VdeP and the canal turf trade

My eye was caught this morning by one point in an Irish Times story about the Society of St Vincent de Paul:

One of the organisation’s most frequent requests for help at present is for solid fuel.

“People are using their fireplaces again. It’s too expensive for them to fill the tank with oil, or pay electricity heating bills and so we are getting huge demand for coal and briquettes,” says Kenny. “There is real poverty in this country now. We hear their stories every day.”

That was one of the reasons the canal-borne turf trade lasted so long in Dublin. Turf had two advantages. First, it did not require a grate, which was an expensive piece of equipment. And, second, you could buy it in small quantities. Coal had to be bought in large quantities, eg a quarter of a ton, so you needed spare cash and you also needed a secure place to store the fuel.

Turf, on the other hand, could be bought in small quantities, a few sods at a time, for small amounts of money. During a coal shortage in 1926, for instance, the Irish Times reported:

Early yesterday morning there were large supplies of brown turf at several points along the Grand Canal in Dublin, but these were quickly sold off at famine prices. Before the coal strike this quality of hand-dug turf was sold at two sods a penny, and sometimes cheaper. By Friday last the price had risen to tenpence per dozen sods; yesterday it was being retailed at a shilling a dozen when carried away from the dumps, while hawkers in the streets were reaping a rich harvest selling turf to importunate poor people at 1.5d a sod or 1/6 a dozen.

Poor people complained bitterly that one dealer refused to sell in small quantities; instead he sold cartloads to hawkers and bellmen at a shilling a dozen. The hawkers took the turf a little distance from the canal bank, and sold it in small lots at three halfpence a sod, making a clear profit of 50 per cent.

Turf, especially the brown turf sold in Dublin (as opposed to the black turf used in the south and west), was a less efficient fuel than coal, but it could be bought for small sums and did not require a large initial outlay.

The Vincent de Paul website is here; it accepts donations.

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