The self-sufficiency drive of the 1930s led to renewed focus on the use of Ireland’s bog lands as a source of fuel. Two decades earlier Thomas Johnson, professor of botany at the RCScI/UCD, and Hugh Ryan, professor of chemistry at UCD, had pioneered research into the possibility of establishing a peat industry in Ireland. In 1917 Ryan and Pierce Purcell, professor of civil engineering at UCD, were members of a committee charged with making recommendations to the British government on the best method of winning, preparing and using peat as fuel in Ireland. The report was completed at a turbulent time in Ireland’s history, but in 1919 a peat committee was established, chaired by Hugh Ryan with Pierce Purcell as an advisor.
The recommendations of this committee were shelved until 1934, when the Turf Development Board was established to develop Ireland’s peat lands and create a ‘healthy and frugally prosperous industry’. Experiments were carried out in turf-burning stoves and furnaces, and consumers were exhorted to switch to the fuel. Thousands of workers from all over Ireland were recruited during the second world war to produce peat as an essential fuel for industry.
Bord na Móna replaced the Turf Development Board as a commercial company in 1946 and employed many UCD engineering graduates, later to include managing directors Paddy McEvilly, Lewis Rhatigan and Eddie O’Connor. One employee with a colourful background was Konrad Petersen, a native of Latvia who took part in the 1905 revolution there. Petersen graduated from the RCScI in 1913 and returned to Latvia after the first world war. He returned to Ireland after the end of World War II and finished his career in Bord na Móna’s experimental research station, developing peat moss as a horticultural fertiliser.
Bord na Móna staff organised and hosted the first International Peat Symposium in UCD Merrion Street in 1954.