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Many years ago I travelled with an American friend through Kinvara.
“What’s that smell?” she kept asking, sniffing the air like a fox.
“What smell?” I asked.
“That one!” she would say, which didn’t help much. We made all kinds of suggestions but nothing was the smell she was looking for. Then we stopped off at Monk’s pub and resturant in Ballyvaughan, just south of Kinvara. She got very excited when she sensed the smell getting stronger, but when she drew near to the open fire her excitement rose.
“That’s it! The smell!” she squeaked. It was simply burning turf, and although we laughed, picturing the smell in my mind now takes me back in an instant to the holidays I had in Galway as a child (and which, incidentally, drew me here all these years later).
Cruinniú na mBád, “The Meeting of the Boats”, is an annual festival which takes place in Kinvara, Co. Galway around this time every year. The festival commemorates the trade between Connemara and Kinvara in days gone by: the turf, vital for cooking and heating, was cut and dried in Connemara, and brought by hooker, the traditional Galway boat, to Kinvara. The boats were then filled with grain and produce from the South Galway region and sent back to Connemara. The geology of Galway is varied, and the granite bedrock of Connemara resulted in the acid bogs which gave turf but weren’t great for produce, whereas the limestone bedrock of south Galway was much better for growth, but didn’t provide turf. Burning turf makes a very distinctive smell, one of the most evocative elements of rural Ireland.
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