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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

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.  One of the original granite blocks has been donated to the Gathering of Stones by The Ffestiniog Railway. Read more about these stone in Sean Adcocks article here

 The Breakwater Quarry Stone

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

Building the Gathering of Stones

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.

A BIG Thank you from the DSWAI

 ‘The Gathering of Stones’ as the first major event of DSWAI was a real success with much being achieved.

One thing which was important to the committee was that the participants enjoyed the experience and went away with a sense of having achieved something. We feel that this goal was achieved and feedback from all the folk who took part has so far been very positive, with quite a few itching to get back to help put the finishing touches to the sculpture.

The Gathering of Stones is a concept far bigger than the collecting of rocks to build a sculpture. It is as much about people as it is about anything else.

Perhaps, even more so?

This was quite evident during the course of the 4 days during which the event took place with the arrival of many people from around the country to place a stone at the site or within the walls.

The imagination of people has been captured by the project.

I believe one of the reasons for this is because ‘real’ people have been involved in the development of the project from day one.

Thanks to all those who contributed by investing their ideas, time, stone, resources, money and belief in the project. We give you all our assurance that we will bring the project to completion soon.

With the appeal out of the way there are many many people the association wishes to thank from deep in our hearts.

Those people are:

  1. The builders;

Padraig Larkin, Christian Helling, Ronan Crehan, Louise Price, Oisin Price, Eddie Farrelly, Nick Aitken, Sean Adcock, Sunny Wieler, Ken Curran, Joanna Williams, Lucy Warmington, Barry & Jacob Noyce, Frank Gleeson, Eamonn Carthy, Thomas Donnelly, Cait Fealty, Caitriona Fealty, Tom Parkin, Michele Carini, Richard Schrade, Victor Daly, Waldemar Wower, Fran Coady, Damian Williams, Karl Kennedy, Sandro Cafolla, Dariusz Jurkiewicz, Seamus May, Mark O’Loughlin, Malachy Sheehan, Helmut Schneider, Alex Panteleyenko, Charlie McFadden, Scott Hyslop, Shaun McFadden, Anne Holland, Simon Hickey, Lynne Hoare, Herbert O’Toole, Liam Friel and Liam Walsh

  1. The organising committee of;

Nick Aitken, Tomas Lipps, Sunny Wieler, Eddie Farrelly, Ronan Crehan, Alex Panteleyenko, Ken Curran and Francis Coady

  1. For contributing the Emigrant Stones and writing Whispering Stones Bobby Watt (RJW Cambell). You gave the boys a real lift.

  2. For making sure the Emigrant Stones got to Montreal from Ottawa Danny Brennan and Pat Kelly.

  3. For getting the Emigrant Stones across the Atlantic.

     John Lyons (Irish Shipping and Transport)

To the carvers for producing the four wonderful provincial crests:

  1. Julia Gebel (Leinster) 

  2. Christian Helling (Connacht) 

  3. Victor Daly (Munster)

To all those who donated stone to the project:

  1. DSWAI members would like to thank DSWA Wales Branches members for donating the quartzite boulder from the breakwater quarry at Holyhead and the railway sleeper block from the Festiniog Railway, delivered by hand through Sean Adcock.

  2. Mick Kelly (a proud Connacht man from Roscommon living in nearby Kilcormac) for the many tons of Connacht limestone he hand-picked and delivered to us.

  3. Rodger Deegan for the hours and hours of work he has (and continues to) put in to the project, plus the huge volumes of stone he donated. We could not have done it without him. 

  4. Niall and Michael at McKeon Stone in Stradbally for the beautiful dimension stone which will form part of the arches and building stone in the central feature as well as to be used in seating areas.

  5. McMonagles  from Mountcharles in Donegal. For supplying the quartzite used in the Ulster wall.

  6. For donating a truck load of Sandstone for the Ulster wall Drimkeelin Sandstone from Donegal.

  7. David O’Connor of Liscannor Flagstone for donating building stone and those wonderful slabs of Liscannor to be used as further seating areas.

