The moving bog at Kilmaleady near Clara: the account of Richard Griffith in 1821. By Michael Byrne

Bogs are in the news again and were very much so 200 years ago this month because of the phenomenon known as ‘the moving bog at Kilmaleady [Kilmalady big] near Clara’. It was reported in the national press (there was no local press back then) and in 1825 in Brewer’s account of Ireland. It had earlier appeared in the Freeman’s Journal for 21 July 1821.  The Freeman’s Journal for 29 June 1821 reported that : On the 26th June great confusion was caused in the district of Clara by the south front of Ballykillion bog (a large and extensive of one of about one and a half square miles, and a depth of about 25 feet) moving with great violence and carrying before it everything in its way. It tore up the meadowlands and carried it along on its surface. Its direction was across an extensive valley. It dislodged a river and ran with extensive violence against an opposite hill, then recoiled and ran down the valley until it met another hill and road that checked its progress, after which it piled up in large broken fragments an immense heap of bog from 20 to 40 feet deep and covered about 150 acres of choice meadow and pasture land. This land was let from £2 to £3 an acre and was the property of the representatives of the late George Clibborn of Moate. ‘Its progress was awful and the noise tremendous. The people were enabled with difficulty to drive off their stock. The water is now confined and the river is stopped up, and the most serious apprehensions are entertained that the water will again put the huge mass in motion. It is estimated that a thousand acres of meadow will be destroyed unless timely prevented by immense labour.[Here the writer advocated the need for drainage of bogs and the want of employment.] . .

A bog map of west Offaly, district six, Townshend 1811

Another report spoke of extraordinary circumstance occurring in the neighbourhood of Gageboro, Tully, parish of Mount Temple by a portion of the bog moving and covering about 200 acres of land. Fortunately, it took place in the daytime, which enabled the people residing in the vicinity to drive off their cattle, and no human life was lost.

A report from Faulkners Dublin Journal for 7th July 1821 stated that the ‘The moving bog near Clara is proceeding down the low lands with an amazing front of about 200 feet wide and 80 feet deep. It moves at the rate of about 2 yards an hour and keeps this space steadily’ These comments were part of a letter from Samuel Robinson, a Quaker, dated 3rd of 7th month, i.e. 3 July.

James Norris Brewer (died 1829) topographer and novelist produced his Beauties of Ireland in 1825 in two volumes.  The second volume of the work is a description of most of the counties of Ireland and includes King’s County otherwise County Offaly. The piece on Offaly is particularly interesting for its description of the moving bog at Clara where a detailed description is provided by way of an account supplied to Brewer by Sir Richard Griffith, later associated with the General Valuation of Ireland.

Richard Griffith as an older man. He died in 1878 From Mollan and ors: Irish innovators in science and technology

Richard Griffith had published an article on the moving bog near Clara entitled ‘Sketch of the moving bog of Kilmaleady in the King’s County showing the moving bog’ in the Journal of the Royal Dublin Society, i (1821), p.144. xxx and, as noted above, in the Freeman’s Journal for 21 July 1821. Richard Griffith was then a mining engineer.  He  was born in 1784 and died in 1878.  Some account of his activities will be found in G. L. Herries Davies, Sheets of many Colours (RDS, Dublin, 1983) and in After training as an engineer he was appointed by the Bog Commissioners to the position of engineer on their survey of the Bogs of Ireland and is credited between that date and the 31st of December 1813 with spending a total of 1,300 days of service on behalf of the Commissioners. As well as his work for the Bog Commissioners there is little doubt but that Griffith was familiar with the Clara area and as a result was able to write a comprehensive report on the moving bog at Kilmaleady in 1821. John Killally, the engineer mentioned in the text below, was associated with the construction of the canal from about the mid-1790s and lived much of his later life in Tullamore. His work at Clara is another example of how successful he was in his career. The Fullers were the owners of Woodfield House near Clara and Abraham Fuller was directly involved in halting the destructive force of the bog.

