Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Thinking With Computers Is Handy Too

Yesterday John Bland sent me jpgs of the original designs he drew on Sketchup for the dry stone solar alignment project he devised and staged for Amherst Island dry stone festival last weekend. 

Sketchup is a free application that uses advanced computing features to enable the user to create, visualize and move objects in 3 dimensions. Its accuracy provides a way of positioning in a virtual way, imaginary objects in real space but more impressively, by calculating the shadows the objects make, the program shows what the objects will look like in time too. 

Prior to the actual festival weekend John went to the island and located the points with GPS co-ordinates from his Sketchup calculations. He set up batter boards and string lines and so give the festival wallers the guides needed to build an arrangement of dry stone structures (with seats and walls) that would not only have an opening for the sun to shine through, but predict where the sun's beam would hit at a certain prescribed time.

Then during the festival, the structure was carefully erected, stone upon stone, in great anticipation that the sun would align with everything at 6:30 on the last day of the festival, just as the program predicted it would. 

At the precise moment this photo was taken on Sunday, the evening the clouds parted, the sun came out and a circle of light appeared on the target wall (where you see it in the photo to the left of John's shoulder and to the right of the carved stone ). 

Yesterday, when he got home, John punched 6:34 ( the time that photo was taken) into his Skecthup calculations. 
The program spit out a drawing of where the beam of light would have to be focused for that exact moment on Sunday. 

Voila ! The structure had been built and aligned perfectly with the predicted movement of the sun !

John was so excited t see how everything had worked so well and texted me right away to say he was 'freaking out'. 

We agreed that this success opens up the possibility for other new designs incorporating modern computer capabilities with ancient dry stone techniques. It presents more opportunities to explore (at future festivals and demonstrations) the exciting relationship between time and space and structures made with stone. 

Monday, September 28, 2015


Everyone had their cameras and iPhones poised and ready for the moment the solar alignment took place at Amherst Island yesterday around 630 pm. 

By his calculations John Bland anticipated the sun would shine a beam of light through the massive drystone aperture structure the festival wallers had worked on for weeks and  completed less than 15 minutes before, to illuminate the target circle (a special commemorative stone carved by Tracey Mahaffey ) on another structure built on site sixty feet away.

After a dramatic delay of 3 minutes the the clouds parted, and the setting sun's light came streaming through the Celtic Cross aperture onto the wall.

At the moment the beam of light appeared (as predicted, and only off the target spot slightly because of the three minute delay) the huge crowd cheered and the whole thing was captured from many angles digitally through many high tech imaging devices.

Here Ken Curran's happy face was captured on Ben's Smartphone lit up by that beam, as he and Jordan and another waller posed in front of the target

Others watched and took photos from behind the aperture structure.

The aperture opening proved in fact to be perfectly aligned with the target.

This carefully built dry stone installation on Amherst Island has introduced a wonderful new relationship of motion time and celestial synchronization into the art of dry stone walling in Canada in the 21st century. 

Here are some of the key wallers who happily gave of their energy, skill and time to create the aperture - an 'opening' for everyone to begin to enjoy a new phase of walling in Canada. Let's hope it will be as exciting and as happy as this day was at the Irish Canadian dry stone festival Sunday September 27 2015 ! Thank you guys ! 

And thank you Amherst Islanders .

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Speaking to the Crowd at the Irish- Canadian Walling festival

Quite a large number of enthusiastic people from around the world have come to be a part of this well organized and very happy dry stone walling event in Canada this year. There's still time to join us for another full day of exciting activities.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

A Family Event.

Students at the Irish Canadian Dry Stone Wall Festival on Amherst Island near Kingston Ontario this weekend will be working on a traditional Irish 'Feidin' wall. 

Patrick McAfee who is instructing the training course along with a dozen or so professional volunteers explains that examples of this unusual style of wall are found predominantly in the Aran Islands on the west cost of Ireland. The larger upright stones are called 'mothers' The smaller flat stones are called the 'children', and the large uprights on top are called 'fathers'.

We have gathered some big mothers for the  'Feidin' walling event.

Some are carried and laid in place the traditional way 

Some are lifted by Irish Bob Cats.

Here Patrick is making sure all the mothers are standing up straight

And now he's taking a short rest, sleeping between two of them

There were tons of other things happening at the festival site yesterday and there will be tons more happening today. I'll try to have some photos posted of a lot of the festivities during the day. 

If you are planning to come today don't take your car on the ferry, just walk on. The festival site is walking distance from where the ferry docks on the island.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

An Irish Welcome

Having just arrived in Toronto, Patrick had a bit of a puzzled look on his face, as he watched me pull in to scoop him up at the airport yesterday evening.

I had spent the day driving up near Shelburne in potato country. I had timed it so I could get the two tons of potatoes  we needed for this weekend's children's event, and then swing by the airport, with the trailer load, and pick him up too.  

