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Heritage Ireland Public Consultation 2030

This is an important request for action by you, which will take just a few minutes of your time. Please read on.

The Dept of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has started planning for a new National Heritage Plan for the period 2021-30.

The plan will recognise the vital role that our natural and built heritage plays in our community, our economy and our society.

It will be a framework to guide and inform the heritage sector over the next decade.

The plan will be designed to protect our heritage and ensure it is cared for into the future.

The DSWAI believes that it is essential that this Plan should include the protection and conservation of Ireland's dry stone walls and buildings. The Department has published a consultation document which is available HERE. You may find it easier to read the short summary attached. Below is a submission by DSWAI member Eddie Farrelly, sent on behalf of the association. This is just an example, feel free to use it for inspiration but please use your own words, do not copy text from this document.

Submissions do not need to be very wordy, just keep it short and to the point (max 2 pages)

You may send in your submission by email to

Alternatively you can submit your thoughts online HERE via a surveymonkey survey. If you take this option please tick 'YES' on Q11 and Q12.

Please submit before the deadline which is midnight on this Sunday, 31st March.

Below is and submission sent by DSWAI member Eddie Farrelly on behalf of the association.

Celebrate, Value, Support and Protect Dry Stone Heritage

As an active member of the Dry Stone Wall Association of Ireland (DSWAI) and an interested member of society in rural Ireland, I am submitting the following thoughts for consideration, when strategy for Heritage Ireland 2030 is being developed.

Dry stone construction, extending back to the Neolithic Period is inextricably linked to the history of human settlement, early farming methods and religious practice in Ireland. We have one of the oldest and most extensive cultural landscapes of dry stone walls in the world.

Archaeological examples of this long tradition are evidenced in the 6000 years old field wall monuments on sites such as the Céide Fields, Co. Mayo or the Burren Park, Co. Cavan. Further examples from other periods include megaliths, souterrains, cairns, dry stone arch bridges, roads construction dry stone retaining walls, beehive huts, churches, graveyards, pre and post 18th century Inclosures Act farm walls, vernacular buildings, sweathouses, wells, drains, kilns and other forms of Archaeological structures.

Extensively marketed for tourism purposes, much of the stone walled landscape does not enjoy appropriate recognition or regulatory protection for the unique habitats and environmental benefits that these structures represent. There is a clear lack of data available on the bio-diversity of dry stone structures and how it impacts on human and environmental sustainability. Insufficient incentives exist to safeguard this irreplaceable heritage into the future.

Benefits of dry stone structures

Dry stone structures provide many benefits worthy of protection and support. These include;

  • Archaeological evidence and a direct link to the culture and historical practices of our ancestors throughout the ages

  • Tourism marketing is intrinsically linked to the aesthetics of dry stone landscapes and these landscapes are recognised as part of our national identity

  • Dry stone wall environments support unique ecosystems which contribute to our “green credentials” as a food producing nation

  • Facing worldwide dwindling species numbers, dry stone structures provide key habitats for biodiversity, including endangered pollinator species, e.g. bumblebees

  • Stone walls create micro-climates, benefitting crops and animals

  • Sustainable and durable stock proof fencing requiring little maintenance

  • Corridors for birds and wild animals

  • Completely recyclable eco-friendly construction material

  • Dry stone walls provide shelter and can alleviate damage caused by climate change. Self draining properties allow for the passage of water to be slowed down, reducing the risk of flooding, soil erosion or slippage.

Working with stone is an eco-friendly cultural tradition that is etched deeply in the Irish psyche, evoking many different images and responses that are deemed beneficial to mental, physical and emotional health. It promotes good social interaction and contributes to harmonious community relationships. Building and repairing dry stone structures is a gender neutral practice. The culture, heritage and skills of an ancient traditional craft are preserved, practiced and respected and sustainable livelihoods are retained within local communities.

