Dry-Stone Walling

Stone walls mark land boundaries and help keep livestock in one place. The term ‘dry’ refers to the absence of mortar or cement. Wall construction techniques differ from region to region, as do the types of stone used.


A dry-stone wallers’ tools are simple — a crowbar, a sledgehammer, a lump-hammer, a ball of twine and a few short wooden stakes which are stuck in at intervals to hold the twine which forms a single straight line on one side of a trench.

Stone waller Patrick Gabriel Murphy lives on the limestone land of East Galway/ Mayo and his farm runs down to the shoreline of Lough Corrib. Patrick learnt his craft from his father.

‘I skim off the scraws (sods) and I dig a trench six inches (15 cm) deep and two foot, six inches (75 cm) wide at the base. I start with the largest stones at the base every three feet (90 cm) or so, and I place the smaller stones between. I put two together, one on each side. I use smaller stones or chips (spalls) to level up the larger stones and fill in holes and the middle of the wall between the smaller stones. If a stone won’t fit in one place, it surely will in another. That’s why I give myself a five yards run. I try to make each course as level as possible but it’s not the end of the world if it goes up or down a bit; you can fix it. I cross some of the stones — bring them the full width across to tie in the two others underneath to make the wall stronger.’

The wall is constructed with a batter, wider at the base and narrowing to single stones at the top. Field walls in this area do not have capstones as such but do normally have a larger single stone on the top to close off the wall. The height of the finished wall is 4 ft 6 in. to 5 ft high (1.35—1.5m), made up of nine or ten courses of stone. The stones require very little dressing, occasionally a corner knocked off with a sledge- or lump-hammer. The stone is predominantly limestone and Patrick is able to make good use of its rectangular planes. With reasonable stone he would expect to build eight to ten yards (7.30—9.15
m) of field wall, five feet (1.5 m) high in six hours.

A fine example of limestone walls overlooking Lough Corrib, Co. Galway.
Copyright David Shaw-Smith

Today, in Ireland, there are a number of courses on dry-stone walling that are run by people who have a love of stone craft. FAS have several courses around the country, as does the Tipperary School of Stonemasonry.

previousPrevious - Stone
Next - Video: laying cobbles at Trinity Collegenext