© The Dry Stone Wall Association of Ireland 2019

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About The Gathering of Stones

The Gathering of Stones is a dry stone monument built by the people of Ireland for the people of Ireland across the world.

All of the stone for this project has been donated by the proud people of Ireland and was built entirely by volunteers.

This project has received no funding of any kind for its construction. It is a true monument of the people.

Where did it all start?

Back in early 2013 The Dry Stone Wall Association of Ireland and the Stone Foundation, USA came together with a vision to invite this international community ‘home’ for a Gathering of Stones in the geographical center of Ireland.

The Gathering of Stones was an event where people with an interest in Irish dry stone walls came together, and under the instruction and guidance of the Dry Stone Wall Association built an attractive communal dry stone installation to act as a permanent monument to Ireland and 'all' of it's people. A monument that celebrates our dry stone heritage and indeed all events and gatherings that took place during The Gathering 2013.

Some interesting facts.

  •  Built entirely by volunteers in their free time.

  • An estimated 5100 voluntary man hours went into the organizing and building of the monument.

  • Built without funding.

  •  Donated stones include stones from the original immigration docks at Battery Park, New York USA, the oldest immigration docks in the world.

  •  Built entirely 'dry' without any use of mortar or concrete.

  • Over 380 tons of donated stone gathered from all corners of Ireland used. 

  •  Built by the people of Ireland, for the people of Ireland both home and abroad.

  • Outer dry stone walls represent the four provinces of Ireland. Built in wall styles commonly found in that province.

  • Internal dry stone tower represents the fifth province of Ireland. This being the individual, creativity, imagination and the Diaspora.

 
 
 

The Concept

Our primary idea was to create a gathering point for people to congregate, a circle seemed the most appropriate shape to begin with.T he bi-vallate (twin walled) enclosure also reflects Ireland's built heritage.

 

The ringfort is the most common archaeological site to be seen in the Irish landscape. The status of a ring fort is not only evident by its diameter but more significantly through the number of rings it contains. Therefore, a bi-vallate enclosure would often be the seat of the local lord or the central focal place for a network of ringforts which formed a community.

Built in wall styles commonly found in that province, the outer walls symbolizes the 4 provinces. Thus the Island of Ireland and all its people, with its many varying ways and vernacular styles, it forms a comforting embrace around the 5th province. (Read more about the different wall types used here)

That fifth province once had a physical existence here in the Iron Age and was known as Breifne. In addition, in this structure the fifth province also represents the individual, creativity, imagination and the Diaspora.

 

The structure represents the country of Ireland and a welcome home to the people who left and never returned.
The outer walls embrace the creative mind, the millions of souls and talents who left our shores and spread their skills far and wide. It becomes entirely appropriate that the 'Emigrant Stones should be laid in cruciform shape at the center of the sculpture embracing people from all corners of the world. These 'Emigrant stones' are from the original emigration docks at Battery Park in New York.
For millions of emigrants, their first steps in the New World would have been onto these stones after registering at Ellis Island, including nearly everyone from Ireland during the famine years and after. By bring these block home to the center of Ireland, we too bring home all those first footsteps of those who left our shores, never to return.

A crest for each province.

The monument includes the crest of the four provinces (60x 60cm). Four DSWAI members who are also stone carvers donated these carvings to the monument.

Victor Daly's carving of the three crowns of Munster was carved in Valletta Slate. Alex's red hand of Ulster was carved in Donegal Sandstone. Julia's Harp of Leinster is carved in Tipperary blue limestone and the Connacht Crest of arms was carved by Christian in Liscannor sandstone.

The four provincial crests of Ireland form part of the sculpture, being inserted into specially built niches within the inner faces of the inner valette (enclosure wall)

Carved by Michael Mc Groarty in donated piece of Valletta Slate. The central carving represents the 'fifth province', the people of Ireland from all over the world. The words 'Gaeil na hÉireann ar fud an domhain' ("People of Ireland throughout the world") painted in gold surround the map of Ireland with a cross that marks the location of the monument in the center of Ireland.

Stones With Stories.  Donated Stones

 

Many people brought a stone with them to The Gathering of Stones to be built into the monument.

