Research done a number of years ago by Dr. Anrold Honer from the UCD School of Geography, Planning and Environmental Policy revealed a fascinating slice of history. It came about following the discovery of the Bog Commission results, notably 50 maps, at an auction.
In 1808, Ireland which was still under British rule was proposed as the base for a massive hemp growing operation in order to aid the war against France, then ruled by Napoleon Bonaparte.
The hemp which was to be grown in Irish bogs was to be used to support the mass production of sailcloth, for use by the British navy.
One of the largest ever surveys of Irish land was commissioned in order to assess how viable the plan was, and the Bog Commission was created. In 1809 a team of engineers travelled to Ireland to survey the bogs.
The commission would last a total of four years and cover about one tenth of the country. The main areas of focus were the midlands, north Munster and large parts of Connaught.
There were plans to extend the survey, however the engineers were re-called and the plans eventually scrapped as the threat from Napoleon faded.
How viable the plan was is questionable, the draining of bogs would have been no easy task, nor cheap, but this shows the pressure the British establishment was under to come up with solutions to meet war demands.
It has been suggested that they considered the plan as “Growing hemp on bogs had the great merit that it would not interfere with established tillage land, already under pressure to provide food for a growing nation.”
The ambitious plan led to the creation of the Bog Commission and provided detailed maps of pre-famine Ireland, and some insightful social commentary from the team of engineers.
But ultimately no hemp for the purpose of fighting Napoleon was sown in Ireland, or at least not under this plan.
Information for article sourced from:
UCD Research Showcase
This History Ireland article goes into much greater detail about the survey, commissioners, the maps and more.