The Folklore of Bog Butter

Sylvester Cassidy, Extracted from an article in Out and About in Killererin, 2007

Children from Barnaderg NS in May 1999 with Bog Butter found in Poll a'Chapaill bog
Photo: https://www.pcl-eu.de/virt_ex/detail.php?entry=03butter

Bog Butter

The Bog butter was found in wooden vessels or baskets, occasionally in containers of cloth, bark or skin, in quantities ranging from a few pounds to as much as a hundredweight.  During the first half of the 18th century when the pressure of population and industrial needs led to immense inroads on the turf bogs, an astonishing number of finds were made.  The ‘butter’ was a prerequisite of the finder and there are records of it being taken to fair to be sold as grease for cartwheels which like the ‘singing carts’ of Spain were very noisy.  In fact, it resembles lard butter rather than butter and analysis shows that even though it smelled fresh, its composition had changed.  But there can be no doubt that it was originally butter.

Preservation of Butter

In the West of Ireland, it is known that lumps of butter where thrown into Loughs and Springs through which cattle were driven in order to restore them to health.  It seems that in some cases, some of the butter containers had been thrown in a bog  hole rather than buried.  Later, no doubt it became the practice to bury butter in order to preserve it.

Butter needed no salt

It is interesting to note that bog butter contains no salt.  The explanation may be that it was difficult to obtain and that its addition was not necessary when the butter was preserved by burying it.   This is confirmed by the following quotation which also shows that the custom of preserving butter in a bog-hole was still remembered a generation ago in Co. Limerick.  Lady Carbberry writes “In our grandfather’s time, butter, flavoured with garlic and unsalted, used to be put in a bog-hole and left to ripen.”

Butter was spread liberally on almost everything.  Fresh herbs, onion tops and garlic were blended into freshly made butter to flavour it.

This page was added on 27/08/2017.

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