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Building on the ancient art of drystone walling


The Belfast Hills Partnership is offering people the chance to build up the skills involved in the ancient art of drystone walling.

The environmental group is teaming up with Belfast stonemason and drystone expert Michael Barrett to construct a new wall on Divis Mountain next month.

The project will also deliver skills for unemployed people and anyone interested in learning the art of traditional drystone building.

Three one-day courses will run on October 18, 19 and 20 to help construct the wall at the long barn on the Divis site.

Stone walls are a remarkable and historic feature of the Irish and British landscape. Built without mortar, it is estimated that Ireland has over 150,000 miles of drystone and Britian 250,000 miles. The remains of walled-in fields date back to 5,000 years ago in Ireland.

Belfast Hills Partnership volunteer officer Freddie Harris said the event was a great opportunity for anyone interested in landscape heritage conservation and the outdoors.

“We have laid on this event to keep alive a traditional skill that may otherwise be lost. We are also creating lasting partnerships with people who live in the large urban area around the hills, and with organisations like the National Trust on Divis.

“This is part of our programme of training which involves getting local communities out into the Belfast Hills.

“People who join us will ultimately walk past the wall all their lives and have the satisfaction of saying, ‘I helped build that’.

“The initiative makes the most of training opportunities for local people who may want to learn new skills or who may be out of work due to the economic downturn.”

The project is part of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Belfast Hills landscape partnership scheme.

The course is supported by communications and media company Arqiva in partnership with the National Trust.

Course leader Michael Barrett from Cathedral Stonemasonry on Belfast’s Divis Street urged people to get involved in the course.

The stonemason who built the wall around St Peter’s Cathedral, has taken part in most of the major drystone restoration work carried out in Northern Ireland.

“It took four years as an apprentice and two years at college for me to become a stonemason and an architectural stonemason. I love it and I hope to pass on that knowledge to anyone who wants to learn.

“We will be learning the basics and the construction end of drystone walling, catching up on its history and understanding what goes into the building of a drystone wall.

“The course will make people aware of the work, skill and patience that goes into this often-called ancient art, but which is also a skill that is very much learned.”

The sessions run from 10.30am to 4pm. To register, contact the Belfast Hills Partnership on 02890 603 466 or email freddie.harris@belfasthills.org.

Apprenticeships may be available. Contact Michael Barrett on 07934181662.

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