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.

Limestone versus slate in Lincolnshire

I recently travelled through Lincolnshire on my way home, and photographed these memorials, two in Local Lincolnshire limestone and the third in slate probably from Leicestershire. They are all from the mid-late 18th Century and they show how well the slate weathers. The lettering on the limestone has almost disappeared and is barely legible whereas the slate is like new. Lincolnshire limestone is soft and needs to be carved deeply to last. I suspect the lettering was never very deep as the detailing on the cherubic angels is still quite visible. Other limestones such as Hornton limestone or Portland limestone that have always been used a lot for carving and memorial work seem to weather a bit better on the whole and sandstone such as York stone will last much longer as it contains a lot of silica. There’s a lot of variation around the country though in terms of how things last, for example Kilkenny limestone from Ireland is very hard and is much more durable.



Swithland Slate

This slate was quarried until the early 1900’s in the Charnwood Forest area,  and was used for a lot of the Vale of Belvoir Angel memorials as well as for earlier slates and memorials all around the east midlands. There were several small quarries as far as I can tell and here’s one I found on the outskirts of the village of Swithland. I had hoped to bring a little piece back as a souvenir but it was extremely dangerous……….basically a pit filled with possibly very deep water edged by sheer “cliffs” of slate.

click to enlarge

The village church has many wonderful slate memorials, some very accomplished pieces of carving and some more crude. The earliest was from 1673.
here are a few examples but there are more on my flickr pages.