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Amherst Island has one of the largest concentrations of historic Irish dry stone walls in Canada, many over 150 years old. Skilled Irish craftsmen no longer working at the Rideau Canal wandered Eastern Ontario, seeking work. Our upcoming Irish Canadian Dry Stone Festival is designed to celebrate and to continue that good work.
Our Island ancestry is strongly Irish, many original settlers coming from the Ards peninsula, so it was natural that some of the stone workers found their way here. Our mainly limestone, shallow-earthed Island felt like home.
We understand that in some cases glorious walls, and one set of stone pillars were built just in exchange for room and board.
Our Women’s Institute honoured that history and skill, hiring a Kingston dry stone waller and mason to train a group of volunteers on the Island a few years ago. They spent three summers rebuilding the walls of the Pentland cemetery, our oldest one, and those of a private home.
In 2014, visionary Andrea Cross initiated the work to truly honour and preserve, restore and build many other stone walls on the Island. Several were certified ‘heritage’. She spearheaded Island fund-raising to send Jacob Murray, an important member of the family at Topsy Farms, as our emissary to the first Irish Dry Stone Wallers weekend workshop in Co. Donegal.
She invited the Dry Stone Canada Association to come to the Island, and they were hooked. They ran a very successful weekend workshop in September, 2014, rebuilding a stretch of very old wall at the home of descendents of original Irish settlers.
And now we are proud to announce the following:
Free Events will include:
1. Children’s Workshop – learning to build with items lighter than stone
2. Displays of stone structures in the Community Hall
3. Watching the building of two new dry stone structures
4. Two women stone carvers will demonstrate their art and craft
5. Harvest Fest – traditional Island farm event
6. Irish music and dancing throughout the weekend
7. A storyteller will relate the history of Irish settlers coming to the Island
8. A self-guided dry stone tour brochure
9. A guided walking tour of Stella (our ‘downtown’)
10. Displays at the Neilson Store Museum
Two-Day Stone Wall Workshop under the direction of world-renowned dry stone wallers from Ireland: Patrick McAfee, Sunny Weiler and Ken Curran. More information and registration is available at www.drystonecanada.com . Information also at: www.facebook.com/drystonewallingassociationofCanada
VIP list includes His Excellency Dr. Ray Bassett, Ambassador of Ireland to Canada, author Jane Urquhart who wrote “Stone Carvers”, Norman Haddow, The Queen’s Own Dry Stone Waller for Balmoral Estate, and so many other expert dry stone builders and carvers. Our Island will also welcome two musicians from Ireland, Blackie O’Connell and Cyril O’Donoghue as well as Irish-Canadian groups.
1. An Irish Sampler Wall showcasing a variety of dry stone construction techniques, with stones donated by Island residents. Special events will take place Saturday evening with participation of Jane Urquhart, the Irish-Canadian ambassador, and musician Cyril O’Donoghue.
2. A structure using 200 tons of stone, donated by Upper Canada North, will be designed after the creations of the Celts and Mayans. The intent will be to frame the setting sun Sunday evening to highlight a special item of significance to the Irish and to Canadians.
For further information please contact www.drystonecanada.com, www.facebook.com/drystonewallingassociationofCanada, or Andrea Cross: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, while you are here on the Island, discover Topsy Farms’ Wool Shed too.