Arch Acumen

There are times when living on a ragged island with a European periphery, is not easy, and can feel like a backward misfortune – especially when the government has dished up a budget of naked savagery against its poorest & most vulnerable citizens, such as it has yesterday.

It is on these days that our eye turn to arches. They span our rivers and valleys with  simplicity and endurance, witness to those who withstood previous hardships & shouldered burden together.

On budget day during a ‘hell-fantasy’of wind & rain, I dropped into the FAS stone course in Donegal Town where in an industrial unit, a group of keen guys mentored by the highly proficient mason Rónán Crehan, can be found tackling the various skills of stone.

No mathematics is required bar the use of a measuring tape to find the centre of your circle – then with string to mark your radius, pull the line in a fan shape projecting the position of each stone to construct an arch.  Sin-é!

A wooden template centred between build lines is raised slightly off the ground on small wooden wedges, to facilitate its removal later.

Of distinct

importance among the voussoirs – wedge-shaped stones forming the arch – are the skew stones (or springer stones) which are lowermost & located where the curve of the arch springs from the vertical support, in this case, the floor.   This turns aside the mass above thrusting it onto the horizontal and distributing it to the floor. The keystone is the apex of the arch, the final stone to be placed, and while an arch cannot function without one, it experiences the least stress of all the voussoirs.   It’s often larger & decorative, & holds a symbolic importance as a central supporting structure, but the reality of any arch is this: it takes all of its elements to hold it together. Only when all voussoirs are in place can it be                        self-supporting.                                                As I chatted to the guys and took these pictures of their work, many said they are headed for emigration sky ships, and who can blame them.

For those that remain, we must form a human arch, not for purposes of burden sharing the debts of reckless institutions as the budget dictates, but to support ourselves & each other in whatever acts of solidarity are necessary to restore integrity.

7 thoughts on “Arch Acumen

  1. Oh my! We have a huge arch over the hearth in the kitchen (the kind of hearth you can walk right into without stooping)…but the keystone was removed at some point in the past for a metal square flue. The arch is now ‘supported’ by breeze blocks. We were advised that to try and reinstate the arch, and remove the breeze blocks, we’d risk bringing the entire chimney down…but this gives me a little hope that we might just be able to do it.

    1. Hello there – maybe one of the masons can tell us about repairing arches – I would imagine a kind of template, or temporary timber support – is the way to go! Good luck with restoring it to it’s former glory.

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