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.

Vale of Belvoir Angels

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I recently travelled through Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire on my way back to Norfolk from Worcestershire and took the opportunity to visit the Vale of Belvoir (pronounced beaver). I have known for years that there were many slate memorials in the East Midlands and recently became interested (if not obsessed) with them, especially those from the late 17th and early 18th century. There are many ornate and beautifully carved examples and due to the longevity of slate they are amazingly well preserved.

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There are bascially two different kinds to my eye, some more crudely carved and “naive” in appearance, and others that are beautifully executed and show the carver/designer’s knowledge of different typefaces, and the masons use of type sample books. I think both these kinds are beautiful but I am more drawn to the cruder ones which include angel carvings known as “The Vale of Belvoir Angels”. There’s a great book studying these memorials written by Pauline and Bernard Heathcote (available at amazon). It lists the memorials and locations and has many photographs.

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What I find particularly interesting is that these stones were not set out or drawn up before the carver started work and you can see this by the way some words are truncated or split and some letters carved really small above the line to fit in. What seems really odd to me is that some of the lettering is raised and therefore the background is being carved away leaving them proud, and even the carving of these was just started on the left hand edge and made to fit, one way or another. It is worth having a close look at some of these. Below is a detail from one.

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I have uploaded some more pictures on my flickr pages. Click here to see them.