through the roof or should that be up the chimney?
November was our busiest November ever and the second busiest month ever. From November the momentum has carried us into December the most hectic month or should I say the busiest 3 weeks of the year.
Until our Christmas delivery ordering deadline of 2pm on Sunday 20th December the turf orders will (if the first 7 days of the month are anything to go by) keep flying in and like Santa’s workshop, we are busy filling sacks (and boxes) to ensure they reach their destination by Christmas day.
It is now a case of careful stock management, time management coupled with marketing and customer care to ensure a slick seasonal operation. It’s a good feeling when loyal customers from previous festive seasons return to us with a seasonal turf order.
Getting through this hectic period is a bit like undertaking a sporting challenge. Lots of preparation and eating the right food (lay off the seasonal stodge which is conducive to sofa sitting) and avoiding alcohol (I have now removed that box of French wine from the house I opened at the end of November…hic). The secret is to stay sharp, retain a sense of humour and realise that the finishing line is close.
To keep the focus when packing orders a variety of music has been downloaded to my phone and is played in the turf shed. Everything from the Human League (love the 80’s), Betty Boo (remember her?) to Calvin Harris (he’s good but not a patch on the PeAt Shop Boys) is on the playlist. Well, everything except Daniel O’Donnell, sorry Daniel. It’s amazing how much more efficiently boxes can be packed with turf when you are listening to Tinie Tempah. I bet Tinie’s marketing people haven’t identified middle aged male turf merchants in rural Ireland as a potential fanbase.
Being busy at this time of year keeps me off the sofa and allows me to miss out on televisual feasts such as X-Factor and I’m a Celebrity. That said, I did (out of curiosity) watch Strictly Come Dancing to see Daniel O’Donnell but I think he knew I couldn’t watch it much beyond November so he deliberately got himself eliminated. If he had stayed in Strictly until the final I think a lot of turf orders would have gone unfulfilled. And there you were thinking his elimination was purely down to his dancing ability.
There will be the odd late night and early morning along the way but come 20th December and the last order is ready for despatch there will be a sense of satisfaction that is hard to beat. Bit like crossing a finishing line in a lot of respects. So, if you have placed your order thanks very much, your custom is very much appreciated. If you are still swithering about placing an order you still have just over 12 days to visit www.mcandrewstore.com
Everyone has a story to tell and the same is true in business too. Here at McAndrew’s Store we think it is important to make connection with our customers and the wider Irish diaspora. Regular readers of this blog (there must be at least one?!) will know about our travails in the bog, constant weather watching and fixation with fire.
There is one area that we have neglected and it is one that has been niggling at me. It is the story of turf itself. If you are Irish then chances are then that you will be able identify with trips to the bog, battles with midgies and hard labour on hot summer days. But what about the folk who don’t have that direct connection? I’m no ecologist but here is a very short explanation of how turf came to be a fuel synonymous with Ireland.
The bushcraft expert Ray Mears, when asked who he would most like to meet, replied the man or woman who discovered fire. I can see where Ray is coming from. In a similar vein I would like to meet the man or woman who discovered that you could cut sods from a saturated peat bog, dry them out and then burn those very same sods of turf as a fuel. Now that individual was a smart operator and was the original forward planner when it came to winter fuel.
In Ireland there are two types of turf (or peat) bogs. In the Midlands (typically Counties Westmeath, Offaly, Laiois) are what are known as raised bogs. These were formed naturally from small lakes which were slowly, over thousands of years choked by reeds which encroached in to the lake. The reeds trapped debris and vegetation, enabling plants to grow and form a marshy/peaty ground. Over time the lake disappeared totally leaving a raised bog in its place. Today these raised bogs such as the Bog of Allen are cut to produce turf. On an industrial scale, Bord na Mona, use specialised machinery to mill the bog to collect the turf dust. This dust is then compressed in a factory into peat briquettes.
The second type of bog is the blanket bog. This type of bog is a common feature of the landscape here in the North West of Ireland. Humans have played a key role in the formation of the blanket bog over many thousands of years. Rewind to 4000B.C. and Ireland was covered in forest. By 2500 BC humans had cleared much of the forest for grazing of animals and early agriculture. Primarily these early farmers cleared the hill tops and mountainsides first as they were less densely forested. However soils were thin on these hillsides and once the tree cover was lost, much of the nutrients were washed away leaving an acidic type soil behind with poor drainage. As these early farmers made further progress into the forests clearing them and gaining better land in the valleys below they soon forgot about the hillsides. Heathers and rushes began to sprout in these areas on the acidic leached soil. As these plants died they did not quickly decompose and therefore a layer of peat started to form. A typical blanket bog untouched by human activity will at the point of maturity be as deep as 3m/10ft. That’s a lot of plant debris and takes thousands of years, after all a peat bog grows at a rate of 1 millimeter a year.
Cutting of the blanket bogs started some time in the 17th century here in Ireland and increased to a peak in the 1950’s. However since the 1980’s cutting of the blanket bog has increased again as people sought an alternative to coal and oil for domestic heating. The blanket bog is typically cut by individual families who use the turf as their own domestic fuel.
So the next time someone asks you whether the McAndrew’s Store Turf you are burning is from a raised bog or a blanket bog, you can look them in the eye and say “blanket bog”.