The Blackstairs Mountains had long been a source of fuel for those communities in their shadow. Much of this was stripped in the 19th and 20th Centuries by turf cutting and fires. An example of the importance of turf as a fuel source is seen in Patrick Kennedy’s book The Legends of Mount Leinster (1856) in which all the household fires referred to when setting the scene for stories or events are described as “turf-fires”. Similarly he notes various places where turf cutting was being carried out as he moves through the mountains. One such site was the summit of Blackrock Mountain, east of Mount Leinster where the remains of turf cutters huts act as an important landmark for hillwalkers today. A major grass covered roadway is also visible on the mountain today the origins of which are tied to major events on 1940’s Europe.
The outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939 led the Irish Government to declare a state of emergency on the 02nd September 1939 and, despite numerous threats, the country remained neutral throughout. Despite her neutrality, the effects of global warfare still had a deep effect on daily life. The Battle of the Atlantic severely restricted trade to and from the island which led to a widespread shortage of imported commodities such as coal, petrol and tea. Although rationing was in effect, food was not too badly affected in comparison to other European countries due to the self-sufficiency policy pursued throughout the 1930’s by the Fíanna Fáil government under Éamon De Valera.
Despite the imported fuel shortage the bogs of Ireland made up for the shortfall. While some communities continued to supply their own homes and areas, others had their turf-cutting sites worked on an industrial scale. Up to 16,000 people were employed on county council turf cutting schemes across the country in 1941 alone.
A conference was held in early June 1941 (attended for a short time by De Valera) at which it was noted that despite the effort and progress in every county, Co.Wexford had contributed little to the nationwide turf cutting project although this was countered by the County Council with a “turf map” showing few areas of bog in the county and those which did exist had little economic value. Local and small scale cutting was going on in places such as Carne, Castlebridge and Kiltealy although these were not included on the map. Finally, the summit of Blackrock Mountain was suggested as an answer to the shortfall from County Wexford and a request was made for a grant to construct a road to facilitate turf extraction. The following day, 13th June 1941, £2,500 was provided for this roadway.
The roadway which ran for a distance of 3.5miles allowed for mechanised vehicles to reach the top (572m). Up to 160 men and women were involved in peat extraction and hut sites were constructed for shelter. Two firms had previously been engaged in work on the mountain and these remained; Messrs. Paul Murphy, Brownswood (who had set up camp on the mountain) and Mr. Harry Wilson, Wexford. A third firm, Messrs. Stafford & Sons, Wexford, later joined them. Peat extraction continued after the war by contractors hired by Wexford County Council and so the end of The Emergency in 1946 did not bring a complete end to the activity.
The road and turf-cutters huts are still visible and navigable on the mountain today as are the remains of their activity although this area is now designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) meaning turf cutting is restricted.
Bartlett, T. 2010 Ireland; A History. Cambridge; Cambridge University Press
Conry, M. 2006 Carlow Granite; Years of History Written in Stone. Carlow; Chapelstown Press
Feehan, J. & O’ Donovan, G. 1996 The Bogs of Ireland. Dublin; University College Dublin.
Girvin, B. 2006 The Emergency; Neutral Ireland 1939-45. Dublin; Macmillan Press Ltd.