The festival, which is now in its 24th year, was originally organised to honour those people who worked hard at making a living from cutting turf by hand. Over recent years, however, the festival has become a major fundraising event, raising over €250,000 for numerous charities throughout Kildare and Ireland. This year’s proceeds will go towards the further development of Rehab services in the Kildare region.
The local turf-cutting team from Carbury, Co. Kildare will be hoping to recapture their winning trophy from last year, but with nearly 100 participants from throughout Ireland set to compete in this year’s Festival, it promises to be a tight competition. Many of those taking part in this year’s event are return visitors, having competed in the event for many years.
According to one of the event organisers, Matt Browne, who in addition to running Ireland’s very first Sheep Steeplechase Race also set a new world record for being the first amputee to circumnavigate Ireland on a jet ski, traditional turf-cutting methods have not changed since ancient times.
“The turf is cut using a turf spade or sleán, which consists of an iron head and a long wooden shaft. There are two kinds of sleán, the breast and the wing sleán, with two correspondingly different methods of cutting turf from the bank. Each turf-cutting team comprises three people, the cutter, the catcher, who catches the turf, and then tosses it to the wheeler, who is responsible for collecting the turf and laying it out.
“It’s a wonderful experience to see turf cutters in action, practising a skill that dates back to ancient times. Each team in the competition will be judged, not on how quickly they complete the task, but on how well the turf is cut and how neatly it’s laid out. A turf cutter is expected to leave a ‘straight face’ in the cutting bank for the next cutter, which reinforces a sense of community responsibility. The art is taken so seriously among turf cutters that it’s been said that a broken back is preferable to a broken sod,” he said.
Teams of three can enter the competition for just €30. Entry to the Turf Cutting Festival costs only €5 (with free admittance for kids under 12 and OAPs) and promises to be a fun day out for all the family. In addition to the fiercely competitive turf-cutting contest, entertainment will also include bog snorkeling; sheep sheering; a kids’ talent show; face painting, and both a Glamorous Granny and a Knobbly Knees competition. The family pet hasn’t been forgotten either: a dog contest is also scheduled to take place. So, there’s definitely something there for everyone!
Presentation of prizes for the winning Turf Cutters will be held in the bog following the competition. Further details of the event, and how to register your team, are available from Matt Browne at (087) 265 4582, Patrick Connolly at (087) 868 8075 or Dick Brennan at (087) 636 2627.