STONE MAD, Part II: Stone Walls- The Question of Why?
By John Digney
[Part I ran in the April, 2021 issue, and can be read in our archives here on www.ohioianews.com]
With the focus of enhancing our understanding and awareness of Ireland’s dry stone walls, I think it’s important to answer the question of Why? Why is it important to preserve the art of stone walling and promote dry stone construction? What is happening to the craftsman and wallers who hold the knowledge of this ancient craft?
As I continue to study and learn about the uniqueness of the stone walls and the benefits associated with the natural materials, I discover more about the subtlety and intricacy of these structures; it’s really quite fascinating. The impact on the environment and the contribution they provide as stand-alone ecosystems with a natural, inherent connection to the earth, not only provides shelter for insects, rodents and small nesting birds, but also provides the perfect environment for lichen, moss, flora and a plethora of fragile and delicate vegetation.
These walls are not just part of the landscape, they are the fibers of life woven from the earth. Like music, folklore, storytelling and many other traditions passed down through Irish history, stone walling and dry stone construction is part of who we are as Irish men and women.
In this high tech world of mass production, social media and augmented reality, why is it so important to pause for a moment, slow down and build something from the earth? To help answer this question and provide a better understanding of what makes this craft so unique, our experts from the Dry Stone Wall Association of Ireland (DSWAI) have provided us with some background and history.
Over the past twelve years since its inception, the DSWAI has worked, primarily with volunteers, to identify, re-construct and preserve dry stone walls throughout Ireland. In addition to constructing the walls, it is paramount for the DSWAI to teach, inform and mentor individuals so this ancient artform is not lost. Below is an excerpt from an article provided by Ken Curran, one of the three founders of DSWAI.
The tradition of dry stone walling in Ireland goes back to the early Neolithic. Evidence of these first farmers from Counties Mayo (Ceide fields) and Kerry (Lough A Doon) point to a culture with a well developed sense of identity, a connection to the land and an ability to use stone as a building material. The dry stone wall field systems built at this time are currently the earliest known dry stone walls in the world. The same people built and decorated the passage tombs, stone circles and stone alignments dotted around the country. Ireland has such a wonderful heritage in dry stonework.
It’s not just for our built heritage that dry stone construction should be kept alive but for the environment too. The stone here is the environment and there is no more pure a way to work with the environment (and enhance it for our pleasure) than with a natural material. Dry Stone structures look and are ‘of the earth’. They ground us. We need them to give us perspective.
When and where?
The Dry Stone Wall Association of Ireland started when the three founding members were participating on a traditional stone wall course in Kerry in 2009. We each had a love of stone structures stretching back to childhood, but it was the course that saw the inception of the association. Our aim is to provide a forum for interested stone enthusiasts. A place where likeminded people may discuss challenges, advice can be sought and given and the craft of dry stone walling in Ireland can be promoted. Our hope is that in doing so we might contribute in some way to keeping the age old craft alive and vibrant. We knew we were not alone and that others with a love of dry stone building were actively pursuing their passion through workshops, community projects and training schemes throughout the country. The aim in forming the association is to encourage members to work closely together, while at the same time promote and grow the craft further.
Stone Walls – Your Ongoing Support
As planning continues and we remain hopeful for a visit in the Fall, I would be remiss not to mention how thankful I am for all the words of encouragement I have received from our April article. The comments on Facebook, texts, calls, etc., have been humbling and quite energizing as I work with the Dry Stone Wall Association of Ireland (DSWAI) and the Ohio Irish American News to build our mission of collaboration and community involvement to preserve, educate and build dry stone walls for generations to come. It is greatly appreciated.
Please continue your support through online donations, stories of your family history, knowledge sharing and links to homesites from the past. All monetary contributions will be collected through the OhioIANews and will be distributed directly to DSWAI.
The Dry Stone Wall Association of Ireland is a registered charity in Ireland, Charity number 20206056. In the DSWAI, our aim is to create an awareness of the need for preserving the craft of ‘dry’ stone building in Ireland. In doing so, the association hopes to advance the education of the public in the knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of the craft of building and repairing traditional dry stone walls in Ireland. For more information, contact information, or to donate directly, please visit the website at www.dswai.ie
*John Digney is an Artist /Designer who received his BFA in Industrial Design from the Cleveland Institute of Art. He was raised in the Cleveland neighborhood of Westpark near Kamm’s Corner. He, his wife Kathleen, and daughters Eileen and Megan, now reside in Greenville, SC. John looks forward to the day when he can devote more time to his family, art and passions. John can be reached at [email protected].