Friday, March 14, 2008
Irish Donkeys in time for St. Patrick's Day
You can find working donkeys, mostly in the West of Ireland but not like in the old days when roads were very poor and so were many of the people. Donkeys make the perfect work mates as they walk at about the same pace as people and tend to be able to do more work for their size than any other beast of burden except mules. Donkeys are thrifty and don't need the high protein a horse or pony requires. They are patient and long suffering to boot. The Donkey was the lawn tractor/wheel barrow in old Ireland. There are still some today being used to haul fuel for the home fires but very few.
Turf was the fuel that donkeys hauled and is also known as peat. It is partially decomposed vegetable matter. It is related to coal but soft. Farmers devote about a week each spring to cut enough turf to last a winter. For many centuries donkeys were used help harvest turf. The donkeys were fitted with large strong baskets called creels to carry the fuel home from the peat bogs. Sometimes a donkey put to a cart was used for larger
loads where the going was good enough for wheels.
(See the video clip below)
Men have been cutting (digging) peat from the boglands of Ireland for more than 2000 years. It is cut with a specially designed spade that allows it to be cut almost like bricks of cheese. Turf goes through a lot of different stages before it can be used as a fuel. First it's cut, then spread, and then it is "footed". Footed means that it is stood on end, and then it is "about footed" or turned around. It is then stacked when dry, then it is "dregged" (carried out of the wet bog) and taken back to the cutter's residence where it is "stacked" and "thatched" . That means it is piled and covered to keep the rain off. Farmers who cut their own turf must spend about a week each spring to harvest enough peat to last a winter.
A book of interest especially to young readers would be The Turf-Cutter's Donkey by Patricia Lynch SBN: 0340039884 http://www.amazon.com/Turf-Cutters-Donkey-Patricia-Lynch/dp/0851059007
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- I grew up in Chautauqua County, NY. I graduated from Edinboro University of Pennyslvania in 1981 with a BFA in Jewelry and Metalworking. I have been married 31 years. I currently run a small business with my husband. We both enjoy the outdoors and animals a great deal and live on a tiny farm in Western, NY.