I figured he'd appreciate the great effort we've all taken to infuse this year's festival with a distinctly Irish theme.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Amherst Festival Update

Patrick McAfee, Norman Haddow, Sunny Wieler, Ken Curran, Tracy Mahaffey, Karin Sprague, Phillipe Smith, Danny Barber, Alexandra Morosco, Jake Murray, Jason Hoffman, John Scott, Scott George, Dan Pearl, Christopher Barclay and many other professional wallers and stone artisans from around the world will be there at the 2015 Irish-Canadian Dry Stone Festival on Amherst Island this weekend, starting on Friday September 25th   

Rick Mercer will be coming to the festival on Saturday too.The Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Hon. Michael Coteau will be coming to the event on Saturday as well.  The Irish Ambassador - Dr. Ray Bassett will be there with his wife Patricia and Jane Urquhart will also be there.  The Irish Ambassador intends on being there both Saturday and Sunday. 

And the music will be awesome!  ….with special musical guests Seventh Town, The O'shraves and Turpin's Trail to name a few of the groups performing.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Unveiling in the Rain

Last Saturday we were pleased to attend the ceremonial unveiling of the newest addition to the Haliburton Sculpture Forest. It was very rainy but everyone was in good spirits and the grass atop this dry stone feature the students and I built last July got a good watering.

Jim Blake curator of the Haliburton Sculpture Forest said a few words to introduced the sculpture.— at Haliburton Sculpture Forest.

Barb Bolin, chair of the board, spoke about the history of the Sculpture Forest and thanked all those involved.

Murray Fearey, Reeve of the municipality of Dysart et al attended the ceremony

Members of the board helped unveil the new sculpture.

The Haliburton Sculpture Forest is a unique outdoor collection of sculptures located in Glebe Park near the village of Haliburton, Ontario, Canada. It is operated by the non-profit organization Haliburton Sculpture Forest et al.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Vote Where to Move the Boat

The Farley Mowat Boat Roofed House is currently located at 20 Catherine Street in Port Hope and is considered the largest monument dedicated to Farley Mowat in the world.
Council authorized the donation of the monument from the current owner to the Municipality. The Parks Recreation and Culture Advisory Committee presented two potential locations to Council for consideration of the relocation of the boat roofed house.
The two locations are now being presented to the Public for comment and feedback from September 21st to October 5, 2015 in order to determine the.  After the public consultation process, a follow-up report will be presented to Committee of the Whole on October 20, 2015 with a recommendation of a site for the Farley Mowat Boat Roofed House monument. The recommended sites are:
            1.  Riverside Park; or
            2.  Eastside Ganaraska Park.
Comments sheets are attached for download and are also available in hard copy at the Jack Burger Sports Complex, Town Park Recreation Centre, Ruth Clarke Activity Centre, Canton Municipal Building, Port Hope and Garden Hill Public Libraries and the Port Hope Town Hall.
Comment sheets can be emailed to or can be dropped off at the above locations.

Eastside Ganaraska Park across the river from the Port Hope Public Library

Within Circle at Riverside Park (north side) on Mill St South across from the Ruth Clarke Activity Centre


Farley Mowat Boat Roofed House Relocation

Recommended locations for the relocation of the monument are:
Riverside Park; or  
Eastside Ganaraska Park

Name: ________________________________________________________________________________

Address: ______________________________________________________________________________
Phone:  ________________________ Email: _____________________________________________

Please provide your comments below. If you require more space please use attach additional sheets.











Please return your completed form to locations listed on the information sheet or by email at no later than Monday October 5, 2015 at 4:30 pm.  Any questions may be directed to Jim McCormack, Acting Director of Parks, Recreation and Culture, 284 Victoria Street North, Port Hope, tel: 905-885-8760 x 4108 or by email at:

Sunday, September 20, 2015

On Schedule

The Dry Stone Walling Association of Canada (Dry Stone Canada) is in full preparation mode for the 2015 Dry Stone Festival

The event will take place from September 25 - 27th on Amherst Island in Lake Ontario 30 km west of Kingston Ontario

This year they are collaborating with the Dry Stone Walling Association of Ireland to celebrate and commemorate Canada’s rich Irish cultural heritage. 

Amherst Island has one of Canada’s largest concentration of historic dry stone walls, some close to 200 years old, most built by original settlers from Ireland. Efforts are underway to have the site designated as a National Historic Site due to the significance of these cultural heritage structures. 

There will be a 2-day workshop on dry stone wall construction featuring various Irish dry stone wall techniques that will be incorporated into one permanent new wall. The finished wall will include a time capsule installed by the Ambassador to Canada from Ireland, Ambassador Ray Bassett. 

This event is completely open to the public. 

Dry Stone Canada’s Irish-Canadian Dry Stone Festival 2015 Public Activities Schedule

A shuttle bus will provide transport on Amherst Island to the various venues. 

