Ireland’s Bord na Móna (Peat Board) operates an extensive network of three foot gauge railways in the midland’s for the primary purpose of harvesting peat for electrical generation from raised bogs in the Midland area. Bord na Móna’s website (www.bordnamona.ie) indicates that the company has more than 700 km (approximately 435 miles) of permanent line and another 140 km (86 miles) of portable temporary track. Some routes are more than a half century old, while temporary lines are located (and relocated) as needed to reach sections of the bog ready for harvesting. It’s been described as Europe’s most extensive industrial railway. Unlike traditional railways (which in Ireland are built to 5 foot 3 inch standard), bog railways use minimal infrastructure and engineering. Tracks are maintained for relatively slow speed freight movements and this part of the charm.
I first explored Ireland’s bog railways more than 14 years ago, and over the years I’ve occasional made images of Bord na Móna, but until recently I’ve not focused on these unusual railways, instead preferring Ireland’s main line operations. However, over the last few weekends, I’ve begun to explore and photograph the Bord na Móna network that serves the Edenderry Power Station.
The Bog of Allen in Counties Offaly and Kildare offers a stark landscape that reminds me a bit of the Scandinavian Arctic. While today the bog is largely devoid of trees, historically this was a heavily forested area (thus the concentration of peat). Locations for photography are very limited; by virtue of the bog, there are relatively few roads reaching points served by Bord na Mona. Low late-autumn sun suits photography in such an austere environment by accentuating the raised bog’s texture and while emphasizing the trains.
Exploration and patience are the key to catching the trains in action. Trains typically operate in pairs which facilitates switching and simplifies operations. Some lines are operated as double track, others as single line. However, the lack of easy access and myriad routes radiating across the bog make for a challenge. I’ve found that using my Canon EOS 7D and EOS-3 with Provia 100F and long telephoto lenses can produce some of the most effective images, although I’ve also made some interesting wide views with my Lumix LX-3. Just to cover the bases, I’ve also dragged out my Nikons for a bit of B&W work. The images presented here are part of a work in progress.