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ADDRESS BY PRESIDENT MCALEESE ON THE OCCASION OF THE OPENING OF HEARTLAND: A BORD NA MÓNA EXHIBITION

ADDRESS BY PRESIDENT MCALEESE ON THE OCCASION OF THE OPENING OF HEARTLAND: A BORD NA MÓNA EXHIBITION MONDAY, 21ST SEPTEMBER 2009

A dhaoine uaisle, Dia dhíbh go léir.  Tá an-áthas orm bheith i bhur measc anseo maidin inniu ar an ócáid speisialta seo. Míle bhuíochas do Bhord na Móna as an fáilte mhór a thugtar dom.  I would particularly like to thank Mr Gerry Ryan for his kind invitation to join you this morning.

As Head of State, it is especially pleasing for me to see a State-owned enterprise celebrate this very significant milestone in its history and indeed in Ireland’s history - and to celebrate it in such a unique manner.  This wonderful exhibition Heartland makes us see our bales of briquettes in a whole new light as it traces the history of the organisation, its workers, its environment and its unique role in Irish life.

Bord na Móna is one of those organisations whose progress has been synonymous with the progress of the Irish State since its foundation.  The development of our bogs on an industrial scale was initially considered in the 19th century, and again in the early 1920s before being finally put in place by the Irish Government in 1934 when it established the Turf Development Board, the precursor to Bord na Móna.  And it is, of course, the 75th Anniversary of this important event that is being marked by the “Heartland” exhibition.

Like our State, the Turf Development Board was born out of a struggle – a struggle by those pioneers and pathfinders like Sir John Purser Griffith, Professor Pierce Purcell and Kieran Farrelly.  These visionary people believed that it could and would be possible to develop and utilise the country’s vast peatlands, considered by most at the time to be useless wastelands, for the greater benefit of the people of Ireland.  Realising their dream proved difficult and costly.  But the struggle by a few committed policy-makers such as Frank Aiken and Todd Andrews, who wholeheartedly believed in the potential for indigenous economic development, succeeded in 1934.

The Turf Development Board played a key role during World War II (the Emergency) when thousands were employed from all over the country to produce turf to keep the fires burning in the family grate.  It was a mammoth undertaking that set the scene for the industrial development of the nation’s peatlands and Bord na Móna was formally established as a Statutory Corporation to manage this next phase. 

It became a great peat company, a great energy company, a hugely important employer in times and places where employment was hard to come by and today it is a conscientious leader in adapting to changing world concerns in the field of climate change, of environmental protection and new energy technologies. Now when I look out my Roscommon window towards the Arigna mountains I see the wind turbines that speak of these new times.  During this summer most days I walked once again the bog roads that my grandfather walked and that we as children loved in the days when we brought tea to the men cutting and stacking the turf that was their energy source for heat and cooking, helped tether the crabbiest donkey in Ireland and walked him back home with the panniers fully loaded at the end of summers that never seemed to know the feel of rain.  Even in this wet, damp summer the boglands retained their unique and endearing magic which made of them a heart land and indeed a hearth land for so many Irish men, women and children.  The culture of turf-cutting was about meagre comfort but also about community for neighbour helped neighbour and many an emigrant came home to bring in the hay and the turf.

Today we look at the peatlands somewhat differently. They are recognised now as a magnificent part of our natural landscape and our heritage and their protection and conservation provokes mighty and important debates. The ongoing challenge for Bord na Móna is to get the balance right and I know the company has already engaged in extensive conservation and rehabilitation of peatlands in parallel with its industrial activities.  In recent years, conscious of climate change and threats to biodiversity, Bord na Móna has raised these aspects of its agenda to an even higher level.

In a letter to Bord na Móna written in 1972, then President Eamon DeValera wrote: “The country was deeply indebted to Bord na Móna and its officers, during the Emergency, and its contribution to the national economy since then is a source of pride to all.”  I add my thanks to Bord na Móna for what has been achieved over these past seventy-five years, no two the same, each provoking new ways of looking at our boglands, our energy needs and ourselves. You are now on a new journey enshrined in your strategic “New Contract with Nature”, an innovative corporate strategy which will see you use your resources to develop wind energy, renewable fuels, new environmental technologies and waste recycling.  It’s a different future that beckons but the commitment to Ireland’s welfare remains a constant.  You are sacred custodians of times and traditions as well as fen and bog and future.  These things have been brought carefully to life in this exhibition which I hope will be enjoyed by many visitors.  To Bord na Mona I say thank you for the last seventyfive years – ad multos annos.  I wish you continued success . 

It is with immense pride and pleasure, therefore, that I declare this Heartland Exhibition officially open.

Go raibh mile bhuíochas díbh.