The Story Of Peat

Introduction
Traditionally, peat has been an important natural fuel source for most households in Barvas ad Brue and indeed throughout the rural communities of Lewis and Harris.  Peat cutting and harvesting was/is hard work requiring specialist skills which were/are handed down from generation to generation. 

In previous generations, the whole process had an important community aspect to it too, involving friends, relations and neighbours in the more labour intensive aspects of the process, eg. cutting the peat where a team of 3 or 4 ‘irons’ would be working together in one household’s peats.   A person from that household would then be part of the squad in another team member’s peat cutting the following day/week etc. 

Thus, nearly the entire peat supply of a typical household could be cut in one day – with the team involved over a few days/weeks cutting the annual peat supply of their neighbour, friend or relative who were part of the team.

Although reliance on peat as a fuel resource had greatly decreased over the past two decades, it is now experiencing a slight recovery as the price for the alternative, modern and more convenient fuel sources of oil, gas, coal and electricity have become significantly more expensive.

Here are the steps involved in harvesting the peat:

Stage

Photograph

Brief description of work

Fiosrachadh goirid mun obair (incl audio)

1

The peatbank in late Spring

The peatbank in late Spring lying untouched throughout the late Autumn and Winter months, since the peat was harvested the previous year.

Am pòll-mònach as t-Earrach dìreach mar a chaidh fhàgail an deidh a’ mhòine a thoirt dhachaigh an uiridh.

2

A sharp spade and peat iron are the essential tools of the job

A sharp spade and peat iron are the essential tools of the job – plus plenty muscle power and effort.

Tha an obair ag iarraidh spaid gheur agus tairgseir – còmhla ri spàrn, saothair agus dìcheall.

3

After draining the peatbanks of any lodged winter rainwater, the strenuous work of lining, cutting and removing the turf begins from the entire length of the peatbank.

After draining the peatbanks of any lodged winter rainwater, the strenuous work of lining, cutting and removing the turf begins from the entire length of the peatbank.

After draining the peatbanks of any lodged winter rainwater, the strenuous work of lining,  cutting and removing the turf begins from the entire length of the peatbank.

An deidh na puill a dhrènigeadh, bithear an uairsin a’ tòiseachadh an obair throm a’ lìonaigeadh, a’ gearradh agus a’ leigeal a cheap bho fad a phòll-mònaich.

4

Before the peat cutting could start there is the final preparatory stage of ‘cleaning’ the rough uneven soil/peat layer left over from removing the turf.

Before the peat cutting could start there is the final preparatory stage of ‘cleaning’ the rough uneven soil/peat layer left over from removing the turf. This exposed the pure peat surface which measures about 20in (500mm) across.

Mu dheireadh, bithear a’ glanadh uachdair a phùill no an carcair mar a theirear ris – deiseal airson a’ tòiseachdh a’ buain a’ mhòine.  Tha leud ‘a’ charcair’ mu 20” (500mm) tarsainn – agus gheibhear mu chòig fàdan slàn as.


5

The peat cutting now begins.

The peat cutting now begins.  Depending on location, the top peat layer could be quite tough, dry and difficult to cut requiring a strong, heavy boot.  The first peat also tends to have more humus and root material in it so careful control of the cutting iron’s blade is essential. 
Although a lighter peat for burning a few big peats of this type were preferred for laying flat on top of the fire at night to keep it burning safely and very slowly.  From the remaining embers, the following morning’s fire was rekindled.

A’ gearradh a’ chiad fhàd.  Dh’fhaodadh a’ chìad fhàd a bhith gu math tioram, righinn agus duilich a ghearradh agus marsin the e ag iarraidh bròg laidir, throm.  Dh’fhaodadh barrachd calcas a bhith anns an fhàd seo cuideachd agus marsin ‘s e mòine bhàn a chanadh iad ris. 

Ghabhadh an seòrsa mòine seo teine nas luath ach cha sheasadh i cho fada.  An deidh sin, bhiodh iad a’ cleachdadh fàd no dhà dhen t-seòrsa seo agus an cur nan laighe còmhnard mar leac air mullach an teine - airson a’ thasgadh tron oidhche.


