The Body in the Bellaghy Bog

Story


There was an interesting news item last week concerning the discovery of human remains in a peat bog in Bellaghy, County Derry. Radio-carbon dating has established that these remains are about 2,000 years old, so this was a person who lived in the Iron Age; a post-mortem has revealed it to be a teenage boy of around 15 years old. No cause of death has yet been established, but it is generally thought that these bog bodies were people who were executed as a punishment, or perhaps sacrificed for some ritual purpose.

These are neither the oldest nor the best-preserved such remains to be found in Ireland; the oldest belong to Cashel Man, who died, about 4,000 years ago, in the early Bronze Age. Nevertheless, the anaerobic conditions of the bog have slowed decomposition so much that not only bones, but some skin, hair and even parts of internal organs survive. This find is therefore important, not least because it should be possible to obtain detailed information about the DNA of this individual. Understanding of Ireland’s prehistoric past has been upended in recent years by DNA. What will Bellaghy Boy tell us?

Another fascinating aspect of this story is that the location of the remains is very close to the house where the poet Seamus Heaney lived. Heaney wrote a number of poems about bog bodies and it’s ironic that there was one waiting to be found so close to his home.

Anyway, this gives me an excuse to post a vaguely relevant poem by Heaney called Bogland which, appropriately for the title of this blog, comes from a collection called Door into the Dark.

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