Over the last century, afforestation in Ireland has increased from 1% of the land area to 10%, with most plantations on upland drained blanket peatlands. This land use change is considered to have altered the hydrological response and water balance of upland catchments with implications for water resources. Because of the difficulty of observing these long-term changes in the field, the aim of this study was to utilize a hydrological model to simulate the rainfall runoff processes of an existing pristine blanket peatland and then to simulate the hydrology of the peatland if it were drained and afforested. The hydrological rainfall runoff model (GEOtop) was calibrated and validated for an existing small (76 ha) pristine blanket peatland in the southwest of Ireland for the 2-year period, 2007–2008. The current hydrological response of the pristine blanket peatland catchment with regard to streamflow and water table (WT) levels was captured well in the simulations. Two land use change scenarios of afforestation were also examined, (A) a young 10-year-old and (B) a semi-mature 15-year-old Sitka Spruce forest. Scenario A produced similar streamflow dynamics to the pristine peatland, whereas total annual streamflow from Scenario B was 20% lower. For Scenarios A and B, on an annual average basis, the WT was drawn down by 16 and 20 cm below that observed in the pristine peatland, respectively. The maximum WT draw down in Scenario B was 61 cm and occurred in the summer months, resulting in a significant decrease in summer streamflow. Occasionally in the winter (following rainfall), the WT for Scenario B was just 2 cm lower than the pristine peatland, which when coupled with the drainage networks associated with afforestation led to higher peak streamflows. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.