From bog bodies to ancient ruins: New BBC Irish language show unearths secrets of world's peatlands

From bog bodies to ancient ruins: New BBC Irish language show unearths secrets of world's peatlands

A NEW Irish language series beginning on BBC TV tonight is set to look at the importance of bogs and the role they play in the 'history, culture, and psyche of Ireland'.

Rúin na bPortach will visit bogs and peatlands across Ireland and throughout the world, exploring their role in the global ecosystem and how their distinct and wild beauty has shaped our culture and identity.

Digging into the subject is presenter Cormac Ó hÁdhmaill, who explores how a bog's secrets — from preserved bodies to ancient ruins — can tell us about our past and aid our future.

"It's arguable that a series of three one-hour programmes does not give enough time to reflect the huge importance of bogs in the archaeology, history, culture, and psyche of Ireland," says Ó hÁdhmaill.

"In making this series, we did go some way towards that goal.

"I looked at bodies ritually buried in bogs, customs and practices associated with bogs, what science can reveal about how bogs grow and develop and the life found within them.

"And I also learned to appreciate in a deep visceral way how important bogs are in mitigating some of the excesses of modern life and the existential threats we face."

The series will take viewers on a journey from Ireland's beautiful native bogs to the boreal peatlands of Canada.

As well as revealing secrets about our past, the series also sees Ó hÁdhmaill travel to Finland, where he meets people who believe peat should be treated as a renewable resource.

Meanwhile, a team of Irish researchers explain how they are using 19th century maps to identify areas that could be restored to active living bog.

Ó hÁdhmaill also learns of the medicinal benefits of plants found on bogs, which have been used as folk cures for generations.

'Natural and supernatural worlds'

On home turf, so to speak, Ó hÁdhmaill learns about Céide Fields in Co. Mayo, where stone walls buried five metres deep revealed the area was cultivated 5,000 years ago.

He also gets up close to the bodies of men who were killed 3,000 years ago in Co. Roscommon as he explores Ireland's relationship with bogs as both sources of fuel and places of mystery.

"Everyone in Ireland is aware of bogs," he says.

"About 19 per cent of our landscape is (or was) bog which, over hundreds of years we have exploited, mainly for fuel.

"The smell of turf is particularly evocative for me and for most Irish people.

Cormac Ó hÁdhmaill and Jari Perälä (Image: BBC Media Centre)

"Bogs were seen as alien places, places where the laws of nature were different; places where the natural and supernatural worlds came closest. And this difference fostered a fear of bogs.

"They were dangerous places, especially after dark, and there were hidden traps which could kill you. And at times of community unrest, 3,000 years ago, it wasn't unknown for community leaders to be ritually sacrificed and given to the 'otherworld' by being deposited in a bog.

"These 'bog bodies' come to light from time to time across Europe and we looked at two Irish examples."

Rúin na bPortach airs on BBC Two Northern Ireland tonight at 10pm, at which time all three episodes will be made available on BBC iPlayer.

An English language version, Secrets In The Peat, will be broadcast on BBC Northern Ireland later this year.