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Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd

Bog Child
y Siobhan Dowd

Publishing Information: David Fickling Books: New York, 2008
ISBN: 9780385751698 / 9780385751704 (Library) / 9780739385388 (Audio)
: 320 p.
Ages: 13 & Up

At the height of “the troubles” in Northern Ireland, eighteen-year-old Fergus is distracted from his all-important A-level exams by his imprisoned brother's hunger strike, the stress of being a courier for terrorists, a budding romance, and fascination with a girl whose body he discovered in a bog.

Book Talk:
Fergus is eighteen. He is a bright student and he wants to get into a university in England. That is the next step for him on his way to becoming a doctor. To take that step, Fergus must get high grades in the competitive Advanced-Level exams, which are much like our SAT and ACT exams.

Fergus lives in a dreary, run down, economically depressed little Northern Ireland town. Everyone scrambles to make a living, working more than one job or having some money-making scheme on the side. As the story of the bog child begins, Fergus accompanies his uncle on a little adventure to earn a little cash. They drive out of town before dawn. They cross through a military border check point into the Republic of Ireland and, after a long drive on unpaved roads in the hills, stop beside a huge peat cutting machine (referred to as a JCB). Dried peat moss is used as fuel in Ireland. It can easily be exchanged for cash. This peat belongs to someone, however. Fergus and his uncle are poaching. They must work quickly, leave before the JCB operators arrive to begin their day’s work, and smuggle the peat back through the boarder check point into Northern Ireland without being caught.

Fergus and his uncle work down in the ditch dug by the JCB. One cuts small slabs of peat from the wall of the ditch with a narrow spade while the other places the slabs of peat in a sack. Something odd in the wall of the ditch attracts Fergus’s attention. His heart leaps to his throat when he realizes it is the body of a girl. The JCB had cut very close, shearing away part of a leg as it did, and it left the body exposed to view. The machine operators must not have seen the body. What should Fergus and his uncle do? Was this a crime scene? How would they report this to the authorities without getting caught in their poaching? Who could the girl be?
Subject Headings & Major Themes:

Bog bodies
Family life – Ireland
Hunger strikes
Ireland – History – 20th Century
The Irish Troubles
Northern Ireland – History
Terrorism – Northern Ireland
Violence – Northern Ireland

Awards & Reviews:
Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Young Adult Novel (Nominee), 2008
Kirkus Review
’s Best Young Adult Books, 2008

Publisher’s Weekly
Best Children’s Book of the Year, 2008

USBBY Outstanding International Books, 2009
YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2009

Booklist¸ August 1, 2008, p. 68 (Starred Review)
Bulletine for the Center for Children's Books, October 1, 2008
Horn Book Magazine, September 1, 2008
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2008 (Starred Review)
, September 1, 2008 (Starred Review)
Library Journal
, December 9, 2008
Publishers Weekly
, July 28, 2008, p. 74
School Library Journal, August 1, 2008, p. 118 (Starred Review)
VOYA: Voice of Youth Advocates
, December 1, 2008

Discussion Questions and Ideas:

  1. Respect for the dead. What was the discussion between Gardai (police in the Republic of Ireland) and RUC (police in Northern Ireland) when they thought the body was that of a murder victim? How did the attitudes of local authorities on both sides of the border change when they discovered the body was ancient?
  2. Lessons of the past. Are Fergus’s visions of the bog girl true or are they mere dreams? Do his visions of her life and death help him sort out the swirl of events in his own life? Are there parallels?
  3. Choices and responsibility. Each of the characters in Bog Child made choices.
    What choices did Brennor make and where did his choices lead?
    What choice did Owain Jenkins make? Why?
    Fergus agreed to carry packages for Michael Rafters (Dafters). How does Michael get Fergus to do it?
  4. Conflict and the search for peace. Standing on the gallows block, Mel says “The faces were cruel, solemn, pitying, triumphant, sad, anguished. Brennor’s face and Rur’s face were side by side. One ashen, the other broken. I foresaw the coming years of violence, the old grudges leapfrogging over generations, reappearing in different forms.” What does Mel hope to accomplish by her self sacrifice? Her vision of endless violence fueled by old grudges down through the ages has proven true. In the present, are any characters in the book working toward peace?
  5. Joe says "A coffin's a mighty statement, Ferg." What does Joe McCann hope to accomplish by his hunger-strike and death? What does the death of each character say to us: Mel? Joe? Owain? Uncle Tally?
  6. Fergus tells his Da (page 294) “It may be a sin to intervene with Joe, Da. But it’s a worse sin if we don’t .” He swallowed, his heart thumping. “If we do nothing, there’ll be no forgveness. Never. The future will go wrong. Everything will go wrong. I know it, Da. Believe me.” What is right and what is wrong in this situation? Talk about the conflict within the McCann family, between Fergus’s Mam and Da. Is that conflict resolved?
  7. What choices does Fergus make in this book? Where does each of his choices lead him?

