The Stone Walls of Ireland

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Travelling across rural Ireland from the east to the west, one thing that arouses curiosity among many first time visitors is the hundreds of miles of stone walls that meander across farmlands in all directions as far as one can see. These stone walls are nothing odd or unusual for the Irish population, but visitors question about them a lot.

Although Ireland’s landscape is mostly green, you only have to dig a little way beneath its lush verdant carpet to discover that underneath the rolling greens lie a thick layer of hard, blue limestone. This famous blue limestone is found all over the country and it lies under more than half of the island.


Ireland is mostly a rocky island composed of Carboniferous limestone formed about 370 million years ago. At that time, Ireland was part of a shallow sea between two land masses near the equator. Shifting continents raised a part of seabed above the the sea level, which later became Ireland, and over hundreds of millions of years, the mud evolved into a tough, finely-grained limestone just below its surface. These rocks extracted from the earth became the most commonly used building material for the Irish population. From the Stone Age tombs on the Burren, to the Iron Age hill forts of Inishmore, to the battered castles and monasteries of the Middle Ages, these stones are everywhere. Particularly ubiquitous are the stone walls that criss-cross the country.

The stones for these walls are usually unearthed from the field itself. The fields need to be cleared of the stones in order to be farmed, and since there is no easy way to get rid of the rocks the farmers use the material at hand to build low walls to delineate each others property.

The walls are nothing more than boulders piled on top of each other without mortar. They are often quite low and not very stable because of which they need constant maintenance. The instability of the walls, however, work in their favor making them good barriers against livestock that are reared in the area. Animals who have learned from experience that they collapse rather easily keep themselves away from the walls.


Photo credit

One of the most beautiful places where you can see a vast network of stone walls is at Aran Islands. The Aran Islands are a group of three islands located at the mouth of Galway Bay, on the west coast of Ireland. The largest island is Inishmore also known as Aranmore. The middle and second-largest is Inishmaan and the smallest and most eastern is Inisheer. Once a series of barren rocky outcrops on the edge of the Atlantic, its inhabitants have over thousands of years, created life where there previously was none, making things grow out of the rocks by developing a unique farming technique where dirt dug from cracks in the rock are combined with composted seaweed. Today, the islands are impossibly green with low stone walls dividing the farming fields, segregating livestock, and keeping the thin layer of soil from blowing away.


Stone house at Inisheer, Aran Islands. Photo credit


Photo credit


Photo credit


Aran Islands. Photo credit


Aran Islands. Photo credit


Aran Islands. Photo credit


Aran Islands. Photo credit


Aran Islands. Photo credit


Aran Islands. Photo credit


A typical mortar-less stone wall in Burren, Ireland. Photo credit


Details of a stone wall in Ireland. Photo credit


Details of a stone wall in Kerry, Ireland. Photo credit


Details of a stone wall in Aran Islands. Photo credit


Aran Islands. Photo credit

Sources: Dochara / Irish Genealogy Toolkit / Gonomad / Wikitravel

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1 comment:

  1. My wife's parents were both brought up in the rural west of Ireland. She always says that the old farmers never trusted the banks (don't blame them) and used to hide their money in these walls close to the houses. We often wonder if there is any still in there !

    Dicky, Lutterworth UK


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