Large Crowd attend Tirconnell Stone festival in Glencolmcille By Jacqui Reed

 As Published in the Donegal Times.

 Tirconnell Stone Festival drew in crowds from far and wide to Glencolmcille on the weekend of June 19th -21st. The dry stone wall building and Stone carving workshops were organised by The Dry Stone Wall Association of Ireland to teach and preserve our traditional crafts.

Member Louise Price from Donegal Town, one of the festival organiser said “We are so delighted by the huge interest in all events. There are over 70 people registered for the workshops alone. And the different ages of those participating such as 12 year old, John Alfred O Connor who was attending with his mum Ursula, who were up from Streedagh, Co Sligo to elderly gentlemen so positive for us to see such keen interest.”

The carving workshops took place in the mart with each participant set up with pedestals, hammers and a variety chisels.
Victor Daly stone carver from Cork was the instructor for the stone carving workshops. Participants of all ages, both female and male began on Friday morning with chunks of Kilkenny Limestone and Sandstone but by the end of the weekend each took home some wonderful sculptors they had made themselves.

 Stone mason Jim Fahey in his strong Cork accent told how the stone masons of old even had their own language. It was a mix of Latin and Irish and the Irish was spoken backwards so they could talk among themselves without other tradesmen knowing what they were saying.

Michael Mc Groarty a stone mason from Mountcharles was the instructor for the stone writing workshops where participants carved name plaques for homes or their gardens. One such was Niamh Learmont from Gortahork who carved ‘Teac Anna Paidí’ for the home of her great grand mother that she was restoring. Another was 13 year old Andrew Water’s from Streedagh, who carved the name ‘Inishmurry’ for his grand father’s old house, he told me he was the King of the Island.
Paul Munyon a retired academic from Grinnell, Iowa, a first timer at stone carving was there with his wife Marie Comford who herself was learning dry stone walling. Both returned to Co Mayo to renovate Marie’s family homestead. Each an every piece of stone chipped and carved in the workshops had a story to tell.

Outside a large number of participants took part in building the dry stone wall. The wall is built of Glen's native Schist from William Maxwell's Quarry. But this was a wall with a difference, in the wall were large key stones each carved by different carvers and these acted like the guiding lines.

The mother stone was gifted from the island of Inis Oirr and donated by Padraig Poil a native islander. It's significance is to celebrate the great friendships between the traditional stone communities in Inis Oirr and in Donegal. The grey Limestone was brought by boat to Galway then driven to the Glen by Louise Price, one of the festival organisers.

The Kilkenny sandstone chair was gifted by Christian Helling. The chair was brought up by Christian Helling and fellow stone masons from Cork to be placed in the wall.
He said “It has taken me a year to find this perfect stone. It is given in memory of Martin Mc Brearty a founding group member who recently passed away. They say as long as someone’s remembered they never leave us so I carved his name in to the arms of the large chair and now when visitors sit and read his name he is always remembered”.
Michael Mc Groarty from Mountcharles choose Barnesmore Granite for his stone.
“It’s the hardest of the stones to carve but the longest lasting . I choose the North Star to put on it as by land or fishermen of sea it is always a guiding light home and very significant to the area. I choose the words “ Nuair is gá dom fháil bhaile. Is tú mo Réalt eolais” translated means. When I need to get home. You’re my guiding light, inspired by an Ed Sherran song.
The carved strong face of the man, who watches all who come along the road, was carved by Louise Price who said “I call him Vincent, cause he lost and ear along the way but you don’t quite notice in the wall”. 
 The beautiful golden Sandstone stands centre along the top wall was carved by local stone mason Paul ‘Phaid’ Cunningham.
Paul said “I wanted to incorporate everything that is Glen, this beautiful place. I have the rams head, the sea and fish, the Standing stones of the past and the headland looking out to see and the Celtic spirals and labyrinths of the past. This stone tells Glen’s story” and the sandstone Paul used is local Drumkeelan sandstone from Brian Kerrigan's Quarry.
The Foundation stones of the wall were laid under the watchful eye of stone mason Ronan Crehan, a Meath man but married and living in Glen. Ronan, Patsy Mc Inaw and the other instructors guided and taught the participants in the unrelenting rain of Saturday through to completion in the sunshine of Sunday.
A first time visitor to Ireland who came all the way from New South Wales for the weekend was Wayne Fox.
“I’m a stone mason in Wagga Wagga where I’m from but I came here to relearn my craft the proper way. I’ve had so much laughter and stories and learned so much, it’ll be hard to leave. I just love the community spirit that been so warm the whole weekend”. 
The sunshine brought all the local community out together with the visitors who happened to come along the road and many stopped to lay a stone such as a young visitor from Nepal. He was delighted that he could share this with his family and tell them where to come to visit to see what he had done.
Attendee's of The Heritage Council's, Dry Stone Wall seminar were brought along by heritage officer Joe Gallagher to view the work in progress and enjoy talking with instructors while they worked.
Other visitors on site were Councillor Niambh Kennedy and Councillor John Campbell arriving in the afternoon sunshine, the perfect moment to take in the beauty of the new wall in such natural settings.
On Saturday evening there was a blessing and family memorial service for Martin Mc Brearty who had recent passed away. He will be much missed in the  local community  as well as in the stone mason community . Some lovely stories and so many fond memories of him were being shared over the whole weekend.
 As the end of the weekend was in sight Louise price said “This weekend has been about living history, living heritage and sharing our knowledge and teach the skills so it will continue.” 

Tirconnell Stone festival weekend was brought to a close on Sunday with a guided tour of the ancient stone monuments of which there are many around Glencolmcille and guests from near and far walked in our ancestor’s footsteps

Tirconnell Stone Festival would like to thank their funders of the project;

Donegal County Council and The Education Training Board ETB.

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