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Dancing the Culm


Author : Michael J. Conry
Description : Culm, the fine gritty and dusty by-product of anthracite mining, was used as a domestic and industrial fuel for almost 400 years in Ireland, and even longer in other parts of the World. It was burned as a domestic fuel chiefly in the regions surrounding the coalmining districts of Arigna, Co. Roscommon; Ballingarry, Co. Carlow; and Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny. Industrial uses included lime burning, blacksmiths' fuel, brick burning, grain drying and in the four sugar beet factories in Ireland. Millions of tonnes were used in the lime burning industry throughout Ireland for almost four centuries.

Culm, by its very nature, could only be burned as a domestic fuel when it was made into culm balls, known in the Castlecomer area as 'bombs'. The people gradually developed the technique of making culm balls and burned them as a domestic fuel in a grate ('raised hearths'). Thomas Phelan of Durrow, Co. Laois developed and manufactured various sizes of the Thomas Phelan Range specifically for burning culm balls. In the Arigna area, where turf was the preferred domestic fuel in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, the people installed temporary 'removable' grates for the winter and removed them when turf became available again.

This book traces the history of burning culm as a domestic fuel in Ireland, the sources and quality of the culm, methods of bringing home the culm (i.e. horse and cart or donkey and creels), the diversity of techniques used to temper the culm with yellow clay (or daub) and water, burning the smokeless fuel and the various methods of baking and cooking, with primitive facilities and utensils on the culm fire in different parts of the country. It also endeavours to give some idea of the lives and social conditions of the people during the culm-burning era and especially in the early part of the 20th century.

Information : Hardback, 339pp, in full colour with 320 black and white (old) and colour photographs, maps and drawings, published in 2001, ISBN 0 9535876 2 6.

Price : €40 plus P+P (limited stock available)

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