6 Having left the peats to dry over 2 or 3 weeks of good weather, they will have dried up sufficiently to be stood on an end without collapsing.

The small ‘rùdhain’ were then left for a further two weeks of drying.

Having left the peats to dry over 2 or 3 weeks of good weather, they will have dried up sufficiently to be stood on an end without collapsing.  This next step is called ‘lifting’ the peats into what is called a ‘rùdhan’ – as follows:

First, two peats are placed standing on an end and leaned in to support each in an upturned /\ shape with the wet side facing out. 

Then another two peats are placed standing leaning into each end of the /\ - in 4-sided tent shape. If the peats are very dry a 5th peat could be placed flat across the top.

This allows the underside of the peat which was lying on the wet ground to dry.  The small ‘rùdhain’ were then left for a further two weeks of drying.

Às dèidh a’ mhòine fhàgail airson 2 no 3 sheachdainean de shìde mhath na laighe anns an fhraoch, ‘s e an ath cheum a’ mhòine a thogail. ‘S e ‘rùdhan’ a chanar ris an seo no a’ dèanamh rùdhan – mar seo:

Seas dà fhàd air an oir agus leig iad an taic a chèile aig a mhullach – gus cumadh /\ mar mullach taigh a dhèanamh.  An uair sin cur dà fhàd eile nan seasamh nan taic ris gach ceann.  Ma tha a’ mhòine gu math tioram dh’fhaodadh fàd a dhol na laighe còmhnard tarsainn mullach na ceithir fàdan eile mar bonaid.

Tha seo a’ leigeil leis an taobh den mhòine a bha na laighe ris an talamh, tiormachadh.  Bithear a’ fàgail a’ mhòine mar seo, anns na rùdhain bheag airson dà sheachdain eile.


7 The Story of Peat

The Story of Peat

The Story of Peat

After two weeks in the small ‘rùdhain’ - in hopefully good drying weather, the peats were then made into bigger ‘rùdhain’ where a few smaller ‘rùdhain’ were built up into a bigger one called a ‘rùdhan mòr.’

This served a few  purposes depending on the location: a) to allow the peats to keep on drying; b) to protect the harder black peat (which was placed inside the ‘rùdhan mòr’) from getting too much sun causing it to crumble into fragments; and c) position the peat for allowing a tractor and trailer to get close by for loading when ready for taking home. In exceptionally good weather this step might not be required. 

When fully dry, the peats would be traditionally loaded directly into a creel, a sack, a wheel-barrow or into a horse-drawn cart.

Over the past 50 years most of the peats were transported home by tractor trailer.

Às dèidh ceala-deug (dà sheachdain) de shìde thioram, bha san uair sin a’ dèanamh rùdhan mòr de na rùdhain bheag.

Bha seo fhathast leigeil leis a’ mhòine tiormachadh barrachd ach a’ toirt fasgadh dhan mhòine dhubh a thuiteadh às a-chèile na smùr nan tigeadh a fàgail anns a’ ghrian ro fhada.

Dh’fhaodadh cuideachd na rùdhain mòr a bhith air an togail gus leigeal le tractor agus trèilear a thighinn suas faisg no eadhon eadar na rùdhain mòr air uachdar no am broinn a pholl-mhònaich.

Ach cha robh a h-uile àite cho furasta agus bha aig gu leòr a’ mhòine aiseag an toiseach ann an cliabh, poc, barra-cuibhle no le each agus cart.

Thairis air an leth-cheud bliadhna mu dheireadh ‘s e tractor agus trèilear a bhitheadh aig a chuid mhòr a’ toirt a’ mhòine dhachaigh.


8 The final part was building the peatstack – something that was best left to those with expertise in this specialist task.

The final part was building the peatstack – something that was best left to those with expertise in this specialist task.

The final part was building the peatstack – something that was best left to those with expertise in this specialist task.

The main purpose of the peatstack was to protect the peats from the seasonal elements – ranging from drying sun, torrential rain, gales, frost and snow blizzards.  Not everyone could build a peatstack that could withstand all that – and produce a work of art at the same time!
This particularly good example was at ‘Whitehaven’ Loch Street, Lower Barvas.

