The Drystone Walls of the Forest.

What is now the Terryland Forest Park was once a mosaic of small fields divided by drystone walls.
In the mid 1990s our local residents' associations campaigned on and ensured that this area near to the centre of Galway city was transformed into a woodland park rather than being covered with a series of housing estates.
For we wanted a 'Green Lungs' for the citizens of Galway.
Though the trees were planted and the pathways laid out, many of the boundary walls remained. Some gradually fell into disrepair, became covered with ivy and got largely ignored.
But over the last year council staff supported by volunteers have began work on restoring some of these walls in Terryland Forest Park to their former glory (see photo).

Drystone walls have been a feature of the Irish landscape for 5,000 years. Most though were built after the Great Famine (An Gorta Mór) of the mid 19th century when the open system of farming was replaced as the Anglo-Irish landed estates were redistributed to the former tenantry resulting in a patchwork of small farms across Ireland.
With no mortar holding the stones together, skilled craftsmen carefully select stones that will balance and sit into the wall.
The gaps between the stones helps stability by allowing the wind currents to pass through, representing fine examples of millennia old engineering.

They also provide habitats for a variety of birds, mammals and insects. The stone surfaces support mosses, lichens and plants.
So these drystone walls that are so characteristic of the West of Ireland are more than just part of our built heritage, they are a vast network of ecological corridors, providing green highways for flora and fauna.
However with the decline of the small working family farm, mechanisation, urbanisation and road development, the small field and accompanying drystone wall boundaries are disappearing quickly from the Irish countryside. The replacement perimeter wooden, concrete, cemented stone and wire fencing offer nothing to wildlife.
So Terryland volunteers are doing their bit to protect our natural and built heritage.
Commenting on the restoration of the drystone wall in Terryland Forest Park, Dr. Colin Lawton of the Zoology in NUI Galway said, "These stone walls are really important for our small mammals such as mice, voles, shrews and stoats. The rodents hate to move across open spaces so dart along linear features such as walls and fallen logs. Shrews like the feeding opportunities all the little nooks and crannies provide and stoats just like holes to explore and features to mark. The switch to wire fencing has had a major impact in the countryside. This is a great worthwhile project."

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