If you have ever visited Galway, you may have noticed the striking sight of dry stone walls that criss-cross the landscape. These walls are not only a testament to the skill and ingenuity of the people who built them, but also a reflection of the history and culture of this region. 

Dry stone walls are walls that are built without any mortar or cement to hold the stones together. They rely on careful selection and placement of stones that fit and balance each other, creating a stable and durable structure. Dry stone walls can be found in many parts of the world, but they are especially prevalent in Ireland, where they have been used for thousands of years to clear the land of stones, mark boundaries, protect crops and livestock, and create shelter.

The oldest known dry stone walls in Ireland are the Céide fields of Co Mayo, which date back to about 5,800 years ago. These walls are part of an extensive Neolithic landscape that includes tombs, houses and fields. They are evidence of the sophisticated farming and social organisation of the people who lived there.

In Galway, dry stone walls are mostly associated with the Aran Islands, where they cover almost every inch of the rocky terrain. These walls were built over generations by the islanders, who had to cope with harsh weather conditions and scarce resources. The walls served multiple purposes: they cleared the land for cultivation, divided it into plots, protected it from erosion and wind, and provided shelter for animals and people.

Dry stone walls in Galway vary in type and style depending on the local geology, topography and tradition. The most common type is the single wall, which consists of one layer of stones stacked on top of each other. The single wall can be further divided into subtypes based on the shape and size of the stones used. For example, there are flagstone walls, which use large flat stones; boulder walls, which use rounded stones; and random rubble walls, which use irregular-shaped stones.

Another type is the double wall, which consists of two parallel layers of stones with a gap between them filled with smaller stones or earth. The double wall is stronger and more stable than the single wall, but also more labour-intensive and costly to build. The double wall can also have different styles based on how the stones are arranged on the face of the wall. For example, there are coursed walls, which use horizontal rows of stones; random walls, which use stones of varying shapes and sizes; and snecked walls, which use small stones (snecks) to fill the gaps between larger stones.

A third type is the clóchán, which is a circular or oval-shaped dry stone hut that was used as a dwelling or a storage place by the islanders. The clóchán has a conical or domed roof made of corbelled stones that overlap each other until they meet at the top. The clóchán is usually built against a larger wall or a natural feature to provide extra support and insulation.

Dry stone walls are important for Galway for several reasons. Firstly, they are part of the cultural heritage and identity of this region. They reflect the history, traditions and skills of the people who built them over centuries. They also contribute to the aesthetic beauty and diversity of the landscape, creating patterns and textures that contrast with the green fields and blue sea.

Secondly, they are part of the natural environment and biodiversity of this region. They provide habitats and shelter for many plants and animals, such as lichens, mosses, ferns, flowers, insects, birds and mammals. They also help to prevent soil erosion and water runoff, improving the quality and fertility of the land.

Dry stone walls in Galway face many threats and challenges that endanger their existence and integrity. Some of these threats include:

– Road development and expansion that may require demolition or relocation of existing walls
– Agricultural intensification and modernisation that may reduce or eliminate the need for walls
– Neglect and abandonment that may lead to deterioration and collapse of walls
– Vandalism and theft that may damage or remove stones from walls
– Climate change and extreme weather events that may cause erosion and instability of walls

Dry stone walls are a truly unique and ancient feature of Galway’s landscape. They are not only walls, but also stories, symbols and sources of life.



Dry Stone Walls



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