Féilr na gCloch: The Festival of Stone on Inish Oírr

From 14th to 17th September this year, the annual festival of stone, Féile na gCloch, took
place on Inis Oírr. The theme this year: Lámha trasna na hEorpa, Hands Across Europe
represented the cultural exchange between participants from around the world. During the
course of the four day festival, representatives from dry stone construction communities met
to exchange knowledge and celebrate the craftsmanship, heritage, and the timeless beauty of
stone work that can be found on Inis Oírr, various parts of Ireland and around the world.

The Art of Dry Stone Construction, Knowledge and Techniques was officially inscribed on the
UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2018. Croatia,
Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland were included in this initial
inscription. In March 2023 an application was submitted to UNESCO seeking to add Ireland,
Austria, Andorra, Belgium and Luxembourg to the inscription. UNESCO’s decision on this
application is expected in December 2024.

To mark this application to UNESCO and further support international partnership and
knowledge sharing, Ireland invited representatives from each of the countries involved in the
inscription to attend Féile na gCloch 2023. As part of the festival programme, whilst also
immersing themselves in island culture, the international delegation gave talks and
presentations as well as participated in building an International wall.

Interesting information on dry stone construction was shared including ongoing projects and
initiatives around this millennia-old practice, framed by workshops on dry stone walling; letter
and stone carving; hot lime mortar mixing and application; and sketching. The fast programme
of events reflected the versatility of this important intangible cultural heritage tradition. The
exhibition ‘Lámha trasna na hEorpa’ (Hands Across Europe) was also launched during the
festival. This exhibition showcased the rich traditional artistry of drystone construction in
Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, Slovenia
and Spain.

2023 also marks the 20th Anniversary of the UNESCO 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding
of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. Ireland ratified this Convention in 2015 and officially
launched its inaugral National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2019, which to date
compries 38 elements of Ireland’s living heritage. Ireland has also been successful in having
four ICH practices inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural
Heritage of Humanity; Uilleann Piping in 2017, Hurling in 2018, Irish Harping in 2019; and Irish
Falconry in 2021.

The Sustainability of Dry Stone Construction
Aside from the value this practice brings to culture and heritage across Europe, dry stone
walling is a sustainable way to build without harming natural ecosystems in the vincinity of
construction. The sustainability of dry stone walling can be explained in two parts: through the
perspective of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by looking at how the event
promoted the preservation of this craft and the positive effects it had on the local island
community; and from the delegates themselves each explaining the idiosyncratic ways dry
stone walling mitigates affects of climate change, and promotes sustainability in their regions.

Fullfilling the Sustainable Development Goals
Even though the act of drying stone walling in and of itself is sustainable, Féile na gCloch
promotes sustainability in its own way and aligns with 6 out of a total of 17 of the Sustainable
Development Goals as outlined by the United Nations:

Goal 4: Quality Education – Féile na gCloch Inis Oírr promotes traditional skills such as dry
stone walling, letter carving, stone carving, and sketching through workshops and educational
activities. By providing training and education in these traditional crafts, it helps preserve our
cultural heritage and pass on valuable skills to future generations.

Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth – By providing workshops and training in stonerelated crafts, Féile na gCloch Inis Oírr supports the local economy by offering employment
and income opportunities for artisans and crafts people. It promotes sustainable economic
growth by supporting local businesses and preserving traditional skills that contribute to the
cultural heritage of the community.

Goal 9: Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure – Dry stone walling, stone carving and
letter carving can contribute to promoting the use of traditional building materials and
techniques, supporting sustainable infrastructure development. This can be particularly
relevant in preserving historical buildings and cultural heritage sites.

Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities – Féile na gCloch aims to promote
sustainable development in the local community of Inis Oírr by promoting traditional building
techniques such as dry stone walling, the use of hot lime, stone carving and letter carving. By
using sustainable techniques and materials, these activities contribute to the preservation of
the natural environment and the cultural landscape of the island and creates a more resilient
and sustainable community.

Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production – As an event focused on traditional
crafts and skills, Féile na gCloch, Inis Oírr promotes responsible consumption and production
by encouraging the use of local and sustainable materials. Drystone walling and stone carving
prioritises the use of locally sourced materials and traditional techniques, promoting
sustainable production and reducing environmental impacts. The use of hot lime
demonstrations also highlights sustainable building practices and the importance of
minimizing carbon emissions. By promoting the use of such materials, it reduces the
environmental impact associated with other less sustainable construction materials.

Goal 13: Climate Action – Féile na gCloch supports climate action through its workshops on
using traditional techniques like drystone walling and hot lime demonstrations which can help
to promote the use of sustainable building materials and low-carbon construction practices
and contributes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Overall, Féile na gCloch aligns with several sustainable development goals by:

    • Promoting and preserving traditional craftsmanship by providing training opportunities
      and supporting local artisans and cultural heritage.
    • Raising awareness about the importance of sustainable materials and techniques in
    • Encouraging the adoption of traditional methods in the restoration and conservation of
      historic buildings, structures and sites.
    • Collaborating with local communities, organisations, and policymakers to integrate
      these practices into sustainable development plans.

