Monday, October 3, 2011

Bridge and Festival Hopping

Gavin makes sure the walls stay upright 
and the paths are in good repair in The Lake District. 

My good friend Gavin Rose a path builder currently based in the Lake District, England working for the National Trust will also be joining us at Rocktoberfest this year. He has helped me at four of the seven bridge workshops in Canada that the DSWAC has run over the last eight years and he and I are hoping to one day be able to build a dry stone bridge in the Lake District. 

He will be assisting me in the Little Long Lake Bridge course we are holding near Perth Ontario which is going to be run shortly after our Thanksgiving Festival north of Toronto. (There are still two spots available for this bridge workshop – write for details)

Speaking of festivals, Gavin very recently attended the Inis Oirr Dry Stone Walling Festival in Ireland. Included here is his report with photos of this event which he just sent me.

On the weekend of Sept 23- 25 this year I had the good fortune to be invited to the Inis Oirr Dry Stone Walling Festival. For those unfamiliar with this part of the world, Inis Oirr is one of three islands that form the Aran Isles off the West Coast of County Galway in the Republic of Ireland. These islands are renowned for their intricate system of dry stone field walls, which have their origins in neolithic times and have continually been in use up to the present day. The wall system dominates the entire landscape, and the diversity of walling styles found within it is in all probability unique.

To promote interest in this rich heritage, the County of Galway has sponsored a walling workshop on Inis Oirr that will now be run on an annual basis. Two of the main organisers are Patrick McAfee, an internationally recognised expert on traditional building techniques, and Marie Mannion, Galway County Council's Heritage Officer. Participants of the three day event came from all over Ireland, along with Nick Aitken - a master waller from Scotland - and myself - a path builder currently based in the Lake District, England working for the National Trust.

This year's project was to replace an expediently built mortared wall standing in front of the island cooperative with a more traditional dry laid structure. With instruction from Pat, Nick, myself and other experienced wallers - including an islander known for his mastery of the local styles - approximately 50 participants were taught basic dry stone construction techniques by building a local type of wall known as Feidin. With this wall, very large stones - roughly resembling grave stones in shape and size - are set vertically at 4-5 foot intervals perpendicular to the wall face, thus dividing the wall into segments that can then be worked on by a person on either side of the wall. Between these stones, who's local Gaelic name translates as 'mothers', a double skinned wall is made with smaller stones (children) being laid horizontally. Once the wall of 'children' has reached the height of the 'mothers' , very large vertical coping stones (fathers), are set in place. In addition to this, an adjacent wall was rebuilt during the workshop in a style similar to that commonly found in Britain except that instead of using through stones, larger stones were placed vertically at intervals along the wall - these stones are referred to as 'stitching'.

Over the weekend, talks on various aspects of dry stone walling were presented, with Patrick discussing the walls of the Aran Isles, Nick exploring the relationship in walling styles between Ireland, Scotland and Kentucky and mine being on the dry stone work the National Trust does in the Lake District. The two walls were successfully completed by Saturday afternoon with a celebratory pig roast held that evening. Our Sunday was devoted to touring the island with a local guide who explained Inis Oirr's history while showing us the island's varied and numerous stone structures. All in all a great time was had, with people being exposed to the island's traditions and culture, new walling skills being learnt and friendships being made. From the first day it was evident that many of the participants were taking part for their second, third or forth time, and after spending a weekend in such pleasant company, surrounded by Inis Oirr's spellbinding walls I can understand why. As I fondly recall singing ballads in the local pub with my fellow wallers after a satisfying day's work, I realise it certainly won't be the last time I take part in this wonderful event.

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