The Mourne Wall

The culture of dry stone walling is alive and well in north east Ireland, County Down.


For those of us who love granite, these dry stone field systems feel like home.

Perhaps, unlike other parts of Ireland, the craft is able to thrive here in part due to the traditional style lending itself to the work of  machines, which makes walling economically viable.

The technique of single wedge walling remains unchanged, if not on a larger scale.

Today we are not here to build, but to visit the Mourne Wall, which has recently been in the public eye because of an extensive and award winning restoration ..

Built between 1904 and 1922 the wall was crafted from natural granite. It was was ordered by the Belfast City and District Water Commissioners to define a 9,000 acre catchment area for the construction of the Silent Valley reservoir.

The Mourne Wall is 22 miles long and spans 15 summits!

Our guide Peter Rafferty shows us the inside story of the mountains..

Such as shells discarded by U.S troops who trained here during WW2

And many plug and feather marks of stone workers who in family groups were allowed to quarry granite to a depth of 16 feet.

President of Dry Stone Canada Hilary Martin

We tackle Slieve Binnian (747 m) in order to get a closer look at the Mourne Wall. You can see the reservoir and water supply for Belfast beyond, which the wall was built to protect from livestock.

The summit of Binnian reveals granite tors. These massive, frost-shattered tors that erupt from its tip were once nunataks, lonely towers of rock that withstood the elements above the icy expanse..

Then your eye picks out a handmade wall.

As a child I walked the entire length of this wall – all 22 miles over 15 peaks. Today this is not encouraged without an overnight break.

Brenda Lewis enjoys the view

Up on top of Slieve Binnian we meet a wall which is much older than the Mourne Wall.  Thought to be possibly a Famine Wall, although I’ve yet to confirm this.

Master craftsman Sean Adcock appreciates the landscape.

On the Mourne Wall stone workers got paid by the meter of wall built so they camped up high under tarpaulins. Fueled by soda bread, the workers would often face a three-hour climb before the day’s work of splitting and lifting granite slabs even began.

Much of the damage to the Mourne Wall has been caused by lightning strikes over the years.

When you are up high – you can grasp the labour involved in building that wall.  They did it with shovels, spades and wheelbarrows. Giants of men.

On average the Mourne Wall is 1.5m / 4ft 11 inches high and 0.9m / 2ft 11 in thick.

Overlooking Kilkeel

NI Water led the recent renovation work, using helicopters to transport materials and local stone masons the Rooney Brothers, with expert advice from the Mourne Heritage Trust.

Coming down off the mountains would leave you humble.

‘Is trian den obair tús an chur’    –   ‘A third of the work is to begin.’



8 thoughts on “The Mourne Wall

  1. Quality stuff. The sheer magnitude and scale of the project comes across so well in the pictures. I know nothing of wall building, but I recognise both the graft and the craft involved here. Fantastic work.

      1. I see.Due to “érosion différentielle”…I have learned that. Same kind of structure than granite outcrops in the center of Fuerteventura (Canary Island)…

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