A uniquely Irish mode of transportation

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For centuries, Irish homes have been heated by peat bogs. Could cycling through them, on the other hand, help fuel a slow travel revolution and save this landscape?

I encountered more sheep than cars while cycling The Bog Road through Roundstone Bog in Connemara, County Galway, as the free-range animals wandered across both the road and the spongy landscape. I pulled over to the side of the road to take a photo, and mud oozed around my foot. Land and water are inextricably linked in Ireland’s peat bogs.

As I pedalled deeper into the bog, I noticed turves (long skinny peat bricks) stacked into a temple-like dome to dry in the wind – a man-made monument that echoed the distant peaks. As the road passed through villages, houses along the roadside kept turves in open-fronted sheds in their gardens. Cycling through Roundstone Bog for less than an hour, It was clear that peat cutting is not a bygone era, but rather an integral part of Irish culture today.

Wind blows across the Atlantic Ocean to western Ireland, bringing frequent rain that feeds peat bogs, a type of wetland where dead plant material does not decay but instead accumulates slowly. Peat, when harvested and dried, is a fuel that has kept Irish homes warm for centuries, infused whisky with flavour for centuries, and served as a custodian of Ireland’s history.

Peat, which covers roughly 20% of Ireland, was a fuel tenant farmers could harvest from the bogs during the 18th century, when most of Ireland’s forests had already been cleared. Peat cutting became an industry, and as it was extracted from the depths, artefacts from previous cultures, such as jewellery and even human bodies, were discovered. However, this ecosystem is more than just a vast archaeological site; it is also an important resource that benefits the planet, as peat bogs hold twice as much carbon as all of the world’s woodlands combined. Peat bogs store carbon for millennia, whereas forests store it for decades or centuries. 

Connemara is an especially appealing cycling destination due to the low-lying landscape, which allows roads to follow flat routes between mountains. I set out on a five-day, 200-kilometer ride through the area’s small country roads and peated landscape, exposing myself to the wind and rain that have shaped Connemara’s culture, as well as the scents and sounds of the peat bog itself.

To begin, I took a bus from Galway City to avoid cycling the busiest section of the N59 (the national primary road that runs through Connemara) and arrived in Clifden, the “capital of Connemara,” where I rented a bicycle from Clifden Bike Shop. Cycling through Roundstone Bog, following straight lines where peat had been hand-harvested Turves were cut and stacked as evidence of human intervention in the landscape. But nature was also at work. Plants, mosses, and lichens thrived on exposed peat, reclaiming it as a peat bog. 

As we drove east along local road L1205, hollows left by peat removal had refilled with bog water. I knelt down and squeezed a handful of bright-green sphagnum moss from the water’s edge. Water poured out and down my wrist. Sphagnum moss has the ability to hold more than 12 times its own weight in water while also acidifying it. It’s also an ecosystem engineer because it creates peat bog, and it was regrowing here after a few months of small-scale peat cutting.

I then went to the Pearse Cultural Centre, which has a new interpretation centre that provides insights into the local landscape as well as Patrick Pearse’s restored cottage. The Irish nationalist wrote about rural Galway with passion and nostalgia, and he led the 1916 Irish Republican Rising against British rule. Following the execution of Pearse and other rebel leaders, support for Irish independence grew, and the Irish Free State – now the Republic of Ireland – left the United Kingdom in 1922. 

A sign outside the interpretation centre attributes the changing colour of the landscape to purple moor grass and ling heather, both of which grow in shallow peat bogs. When I visited in October, the purple moor grass was golden with autumn leaves. I had missed the end-of-summer ling heather bloom, which turns the bogs mauve, but I had timed my visit perfectly to taste it.


I passed an honesty box filled with Green Bee products while cycling through the small parish of Camus Oughter. I bought some heather honey on a whim and discovered that adding Green Bee’s heather honey to tea infused it with flavour, sweetened it, and gave it viscosity and a slightly woody-floral flavour. I later emailed Green Bee’s owners and said, Donna Sturm and Edwin Smyth inquired as to why their honey was so much more complex and delicious than regular honey. 

“We can produce three different types of honey based on seasonal flower availability: summer honey, early autumn honey, and heather honey,” they explained. “Due to the blanket bogs that cover the area, there are a lot of ling heather plants growing in this part of Connemara, and this heather produces the best quality heather honey.”

Donna and Edwin were part-time beekeepers who relocated to Camus Oughter in the hopes of becoming full-time honey producers. “There is little or no use of pesticides and herbicides in the area, which could affect both our honeybees and the quality of our honey,” they explained when I asked how they chose this location. The air over this part of Connemara is thought to be the cleanest in Europe. after flying over the northern Canadian wetlands and then more than 3,000 kilometres over the Atlantic Ocean to arrive here.”