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Drystone Walls & Ditches of South West Ireland

Modern Irish Walls & Ditches

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Modern walls
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This is the only example of a traditional earth & stone ditch I have seen built in the south west. This example was built following road re-alignment in 2002.

The traditional earth/stone ditch has largely fallen into disuse. Modern stock keeping methods mean that more animals are kept in fields and this in turn means the stock are more likely to start damaging the ditch. The easiest way to prevent this is to place an electric fence in front of the ditch, thus making the ditch redundant.

The only new ditches constructed now are along side roads following roadworks. These are normally no larger than a foot or two in hight and width. They serve little purpose other than to prevent motorists from leaving the road.

A modern ditch
A very rare example of a newly built ditch

The modern alternative to traditional ditches and drystone walls is the use of stone combined with a core inner core of block-work built overlapped giving the appearance of having many holes in it. Both sides of this wall will then be faced with stonework. A wall built in this manner with the cement fill kept well to the back and the joints kept close together renders it difficult to tell apart from a traditional Drystone Wall. Indeed masons here refer to such wall as 'built dry'

Modern Irish wall under construction
Here an inner core of concrete blocks is used and the outside will be faced with 8" thick stones

The majority of modern Irish walls now built use concrete or cement to fill the core. These are either 'one sided' where concrete blocks are used as a 'backing' and the resulting concrete blocks are faced on one side only with stonework. This is normally between 8" & 10" in thickness.

A modern dry stone wall
built in 2002 by a local farmer

New traditional drystone walls are relatively uncommon. Although many stone masons know how they are built there is a tendency for them to use block work & cement filling. There are many reasons for this. As most walls now built are for entrance ways it is felt that the wall needs to bonded to prevent stones from gradually being knocked off. In addition many house owners prefer the look of cement bonded stonework.

The vast majority of new walls currently being built in the southwest are entrances to houses and retaining walls. By far the most common construction method is that described above using concrete/cement core. This example (above right) is of a traditional drystone wall built by a local farmer around the boundary of a house on the Colla Road near Schull, West Cork, displays many of the properties of Irish walls in that there is little attempt to secure the top of the walls by using traditional coping stones. In addition many of the stones used in the foundations are placed with the largest surface placed on the outside of the wall - these are know here as 'shiners'.

Below left you can see a new entrance wall built by John & Frank Shannahan. It too contains large shiners. These are also commonly put on the inside of bends to protect the stonework from being damaged by passing traffic. On the right another entrance wall showing a typical shiner in place.

Modern wallers here do not use specialist stone hammers. The 'lump hammer' is the normal tool supplemented with a chisel to split stone. The batter frame, common throughout the UK is never used. Here wallers generally prefer to build by 'eye'. This is much easier here as the sides of walls are not tapered inwards towards the top of the wall. However, modern wallers using cement bonded stone often use small spirit levels to level the stones.

Traditional entrance way
built in 2008 by Frank Shannahan, a retired farmer and his son, John

Modern wall near Ballydehob, West Cork

David Perry, Lissacaha, Schull, West Cork, Ireland