Irish Stone Walls
by Patrick McAfee
The Irish countryside is a patchwork of over 250,000 miles (400,000 kilometers) of stone walls. Built from local stone according to the style of each region, these walls are an intrinsic part of the landscape. Patrick McAfee, a consultant and expert stonemason, reveals the history of this ancient tradition and gives illustrated examples of the care and restoration of stone walls of all types.
The following is excerpted from Irish Stone Walls: History, Building, Conservation published by O'Brien Press. The diagrams demonstrate the great variety and uses for stone wall copings. This section is just a small part of a comprehensive handbook that covers geology, tools, quarries, foundations, mortars, cutting, pointing, and more.
Coping is the capping or covering to a wall that provides protection from the elements, animals, and sometimes humans who might try to scale the wall. It also prevents small stones from becoming dislodged. Coping may have a distinctly recognisable local style. Sometimes it is the only cut stone in the wall, or the only stone not indigenous to the area, such as a barrel-shaped granite coping on a limestone wall, cut elsewhere and brought to site. Single, dry stone walls in Ireland rarely if ever display a coping of any kind.
Coping has the following practical functions:
- Protects the top of the wall from the weather.
- Prevents the lime mortar in the corefill from leaching.
- Offers vegetation little space to take hold.
- Provides privacy and security.
- Has a decorative function and gives a finish to a wall.
- Acts as a structural element in a retaining wall.
- Protects surface mortar and stone from weathering.
- Locks together the top of the wall.
A soldier coping with indented face in South Clare.
Photo: Patrick McAfee
Projecting coping on alternate stones only, which are different widths and crenelated on top.
Image: Patrick McAfee
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