Sustainability Country by Country

From Austria, Helmut Schieder and Rainer Vogler have created the annual Stone & Wine
Festival in Langenlois, Lower Austria, as well as ongoing workshops and projects with
students and children and gave an interesting talk during this year’s festival. They believe that
dry stone walling can serve as a way to protect natural landscapes and acts as a building
material that is completely natural and recycable.

Among other advantages, DSC has been and nowadays still is the most sustainable building
technique. The building material is traditionally local with a short production process, so the
energy input is only around 10% compared to cement-based materials. Stability of retaining
walls in landscape building is significantly higher than walls made of concrete or other water
non-permeable material. Since no other or artificial substances are required for any dry stone
wall construction, they are 100% recyclable – it’s common practice to use stones of old
neglected and broken constructions to build new walls.

As part of his presentation about dry stone walling in Cyprus, Dr. Christos Zoumides outlined
four ways in which the practice can preserve and protect natural landscapes:
1. Agriculture mountain dry-stone terraces
A sustainable land practice for soil and water conservation on mountain slopes.

Terraces are distinctive landscape characteristic in mountain regions, providing a wide array
of ecosystem services
2. Provisioning services
Greater agricultural production potential  designed to provide a larger area for cultivation on
steep slopes that would otherwise be very difficult to cultivate
3. Regulating services
Retention of water and soil  reduced slope gradient and surface runoff gradient and surface
runoff favours infiltration of water thus decreasing soil erosion processes and natural risks
such as floods
4. Supporting services
Improved nutrient cycle, soil, organic carbon, soil fertility and quality. In addition, terraces allow
the conservation of various plant and animal communities


The Dry Stone Wall Association of Ireland works to promote a greater awareness and
appreciation of the craft across Ireland. Apart from the importance of preserving a tradition
that possibly goes back over 6,000 years in Ireland, dry stone walls are the greenest way to
build using stone in that they do not use CO2 producing mortars nor require any concrete
foundation or block work to back them up. In addition, they are 100% recyclable and easy to
maintain ensuring durability over the years outlasting many mortared walls.

Ken Curran, a representative of the Dry Stone Wall Association of Ireland, attended this year’s
festival and made this statement regarding the sustainability of dry stone walling:

In this period of human accelerated climate change and species extinction, dry stone
structures are possible more viable landscape features than ever before. By their nature they
encourage biodiverse micro climates within and around them and are a home for many
species of flora and fauna.

Dry stone structures give shelter and shade, and can prevent flooding and erosion. ‘Leaky
bunds’ can slow torrential rainfall and so mitigate against severe flooding further downhill. Due
to their free draining nature dry stone retaining walls often outperform their mortared
counterparts resisting frost heave, allowing free drainage, assisting with mineral retention, and
protecting crops from wet feet.

They are the greenest way to work with stone.

Made from an abundant locally sourced, natural material, they are fully recyclable and they
use not CO2 producing mortars nor require any concrete foundations or block background to
back them up.

They sit comfortably on the landscape, complimenting the environment and working well in
combination with other natural materials.

Building dry stone structures supports an ancient craft and perpetuates a key part of Irish
cultural identity. Supporting the retention of the practice within local communities helps to
strengthen resilience in economies, green agriculture and landscaping. They are easily
maintained in a more straightforward way than mortared structures.

All these factors make dry stone structures an eco-friendly sustainable construction


This year, Spain was represented by three delegates from the island of Mallorca. The dry
stone retaining walls have remarkable environmental implications when it comes to water
regulation, hillside stabilisation and forest-fire prevention.

The structural technique of the walls, with abundant hearting added behind the main face of
the wall, helps water drain from the terrace itself in times of moderate rain. It also reduces
the surface run-off and the water erosion process. Many of these terraced fields make up
complex systems that were built according to the characteristics of the specific hillsides
where a large number of draining structures favour surface run-off control, improving on
stability and helping to prevent landslips.
Further, the agricultural use of marjades creates areas with scarce vegetation and a marked
horizontal discontinuity of combustible plants, especially during summer, which helps reduce
the risk of fires and also stops fires from spreading. This latter aspect is particularly useful
when it comes to establishing safety perimeters, above all in built-up areas.

Apart from increasing the risk of fires, the abandonment of agricultural practice means that the
marges or retaining walls are no longer maintained and neither are the drainage structures,
which means there is a greater risk for negative effects on the land during times of abundant

The role of dry stone work as a habitat for plant species is also quite important. These dry
stone walls constitute suitable habitats for a large number of species and communities to
colonize them, some of restricted location and even endemic taxa. It should be mentioned, for
example, that in Mallorca it has been found that a quarter of the ferns found on the margins of
the Tramuntana mountain range are endemic to the Balearic Islands and that 7 of the island’s
Asplenium hybrids are exclusive to this environment. This kind of construction is also used by
small animals that seek shelter in the spaces left between the stones.

Further information on Féile na gCloch (Festival of Stone) can be found at:
Ireland’s National Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage can be viewed at
The inscription of Art of dry stone walling, knowledge and techniques on the Representative
List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity can be viewed at: