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”.Posted by
In a departure from our normal style of blog post, the following is a press release we issued in September, it gives a wee flavour (or should that be aroma?) of what we are about here at the Store….
In the village of Belleek where Fermanagh meets Donegal is a unique rural enterprise called McAndrew’s Store. The store has taken the traditional Irish fuel of turf (peat) and has developed a range of products that are sold online at www.mcandrewstore.com and delivered direct to the customer via courier.
For people living in the UK and who crave the unique aroma and warmth of a traditional Irish turf fire this is the ideal solution. McAndrew’s Store sells turf, peat briquettes and can even package turf in a hessian sack which can then be personalised. Turf can even be matched with Whiskey, Guinness and even Tea for quirky gift solutions, perfect all year round.
The Store was developed by the McAndrew family, who saw an opportunity to give people who were seeking to recapture the Ireland of their childhood or summer holidays with the opportunity to purchase Irish turf delivered direct to them by courier. Martin McAndrew explains “The business has been growing steadily over the past couple of years with a strong customer base established in the Irish diaspora living in England, Scotland and Wales. When we first started, our peak sales were in the winter months and the summers were quieter, but more and more people are now discovering that turf is a safe fuel for the firepit and chiminea on the patio with the result that this summer has been especially busy. So we have now become a year round business.”
A quality niche product backed up with genuine customer care is the offering at McAndrew’s Store. “We are a cottage enterprise so we naturally provide great customer care which helps build lasting customer relationships and repeat business. People like that when they phone us that they don’t have to press 1 for sales etc, and that their call is answered by a real person!” stated Martin McAndrew
The Store is a real family effort with the junior members of the clan serving “apprenticeships” helping out with packing and of course out on the bog, earning pocket money in the process! They even help with product development and marketing activities.
This summer the McAndrew’s headed off to the bog to cut turf the traditional way with a spade. Martin McAndrew explains “We decided to experience for ourselves the old way of cutting turf. It turned out to be a great way of connecting more with our customers with us posting photos of our endeavours on our social media pages and we even started a blog. Our followers on Facebook and Twitter were commenting that it was bringing back memories for them.”
With an ever expanding customer base McAndrew’s Store has even got high profile patrons with Amanda Lamb, presenter of Channel 4’s Place in the Sun now a repeat customer. Martin McAndrew is looking forward to growing the business further “With so many people with Irish roots living in the UK we are confident of connecting more people with Ireland with our turf.”
So as we head further into Autumn and if you are looking to enjoy traditional Irish turf fire in the comfort of your own home please pay a visit to www.mcandrewstore.comPosted by
Autumn is upon us. The signs are creeping up on us. The leaves are changing colour and there is a chill in the evening air and the nights are drawing in too.
Knowing that it will get much darker before it gets light again next Spring is a sobering thought. But generations of Irish folk have had to cope with these seasonal changes. So what gets us through?
For myself a turf fire in the winter months is a comfort. The warming glow from the stove or fire makes a real difference. Whilst nature goes to sleep for a few months the fire comes to life and becomes the focal point of the home.
A nip of whiskey whilst sitting next to the stove is a welcome treat in winter and helps keep out the cold or so I have convinced myself!
A mug of tea is equally enjoyable whilst fireside. Ireland has a great relationship with tea, Mrs Doyle of Father Ted fame is a case in point. As an aside, I have even have heard stories that in years gone merchants in Dublin were the premier tea blenders taking the finest teas from India and preparing them for sale in Ireland and the UK.
Talking of Mrs Doyle, the Father Ted box set gets well viewed during the winter months. Laughter is a key method for lifting the gloom. As Father Jack would surely say “Drink, feck, girls, turf fire”
Keeping active, whether that is packing turf boxes, walking the dog, generally making the most of any daylight and all the better if it’s a dry day. Even if its not dry the thought of getting back to the fireside to dry off is a positive incentive. Continuing with the outdoor theme it makes sense to dress appropriately which in NW Ireland means rain gear. Wear the right outer gear and you will be fine. As comedian Billy Connolly says there is no such as thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes.
Going with the positive theme, shortly after the shortest day of 21 December you can start to see the first signs of the days lengthening. You know that spring is coming then. Interestingly the longest day of the year 21 June demonstrates the amazing light we get here in NW Ireland with almost 24 hour daylight in midsummer. As a result it’s little wonder that so many photogaphers have made the far north west of Ireland their home. These same photographers are out in all weathers in winter to capture the amazing force of the Atlantic storms. Just witnessing one of these storms is life affirming.
Plus the older I get the faster the years and seasons go by. As they say, nothing lasts forever, so rest assured that the winter darkness is only a temporary state of nature. In the meantime, get the fire started and throw a sod of turf on for good measure!Posted by
Looking back at the bog experience 2015 I feel a bit wiser after my first experience at cutting turf in the traditional manner with a spade. Here are the top lessons I have learned:
Turf is essentially a simplistic fuel cut from the ground, dried and brought home for domestic use. Selling it online at www.mcandrewstore.com adds in some extra considerations as we despatch the turf from our base here in Belleek in NW Ireland to our customers throughout UK.