Clara, Brewer noted, was situated to the north of Durrow, was a small but rather neat town, having annual fairs, and a weekly market, at which much corn was sold.  In the vicinity of this town occurred, in the year 1821, one of those phenomena denominated moving bogs. The eruption commenced on the 25th of June, 1821; and the very curious and satisfactory letter of Mr. Griffith dated the 16th of July following to the Royal Dublin Society where Griffith sought to dispel the ‘very erroneous notions respecting its magnitude and destructive effects’.  Griffith in his report spoke of the once alarming phenomenon.

Woodfield still standing 200 years after the moving bog episode
Perhaps an exaggerated report in light of Griffith’s comments. From the Freeman’s Journal, 14 July 1821.


[Griffith wrote: (*”The bog of Kilmaleady, from whence the eruption broke out, situated about two miles to the north of the village of Clara, in the King’s County, is of considerable extent; it may probably contain about 500 acres; in many parts it is 40 feet in depth, and it is considered to be the wettest bog in the country.  It is bounded on all sides, expect the south, by steep ridges of high land, which are composed, at the top, of limestone gravel, and beneath of cavernous limestone rock, containing subterranean streams; but the southern face of the bog is open to a moory valley, about a quarter of a mile in breadth, which, for nearly a mile in length, takes a southern direction in the lands of Lisanisky, and then turns at right angles to the west, and continues gradually widening for upwards of two miles.  Through the centre of this valley flows a stream about twelve feet in breadth, which serves as a discharge for the waters from the bog and the surrounding country, and finally joins the river Brosna above the bridge of Ballycumber.

“The bog of Kilmaleady, like all other deep and wet bogs, is composed, for the first eight or ten feet from the surface downward, of a reddish-brown spongy mass, formed of the still undecomposed fibres of the bog moss, sphagnum-palustre, which, by capillary attraction, absorbs water in great quantity.  Beneath this fibrous mass, the bog gradually becomes pulpy, till at length, towards the bottom, it assumes the appearance, and, when examined, the consistence of a black mud, rather heavier than water.

An extract from Larkin’s Map of King’s County of 1809, prepared for publication by Arnold Horner and published by Offaly History. The full atlas is available from Offaly History for €30 in hardback. Kilmaleady or Kilmalady is east of Woodfield.

“The surface of the bog of Kilmaleady was elevated upwards of twenty feet above the level of the valley, from which it rose at a very steep angle, and its external face, owing to the uncommon dryness of the season, being much firmer than usual, the inhabitants of the vicinity were enabled to sink their turf holes, and cut turf at the depth of at least ten feet beneath the surface of the valley, and, in fact, until they reached the blue clay which forms the substratum of the bog.  Thus, the faces of many of the turf banks reached the unusual height of thirty feet perpendicular; when, at length, on the 19th day of June [1821], the lower pulpy and muddy part of the bog, which possessed little cohesion, being unable to resist the great pressure of water from behind, gave way, and being once set in motion, floated the upper part of the bog, and continued to move with astonishing velocity along the valley to the southward, forcing before it not only the clamps of turf on the edge of the bog, but even patches of the moory meadows, to the depth of several feet, the grass surface of which heaved and turned over almost like the waves of the ocean; so that in a very short space of time the whole valley, for the breadth of about a quarter of a mile between the bog edge and the base of the hill of Lisanisky, was covered with bog to the depth of from eight to ten feet, and appeared everywhere studded with green patches of moory meadow.

The hill of Lisanisky retarded the progress of the bog for some time; at length it began to flow at right angles in its first course along the valley, where it turns to the west, and continued with unabated rapidity till it reached the bog road of Kilbride (which runs directly across the valley, and is elevated five or six feet above it), and choked up the bridge through which the waters of the steam pass.  This barrier retarded the progress of the bog for five days; at the end of that time, the accumulation was such, from the still moving bog and the waters of the stream, that it flowed over the road, and covered the valley to the south of it for about half a mile flowing with varied velocity, till it was again stopped, for a few hours as I understand, by a second road across the valley, leading from Clara to Woodfield.  Having also overcome this obstacle, it proceeded slowly westward; and if its progress had not been checked by the very judicious means that have been employed, the whole extent of the valuable meadows which compose the valley where it expands to the westward, must long since have been covered.  But, when the bog has passed over the road of Kilbride, and the consternation in the country became general, at the desire of the Lords Justices, Mr. Gregory employed Mr. Killaly, engineer to the Directors-general of Inland Navigation, to carry into execution any works that could be devised to arrest the progress of the bog.  Mr. Killaly at once perceived, that the only feasible remedy was to draw off the water that has accumulated; and to accomplish this end, he employed a number of labourers to open the course of the stream where it was choked up and also the drains through the valley that could be directed  into the stream.  By this means the head of water was soon lowered, and in consequence the bog ceased to flow-and all the loose masses which floated on the river were broken to pieces, by labourers placed at intervals throughout its course.

