Stonecarvers Ireland Road Trip

Dan, my assistant, and I have been working in Ireland for a few days and covering a fair few miles.

Last Autumn, coincidentally I was asked by three clients to carve memorials in Ireland. They seemed to be struggling to find designer makers in Ireland making this kind of hand carved work. I was able to orchestrate things so we could bring them over and install them together. We both love Ireland, the music and landscape and Dan’s uncle lives in Kerry, so we popped across to see him too.

Our first stop was Clandeboye cemetery in Bangor, near Belfast, where we installed this Welsh slate memorial.

We stayed in the Cairn Bay Lodge B&B which was really good with amazing views and food. In the afternoon we drove to the Giant’s Causeway, somewhere I’ve always wanted to go.

We then had an evening in Belfast, ending up in The Points watching champion fiddler Niall Mcclean.

The next job was down in Kilkenny, but we decided to go via Connemara to check out the marble. We saw a bit but the yards were closed. We saw huge quarry blocks that were ratchet-strapped to stop them falling apart, which was alarming. It’s mainly green and riddled with cracks. I was told that it’s soaked in glue prior to sawing it in order to strengthen it. Nevertheless it’s quite attractive.

The next job was for a couple in Kilkenny. The stone was Mountcharles Sandstone from Donegal. This looks similar to Yorkstone but seemed twice as heavy and was harder to work. The carved element was inspired by a ring. I carved it in a panel, but also raised it beyond the level of the face of the stone, by starting off with a raised circle. This enabled me to make it bolder and for it not to appear to be sunk into the stone.

We then visited a local stonemason who generously took us to see the Kilkenny limestone quarry in Paulstown. This was awesome. It’s vast.

The clients took us out for a lovely meal and drinks in Kilkenny city, which is a really nice place.

The next day, we moved on to Enniskerry to install a Yorkstone memorial for Katy French. She was a model, celebrity and charity worker well known in Ireland. The tree of life carving is a simplified version of one I carved some years ago.

After a night in Stillorgan (!) We headed off to Dublin to explore, and it was during gay pride, so the city was vibrant, to say the least. We ended up in Devitts Bar watching a great duo, including a wonderful squeezebox player called Neil Harney. Here’s a snippet taken as my phone died.

We then headed west for the rest of the time, enjoying Kenmare and the Kerry/Cork region. One highlight was seeing Dan’s cousin Aisling Urwin play harp and sing. She’s so talented. Her voice is angelic and her playing sublime. She’s about to tour Europe and America over the coming months so keep an ear out for her.

It was interesting to see how there seems to be very few carvers in Ireland and how there’s a demand for well designed, hand carved bespoke memorials. I’m looking forward to coming over again.

Norfolk Granite! and some other local stones

I recently met a local chap who told me he had a boulder he wanted me to carve. I’ve been working on it today. “Where did he get it from?” Oh, I’m glad you asked me that. Well, he told me that an 18 year old farm worker Brian Sarsby was ploughing a field near Banningham, when there was a bang and his tractor came to a sudden stop. He’d bent a plough-share on a substantial lump of rock in the ground. I know that farm worker and he’s 81 now. The stone was removed from the field and ended up outside a house in Colby. It looks to me like granite, and I’d suggest it is a glacial boulder. There are pictures at the bottom of this post.

Norfolk has no natural stone for carving. We have flint such as was quarried in Grimes Graves (below) and other places. CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE

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Then there is Carrstone, a rough sandstone or iron stone (also known as Silsoe or gingerbread!) quarried near Snettisham and used a lot for walling in that area, with brick quoins. It comes in two variants; a rusty red and a ‘silver’ variety. There’s some chalk too. So nothing for me to get excited about. I have cut a letter in flint and it is possible but not much fun. Here’s a picture of the strata in Hunstanton:

Hunstanton

Generally speaking the further West you go in the UK the older the stone is. Guess I’m in the wrong county then…..BUT now I have a source of stone I can carve…..Norfolk Granite! I’m not a big fan of granite but it is ok. My previous blog featured a massive 7 tonne boulder which I carved with my assistant Dan. This one (below) is a lot smaller! I am being quite free with the lettering on this, sketching it out roughly and forming the letters as I go, the client just said go for it, ‘just do it’. This means letter shapes and spacing need to be refined as it progresses, and the weight and depth of the letters are done in an intuitive way – what looks right to me. There are one or two flaws in the stone so I had to set it out with this in mind. It has a kind of soft crust and then it gets HARD as you cut deeper. I will wash it down after carving, and then assess if it needs some paint in the letters. Often when the dust is washed out of the lettering there is not enough contrast or shadow, despite carving VERY DEEP. Also it does need to function as a sign, and needs to be noticed. It’s about 70cm wide I guess. CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE, bye for now!!

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Derbyshire treasure

I recently spent a few days away with the family in Derbyshire, near Cressbrook Dale. As well as the amazing landscape I took great pleasure in studying the limestone there. If you look closely the rocks, paths and even the footpath stones set into the walls are full of fossils. One day we took a walk on the White Peak through Sheldon. I knew there would be fossils as I’d seen and bought some small pieces from Lowes Marble Works in Middleton, near Wirskworth some years back. See below.

The limestone there is a carboniferous limestone. There is also sandstone and millstone grit in Derbyshire. On this walk I spotted these slate memorials which were obviously to a very important family with the surname Sheldon. The letter-carving is impressive. There seems to have been some very high quality slate carving through the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire/Newark area in the 18th and 19th centuries, I’ve seen numerous examples.