Irish Bogs

William Atkins at Harper’s Magazine:

For the poet Seamus Heaney—a kind of laureate of the bog—the landscape always had a “strange assuaging effect . . . with associations reaching back into early childhood.” The bog was liberty and community, as well as labor. This ambiguous, borderless terrain—neither living nor dead, wet nor dry, public nor private—has never been politically neutral. Ireland’s bogs were often viewed by city dwellers as fundamentally moribund: economic and cultural voids, the refuge of brigands, outcasts, and hermits, synonymous with a semi-bestial peasantry—“miserable and half-starved specters,” according to one nineteenth-century account. In folklore, bogs are the lairs of the shape-shifting púca—an 1828 study of fairy mythology called them “wicked-minded, black-looking, bad things”—while in Edna O’Brien’s classic 1960 novel The Country Girls, the protagonists are contemptuously dismissed as “fresh from the bogs.”

more here.