Corpus of Electronic Texts Edition
The Natural History of Ireland (Author: Gerard Boate)

chapter 13

Of the Heaths and Moors, or Bogs in Ireland.

Of the moory, or boggy Heaths.

HAVING spoke of the fruitful lands of Ireland, it followeth that we treat of those which are neither fit for the bringing of corn, or feeding of cattle; some being such for want or good soil, and others thro' superfluous moisture.

Of the first sort are those places where the ground consisting of mere rock, sand, or earth, naturally unfruitful hath no good mold at the top sufficient for corn or grass to root, and to draw convenient nourishment out of it, the ground being bare, or over-grown only with moss, heath, furze, brakes, thorns, rushes, and the like.

The places whose ground is bare, are nothing frequent, nor of any great bigness in Ireland, and rather on the sea side than within the land. But the other are very common throughout the whole kingdom, not only in the mountains (many whereof do for the most part consist of nothing else) but also in the hilly quarters, the plain countries, and in many places of great extent, taking up some miles in length and breadth. Most of these wastes in the plain countries and valleys, as also some on the mountains and hills, are moory and boggy, fit for to dig turf out, to the great commodity of the inhabitants, in places where other fuel is wanting. So that these parts of land, although barren and producing no kind of thing for the food of man or beasts, may not be reckoned in the number of those which are altogether unprofitable, being of good use in the parts far distant from the sea, where they can have no sea coals, and where woods are wanting, nor well live. Some of these dry, or red bogs, as commonly they are called (the first, in comparison of those whereof presently shall be spoken, the other, because the earth in them for the most part is reddish, and overgrown with moss of the same colour) are in some parts of a vast extent,


instance that by the Shannon side, beginning hard by Athlone, and following the course of the river down towards Limerick, which being two or three miles broad in most parts, is said to be upwards of fifty miles in length.

Of the dry Heaths.

THERE are some dry heaths in Ireland, for the most part on the mountains, and very few in the plain countries, to the contrary of England, where, as well as in Netherland, Germany, and other countries, those heaths on plain ground are very common in sundry parts of the land, and many of them of a great extent, having very many miles in compass; and where any such dry heaths are in Ireland, the land for the most part is not altogether barren, but grassy between and at the bottom of the heath, so as the heath being burnt (a thing much used in Ireland both by the English and Irish) the land bringeth reasonable good and sweet grass, fit for sheep to feed on, and with a little extraordinary labour and costs brought to bear corn.

Others of these heaths are grassy, having the grass growing not all over among the heath, but in spaces by it selfe as upon the heath between the town of Kildare and the Liffy, which is famous over all Ireland by the name of the Currough of Kildare, being a hilly ground, at its highest near the said town, from thence towards the Liffy descending by degrees, about three miles long, and two or three broad, divided into rows, of heath and grass, which being of no great breadth, and many in number, do lye by the side one of another throughout the whole earth, each of those rows extending it self in length from the one end of the Currough to the other, the rows of heath are about a stone cast over in some places, in some more, in others less: but those of grass a good deal narrower than the others, being always alike green and dry, in the winter as well as the summer, and cloathed with short grass, but very sweet and good, very convenient: for sheep to feed on, of the which always in time of peace, a very great number is grazing here, the whole Currough being a common.

Of the wet Bogs.

THE places barren through superfluous moisture, are bogs called by the Irish Moones, whereof Ireland is full. There is three or four different sorts of them, grassy, watry, muddy, and hassocky, as appeareth more largely by the following description. But the English Irish have given the name of bogs, not only to the wet, of which we are now to treat, but as well to the turf moors of all sorts, not excepting the red bog, which in most places is firm enough to bear a man, or unshod nagge going over it, but is not for any great weight. But we shall in the following chapters speak in order of the four sorts of wet bogs, which above we have mentioned, and afterwards in its due place treat of the turf and red moors, as occasion shall require.