Friday, September 25th

Neilson Store Museum & Cultural Centre at 5220 Front Road

    1pm to 4 pm – Museum open and guided walking tours of historic Village of Stella available 

Amherst Island Public School at 5955 Front Road

    1pm to 4 pm - Display Area open

Emerald Music Festival Site at 12675 Front Road

    Music Featuring: 

    5 pm – 6:45 pm  - Seventh Town 

    7 pm – 8:45 pm  - O’Schraves

    9 pm – 10:30pm - Cyril & Blackie 

Saturday, September 26th 

Amherst Island Public School at 5955 Front Road

    10 am – 4 pm  - Stone Carving, Children’s Potato Walling Workshop, and traditional music demonstrations 

    10 am – 4 pm – Display Area open

Neilson Store Museum & Cultural Centre at 5220 Front Road

    10 am to 4 pm – Museum open and guided walking tours of historic Village of Stella available 

Reidview Farm at 10850 Front Road

    11 am – 4 pm – Harvest Festival 

Emerald Music Festival Site at 12675 Front Road

    Music & Dancing featuring

    10am – Noon - Mark McGreevy  

    Noon – 12:30 - Kelly School of Irish Dance 

    12:30 – 2:20 - Seventh Town 

    2:30 – 4:30 - Turpin’s Trail 

    7pm – 9pm  - O’Schraves  

    9:20pm – 10:30pm - Cyril & Blackie  

Irish Walling Construction Site  - Located Across Road from School at 5955 Front Road

    9 am – 4pm – Dry Stone Walling Construction

    5 pm  Irish piping of dignitaries to the Irish Sampler Wall.  
               Welcome Remarks and Introduction by President of Dry Stone Canada.  
               Irish Ambassador to install a Time Capsule, 
               Jane Urquhart to lay a carved stone
               President of Amherst Island Women’s Institute to lay stone from Ards Peninsula.

Sunday, September 27th

Amherst Island Public School at 5955 Front Road

    10 am – 3 pm – Stone Carving & Children’s Workshop & traditional music demonstrations

    10 am – 3 pm – Display Area open

Neilson Store Museum & Cultural Centre at 5220 Front Road

    10 am - 3 pm – Museum open and guided walking tours of historic Village of Stella available

Emerald Music Festival Site at 12675 Front Road

    Music Featuring

    Noon – 1:45pm -Turpin’s Trail

    2:15pm – 3:45pm  - O’Schraves

 Irish Walling Construction Site  - Located Across Road from School at 5955 Front Road

    9 am – 5pm - Dry Stone Walling construction

    6:05 pm - Presidents of Dry Stone Canada and Dry Stone Walling Association of Ireland lay carved stone

    6:45 pm - Sunset event will take place

 Traditional music will be played by members of the O’Schraves to recognize the closing of this event.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Bridge in troubled water

Our latest project involves terracing the hill leading down to the creek where Cornish Hollow Dry Stone Bridge was built ten years ago. The bridge is built in a flood plain. The creek overflowed its bank during the huge downpour we had last weekend in Ontario.

It's nearly all dried up again now. Phew!  That makes it much easier to find our stones and to use our wheelbarrows.

Oh, and the bridge?

It's perfectly fine too.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Guinness and Walls

After a hard day of walling the idea of a couple of pints of Guinness and the vision of beautiful dry stone walls seem to somehow merge.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

On the beach

Here is another creation of Tom and Brian's built on the same beach using plentiful flat limestone from the shore. Well done guys!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Row row rows of stones...

Brian Mulcahy and Tom Dolan, who were with me at the Clayton workshop last weekend, are a formidable team of wallers. They recently built this dry stone boat on the shores of the St lawrence near Cape Vincent, New York.

Monday, September 14, 2015

A Fitting Occasion


The pattern we used to build the walls in Clayton New York last weekend was loosely based on something I'd seen when I was in Mallorca at a Stone Symposium held back in 2007. 

It involves arranging the stones in a diamond grid. Be they trapezoids, parallelograms or even squares, they are all laid into the wall so that their faces are on the diagonal.

I was pleased with how well our group caught on to the technique and achieved such good fits, arranging the stones more like one would stack firewood rather than how you would lay blocks in a static horizontal grid. 

The crew worked merrily through two days of rain to produce an impressive dry stone seating wall for the newly developed Otter Creek Preserve where trails and lookout towers and bridges are being built to help visitors discover and enjoy the many acres of natural habitat there.

Blocky stones laid on the diagonal have a lot more grip. With time they even fit tighter. The walls are bookended with chunky immovable columns built in the conventional style to hold any diagonal pressure.

Thanks to the 1000 Islands Art Centre and the Thousand Island Land Trust  for sponsoring this event.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Everything went swimmingly

The workshop 'sitting wall' at Clayton N Y is coming along 
quite well. Here's what it looked like at the end of yesterday. We decided to go with a kind of funky, very daring herringbone pattern. It was a challenge for new students, for sure. 

Rain, what rain?