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Dry Stone building acknowledged by the Department of Culture, Heritage & the Gaeltacht as part o

In January 2018 The Dry Stone Wall Association of Ireland submitted an application to the Department of Culture, Heritage & the Gaeltacht to have Dry Stone building added to the list of activities that are part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Ireland.

On Wednesday 11th July 2019 we received news from the Department that the Minister had approved our application that day.

Thursday 18th July 2019 Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht announces the approval of the DSWAI application to add dry stone building to the ICH inventory.

Brilliant news for the craft of Dry Stone walling in Ireland.

At their meeting on Mauritius on 28th November 2018 UNESCO announced the addition of Dry Stone walling to the listing of activities of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

This was following a bid by eight countries including Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland.

Hopefully Ireland can now eventually join that list of countries.

Dry stone Clochán (beehive huts) on Skellig Michael. Photo ©  Sunny Wieler

Dry stone Clochán (beehive huts) on Skellig Michael.

“Adding the craft of dry stone walling to the Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage is another important step acknowledging the significance and value of this longstanding pediment upon which much of our identity as a group of people on the periphery of Western Europe could be said to have grown”. (DSWAI, ICH expression of interest 2018)

Ireland's dry stone heritage.

Dry stone building of all kinds has been a human cultural activity for a very very long time. Here in Ireland many experts support the evidence based theory that Stone Age people built dry stone walls and monuments to facilitate farming and celebrate their dead.

Ceide Fields, Newgrange, Poulnabrone Dolmen, Skellig Michael and Gallarus Oratory are some iconic examples of the dry stone built heritage of Ireland recognisable around the world.

Boley hut in the Kerry mountains. Boleying the activity of seasonal upland farming and sheepherding was facilitated by the communal creation of dry stone structures like this as well as enclosures and walls.

“Dry stone construction is visible throughout the country. Connemara, The Aran Islands and the Dingle Peninsula are world famous for their dry stone structures and landscapes. From the Mourne Wall in Antrim to wedged harbour walls in South Munster to freestanding lace walls on the Burren and the consumption walls of Roscommon the location and range covers the entire island. Irish emigrants have taken the practice of the craft to places like the UK, USA, Canada and Australia. Ireland is internationally seen as a place where dry stone building is a key part of the built heritage. The practice can still be found in every county in Ireland” (DSWAI, ICH Expression of Interest submission 2018)

Gallarus Oratory. World famous as a fine example of communal dry stone construction

Stone gate on Inis Oírr, Aran Islands, Co. Galway

“Dry stone walls are key built heritage units allowing cultivation of crops and husbandry of animals which once sustained life on places like the Aran islands and now draw many hundreds of thousands of visitors to awe at the density and beauty of these built environments”. (DSWAI, ICH expression of interest 2018)

When people began to gather stone and arrange it in rows to form boundaries it may have facilitated the emergence of the settled way of life from a prior hunter gatherer existence.

Fields of dry stone walls cleared from the surface made the land more workable, gave shelter to crops and animals and created microclimates that allowed people to live together in larger and larger groups hence, from which it seems the great Irish megalithic monuments like Newgrange and the Dolmens evolved.

Bronze Age wedge tomb at Lough A Doon, Kerry. This solar alignment was a tomb for burial and an indicator of the passage of time and it’s builders connection to their environment through the communal construction of this dry stone monument.

A deserted dry stone settlement and boleying area at the valley floor below the Conor Pass, Dingle Peninsula, County Kerry. A complex area littered with evidence of communal dry stone building to facilitate farming, habitation and worship.

Across Left: Reask Oratory, Dingle peninsula. An area of rich dry stone heritage, particularly dry stone settlements from the early Christian period in Ireland. These sites were built collectively and housed some of Ireland’s earliest Christian communities.

The activity then of collectively collecting and assembling stone in more and more ways has become a deeply seated cultural activity for Irish people that we freely recognise as a living part of our heritage.

Heritage in action.

Irish people love dry stone walls and buildings and we see them clearly as a symbol of ‘who we are’.

The early Christian settlement at Skellig Michael, a UNESCO world heritage site and shining example of how dry stone building facilitated cultural activity on many levels in Ireland.

“Dry stone building is in our genes”. 7th century, Cahergall dry stone fort, Iveragh peninsula, Co. Kerry

Travelling around the country of Ireland dry stone structures are plentiful, particularly west of the river Shannon, in upland areas, and of poorer rocky land. Landlord estates from the time of Ireland’s time as a British colony show many miles of dry stone walls built by wallers from Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales who moved over and back between these countries actively sharing a common cultural heritage activity.

“Dry stone walling and construction are synonymous with the evolution of Irish culture and heritage. Dry stone walls and buildings created sheltered spaces to live, keep animals and grow crops. They facilitated non-subsistence activities. Stone walls, as boundaries, in prehistory and historically were recognised assembly locations allowing the development of community or communal feasting activities such as games and trade.” (DSWAI, ICH Expression of Interest submission 2018)

Globally, dry stone building is one of the oldest cultural activities.

Dry stone structures withstand the test of time more so than more organic forms of building activity and as such they are our indicators and links to this now almost genetic predisposition to want to collectively handle and ‘build something in stone’.

One of the Fahan Group Beehive huts on the Slea Head, Dingle peninsula. Dry stone building activity is evident in the area since at least four and a half thousand years before present.

Dry stone walling has been with us for a very very long time. And given the acknowledgement now by 9 countries (of which Ireland is one) of dry stone building as an intrinsically cultural activity which is part of our living heritage there can be no doubt that dry stone building is here to stay.

Feidin Wall, Aran Islands, Co. Galway

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