  8. Joe Molloy (local farmer) for donating the fine Boora limestone from his farm.

  9. The Sculpture Parklands staff, Thomas Egan, Rodger Deegan, Don O’Boyle, PJ and Mick Connelly. For believing in the concept, for their continuing support and enthusiasm through the grounds staff. For preparing the site so well and providing facilities for people over the weekend. Also, for excavating so many tons of lovely blue limestone used throughout the project.

  10. Don O’Boyle for making the profiles and scaffolding and any other steel works we required.

  11. Pat Dooley for hunting high and low in search of stone for the project. Many thanks Pat.

  12. Tony Maher of Maher Stone Stradbally for donating (and delivering) the bags of lovely green Sandstone.

  13. Kilkenny Blue limestone for giving us a small bit of their waste off-cuts.

To those who helped with transport:

  1. Thank you to Sean Fox for transporting the Emigrant Stones from Irish Shipping’s depot in Coolock to Lough Boora.

  2. Thanks to Donal from Roscrea Express for moving stone for the association free of charge.

  3. Thanks to Pauric and Enda Meehan of Meehan Brothers for hauling all that stone down from Donegal (close to 50 tons!).

  4. Rodge Deegan and Mick Connolly of Bord na Mona for hauling all that stone from Cadamstown to the site.

  5. To Bord na Mona themselves for moving the Boora stone from Jo Molloy’s farm and from various locations including McKeons in Stradbally as well other places locally to the site.

To those in the media who helped with promoting the event:

  1. Karen O’Grady from the Midland Tribune

  2. Katriona McFadden, Fergus, Derek, and all on RTE Radio 1’s The Mooney Show.

  3. Rebecca Kelly and the Irish Hospice Foundation for inviting us to be a part of their book on gathering events.

  4. Jim Finn at Tipp Fm for having us on the show

  5. Thanks to Paul and all at Brix Workwear for donating our safety gear.

  6. Thanks to Banagher Concrete for saving our lives with the heavy gauge re-inforcing bars to make our profiles for the inner valette.

  7. To Kitty Curran for all her help with sending out endless press releases, letters and for her continuing help behind the scenes.

  8. Many thanks to Tom Parkin, Tori and Christine for running the shop, meeting the public and being the information point for people.

  9. Thanks a million for Tori for looking after the catering.

  10. Thanks to Barry Bryan for cooking and serving the lunches.

  11. A big thanks to Sean Corrigan (Corrigan’s Bar, Ferbane) for bringing us water, drinks, snacks and lots of delph and cutlery for serving the food onto.

  12. Thank you to Dooleys’ Hotel and The Maltings B&B, both in Birr, for looking after our participants very well and offering them generous discounts on accommodation and food.

  13. A big thank you to all those who donate money or came down to the site and offered us words of encouragement or contributed a stone.

  14. The organizing committee would like to thank very much their spouses, partners and family members for the support, patience and encouragement during the planning and delivery of the event. We love you all very much

It should be noted that it is far from too late to be involved with this project.

Whether it’s:

donating stone for building

helping with transport

getting involved in the building

or even digging into your pocket to make a financial contribution.

We still do not have funding and every little bit (really! anything! even as little as €5) will help to push this forward.

Get involved, be a part of it.

Don’t look back and regret not having contributed something to this ground-breaking moment for Irish dry stone construction.

It is pretty amazing what has been achieved considering that we have had ZERO financial backing for this event. Funding is something that we do desperately need so please consider donating what ever you can. 

We also have a small number of the hugely popular Gathering of Stones Tshirts available for purchase. These limited edition Tshirts cost €20 plus postage and packaging. All proceeds of the Tshirts go to funding the Gathering of Stones event.

If you wish to visit the monument, it can be found in the Lough Boora Sculpture Park between Tullamore and Birr in County Offaly. View The Gathering of Stones, Lough Boora Parklands in Google maps (GPS Coordinates +53° 13′ 5.59″, -7° 43′ 34.37″

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