Each stone came with a story and history. If these stones could talk, the sound echoing around Lough Boora would be deafening

The 'Emigrant stones' from Battery Park in New York, USA

A number of historically significant stones have made long journeys over land and sea to be incorporated into the monument. The most poignant of all is the four 'Emigrant stones' from Battery Park in New York.

For millions of emigrants, their first steps in the New World would have been onto these stones after registering at Ellis Island, including nearly everyone from Ireland during the famine years and after.

These stones seemed to really capture the public's imagination, with a constant stream of visitors throughout the four days having their photos taken standing on them.

These stones had a long journey, starting back in the early 1800's when they were quarried in various parts of New England to become part of the emigrant docks at Battery park that date back to the 1700's.

Here they lay on the rivers edge until their removal by RJW Campbell during the reconstruction of Battery Park in 2001.

When the president of RJW Campbell, Bobby Watt heard about the event, he immediately offered these stones to the project. Bobby, a Scottish stonemason and Stone Foundation Member based in Canada is also a fine songwriter and singer.

In the video below he tells the story of the stones and also signs the poignant "Whispering Stones" a song he composed after being inspired by the event. This song brought a tear to many an eye when first played at "Stories and Stones" and again when reprised by Rónán Crehan at the conclusion of the 4 day event.

Stones donated by the DSWA UK Wales branch

We were also lucky enough to have Sean Adcock join us for the event. Sean is a DSWAUK master Dry Stone Waller and Secretary of the North Wales Branch of the DSWA as well as a Stone Foundation member.. He has prolifically produced books and papers on the craft of dry stone waling and standards in the profession over the years. Sean is the editor of Stonechat magazine amongst many other contributions to the world of dry stone building. He also oversaw the building of the central feature over the course of the event. In the months leading up to the event Sean helped behind the scenes with working out the structural details of the inner structure.

 

The DSWAUK also wanted to donate a stone to the project, Sean was also involved in the organisation and transportation of two stones from Wales to Lough Boora. Originally Sean was working on getting a boulder from the birthplace of Saint Patrick in Banwen (near Neath, South Wales) but when the logistics of this became impossible, he managed to find two other historic Welsh stones with an Irish connection to bring with him. These were a sleeper stone from the Ffestiniog Railway and a stone from the old Breakwater Quarry.

The Ffestiniog Railway stone (Wales, UK)

The Ffestiniog Railway started life as a gravity/horse drawn tramway built in the 1830s, to provide a transport route from the Slate quarries of Blaenau Ffestiniog to the port at Porthmadog, a distance of over 13 miles.

 

The creation of the tramway was made possible largely through Irish investment. The original tramway rails were secured to stone blocks, with around 4000 to a mile.

When the tramway became a narrow gauge steam railway in the 1860s - the world's first narrow gauge railway built to haul over a longer distance than just short shunting.

At this point much of the track-bed was widened and the a new rail/sleeper system introduced.

Many of the stone blocks were incorporated into the new trackside walls, an now one sits in our monument walls.

 

 Read more about these stone in Sean Adcocks article here

The Breakwater Quarry Stone (Holyhead, Wales)

Holyhead is the main port in North Wales and provides a direct link with Dublin via the Stena Line and Irish Ferries.

 

At 1.7 miles in length, Holyhead breakwater is the longest in the UK. Started in 1845, it took 28 years to complete and consumed over 7 million tonnes of stone quarried from nearby Holyhead Mountain. These quarries now form part of Breakwater Country Park.

 

The last blasted rockfall remains alongside one quarry face and a stone from alongside this has been donated to the gathering of Stones by Breakwater Country Park/Isle of Anglesey County Council with the permission of RSPB and NRW.

 

Read more about these stone in Sean Adcocks article here

 

The Public Event

 The Gathering of Stones began back in early 2013 as a public event.where people with an interest in Irish dry stone walls, were invited to come together, and under the instruction and guidance of the Dry Stone Wall Association learn the craft of dry stone walling and in the process help build an attractive communal dry stone installation that will act as a permanent monument to Ireland and 'all' of it people.

A monument that celebrates our dry stone heritage and indeed all events and gatherings that took place during The Gathering 2013 national event.

