On my visit to the Midlands last weekend I went in search of a bog. Now those of you with limited knowledge of Ireland may think that nothing could be easier. In fact my first visit to Ireland, many years ago, was a press trip with Bord na Mona to visit the peat extraction on bogs, I assume to reassure us that it was all quite sustainable. I can’t remember much about it except that we flew in a helicopter over the ravaged landscape and the fact that most peat was extracted not for use by evil gardeners but for burning. To this day supermarkets sell peat blocks for burning.
But this time I was on my own and I was looking for a specific bog. I knew I was very unlikely to find my quarry even if I did find the right spot because I was looking for naturalised colonies of sarracenia and darlingtonia on a bog to the north of Clara in Co. Offaly. As it turns out I drove round and round and could not find the bog. And because it was the weekend the ‘Bog Centre’ in Clara was not open so I could not get advice. But Clara bog to the south of Clara is relatively easy to find and I did manage to visit it. But on the way I stopped on the motorway to snap a photo of the peat extraction of a bog in Meath. The scale of the cuttings is sobering.
Clara Bog, to the south of Clara is signposted and there is roadside parking for about 6 cars, if the drivers are considerate. There is then a wooden deck across the bog that takes you a fair way, across moist and wet areas.
I was too early to see anything very special really though the insectivorous butterworts (pinguicula) were unfurled and sending up flower buds.
Most of the area was covered in heather or bog myrtle with small, herbaceous plants between and under this, with birch woodland on drier areas.
Sphagnum bogs are often colourful because this moss changes colour from lime green to rusty red but it is cotton grass (actually a sedge – eriophorum) that attracts attention as the seedheads open into pure white, fluffy pompons.
Heath Milkwort (Polygala serpyllifolia) is a common weed here with its spreading stems and deep, almost cobalt blue flowers. One ‘different’ plant caught my eye with porcelain blue flowers, tinged with green instead – a very pretty thing.
Clara itself is the 10th biggest town in the midlands and, from driving through it, was obviously once a major industrial area. But it looks as though most of the industry is now gone and there are buildings falling into disrepair in many places. In some cases they look almost picturesque but it cannot be good for the local economy or population. Perhaps it suffers from being midway between Mullingar to the north and Athlone to the west. Otherwise the town is surrounded by lovely countryside and it is associated with St Brigid, one of the Patron Saints of Ireland, who founded her first monastery here prior to 525AD. And if you like golf, you may be interested to know that Clara is where Shane Lowry was born – he is playing at the Irish Open right now.