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Peat, or turf, is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation matter
Peat forms in wetland bogs, moors, and swamp forests.
Peat is harvested as an important source of fuel
The ‘good’ (best burning) turf is found deep down in the bog. Heaney uses the metaphor about digging ‘Down for the good turf’ to show how he needs to dig deep into himself to produce his best poetry.
‘Turf’ (Peat) Spade “Shaft against the inside knee” “Coarse boot nestled on the lug” The ‘L’ shape of the spade helped to make sure the sods of ‘turf’ were ‘squared’
Flax Flax was a very important crop for the Irish economy. It was used to manufacture everything from writing paper, to rope, and was predominantly use in the ‘Linen’ industry, for which Ireland was once world famous.
The ‘Flax Dam’ “All year the flax-dam festered in the heart Of the townland” Not a ‘dam’ in the real sense, but a large pool of water where the flax plant stems were placed in order to rot the tough exterior, so that the fibrous insides could be easily separated out.
Flax Raw material ready to be used for linen Dried flax plant Interior fibres
An Irish country school A typical Irish farm of the period
Traditional Irish bread was cooked on a ‘griddle’ over an open peat fire This traditional bread is know as ‘soda bread’ and is a still widely eaten in Ireland today. This type of peat fire, similar to this, would have been present in the kitchen of Seamus Heaney’s home on the farm.
The Plough A combination of factors make horse-ploughing a skilled job. The ploughman must ensure that the ‘furrows’ the plough makes are straight, manipulate the plough, and control the horses – it is to ensure that all the possible farming land is used economically.
“His shoulders globed like a full sail strung Between two shafts and the furrow” “I stumbled in his hob-nailed wake, Fell sometimes on the polished sod”
potatoes During the 19th century, almost a 1/3 of the population depended solely on potatoes for their daily nutrition. When the potato crops began to fail between 1845 and 1851, around 1 in eight of a population of 8 million died of starvation, permanently changing the demographic, political and cultural landscape of the nation.
Potatoes are still a mainstay of the Irish diet, but they will always be a reminder of what is know as the ‘Great Hunger’ “To scatter new potatoes that we picked Loving their cool hardness in our hands.”