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The disappearing monoliths of Ireland’s bogs

Joseph Kavanagh


Present Tense

Despite a rich cultural, economic, and architectural legacy, many of Ireland’s former peat power plants have been demolished. In an age where the re-use of existing structures is increasingly necessary to combat climate change, how can the country’s remaining industrial infrastructure be repurposed in a way that protects both our natural and built landscapes?

Collage of peat plants within their natural landscapes

What remains is a shrinking repository of industrial buildings and a dwindling memory of Ireland’s harnessing of its bogs.

As the remit of Bord Na Móna has shifted towards a new era of sustainability and carbon sequestration [1], it leaves behind a significant legacy of energy generation and industry, perhaps most notably represented by the construction of several peat power plants, many of which have already been eradicated from the Irish landscape. Seven of the nine peat power plants that were once operated by the ESB have been demolished; only Lough Ree and West OffaIy remain, though they have been decommissioned as of December 2020 [2]. What remains is a shrinking repository of industrial buildings and a dwindling memory of Ireland’s harnessing of its bogs.

Map of Ireland noting location of existing and demolished peat power plants

It could be argued that these monoliths have served their purpose and are now redundant; yet Ireland has previously embraced and celebrated its industrial relics. The Ardnacrusha hydroelectric dam has been celebrated by many and even provokes a certain degree of national pride. The history of Ireland’s peat plants demonstrate they’ve added much more than just power to an ever-thirsty grid and warrant as much attention as their hydroelectric counterparts.

What’s more, in an age where the counting of embodied carbon is an ever more prevalent means of assessing existing structures, the following questions emerge: what determines the current life cycle of a building and how do we, as a society, maximise the longevity of this cycle?

The Irish Free State at the start of the twentieth century saw the rapid development of infrastructure across the island. The First Dáil of 1919 set up a committee that was to explore the feasibility of peat and water harnessing for power generation. Fifteen years later, the government established the turf development board in 1934, the predecessor of Bord na Móna. The turf board took responsibility for the vast boglands of Ireland [3]. This is when the mass exploitation of Ireland’s bogs truly began.

Graphic deconstruction of 1964 ESB journal image of Ferbane peat power plant

The board implemented a shift from traditional methods of harnessing bogs towards industrial-scale techniques, the repetitive nature of which left distinctive marks on the Irish landscape. The measure of this impact remains, for example, in the repetition of drainage ditches, always spaced exactly 15.4m apart. This was accompanied by the construction of a network of peat power plants and the infrastructure to go with them [4].

Despite modernising the traditional system of harvesting peat to satisfy the growing appetite of these power plants, the process still required an immense supply of manual labour. Thus began a long relationship with peat plants and employment for Irish citizens. The demand for workers became so great that housing was commissioned by the board in the 1950s for their growing workforce. Workers’ housing developments required architects, which resulted in a number of well-known and regarded schemes, such as those designed by Frank Gibney. The housing that accompanied the peat plants is an extension of a wider built landscape, as without these industrial giants, the communities that developed in these areas would not exist [5].

The importance of peat plants to Irish society and culture goes far beyond their immense presence in the landscape or the employment they offered. Peat plants helped the ESB to stabilise energy prices during shortages in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. The plants’ role in keeping the lights on for the Irish people emphasise their importance to our collective history and heritage [6].

These power stations’ historical role is certain, but their future, for those that have yet to be demolished, remains unclear. How can these massive structures, built with a very specific role, be repurposed?The ESB has begun to explore possibilities as it will find itself with a number of redundant plants by 2050. In 2020, the ESB released a statement saying that they had reviewed a number of redevelopment options. Suggested examples included the transformation of these structures into energy stores. There is an expectation that this type of battery storage will become more common as we try to keep up with peak demand periods while trying to achieve lower carbon emissions [7].

Sketch of West Offaly peat power plant

For further inspiration, the ESB could look to our European counterparts. We are not the first country to find itself with redundant industrial buildings. In Berlin, on Köpenickerstraße, sits a former heating plant which after years of dereliction found a new lease of life as a night club and has undergone extensive renovation to become a cultural space for exhibitions and events. An hour south of Berlin, you can find the world’s largest indoor beach and rainforest within a former airship-manufacturing hangar. Not only does this approach demonstrate sustainability by maximising the lifespan of these industrial giants but its protects existing built heritage; this hangar is the largest free-standing hall in the world.

While it is understood that maintaining or reusing elements of our built environment is vital to achieve a more sustainable future, it is clear from the above that it is also a way of maintaining a link between a society’s past, present, and future. Buildings hold varying levels of cultural relevance as well as architectural significance. Embracing infrastructural heritage or maximising existing structures for the benefit of the environment is a clear way in which we can protect our natural and built landscape in a way that celebrates both simultaneously.

The housing that accompanied the peat plants is an extension of a wider built landscape, as without these industrial giants, the communities that developed in these areas would not exist.

Present Tense is an article series aimed at uncovering perspectives and opinions from experts in their respective fields on the key issues/opportunities facing Ireland's built environment. For all enquiries and potential contributors, please contact

Present Tense is supported by the Arts Council through the Architecture Project Award Round 2 2022.


1. B. O’Halloran, “Bord na Móna Records €22m profits last year, its first since 2017”, The Irish Times, 21 July 2021.

2. E. Toner, “Power From Peat-MorePolluting Than Coal-Is On Its Way Out In Ireland”, Science, 12 December 2018.

3. M. Manning and M. McDowell, Electricity Supply in Ireland: The History of the ESB, Dublin, Gill and Macmillan, 1985.  

4. G. A. Boyd, “The Architecture of the Bogs”, in Art and Architecture of Ireland Volume IV: Architecture 1600-2000, by R. Loeber, H. Campbell, L. Hurley, J. Montague and E. Rowley, (eds.), New Haven, Yale University Press, 2016, pp. 264–266.

5. F. McDonald, “Ambition and Achievement By Fergal MacCabe: Rescuing Architect Frank Gibney”, The Irish Times, 20 October 2018.

6. “Using Turf for electricity generation”, ESB Archives, [website], 2017,, (accessed 13 September 2022).

7. C. McCormack,“Farmers Call for ESB to repurpose closed peat-fired power stations as anaerobic digestion plants”, Farming Independent, [website], 23 November 2021,, (accessed 13 September 2022).


Joseph Kavanagh

Joseph Kavanagh is a M.Arch Graduate from UCD who is currently working for COADY Architects in Dublin. He is apart of their Healthcare and Education team working on large scale projects across the country.


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