Cork Stone Symposium

Cork Stone Symposium

cork stone symposium wild atlantic way sheeps head carving


This Stone Festival at Sheep’s Head is the first one for the organisers and they have sold 116 out of 120 tickets. I’m excited about learning everything and anything….just experiencing different skills.

Stone Wall Building Day 1

When I arrive at the registration desk, it looked like there was a crowd of male builders in front of me ranging from 20’s to early 60’s. Then I met up with a couple of women of different ages and we shared the craic. One was a print artist and the other an archaeologist.  We were all given a briefing on safety and then basically told to build a 1 metre high wall up the side of the road. 

Our 4 instructors were from Scotland, Staffordshire and Dungarvan. We divided into groups and set to task. We were instructed in ways like, ‘lay the stones inward’, ‘don’t put small wedges on the outside of the wall’, ‘fill in the back with rubble bits’, ‘finish one course of stone before starting the next’ etc The instructors had all the little tips that showed their wealth of experience. One of our other teachers has received awards for his stone work, sundials and mosaics.

stone wall cork stone symposium wild atlantic way sheeps headOne had worked all over the world, judging wall building competitions in Turkey and building all over the U.S. Another makes his living building dry stone walls in England. “ Treat the stones with respect” he says. “Try not to break them. Use them mainly as found. Love and care for them, slow and easy”.

The only tools we had for wall building were sledge and lump hammers. It was interesting to see how the stone broke in lines called laminates along the length rather than across. It’s a skill in itself to learn how to split a valuable thinner piece.

A lot of participants were interested in building their own walls for gardens or houses. Some already had walls and wanted to learn new tricks and tips.

It made me realise that it is a simple skill that can be done well or badly if you just want to throw it up. I am interested too to see if building walls with granite is as simple as with this local shaley sandstone. The sandstone rock has lovely square features which make it easy to lay. Granite is rounder heavier and less angular.

Where I go to in Connemara the walls are falling down everywhere. If I have the time and energy I would like to do some rebuilding….

Wall building is a particular skill in this country and it was a great laugh for the others on the course that I had only ‘become Irish’ last November and here I am building walls!

But it’s true. Walls are inherent in Irish culture. Built to clear the fields so they could be planted, used by the Congested Districts Board during the famine to give work for food. Each country has their own type of stone and the use it is put to. Of course, as we have heard, there are walls built all over the world in traditional styles using readily available materials.

The weather in Cork was unbelievable. We ate lunch in the sun. There was a light breeze and plenty of sun-screen. I booked my meal in the local award-winning gastropub for the next 2 nights. The camaraderie and craic was great and there was good slagging with everyone.

Stone Carving Day 2

cork stone symposium wild atlantic way sheeps head carvingThis time we also had a diverse bunch of instructors; Canada, Germany, England, Scotland and Ireland.

“Find a bench, find a piece of stone, find a chisel, draw your design and lash into it”

I, with many of the others decided to try lettering, something I did many years ago but have mostly forgotten. It’s work that requires patience and you are learning all the time. Keeping inside the pencil lines is the most important thing. Unfortunately I am not even able to do that. But it is fabulous watching the professionals as they come around to help. The angles they work at and the material they cut off the stone in a single pass! Wow! Turning the chisel this way and that to go around the curves or into corner angles. Such a skilled use of the tools.

There were lots of visitors today; school kids, a photography course, and many local people and tourists coming to see what’s going on.

Tis a bliss sitting on the grassy banks by the sea, eating lunch with people you’ve just met, sharing baklava with Kate and Stu and making new facebook connections for future events.

At one stage I met an environmental scientist at Arundels pub. She was hiking the Kerry Way and decided that the weather was just too good to go home. So she came to Sheep’s Head Peninsula to walk one of the Peak Ridge Walks. This is her warm up to walking the Himalayas in September.

Day 3 Carve on

I’m getting a bit better at carving. The stone wall building is still going on and with another 2 loads of stone from the quarry. The tutors are elsewhere carving a monstrous piece of slate for the entrance. We finished with a huge ceremony in the afternoon as the piece was hoisted onto a forklift and put in position. It looked like the whole village was out sitting in the sunshine watching the proceedings, a great air of celebration. The main thing that struck me about this area is the huge sense of community.



cork stone symposium wild atlantic way sheeps head carving walls building









There is a local Cooperative, started in 1996, that promotes ‘living the Sheepshead Way’. ‘The Sheepshead Producers’ are also a co-op that sell everything produced or created on the peninsula. A yarn festival is held in May which shows everything to do with textiles. There seems to be a really well organized community to promote all aspects of life here. They have won an EDEN award as a European Destination of Excellence and there is also talk that it is going to be nominated as a ‘place of darkness’ for astronomers to visit (Read more here).



welder tradeswoman 1st female coded polly donellanPolly Donnellan is based in Kilkenny and is
an intrepid woman of many talents.

She was the first female coded welder in Ireland, loves motorbikes, 

creating metal art pieces, and lives to learn new skills.