We use a multiproxy palaeoecological dataset from Dead Island bog in Northern Ireland to examine the cause of the Sphagnum austinii (Sphagnum imbricatum) decline. The disappearance of this species from the peat record occurred just after the ‘AD 860’ tephra layer and is coeval with a rapid increase in bog surface wetness and increased mineral dust and charcoal abundance. Although it is difficult to identify one specific cause of the decline, the evidence for increased soil-derived dust is apparent and is supported by regional tephra-dated pollen diagrams that reveal extensive landscape changes due to agricultural intensification in early Medieval Ireland. As the decline of S. austinii occurred much later (~ AD 1860) in Fallahogy bog (~ 1.2 km away), we suggest that the decline of S. austinii at Dead Island was caused by a combination of fire and the deposition of soil-derived dust. We suggest that future studies should consider the use of multiple cores from each site to examine the within-site variability of the decline of S. austinii.