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Ireland

The Dry Stone Walls of the Aran Islands

Mortarless walls that stretch for miles are a lovely solution for creating grazing land in the harsh terrain of the Aran Islands. 

The dry stone walls of the Aran Islands—endless, mortarless, often ridiculous, always gorgeous—are a clever and scenic solution to a tricky problem. How do you create arable land on rocky, windy islands?

The three Aran islands are essentially big chunks of rock, littered with millions upon millions of small rocks. Over centuries, islanders have created grazing land, a few square feet at a time. They cleared rocks from a small area, piled the rocks elegantly into dry stone walls, enclosing a small patch of ground. Sheltered from the wind, the small scraping of topsoil stayed in place and began to accumulate—a process helped by the islanders drying soil-enriching seaweed on the walls. 

Today, the islands are a spectacular gray-green labyrinth, the maze of walls enclosing tiny green fields, occasionally enclosing a shaggy horse or cow. The three islands occupy only 18 square miles. According to one estimate, they contain 1,500 miles of walls.  

Know Before You Go

The islands are reachable by ferry from Galway and Dingle. There is a coach transfer between Galway City centre and the ferry. Total cost for two tickets, which is the coach ride and ferry, is Eur 59 (6/2016). Book your ticket from aranislandferries.com located right across from the bus station. Tickets for the Aran islands can be purchased on line, but pickup is in person. Also there are many affordable guest houses near the bus station (way less than a mile) which can be found on agoda.com