The Chief Executive of Bord na Móna has said he is looking to new projects in freshwater fish farms and tourism in a bid to replace the jobs to be lost by 400 workers in the peat sector in the next 12 months.

Tom Donnellan says that trials of fish production and herb growing are under way in Co Offaly.

But small communities, which have relied on the company for employment since the 1940s and 50s, say that up to €20 million in investment in new infrastructure is needed first to kick-start regeneration projects.

So where will the jobs come from in the midlands when Bord na Móna closes down?

Before we look forward, let’s look back at one community’s tale of economic progress and its plan for the future.

In architectural terms, Kilcormac is a member of an exclusive club. These were communities created by Bord na Móna with the help of architect Frank Gibney. In the 1950s and 60s designer built villages like the one in Kilcormac marked the arrival of a new economic era of job creation for the midlands.

Mr Gibney's unique style of estate can still be seen today across seven midlands towns with the hallmark features of concrete arches and the stone crosses punctuating the long and winding rows of two-storey dwellings surrounded on all sides by large green areas where a new generation of midland children grew up and won their own 'All Irelands'.

But the workers who cut the turf in Bord na Móna and lived in these estates originally are long gone from the bogs and in the next 12 months, another 400 employees from the peat harvesting sector will lose their jobs.

The arrival of the first employees to Kilcormac and a host of other midlands towns was compared by the locals to something akin to the United Nations arriving in town.

Hundreds of people from all over the 26 counties applied for the labourers' jobs when the semi-state firm decided to set up in a dozen locations in Offaly, Westmeath, Laois, Longford, Kildare, Roscommon and Mayo in the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

In the post-war period and at a time when global warming and decarbonisation did not exist in the vocabulary of the Irish Government, the move to create jobs on the bogs was a straight forward economic driver.

The plan was to take hundreds of people who would otherwise emigrate and plant them in towns and new communities around the country and, sure enough, within 24 months they began to arrive in their hundreds.

The distinctive family names from Kerry, Cork and Donegal soon became part of everyday life in the midlands. They set about their new life with some gusto and blended in everywhere they went once they found a bed.

Bord na Móna knew the Government wanted the new operations put in place as soon as possible but, without houses, where were the first pioneers of the midlands high bogs to live and eat and sleep? A homelessness crisis of another variety threatened to delay the operation but not for long.

Before the era of mechanisation, the turf was cut and saved by manual labour and the plan was first hatched that the men who came from all over the country were to be  accommodated in so-called hostels throughout the midlands.

Hostel is almost too posh a word to describe some of the accommodation that was provided and still exists in some form to this day. In places like Kilcormac and Lanesborough, the long narrow buildings where the men from the 26 counties slept next to the canteen facilities became known as billets - semicircular dormitories of the most basic variety where the new brigade who came to cut the turf and harvest the bog got to put their head down for rest and not much more.

The company records in its own history books that "wages were low at about £2 per week but for many it was a better alternative than the factories of war-torn England.

"By the standards of the time the accommodation was comfortable. The food (three full meals a day) in particular was wholesome and the camaraderie was of a high order. The camps were well run and the remoteness of these hostels from town or city life created their own culture and for many, memories of the period evokes nostalgia."

As the new State invested more in its future, accelerated development of the bogs for power generation and briquette manufacture commenced and, according to Bord na Móna, this new approach with its heavy demand on mechanisation did not have the same manpower needs. In any case the men of the hostels were settling down in their new abodes and marrying local girls.

In order to hold on to this workforce more substantial houses were now necessary. Enter Frank Gibney and the decision was made to provide new housing schemes in appropriate locations to serve the turf development programme at Kilcormac, Rochfortbridge, Lanesborough, Cloontuskert, Derraghan, Timahoe, and Bracknagh. Seven new communities were soon to be born.

In Kilcormac the boost for the economy, as the new homes were built, was immediate. One of the central bogs in Boora was on its doorstep and the town flourished with its new residents and all the new strengths they brought to the community. For more than 40 years that permanence continued to let the town thrive and, though there was emigration, like so many other small towns, they had a very decent cushion in place by the name of Bord na Móna jobs right up to the end of the 1990s.

Today Kilcormac has a population of 1,800 people and is starting again in its planning for the future. With the closure of several local bogs the downsizing of the company has already taken its toll here, yet a new local committee has been put in place with an ambitious eye on building its future employment levels through the the tourism sector and a link with the award-winning visitor centre Boore Parklands just down the road is being planned.

Sylvia Sweeney of the Kilcormac Economic Development Group

Sylvia Sweeney is part of the economic development group in Kilcormac and she told me that, even though the end of Bord na Móna's dominance has come faster than they expected, the new plan is to work closely with Boora Parklands and try and attract some of the 100,000 people from that visitor site onto the features the own town will have to offer. A number of local buildings are to be acquired and developed as visitor centre attractions where the story of the company's glorious 50 years of job creation will be told.

The first of the job losses in Bord na Móna will take place before Easter. 150 people will leave but the company's new CEO Tom Donnellan has revealed he is looking to freshwater fish farms, herb growing, recycling, tourism and renewable energy to replace its traditional peat income. He said the company intends to double its renewable energy production through solar, wind and biogas.

The company has begun recycling tyres and intends to begin recycling plastic.He gave an impressive presentation to a meeting of Offaly County Council in recent times to spell out where the future lays, but on the ground there's scepticism about some of these plans.

Councillor John Leahy from Kilcormac says huge investment is going to be required for the retraining of those retiring and he simply cannot accept that the level of job creation will be anything near what it was in the halcyon days of turf and peat.

Councillor John Leahy

Student Jane Lowry is one of the new generation of Kilcormac people who will go into the workplace without Bord na Móna as an option for employment in the future. All of her family have worked in the company and she says even early retirements will not help the community. She says new plans are needed and new vision for the future.

No matter what happens, 2019 will be a hugely challenging year for Bord na Móna communities like Kilcormac. The town is campaigning for improvements to the N52 road network and hoping for regeneration funds from central Government in February, but former Bord na Móna workers like Sean Craven say urgent help is needed for those losing their jobs.

Sean went down to the local Bord na Móna workshop recently and spoke to men with children still facing college fees and more expense in later life. "They do not have a plan what they are going to do," he says, "we need to help them."

Anyone like Sean and myself who grew up in the heart of the midlands bogs will not need outsiders to lecture us on what 'should' have been done for the planning ahead of the job losses in 2019. The reality is that nothing has been done by way of preparation in most areas and hundreds of workers and their families face uncertain times.

They await a meaningful plan that will ensure their future is as well planned out as their past was. They know the contribution Frank Gibney and others made on the last occasion in the 1950s  and they await news of who will be the key designer of their future destiny.