Getting it ready for delivery to our customers is a whole other process. Over time, we have perfected the means of packaging, we settled on the twin wall cardboard boxes as they offer better durability for travelling in courier’s vans, planes and boats. One customer back in the early days informed us that urban foxes had ripped open the single wall cardboard boxes of turf she had left in her garden shed. It’s funny what you learn and adapt accordingly.
Packing the boxes is an art form, almost like building Lego, in order to fit as much turf in as we can and to help keep the outer carton rigid. It’s lucky then that the two apprentices are master Lego builders.
The sacks we use for our turf are hessian for that rustic and traditional look. We could have gone with a lower cost option such as a polypropolene net bags but the end product just wouldn’t look as good.
We use Parcelforce as our courier for UK deliveries. We are on first name terms with their driver, Eamonn, who collects our boxes and keeps us right on packaging do’s and dont’s. We have tried using other courier companies, we wont name them, but suffice to say that whilst they may charge less than Parcelforce, they over promise and under deliver, literally.
Customer care and marketing go hand in hand at the Store. It goes without saying that our mantra is to “treat customers like we’d like to be treated ourselves” and therefore customer care is very important to us. This in turn helps with our marketing as many of our customers are repeat customers and recommend us to friends and family. We recognise that we wont always get things right but so long as we listen to our customers and work to resolve any issues we will stay on the right track.
In tandem with our customer care, are our marketing efforts. If the internet revolutionised commerce and the ability to sell items online, social media such as Facebook and Twitter have transformed marketing. We use both Facebook and Twitter as means of letting our customers know about what we are up to and more than often how we are coping with the weather! We are also regular advertisers in The Irish Voice newspaper in Scotland which connects the Irish diaspora to all things back in their native land.
We also e-mail our customer database on a regular basis to keep them informed of promotions and news from the Store.
All this takes time and commitment and above all we are conscious that a purchase from McAndrew’s Store is an indulgence and luxury purchase for our customers. Therefore we are confident that our quality products and genuine customer care continue to meet and exceed our customers expectations.Posted by
Back in March this year before we took on a turf bog for spade cutting I was anxious that I could become a slave to the bog and miss out on other more leisurely summer activities such as cycling, kayaking and surfing.
However I took the plunge and in late April we were cutting turf with a spade. By mid May and despite it being a cooler May than normal we had all the turf cut. I felt fit as a fiddle at that stage, physical exercise, clean air and a clear head. However I did not bank on the remainder of May and much of June being a wash out. Footing was done in between Atlantic depressions and remarkably the drying process still got underway. By the first weekend in July and some glorious weather, the turf was dry and we got two thirds of our turf home.
Now in early August as I look out at yet more rain and grey skies, my trips to the bog are none too frequent. The long range forecast at this stage doesn’t offer much hope either.
Yet I am lucky, we are now selling the turf that was dried and transported home by early July. There is turf that was cut by the machine in June that people haven’t even had a chance to foot as yet. Some of it is still lying on the bog now submerged in water.
As an experienced turf cutter recently told me, the best drying out on the bog is in June, when the longest days and the strongest sunshine combine to great effect. Another contact in the turf cutting community, cuts his turf in early April and aims to have it all home by the longest day on 21st June. He even achieved this remarkable feat this year.
Even in early August, dare I say it, you can see the days shortening and this is all the more noticeable with the overcast conditions. The stove in the house was lit more frequently than the firepit out on the patio during July!
The cooler summer weather has had its benefits though, I think I can only recall one evening in the bog where I had to give up after encountering the dreaded midgies. Every cloud and all that! I was also concerned that I could sicken my two apprentices with over exposure to the turf bog but in truth neither of them have had to be dragged there. In fact our visits to the turf bog are so infrequent that they do not view it as a chore.
In conclusion I recognise that I have not become a slave to the turf bog as I feared. I have however realised that more than ever all my summer outdoor activities are determined by the weather.
As Ray Mears, the bushcraft expert says, a house without a fire is not a home. We agree with Ray’s thoughts on this and would add that a patio is not an outdoor living space without a fire.
Year on year we are increasing our sales of turf in the main summer months. The reason being people are discovering the benefits of burning turf in a firepit, chiminea, camp fire and even the barbecue. As well as a warmth that will keep you outdoors long after the sun has set, turf is a non sparking fuel that wont burn down your pagoda and wards off unwanted guests such as midgies and mosquitoes.
Burning turf on your patio, will impress your neighbours and visitors. They are sure to be captivated by the smell and marvel at the fact that you are burning what appears to be soil. In other words, it helps with small talk and reduces those long awkward silences.
It is especially useful on wild camping adventures and it’s hard to beat relaxing fireside after a day in the great outdoors. I have even used a turf fueled camp fire to cook mussels collected from the shores of the Atlantic Ocean by my youngest boy, fire and food, what more could you want?
So the next time you think that a turf is a fuel just for the winter months, think again.
For all that, here in the NW of Ireland as I type this blog, it has been lashing rain all day and a mere 13 degrees. I wish I could be lighting the firepit outdoors this evening but alas I will have to make do with the stove!