Related Websites:
Archaeology­. “Bodies of the Bogs.” -  
BBC History. “Northern Ireland: the Troubles.” -
BBC News. “Iron Age 'bog bodies' unveiled.” -
National Geographic. “Tales from the Bog.” -                                              
National Geographic News. “Murdered ‘Bog Men’ Found With Hair Gel, Manicured Nails.” -
NOVA. “The Perfect Corpse.” Four stories: “Bog Bodies of the Iron Age” -                                     
The People of Peace in Northern Ireland -         
Time/CNN World. “Site of IRA Hunger Strike Haunts Northern Ireland.” -,8599,1858068,00.html

A Fine Soft Day by James Forman, 1978
Haunted Ground by Erin Hart, 2003
The Kidnapping of Suzie Q by Martin Waddell, 1996
Notes from a Spinning Planet--Ireland by Melody Carlson, 2006
Over the Water by Maude Casey, 1994
Pearl by Mary Gordon, 2005
Runner by Carl Deuker, 2005
Safe House by James Heneghan, 2006
Silent Stones by Mark O;Sullivan, 1999
Spying on Miss Muller by Eve Bunting, 1995
Torn Away by James Jeneghan, 1994
Who Is Jesse Flood? by Malachy Doyle, 2002
The Wild Colonial Boy by James Hynes,1990

Other Books by the Authors:
A Swift Pure Cry, 2007
The London Eye Mystery, 2008
Solace of the Road, 2009

About the Author:
Siobhan Dowd in her own words:
Born of Irish parents, the youngest of four girls, I was raised in a South London suburb. Despite the red buses and red post boxes, Ireland was bred in the bone. We were brought up as Irish-Catholic, went to Catholic schools with other Irish-Catholics, and spent our magical childhood summers playing with our Irish cousins in Ireland’s County Waterford. While there, we lived in a remote cottage with no water or electricity. We washed in water collected in rain barrels and read by gaslight.

The four of us used to liken ourselves to the girls in Little Women, which meant I was the spoilt one, Amy–the short straw.

From the age of seven, I scribbled down poems, ghost stories, and mystery stories and completed my first novel at the age of nine. It was about Anne, the daughter of a harried innkeeper in Bethlehem, and very, very holey (yes, that is how I spelt the word). But it fixed my aim to write for a living when I grew up.

By a long and circuitous route, I’ve finally attained this goal. In between going to Oxford University and studying Classics, working to promote human rights for the writers’ association PEN, doing a Master’s degree in the social sciences, and living on both sides of the Atlantic (I worked for PEN American Centre in New York City between 1990 and 1997), I was always writing something. I wrote diaries, letters, entertainments for my nieces’ and nephews’ birthdays, as well as hundreds of nonfiction articles and reviews for newspapers and magazines. In a secret drawer, I kept a gargantuan adult manuscript-in-progress: I rewrote it four times before putting it aside.

Then I submitted a short story about a young Irish Traveller boy for Skin Deep, an anthology about racism aimed at young adults (Puffin, 2003). What joy when it was accepted! Encouraged, I wrote A Swift Pure Cry in three intensive months in the autumn of 2004.

The story was inspired by two shocking events that occurred in Ireland in 1984. The first was the tragic death of Anne Lovett, aged 15. Unable to seek help when she fell pregnant, she died of exposure and haemorrhaging while trying to give birth on her own in a grotto to the Virgin Mary in the village of Granard, County Longford. Her child also died. Members of her community pleaded in their own defence that they had been unaware of her predicament.

The second case was that of ‘the Kerry Babies.’ A baby boy was found with multiple stab wounds, abandoned on a beach out on County Kerry’s Dingle Peninsula. The Gardai accused Joanne Hayes, a woman in her 20s who was known to have been pregnant out of wedlock, of having murdered him. She said she had buried her own baby boy, who had died, in a local field. I won’t describe here the bizarre train of events that unfolded, but the result was an independent tribunal and a nationwide furore. To date, the murderer of the stabbed baby boy and his parentage remain a mystery.

Perhaps it was a haunting sense of something unresolved in these tragedies that impelled me to write A Swift Pure Cry. Certainly, the story seemed to write itself. Shell Talent and her (completely fictional) story of loss and discovery must have been germinating in the back of my brain for 20 years.

Today, every day I don’t write feels like a lost day. I never believe that a story will be finished until I’ve typed the last period. And it is always a miracle if I get it down before being run over by a juggernaut.

The calm beauty of Oxford, where I live, and a kind, witty husband prevent me from being so doom-laden that I can’t write at all. I’m currently halfway through my fourth novel . . . and I’m being very careful crossing the road.
Siobhan Dowd passed away in August of 2007 from breast cancer. Her fourth novel Solace of the Road was published in 2008.

From Random House: Teachers @ Random “Spotlight On Siobhan Dowd”

| ©2004 - Rhode Island Teen Book Award Committee | Aaron Coutu, Chair