The Aran Islands are three limestone outcrops in the mouth of Galway bay, combined they have total area of 18 square miles. Although the islands are not very big, combined they contain approximately 1500 miles of dry stone walls. These dry stone walls are a remarkable feature of the Irish landscape and are found on all three of the Aran Islands; Inishmore, Inishmaan and Inisheer.
Why are there so many stone walls on the Aran Islands?
The dry stone walls on the Aran Islands are a clever solution to a tricky problem. How do you create arable land on rocky islands?
The walls were built by generations of islanders over several centuries. Stones were gathered from the land to create fields for grazing or crops. These stones were then stacked in a very particular way to form a wall. Each wall was designed to meet specific needs such as enclosing crops, livestock or pastures.
Building these stone walls is extremely labour intensive. The aerial photo above is an indication of how much labour has gone into clearing the land. The “Man of Aran” film shows the process of how the islanders created arable land.
Why are there gaps between the stones in the walls?
The walls do not have any mortar to hold them together. The stones are carefully stacked on top of each other to build a stable wall. The gaps in the wall allow for the wind to pass through the wall.
The skillful design of these stone walls ensures that even after centuries exposed to extreme weather conditions including harsh Atlantic storms, gale force winds, salt spray and soaking rain – they remain relatively intact still today!
How tall are the stone walls?
The walls vary between 4-6ft in height. During bad weather or heavy winds you will often see livestock taking shelter behind these walls.
How do they get the animals into the fields?
Stones are removed from the wall to create a gap, the animals enter the field through this gap, and the wall is built again while the animals are in the field. Nowadays it is a lot more common to find gates in the walls, to let the animals in and out of the fields.