Dangers Impacting on Dry Stone Structures

Today, dry stone structures face imminent dangers of loss, deterioration or destruction for many reasons including;

  • Research pertaining to the extent and typology of national dry stone fabric and the unique eco-systems associated therein has never been conducted

  • There is a critical shortfall in regulatory protection, particularly for field boundary walls

  • Loss or destruction from modern agricultural intensification and land development practices

  • Regulation on the control of invasive species is limited

  • Loss of knowledge in the skills of the craft of dry stone construction

  • Replacement by high carbon footprint materials such as concrete, plastic or wire

  • Lack of awareness or knowledge by engineers, planners and landscape designers on the structural and environmental merits of dry stone construction

  • Unawareness on the important role that dry stone habitats provide for biodiversity

  • Consideration of dry stone heritage being confined to physical properties alone - a broader interpretation is required

  • A deficiency in funding and other incentives to encourage conservation and maintenance works to be undertaken

Government Actions

Professor Caitlin DeSilvey, Oxford University suggests,

“Those who make decisions about landscape futures need to be sensitive to how people know the past in place – the dense weave of individual memories, shared experiences, and personally significant landmarks that makes up our understanding of where we are and where we have been” (2011, p. 15).

The Government should develop training/education schemes and provide funding and other resources and facilities to allow for the following actions to be undertaken;

  • Compile data through researching, recording and surveying dry stone structures to establish statistics on abundance, typology and state of repair on a national basis

  • Document the archaeological, heritage, cultural, historical, environmental and social interests

  • Survey and record bio-diversity of dry stone habitats

  • Conduct experiments to analyse and record the impact of dry stone ecosystems on sustainability

  • Research intangible cultural heritage associated with dry stone walls. It is important that the nomenclature, practices, folklore, stories and traditions are recorded for posterity

  • Develop crafts apprenticeship schemes and other focussed training methods

  • Conduct a feasibility study to evaluate the values of developing a traditional crafts skills school in Ireland

  • Develop effective strategic alliances/partnerships with agencies such as the Heritage Council, Local Heritage Offices,DSWAI, Universities, ETB’s, Teagasc, OPW, National Biodiversity Centre, Irish Wildlife Trust, Failte Ireland, Crafts Organisations etc. to deliver the above proposals on dry stone heritage

  • Incentivise and encourage the use of field margin strips

Additionally, to mitigate or reverse the effects of agricultural intensification, improved incentives similar to those available under the Burren Programme or the High Nature Value Programme should be rolled out to farmers nationwide to aid conservation and management of the walled landscape and the special ecosystems supported therein.

Regulatory protection for dry stone wall habitats is scant and it is crucial that measures are taken to rectify this situation.

The allocation of resources focussed on craft skills training can have a positive impact on the sustainability of local heritage, local economies and the retention of people in rural communities with sustainable livelihoods.

Employment opportunities can be created if planning, development and land use regulations are strengthened and implemented to specify that where appropriate, stone should be used as a green and recyclable alternative to concrete blocks, mass concrete and other high carbon footprint materials. Furthermore, the conservation, repair and restoration of existing dry stone structures should not be allowed to fall victim to replacement by less durable contemporary materials.

The Role of Dry Stone Wall Association of Ireland

With a growing membership of 120 currently, DSWAI is a not for profit voluntary organisation dedicated to the conservation, promotion, protection and researching of our National dry stone heritage and culture. An application has been made for Ireland’s dry stone craft to be recognised on the UNESCO List of Intangible Heritage.

Our meagre resources allows us to play a vital, but limited, role in delivering craft skills training workshops and seminars which aim to ensure that best practice is implemented for safeguarding our heritage and culture for the benefit of future generations. An increase in resources would allow us to service increasing demand for the training and information services that we are committed to providing and assist us in consolidating the functions and actions of our association. By performing on our functions and delivering on our principles we can assist an increase in sustainability and contribute to the requirement to meet carbon emission targets.

DSWAI, the only organisation in Ireland focussed on the conservation of tangible and intangible dry stone heritage, is in a favourable position to partner or collaborate with other agencies in carrying out skills training and to assist with researching, surveying and recording dry stone archaeology, heritage and biodiversity. We welcome the opportunity to participate and to make a positive contribution to the Heritage Ireland 2030 consultation process.

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