Inis Oírr – drystone wall workshop

The smallest and most easterly of the Aran Islands, stunning Inis Oírr is formed of limestone pavement and rises 60m above sea level at its highest point where the O’Brien castle (left: C15th) and Signal Tower (right:1804) dominate the island.
A dense network of wall covers the island, without which there would be no protection against winds. Precious hand-made fields of sand & seaweed would be swept away. Unique to these islands are ‘feidin’ walls, beautifully constructed with big uprights called ‘máthair’ (‘mother) stones, wedged between them ‘na páistí’ (children) stones and usually  consolidated with larger coping stones atop. Many of these walls are a single stone deep & have an unstable appearance, with gaps allow wind to pass through. Cleverly, gaps also trick sheep into thinking a wall too unstable to jump. On the three Aran Islands it’s estimated that dry stone walling measures an impressive total of roughly 93 miles.

The workshop runs yearly & this September’s involved roughly 50 people building on a site in front of the community centre, near the school.  Seasoned stonemasons worked alongside folk who had little or no experience; the age range of participants varied greatly, while predominantly male, half a dozen women took part over the course of the weekend. Archeologists, geologists, conservationists, ecologists, artists and gardeners were among us.

This shows footing being laid between two large uprights at a depth which takes into account the weight of the wall & also the bearing capacity of the sand, which is strong.  The principle of turning each stone with its length running in towards the centre of the wall has been observed. Large, flat stones are used buffed up tight to each other and heart filled thoroughly.

A fork lift was available to winch into position the largest mother stones – even so it took several strong guys to wrestle them into final positions. By the end of the first day and with an impressive dent  made on the job – there was no better reward than good food and a pint of the creamiest Guinness.

The weekend was facilitated by Patrick McAfee, (author of ‘Irish Stone Walls’ and ‘Limeworks’) and punctuated with talks by himself as well as by Nick Aitkin & Gavin Rose.

‘Alive’ stones are upright while ‘dead’ stones lie flat. What gorgeous sunburning weather we enjoyed while it poured on the mainland; rain passing over the flat island to break on the hills of Connacht – which allowed us to finish our wall by tea time.

A great sense of achievement working together.. Time for the group photo – can’t wait until next year to fo it all over again!

5 thoughts on “Inis Oírr – drystone wall workshop

  1. Hey there,

    We would like to know when the stone building course is on this year 2015? What do we need to book it?


    1. Hi John
      the Inis Oirr festival usually happens on the third weekend of September. Registration happens in july/August.
      It would be great to see you there!
      The Tirconnell Stone Festival happens in Donegal, Glencolmcille 19th – 21st June. Registration should begin in Feb or so.
      Details of both workshops will be on the DSWAI website!
      Everyone welcome – it promises to be the best year ever.

  2. Hi Louise,

    I am completing my exegesis for a PhD in landscape architecture and I came across your great photos, because I am drawing some connections between my work and the craft of dry stone walls. Would it be possible to use one of your photos in my document. I will of course credit you. I am based in Dublin and I am a PhD candidate with RMIT, Melbourne.

    Kind regards,

    1. Hi Dermot you are most welcome to use my pictures on the creative commons basis, and thank you for asking. I have many more in my private collection should you need them. I’d be interested in how you draw your connections in this respect. Best of luck with the good work. Louise

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s