No stone left unturned to preserve an old skillSeptember 14, 2012 - 7:00am
Immortalised in song by the Saw Doctors, Galway’s stone walls have aroused the passions of a group of people who will gather on the Aran Island of Inis Oírr next weekend, September 20-23, for the fifth annual Féile na gCloch, or Stone Wall Workshop.
The event, which runs from Friday to Sunday, is a mix of hard work, academic talks and good fun in celebration of Inis Oírr’s stone wall culture, explains the island’s co-op manager Paddy Crowe.
The smallest of the Aran Islands is the ideal spot for stone wall workshop, agrees Marie Mannion, the Heritage Officer with Galway County Council, which co-ordinates the event.
“There are great walls with great history and the setting is amazing. It’s a living landscape where people can see how the walls are built, so it’s brilliant for learning.”
This is the fifth year Féile na gCloch has been held on Inis Oírr. Two years before that Galway County Council, in conjunction with Teagasc, organised a stone wall event in Athenry. It attracted more than 150 people – exceeding their expectations totally.
The Athenry event was jointly organised by the Galway Heritage Forum and Galway County Council, partly because they felt the skill of stone wall building was being lost as people were getting more detached from the land. That was especially true during the ‘Celtic Tiger’ era.
“A lot of modern stone walls were out of character with the environment and we felt if people picked up skills, they might use them and keep the character of their place,” says Marie.
After Athenry, Marie was approached by people on Inis Oírr, who wanted to run a similar event. Now it has become a regular fixture on the island calendar, attracting people from places like Scotland, Switzerland and Canada, as well as from closer to home. Participants are from all walks of life – farmers, artists, architects, stone masons, ecologists and people with an interest in history and archaeology.
“It’s a great leveller, because it’s physical activity and it’s so tactile,” says Marie of the building process.
“Everyone is made feel at home from the novice up and mentoring is a huge part of it.”
Key to the event’s success has been the support of Dublin stone mason and dry stone wall expert Pat McAfee, who spends much of his time giving courses on ‘walling’ in Ireland and America, where there’s a huge interest in stone walls.
These structures appeal because they work on so many levels, he explains.
“They have durability, purpose and beauty and because of that, they fulfill the three Vitruvian virtues.”
Vitruvius was a Roman architect/engineer who wrote the only book on architecture that has survived from the classical period, he adds.
For more, read this week's Galway City Tribune.