Fuel problems during ‘the Emergency’

Because merchant ships were regarded as targets during World War II, the island of Ireland was, to an extent, cut off from the rest of the world, and many products that would normally have been freely available became scarce. Rationing was introduced and each household was given a ration book. Basic foodstuffs such as bread, butter, flour, wheatmeal, sugar, and tea were sold in small amounts... tea was reduced to a half ounce per person per week, which represented hardship for many. There was a black market for this and many other ‘luxuries’, while others tried making their own substitutes like dandelion tea or carrot tea. Some would recycle the tea leaves by taking them from the teapot, drying them, and reusing them. Necessity became the mother of invention.

Gas was another product that became scarce, and people were only allowed use it during certain periods of the day. Outside of those hours supply was reduced so that all one could get was a ‘glimmer’, but for many, this was better than no gas. Inspectors known as ‘Glimmer Men’ could enter your house, and if the rings on your gas cooker were warm or hot you had committed an offence. Coal imports soon dried up after the beginning of the war. Some had stocked up with coal if they could afford it, but for most it was too expensive. Families started going for country walks at weekends armed with saws or hatchets to bring home firewood for the fire.

Turf was a natural fuel which was abundant in County Galway... we had no shortage of boglands in this neck of the woods. People were advised to lease out a small area of bog , buy a sleán, and cut their own turf, which most people did. They carried the fuel home on donkeys, on carts, and on makeshift carriers.

But if Galway had lots of bogland, other areas like Dublin did not, and of course they needed fuel as well, so a company called Fuel Importers Ltd was appointed to bring turf to Dublin. It was allowed to use the green area of Eyre Square as a depot and collection point. Turf was collected by lorry from various bogs around the county, especially Connemara, and brought to Eyre Square where it was built into enormous stacks by corporation workers. These ricks were between 12 and 15 feet high, and as you can see from our photograph (which was taken from the Great Southern Hotel ) they were beautifully constructed. When the park was filled there were more than 400 tons of turf here. In November 1941 the Army provided 100 lorries to drive to Galway, collect the turf, and transport it to Dublin.

There were many arguments locally about the turf dump being in Eyre Square, but in May 1942 it was decided to leave it there indefinitely. It was a bulky fuel, so the dumps had to be renewed constantly, which meant a continuous movement of lorries in the area. Over the duration of the war many tens of thousands of tons of turf were collected around the county, stacked in the Square, and delivered to Dublin by rail or by road.

Much of the above information comes from Victor Whitmarsh’s very fine book Shadows on Glass, Galway 1895-1960. We are grateful to Peter Cooke for today’s photograph.

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