The birth of a new Stone Festival in Donegal

Updated: Mar 1, 2020

Last Thursday I packed my bags and pointed my car north for Donegal. I have been wanting to get to Donegal for some time but for some reason Donegal always seems so far away. But now I had a good excuse to free up some time (as if you need a good reason to go to Donegal)  

Turns out the trip up is not so bad at all, I even had time to stop off along the way at Loughcrew in County Meath to find the ancient stone seat known as The Hag’s Chair a massive engraved kerbstone on the north side of Cairn T, at Loughcrew. I have mentioned this seat in a blog post before which you can read here

After a good stretch of the legs and a crawl into the centre of Cairn T (a similar structure to Newgrange)  I got back in the car to finish my journey to Donegal. There were many other stone sites along my route which I wanted to visit, but I knew that this was going to be the first of what will become an annual pilgrimage to Donegal, and there would be plenty of opportunities to see these great sites down the line.

“So how’s about getting to the point and tell us why you’re going to Donegal” you are surely saying by now. 

Well as the title of the post suggests, my trip to Donegal was to be part of an exciting new stone festival that is to be an annual event in Donegal.

Organised by the Donegal branch of The Dry Stone Wall Association of Ireland  (DSWAI) with the support of the Donegal County Council and the ETB  the festival included dry stone wall building, stone letter cutting and carving, talks by master masons and sculptors and topped off with a tour of the local sandstone mine.

Dry Stone Walling  The dry stone project was set in a picturesque setting along the Donegal coastline on the Wild Atlantic Way by the historic sandstone pier of Mountcharles. This area’s rich stone heritage is ever evident, from the walls that line the coastline to the huge local sandstone blocks that form the beautiful Mountcharles Pier, from where the stone from the local quarries was shipped off to build many grand halls and churches around the country and abroad.

The task for the dry stone walling project was to rebuild a large section of wall that was washed away during a massive storm which left stones scattered over a large area of land it had once protected.

There is an age old tradition of putting a time capsule in a wall as you build. This is often in the form of a bottle or a coin. I found this old penny from 1941 in between the stones of the original wall footings. I too regularly throw a few coins into a wall (the amount depending on how plush I am feeling at the time) I made sure to throw a few euros into this wall as well for some other mason to find down the line in another 100 years or so.

Built using stone from the original wall and recycled stone from a old cottage, all of the stone used is the local sandstone. Over the course of two days over 45 yards of wall was built by a team of about 40 participants per day.  

Stone Carving and Letter cutting Workshop with Brendan McGloin Located just 500 meters from Mountcharles pier is the lovely Salthill Gardens, the courtyard of which was the location of our stone carving workshops. As you walk towards the gardens from the pier, the soft tapping sounds of hammer on chisel can be heard coming over the high stone walls of the gardens that protect the lush and delicate garden inside from the harsh salty sea air.

Up to 12 students per day got to try their hand at letter cutting and stone carving