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Abbeyleix Bog

Abbeyleix raised bog is classified as having been man modified and not one of 11 raised bogs listed as of International or National importance. Nonetheless Abbeyleix people considered it of major local interest and with the help of Bord na Mona they have set about having it restored as a wetland habitat. These bogs are convex in shape being generally higher in the centre than at the margins; hence the term raised bog. Abbeyleix bog typically contains two distinct layers, a lower one of more humified peat and an upper one of generally less decomposed material known to the turf cutters as the brown and white layers respectively. They owe their formation to precipitation and have a moisture content of 90 per cent. They also have a low nutrient content as distinct from the fen or basin peat deposits that underly them. Such deposits are known to the turf cutters as the black high calorific peat. They formed in shallow flooded depressions, shallow post glacial lakes and streams all of high nutrient content and sometimes hemmed in by eskers such as is the case in the Abbeyleix bog. The underlying glacial material still remains unweathered except towards the bog perimeter where the soil was exposed to the elements before being flooded. Abbeyleix bog also contains deposits of shell marl above the glacial till. It is located in the centre of the post glacial lake. The shells of fresh water snails still remain intact on the bog floor.

The upper two layers of the bog , constituting two-thirds of the profile, contain up to 30 species of Sphagum moss which holds twenty times their own dry weight in water. The presence of other species such as Eriophorum(bog cotton), Calluna(heather) and Erica species depend on the moisture supply at the time of the bog  formation. The surface bog flora and fauna are usually restricted to 34 species of flowering plants(the most interesting being bog rosenary, pitcher plant, deer grass, cranberry, sundew, asphodel,myrtle) and 50 species of bryophytes(mosses, liverworths) and 28 species of lichens. The hump-hollow growth patternof the bog surface is brought about by the growth of Sphagnum species that thrive under cycles of wet and somewhat drier conditions. The basal fen layer is comprised of plant remains ranging from Phragmites red swamp on the lower contours of the bog floor to fen and woody fen at the higher contour levels with non-Sphagnum mosses, reeds, sedges and trees the predominant species. Abbeyleix bog has a fringe of fen still growing in a confined section of the so called lagg zone. Peatland has for a long time remained associated with material poverty as exemplified in the old saying: ‘You can take a man from the bog but you cannot take the bog from the man.

It was not until the late 1970’s and 1980’s that people became awareof the fact that peatlands contributed so much to the specific and unique landscape of Irelanrd with their own special ecosystems containing a great range of flora and fauna. The ecosystems constitute a significant reserve of genetic material. They contain a chronological record of their own development extending over 9000 years. Microfossils such as pollen grains and fern, moss and fungal spores allow investigation of changing vegetation patterns on the bog surface and in the surrounding region e.g. DeVesci estate.

Peatlands are a major feature of the Irish landscape and culture, an intrinsic part of the scenery so prized by visiting tourists for not alone their ecology but also for scientific, educational,recreational, wildlife, cultural and historical reasons. Peatlands cover 17 per cent of the land surface of the country while occupying 12 per cent and 32 per cent of the soil resources of Laois and Offaly respectively.Very little of it remains intact. Apart from the raised bog Laois has , situated on the Slieve Bloom mountains the other major bog type known as blanket bog and classified of both International and National importance because of its state of preservation. Interpretative facilities for both raised and blanket bogs should be developed at the Heritage Centre in Abbeyleix.