Turf has been an important source of fuel since the demise of the native woodlands that occurred during the Plantation, most especially for the poorer classes who could not afford the higher price of coal. The sheer number of bogs around Lough Neagh meant that turf was plentiful and provided an income to those living around its shores. The cutting and selling of turf was usually undertaken by the cottiers, who had no land but instead rented strips or ‘banks’ of bog from landowners who had been granted ‘turbary rights’, i.e. the right to cut peat on a small tract of land. Despite the poverty of the cottiers many kept a horse or donkey and cart to transport the turf from the bogs to the markets. Turf from the western shore was sold at Coagh, Stewartstown and Magherfelt and transported via boat to the eastern shore. There it was sold in the parishes of Glenavy, Camlin and Killead along with turf from the eastern Montiaghs. For those too poor to afford even turf, tree trunks and ‘moss fir’ recovered from the bog were used to provide light and heat. (Image: Stacking turf near Randalstown.)
After WWII turf production in Northern Ireland declined steadily due to a lowering in the cost of coal and oil and had all but disappeared by the 1970’s. The introduction of tractor drawn turf-cutting machines in 1980’s led not only to an increase in the amount of peat cut but also the demise of the hand-cutting tradition. In general though, the amount of peat cut continues to decline, and is extracted more for the garden market economy rather that for fuel.