After months of anticipation, stones, masons and dry-stone enthusiasts from the four corners of Ireland as well as the rest of the world came to a head in the center of Ireland.

June 20th 2013 marked the beginning of The Gathering of Stones. Stories were shared, songs were sung (and written) and monuments were built.

Just like the cross marked the spot in the posters, the 'Emigrant Stones' marked the center of our dry stone monument.

To build a dry stone monument, you need a LOT of stone!

 

The completed structure would consume more than 380 tonnes of stone. As you can imagine, the logistics of getting 380 tonnes of stone from the four corners of Ireland and beyond to our central location was no mean feat.

Trying to do this without any funding seemed like an impossible task. After the crushing news that the review board for 'The Gathering' in County Offaly refused to pass our application to be funded as a 'Flagship event', the outlook for our event looked very bleak. However the DSWAI decided to take a leap of faith and call on the people of Ireland to help us make this event happen.

 

A call for stone was made, and the proud farmers and quarrymen of Ireland answered.

Thomas Egan, Rodger Degan, Mick Connelly and Padraig Larkin (missing from photo Don O’Boyle) collecting local Boora limestone donated to the project by Joe Molloy. Photo Ken Curran. 

Quarryman Brian Kerrigan & haulier Padraig Meehan loading Brian’s donation of a truckload of Drumkeelan stone from Donegal. Photo Louise Price.

Building the Gathering of Stones

Pinpointing the center of the monument. Canadian Stone Foundation member Tom Parkin with three of the GoS organisers, Nick Aitken, Sunny Wieler and Ken Curran. Photo Fran Coady

Not only was there a great mix of sunshine and showers over the weekend, there was also a great mix of professional stonemasons/drystone wallers and amateur stone enthusiasts. The public too became very captivated by the event with a constant stream of spectators arriving over the weekend, many bringing a stone with them to be incorporated into the monument. This vibrant atmosphere around the site quickly warded off any threatening rain clouds, and kept the morale on site high.

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As part of the event, attendees and the public were invited to bring a stone home to Lough Boora, to become part of the monument. It was wonderful to see how the public took to the project, bringing stones and stories with them.

Many people have connections with stones and many of us have taken a stone with us from a place we have made a connection with, be it a pebble from a beach or a stone from a mountaintop.

It is these connections with stones that made the whole event emotionally charged and it is only as these stones and stories began to collect on site that the importance of this monument really started to sink in with those building it.

Read more about some of the amazing stones donated to the project from around the world here

Katherine with her stone from Coolanarney, Blueball, Co.Offaly. "Katherine – who brings a stone from her old home place, now a tumbled memory. As a child she ploughed and thatched alongside her father, and carried stones to pile atop of walls of ancient fields. It means everything – her stone" Photo and quote from Louise Price's blog Limewindow

By the end of the weekend, everyone who helped build the monument and those experienced the weekend as a spectator left beaming with enthusiasm for our treasured craft of dry stone walling. Thanks to all those who came and gathered stones with us for the weekend.

Following the end of the public event. Small groups of DSWAI dry stone wallers and volunteers would return a number of time over the next two summers to complete the internal tower, install the provincial crests and landscape the site. The project is indebted to all  the volunteers from home and abroad who filled their vehicles with fuel or booked flights and made their way to the site and gave up weekends to help us complete the project. 

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Links to emigration

The Gathering of Stones monument is dedicated to the Irish people both home and abroad. The central tower represents  the 5th province of Ireland. This being the Irish Diaspora.

 

The monument has a number of links to emigration and the Irish Diaspora

A number of historically significant stones have made long journeys over land and sea to be incorporated into the monument.

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The 'Emigrant stones' from Battery Park in New York.

The most poignant of all are the four 'Emigrant stones' from Battery Park, New York, site of the first Immigration Center in the world. Hundreds of Irishmen were involved in the laying of these stones along the docks, many of whom lost their lives doing so. Millions of emigrants, including those who who left Ireland in the years before, during and after The Famine, crossed these stones whilst being processed through the Immigration Center.

