Places to visit in Europe

West Offaly Railway

West Offaly Railway 12,000 years ago, the Blackwater Bog was covered by a glacier. It subsequently became a lake, a fen, and finally the bog as we know it today.

It represents 8,000 hectares of peatland and produces one million tons of milled peat a year, mainly for the power station at Shannonbridge. Traditional and commercial methods of turf-cutting can be seen by taking the West Offaly Railway tour which covers a 9-km section of the bog. The formation of the bog over a 9,000-year period and its present-day commercial exploitation is explained. Before boarding the narrow-gauge train, which in former times was used to transport peat, a visit to the Machine Museum and field-walk study area will provide you with interesting background material for your trip. The interesting flora and fauna of the peatland, and all the various historical landmarks - Clonmacnois is situated to the south-east - are discussed in a French, English or German commentary en route as you travel through this sea of "brown gold". The landscape of the cutaway areas of the bog is ever-changing, as new patterns of field, woodland, and wetland are slowly being created. On the horizon are the eskers, the gravely and sandy deposits which formed on the bed of subglacial streams, one of which formed the celebrated pilgrims’ path to Clonmacnois. These are the best examples of eskers to be found anywhere in Europe.

Teachers can request information in French, German and English by telephone. Ecological topics which can be prepared in the classroom are the evolution of the bogs, traditional and modern turf-cutting techniques, the medicinal and horticultural uses of peat, peat as fuel, the preservation of the bogs, and the importance of humidity. The Blackwater Bog and its surroundings would be ideal for schools aiming to investigate the ecology of Ireland. To the west of Blackwater are the Callows, the meadowed flood plains of the River Shannon, teeming with birdlife and home to a variety of flora. To the north is the Finlough Nature Reserve and the preserved raised bog of Mongan.

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