“I shall now describe the present appearance and state of the bog and moory valley.

“In the centre of the bog, for the space of about a mile and a half in length, and a quarter of a mile in breadth, a valley has been formed, sloping at the bottom from the original surface of the bog, to the depth of 30 feet where the eruption first took place.  In this valley or gulf, there are numberless concentric cuts, or fissures, filled with water nearly to the top.

“The valley between the edge of the bog and the road of Kilbride, for the length of half a mile, and an extent of between 60 and 80 acres, may be considered as totally destroyed.  It is covered by tolerably firm bog, from six to ten feet in depth, consisting at the surface of numberless green islands, composed of detached parts of moory meadows, and of small rounded patches of the original heathy surface of the bog, varying from two to ten feet in diameter, which are separated from each other by brown pulpy bog, and the bed of the original stream is elevated to about eight or ten feet above its former course, so as to flow over the road.

“Beyond the road to Kilbride the bog has flowed for one mile westward, and covered from 50 to 70 acres; in this part the heathy patches of bog generally lessen in quantity; the green islands disappear, and nothing is observed but a thin deposit, consisting of a granulated black bog mud, varying from one to three feet in thickness.  This, though destructive for the present year, may, when dry, be burnt, and removed for manure to the neighbouring uplands, or left on the spot to fertilize the valley.

“Thus, the whole distance which the bog has flowed is about three miles in length, namely, one mile and a half in the bog, and the same distance over the moory valley; and the extent covered amounts to about one hundred and fifty acres.”

-Letter of R. Griffith, Mining Engineer 16 July 1821.

Below some crowds gathering and some excitement according to the police in a letter to Under Secretary Gregory.

From the National Archives, Major O’Donoghue to William Gregory on the bog eruption and the local excitement. Courtesy of NAI.

While the damage was not as great as feared the moving bog did cause damage in Lisaniskey and Woodfield. John O’Donovan and others, while checking on the townland names, noted in 1837 of Woodfield and Lissanisky

Curraghboy or Woodfield                                                      B.S.  [boundary survey]                9

Currach Buidhe, yellow moor.

Curraghboy &C.                                                                     J.O’D.

Curraghboy                                                                             Down Survey

Forms the N.W. point of the parish.  It is bounded by the tds.of Lissanisky and Raheen in this parish; Gorteen and Ballinaminton East in the ph. of Kilmanaghan, King’s co.; and Tully, Russagh, Ballykilleen & Big Kilmalady in Horseleap parish, King’s Co.   It contains 624a. 3r. 23p.

This is a large and nearly circular townland, and entirely in the possession of the proprietor.  The moving bog in its progress covered the whole of the N.E. side, irretrievably destroying a large tract of beautiful land.  The remainder is laid on in ornamental grounds.  The proprietor is Mr. Pollard.

Lissiniskea                                                                              B.S                              19

Lios an Uisce, the fort of the water

Lissanisky                                                                               J.O’D.

Lisanusky                                                                                Down Survey

Lisanusky                                                                                Down  Survey Map

Lies in the N. end of the Parish.  It is bounded by the tds.of Ballicknahee, Cappanamorath, Kilcollin, Lehinch, Kilcoursey, Kilbride, Raheenand Curraghboy alias Woodfield.  It contains 626a. 2r. 32p.

This td. is large end of an irregular form.  A great part of its N.W. half was covered and ruined by an eruption of the moving bog; the remainder is chiefly pasture.  There is one trigl. station.  The inhabitants of the td. are few, but comfortably situated.  The proprietor is Mr. Clibborn of Moategrenogue.  Rent per acre, 18s. 5d. to £2 2s.  Cess per acre 10¾d.