These stones had a long journey, starting back in the early 1800's when they were quarried in various parts of New England, They were later installed at Battery Park, Manhatten which dates back to the 1700's. Here they lay on the river's edge until their removal by RJW Campbell during the reconstruction of Battery Park in 2001.

 

When the president of RJW Campbell, Bobby Watt heard about the event, he immediately offered these stones to the project. Inspired by the events, Bobby wrote a song called 'Whispering Stones' which tells the story of the 'Emigrant Stones' and of the symbolic bringing home of the footsteps of all the people who stepped over these stones to start their new lives, many of whom would never return home again.

 

Getting the huge blocks of stone back to Ireland was a feat in itself. They journeyed first from RJW Campbell's yard in Ottawa, Canada to the port in Quebec, from where, with kind sponsorship from IIrish Shipping & Transport Ltd., they were shipped across the Atlantic. Their journey followed a similar route to the famous and historic Dunbrody cargo ship that ferried thousands of emigrants during the famine years from New Ross in County Wexford to North America via Quebec. 

Twinning of The Gathering of Stones with the Dunbrody Famine Ship and The Emigrant Flame in New Ross, County Wexford.

We were delighted to announced at the opening of The Gathering of Stones that our monument has been twinned with the Dunbrody Famine Ship and The Emigrant Flame in New Ross, Co. Wexford.

The original Dunbrody was built in 1845 in Quebec. She was commissioned along with 7 sister ships by ‘William Graves & Son’, a merchant family from New Ross. She was built by the expert shipwright Thomas Hamilton Oliver, an Irish emigrant from Co. Derry. The building of the ship took only six months and was supervised by her first master Captain John Baldwin, who captained her from 1845 to March 1848.

Designed as a cargo vessel the Dunbrody’s main cargos where timber from Canada, cotton from the southern states of the U.S.A. and guano from Peru.  In 1845, the very year of her launch, famine struck Ireland. With the potato crop failing and food prices soaring, widespread starvation would soon force more than a million people to flee the country. So many people left, that there were not enough passenger ships to carry them all. Entrepreneurial merchants, like the Graves’, took the opportunity to fit out their cargo vessels with bunks to meet the extra demand. Between 1846 and 1851 the Dunbrody carried thousands of emigrants to North America. Lax regulation allowed a ship the size of the Dunbrody to carry anywhere from 160 passengers to over 300. In 1847 she is recorded as carrying 313 passengers to Quebec.

The site of the Dunbrody replica in New Ross is also the site of The Emigrant Flame
The Emigrant Flame was lit from the eternal flame at the graveside of John F Kennedy in Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, USA. Read more about these sites here.

Stones from the Dublin Docklands.

 

The 16 large blocks of Dublin granite, placed as seating inside the walls of the monument, have been salvaged and donated from a building site at Hanover Quay in the Dublin Docklands. These stones were once the foundation stones of an ice and cold storage warehouse dating back to 1865. The storage units were built to accommodate the  contents of the many trawling ships docking at Hanover Quay during this time.

The docks in Dublin are historically significant to Irish emigration.

 

One of the first voyages of the Famine period was on the 'Perserverance' which sailed from just across the river at Custom House Quay on St. Patrick's Day 1846. Captain William Scott, who was a native of the Shetland Isles and a veteran of trans- Atlantic crossings, gave up his office job in New Brunswick to captain the

'Perserverance' out of Dublin Port. He was 74 years old at the time.

. The Steerage fare on the ship was £3 and 210 passengers made the historical journey. They landed in New York on the 18th May 1846. All passengers and crew survived the journey.

The Breakwater Quarry Stone (Holyhead, Wales)

Holyhead is the main port in North Wales and provides a direct link with Dublin via the Stena Line and Irish Ferries.

 At 1.7 miles in length, Holyhead breakwater is the longest in the UK. Started in 1845, it took 28 years to complete and consumed over 7 million tonnes of stone quarried from nearby Holyhead Mountain. These quarries now form part of Breakwater Country Park.

 The last blasted rockfall remains alongside one quarry face and a stone from this has been

donated to the gathering of Stones by Breakwater Country Park/Isle of Anglesey County Council with the permission of RSPB and NRW.

The donated stone now sits in the center of the Munster wall at ground level.

 

More information

 
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