Ban on sale of turf would ‘devastate the poorest of people living alone’

In Kerry, the tradition of going to the bog is as deep as the layers of turf itself

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said that removing the turf from Ireland was like removing wine from the French. In Kerry, turf has a grip like no where else, and the vision of a Kerry without the turf is like a fire without smoke.

The bogs of Iveragh were so vast they were mapped in 1811 for their potential by a Scottish engineer trying to deduce a use. Later, they generated electricity powering the homes and the then industries in Cahersiveen and south Kerry.

Ballylongford on the river Shannon, across from the country's biggest electricity generating station, the coal-burning Moneypoint, is a microcosm of the local and indeed the national energy debate.

"Bally", as the late Brendan Kennelly fondly called his home town, is where wind, turf, and liquefied natural gas (LNG) collide and there are and continue to be political fires.


The former Fine Gael minister, Jimmy Deenihan, lost his seat partly over the bitter turf war after having to introduce legislation to ban turf machines entering a nearby raised bog dogged his career.

The political fires over turf are still hot.

Fine Gael councillor Michael Foley, from Ballylongford in the Listowel electoral area, said households in north Kerry were "totally reliant on turf" and the ban, announced in April and due in September, "does not amount to a just transition" as required.

“We rely on turf, myself included,” he said.

Fine Gael councillor Mike Kennelly wants "the Greens to put the turf out to grass" on the turf.

Mr Deenihan admits the turf fight, which he inherited after previous minister for Michael D Higgins managed a 10-year deferral, was a factor in his losing his seat.

“The law had been agreed 10 years previously and the moratorium was up,” he said. “It cost me some votes.”

In the Dáil in response to a question by Kerry Fine Gael TD Brendan Griffin, Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan said people's personal turbary rights would be respected but turf – Mr Ryan called it "sod peat" – could not be distributed or sold under the terms of the ban on solid fuel burning.

Social aspect

Paudie McNamara, a second-generation plant hire and turf-cutting contractor in Ballylongford, said it will “devastate the poorest of people living alone”.

Mr McNamara gives the example of one of his customers, a woman living alone whose sole income is her pension. Each year she borrows €300 from the credit union for her turf.

“What is this woman to do now? She is used to turf, not coal? My heart goes out to her. It is beyond belief that Eamon Ryan would do this,” Mr McNamara said.

Then there is the social aspect – the tradition of going to the bog is as deep as the layers of turf itself.

“It’s a bit of therapy,” Mr McNamara said.

Turf-cutter Mossie O’Leary also questions the environmental claims.

Speaking on Radio Kerry, he said those having to give up the turf will end up having to buy coal.

“I don’t believe turf is as big a polluter as oil,” said Mr O’Leary.

Like others, he touches on the importance of the Kerry tradition of turf fires:

“They are taking away a tradition that has been there for generations.”

This is no idle talk in north Kerry: north Kerry people have become expert at energy and have been at the coal face of the whole debate with almost two decades. Wind, turf, Shannon LNG are all coalface issues, literally.


Ballylongford is dotted – shockingly so to the unaccustomed – with huge wind turbines. Some of the giants are within a kilometre of houses.

Locals beset with noise and flicker when there is wind see little benefit certainly not in their ESB bills.

The whole Listowel and north Kerry area was controversially zoned by councillors as suitable for wind and there is bitter debate over the continued construction all the scenic Ballylongford to Ballybunion shoreline.

On days like calm Spy Wednesday, with the wind turbines still and unmoving, it is Moneypoint and coal that is keeping the show on the road, they will tell you.

In the light of the war in the Ukraine and the urgency for LNG terminals, the hesitancy by Government seems almost tragic blindness.

Meantime, away from the political heat, and with the turf staying in the ground, and coal running out, what is going to heat the homes in north Kerry if the wind will not blow this winter?