Of the grassy Bogs

THE grassy bogs are all over covered with grass, looking fair and pleasant, as if they were dry ground and goodly meadows, whereby many, who not knowing the nature of those places, and because of the greenness suspecting no evil, go into them to their great trouble, and many times to the extreme danger of their lives, for the earth being very spungy can bear no weight, but as well men as beasts, as soon as they set foot on it do sink to the ground, some knee deep, others to the waste, and many over head and ears: for all or most bogs in Ireland having underneath a hard and firm gravel are not of an equal depth, which in some is only of two or three feet, in others five, six or more, insomuch that those who fall into the deepest places of these bogs, can hardly escape, but for the most part do perish, being pitifully smothered.

Some of these bogs do so dry up in the summer that they may be passed without danger, the which in particular falleth out in the great mountains in Munster in the county of Kerry, called Slew Logher, upon which all kind of cattle do graze the summer long being every where full of good and sweet grass, knee deep in most places, whereof not the tenth part being eaten (for if all the cattle of that province were driven thither and left all the summer upon the place it would hardly be consumed) the rest is spoiled when the wet weather cometh in, and stayeth the rain water from descending, through which the ground rotteth in that manner, that all winter long it is unpassable for men and beasts.

But the deepest bogs are unpassable in the summer as well as in the winter, yet most of them have firm places, in narrow paths, and in some larger parcels; by the means whereof those, unto whom they are known, can cross them from one side to another, where others who are not used to them do not know in what part to set one step; in which nimble trick, called commonly treading of the bogs, most Irish are very expert, as having been trained up in it from their infancy.

The firm places in passing, or but lightly shaking them, tremble for a great way, which hath given them the name of shaking bogs; and where they are but of a small compass, quagmires.

Of the watry Bogs, and of the miry Bogs

THE watry bogs are likewise clothed with grass, but the water doth not sink altogether into them, as into the former, but remaineth in part standing on the top (in the same manner as in some of the grassy bogs, and in all the low pastures and meadows of Holland) by reason whereof these bogs are not dangerous; for every one at the first sight may easily discern them from the firm ground.


These two sorts are in many parts found apart, and in others mix'd and interlaced, and likewise parcels both of the one and the other are found up and down in the moory heaths and red bogs.

Both these sorts, as well the watry as the green bogs, yield for the most part very good turf, much better than the red bogs, whereof more shall be spoken hereafter.

The miry bogs do consist of mere mud and mire, with very little or no grass upon them. These are commonly of a very small compass, whereas most part of the other two are of a notable extent, and some of several miles in length and breadth.

Of the hassocky bogs.

HASSOCKY bogs we call those, whose ground being miry and muddy is covered over with water a foot or two deep, in some places more, in others less; so as one would sooner take them for loughs, were it not that they are very thick overspread with little tufts or islets the which consisting of reeds, rushes, high soure grass, and sometimes with little shrubs, for the most part are very small, and have but a few feet in compass; some of them being of the bigness of a reasonable big chamber. These little islets or tufts being so many in number, and spread over all the bog, there remaineth nothing between them but great plashes of water (in regard whereof these bogs might well be called plashy bogs) in some places wider, in others narrower, so as from the one, men may well step or leap to the other; that which those who are expert in it know how to do very nimble, and so to run from one part of the bog to another; for the roots of the rushes, reeds, and other things growing on those tufts, are so interwoven, that they can easily bear a man who lightly treadeth upon them, altho' they have very little earth, and are wondrous spungy, so as they, when the water being drained, the bog is dried round about, may easily be pluck'd from the ground.

The English inhabiting in Ireland have given these tufts the name of hassocks, and this sort of bogs, hassocky bogs: of which bogs Munster and other provinces are not altogether free, but most of them are found in Leinster, especially in King's and Queen's county, where also the other sorts of bogs are very common; whereas otherwise Connaught is generally fuller of bogs than any of the other provinces.