The Gathering of Stones in the heart of Ireland

Updated: Mar 1, 2020

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’ mark the centre of our dry stone monument.

From the beginning.

Last summer after Feile na gCloch on Inis Oírr, Tomas Lipps, director of The Stone Foundation stayed with me while doing fieldwork for his publication Stonexus magazine. Over a few pints of the black stuff one night we discussed the possibility of the DSWAI and The Stone Foundation collaborating on a event in Ireland. At almost exactly the same time Nick Aitken of the DSWA in Scotland contacted the us suggesting that this being the year of The Gathering Ireland, we should build a monument in the center of Ireland to commemorate this in a way that also celebrates the craft we all love so much.

It was these early conversations that sowed the seeds for what would become ‘The Gathering of Stones 2013’

The concept for our monument.

Our primary idea was to create a gathering point for people to congregate, a circle seemed the most appropriate shape to begin with.  

The 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 ring forts which formed a community.

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 centre of the sculpture embracing people from all corners of the world       

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.   

To build a dry stone monument, you need a hell of a lot of stone!

The completed structure will consume an estimated 300 tonnes of stone. As you can imagine, the logistics of getting 300 tonnes of stone from the four corners of Ireland and beyond to our central location is 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.

Stones from the four corners of the world.

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.

  Stones from New York and Wales There are also 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 from 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. 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 DSWA 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