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

chapter 14

Original of the Bogs in Ireland, and the Manner of draining them practised there by the English Inhabitants

Of the Original of Bogs in this Country.

VERY few of the wet bogs in Ireland are such by any natural property, or primitive constitution, but through the superfluous moisture that in length of time hath been gathered therein, whether it have its original within the place it self, or become thither from without. The first of these two cases taketh place in the most part of the grassy bogs, which ordinarily are occasion'd by springs; the which arising in great number out of same parcel of ground, and finding no issue, do by degrees soak through, and bring it to that rottenness and spunginess, which nevertheless is not a little encreased through the rain water coming to that of the springs. But the two other sorts, viz. the watry and hassocky bogs, are in some places caused by the rain water only, as in others thro' brooks and rivulets running into them, and in some thro' both together; whereunto many times also cometh the cause of the grassy bogs, to wit, the store of springs within the very ground, and all this in places, where or through the situation of them, and by reason of their even plainness or hollowness, or through some other impediment, the water hath no free passage away, but remaineth within them, and so by degrees turneth them into bogs.

Retchlessness of the Irish, Cause of most of the Bogs. Of Trees found in Bogs.

So that it may easily be comprehended, that whoso could drain the water, and for the future prevent the gathering thereof, might reduce most of the bogs in Ireland to firm land, and preserve them in that condition. But this hath never been known to the Irish, or if it was, they never went about it, but to the contrary let daily more and more of their good land grow boggy through their carelesness, whereby also most of the bogs at first were caused.

This being otherwise evident enough, may further be confirmed by the whole bodies of trees, which ordinarily are found by the turf diggers very deep in the ground, as well of other trees, as of hazels: likewise they meet sometimes with the very nuts themselves in great quantity, the which looking very fair and


whole at the outside, as if they came but newly from the tree, have kernel within the same, through the great length of time being consumed and turned into filth.

And it is worthy of observation, that trees, and trunks of trees, are in this manner found not only in the wet bogs, but even in the heathy ones or red bogs, as by name in that by the Shannon side, whereof hath been spoken above, in which bog the turf diggers many times do find whole fir trees deep in the ground; whether it be that those trees, being fallen, are by degrees sunk deeper and deeper (the earth of that bog almost every where being very loose and spungy, as it is in all such bogs) or that the earth in length of time be grown over them.

Draining of the Bogs practised by the English in Ireland.

BUT as the Irish have been extreme careless in this, so the English, introducers of all good things in Ireland (for which that brutish nation from time to time hath rewarded them with unthankfulness, hatred, and envy, and lately with a horrible and bloody conspiracy, tending to their utter destruction) have set their industry at work for to remedy it, and having considered the nature of the bogs, and how possible it was to reduce many of them unto good land, did some years since begin to go about it all over the land, and that with very good success, so as I know gentlemen, who turn'd into firm land three or four hundred acres of bog, and in case that this detestable rebellion had not come between, in a few years there would scarce have been left one acre of bog, of what was in the lands and possession of the English, except only those places whose situation is altogether repugnant to draining, because that the water either through the hollowness of the place, as in the inclosed vallies and deep dales between the hills and mountains, or through the too great evenness and plainness of the ground, not inclining to any one part more than another, cannot be drawn away at all, and except such parcels as needs must have been kept turf, and red bogs who are very unfit for draining, for the trenches being made, the earth on both sides will sink into them again, and choak them up.

Profit reap'd by the draining of Bogs.

THIS draining of the bogs as it tended not a little to the general good of the whole land, by amending of the air (whereof we shall have occasion to say more in some other place) and otherwise, so it brought great profit unto the authors, for the land or soil of the bogs being in most places good of it self, and there besides greatly enriched by the lying still and the soaking in of the water for the space of so many years, the same being dried through the draining of the water, is found to be very fit either to have corn sowed upon, or to be turn'd into pastures; making also excellent meadows, so as those, who have tried that, do affirm, that the meadows gain'd out of the bogs might be compared with the very best of their other meadows, yea many times surpassed the same in goodness and this took place chiefly in the grassy bogs or shaking bogs, whose


fruitfulness in this particular, and in the plentiful production of very sweet and deep grass, after the draining of the water, was very wonderful; and all this without any other trouble or costs bestowed upon these meadows, than that they dunged them the first year, to warm them the better and the sooner, and more thoroughly to amend the remainders of that coldness and rawness contracted through that long and constant continuance of the water upon them; after which once dunging, afterwards for a good many years nothing else needed to be done to them.

The Manner of draining the Bogs.

THIS draining of the bogs was performed in the manner following. On that side of the bog, where the ground was somewhat sloping, they cut a broad deep trench, beginning it in the firm ground, and advancing it unto the entrance of the bog, into which trench the water would sink out of the next parts of the bog in great abundance, and that many times so suddenly, as if a great sluice had been opened, so as the labourers were constrained to run out of it with all speed, lest the force of the water should overwhelm and carry them away. Some part of the bog being by this means grown reasonably dry within a short space of time, opportunity thereby was ministred to advance the trench further into the bog; and so by little and little they went on with it until at last they carry'd it quite across the bog, from the one side to the other: and having done this, they made a great many lesser trenches out of the main one, on both sides of the same; the which bringing the water from all the parts of the bog unto the main trench, did in a little while empty the bog of all its superfluous moisture, and turn it into good and firm ground.

Observation about the Falling and Settling of the Bogs at their Draining.

THE green or grassy bogs, the which having all their moisture and water inwardly, are thereby wonderfully swelled and puft up, use by means of this draining to fall very much, and to grow a great deal lower, and that not only apparently, so that the ground which before the draining was five or six feet high, cometh at last to be not above two or three feet high, but sometimes also suddenly, and within the space of four and twenty, or eight and forty hours; whereas ordinarily that useth to come to pass in greater length of time; and although the ground by falling in this manner, may seem thereby to have been subject to return to its former boggy condition on the least occasion; nevertheless there was no danger of that, as long as the trenches were kept open, and thereby the passage kept free for the water, which from time to time would from all parts of the drained bog be sinking into them. This water, as at the first draining, so ever after, was by the main trench carry'd unto some brook, river, or lough, according as one or other of them was next at hand, and the situation of the land would give opportunity.