Nuair a bha a’ mhòine gu lèir aig an taigh, còrr is 6 lan trèilearan mar a b’ àbhaist,   ‘s e a’ chruach an ath cheum. 

Bha seo air a dheànamh airson a’ mhòine a chumail còmhla agus cuideachd airson a chumail tioram.


Why note post or email us your photographs of working in the peats in Barvas and Brue and we’ll share them with everyone here:

At the peats with horse and cart - Angus MacMillan (Aonghas ‘an Bhàin), 6 Park, Lower Barvas - probably early 1940s.
At the peats with horse and cart - Angus MacMillan (Aonghas ‘an Bhàin), 6 Park, Lower Barvas - probably early 1940s.

Others in the photograph are, left to right:-
Kenina MacMillan, 6 Park (Kennag Òg, bean Aonghais ‘an Bhàin); Catherine MacLeod, 22 Ballantrushal (Catrìona ‘an Louie, Bean Alasdair ‘an Deirg); Mary MacDonald, 42 Lower Barvas (Màiri Aonghais Shiadair); Mary MacDonald, 19 Upper Barvas (Màiri Uilleam Mhòir); Flora MacMillan, 6 Park (Flòraidh Aonghais ‘an Bhàin); Catherine MacRitchie, Glasgow, on holiday at 35 Lower Barvas (Kate Alasdair Bhig, Bean Iain Dhòmhnaill ‘ic Risnidh); Christina M MacMillan 6 Park (Chirsty Maggie Aonghais ‘an Bhàin); Mary Jean MacRitchie, Glasgow (nighean Iain Dhòmhnaill ‘ic Risnidh).

 

Bringing home the peats for (Smith) 43 Lower Barvas in the 1950s. The lorry belonged to Donald MacDonald (Dòmhnall Uilleam Aonghais Chailein), 5 Upper Barvas.
Bringing home the peats for (Smith) 43 Lower Barvas in the 1950s. The lorry belonged to Donald MacDonald (Dòmhnall Uilleam Aonghais Chailein), 5 Upper Barvas.

At front of lorry :
Donald Angus Matheson (Dolly Angus Phàdraig Dhòmhnail Mòrag), 41 Lower Barvas; Alasdair Smith (The Bounce) 43 Lower Barvas; John MacDonald (Shonnie Buidhe) 42 Lower Barvas

At side of lorry:
John Angus Matheson (John Angus Chalum ‘an Chalum) 42 Lower Barvas; Donald MacLennan (Bodach Choinnich Màiri), Shawbost; Iain MacIver (Iain Murd na Cnàmh) 7 Park; Donald MacDonald, 5 Upper Barvas, lorry driver;
Alec Smith (Alick Donn) 44 Lower Barvas; John MacRitchie (Iain ‘an Fhionnlaigh) 46 Lower Barvas.


On top of load :
Alasdair Murray (Alasdair Dhòmhnaill ‘an Louse) 47 Lower Barvas



Tea break in Kenneth MacDougall's peats 1974 or 1975.

(L to R):
At the back Margaret MacLeod, Ùigean Manse (Kenneth MacDougall's daughter); Kate MacDougall (Ceiteag Goraidh); Rhona MacLeod Ùigean Manse; Mrs Millie MacDonald and daughter Shona, Barvas Manse.

In front:
John N MacLeod (Bòlan), 6 Loch Street; Rev William MacLeod (Uilleam Choinnich Àrnoil, Ùigean Manse; Angus Smith (Aonghas Dubh), Doune; Kenneth MacDougall (Coinneach ‘an Eòghainn), 54 Lower Barvas.

 

Donald MacDonald (Dòmhnall Uilleam Aonghais Chailein), 5 Upper Barvas, taking home a load of peats with tractor from Upper Barvas moor.
Donald MacDonald (Dòmhnall Uilleam Aonghais Chailein), 5 Upper Barvas, taking home a load of peats with tractor from Upper Barvas moor.

Mrs Isabella Morrison working in the peats
Mrs Isabella Morrison
40 Lower Barvas