How turf helped Of­faly GAA to brightly

Irish Examiner - Sport - - GAA - Paul Rouse

The suc­cess of Of­faly foot­ballers in 1982 was rooted in the bogs of the county. You can­not un­der­stand how Of­faly man­aged to beat Kerry in that most fa­mous of All-ire­land foot­ball fi­nals with­out step­ping off the play­ing fields and walk­ing in the bogs.

This is a story that is pe­cu­liar to a par­tic­u­lar place at a par­tic­u­lar time.

In its essence, it tells how the bogs of Of­faly gave the county a cer­tain eco­nomic growth dur­ing the decades im­me­di­ately after World War II.

It was a growth that

— in the greater scheme of the long sweep of his­tory — was ex­cep­tion­ally short-lived, but its con­text made it ex­tremely po­tent.

It is a smaller-scale ver­sion of how the min­ing of coal trans­formed com­mu­ni­ties across Wales and the north of Eng­land in their own time. It is not that the bogs had not been used by peo­ple for cen­turies be­fore the 1940s, rather that the im­per­a­tives of Ir­ish so­ci­ety in the 1940s and 1950s de­manded that the har­vest­ing of turf be dra­mat­i­cally in­creased.

The de­mand for indige­nous sources of power to bring pros­per­ity to Ire­land’s fal­ter­ing econ­omy was in­tense.

In the years im­me­di­ately after the war, the Ir­ish econ­omy teetered on the brink of col­lapse and em­i­gra­tion reached heights not wit­nessed since the famine of the 1840s. The con­trast be­tween, on the one hand, the boom­ing con­sumerist economies of Bri­tain and Amer­ica, and on the other hand, the stag­na­tion of Ire­land was stark.

The re­sult was a mass ex­o­dus of the un­em­ployed and the un­der­em­ployed from Ire­land.

The scale of the ex­o­dus was stag­ger­ing. In the se­cond half of the 1940s, about 150,000 Ir­ish peo­ple em­i­grated. Then, dur­ing the 1950s, the flood­gates truly opened and al­most 500,000 Ir­ish peo­ple em­i­grated. That was equiv­a­lent to al­most one in six of the pop­u­la­tion.

The estab­lish­ment of Bord na Móna in 1946 and its sub­se­quent growth was one of the few eco­nomic suc­cess sto­ries of the era.

What emerged over the first two decades of its his­tory was a re­mark­able net­work of nar­row gauge rail­ways across the mid­lands which pulled turf from blan­ket bogs where new tech­nolo­gies were used to cut and re­move lay­ers of peat. The ru­ral elec­tri­fi­ca­tion of Ire­land saw the build­ing of power sta­tions at Rhode, Fer­bane, and Shan­non­bridge in Of­faly, and at Por­tar­ling­ton just across the Laois bor­der.

In it­self, ru­ral elec­tri­fi­ca­tion un­der­pinned im­mense cul­tural change in Ire­land — but that’s a tale for an­other day.

For our pur­poses here, what mat­ters is that it now saw the ESB join Bord na Móna as a key em­ployer in Of­faly, and this em­ploy­ment was sup­ple­mented by the build­ing of a host of bri­quette fac­to­ries and other spin-off em­ploy­ment.

Ini­tially, many of the men who came to work in Of­faly stayed in large hos­tels run for their ben­e­fit. This was par­tic­u­larly the case with sea­sonal work­ers. These men worked hard and did not have it easy, but en­gaged in sport­ing ac­tiv­i­ties that ranged from tug-ofwar and pil­low-fight­ing to Gaelic games.

Then, as the work moved from be­ing sea­sonal to more and more rooted in per­ma­nency, hous­ing es­tates were built in the county.

It is not as if Of­faly was sud­denly trans­formed into the Ir­ish equiv­a­lent of an oil-rich

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