Stone masters - how traditional stone building is being revived
Traditional stone building skills are being revived at a new craft academy in Tipperary
One of the oldest thoroughfares in Ireland is the 'Slí Dála.' Translated as 'the way of the meeting' or 'the way to the meeting' the road formed the ancient route linking Munster to Tara.
Nowhere is it more remembered and honoured than in Roscrea, Co Tipperary. It has passed through the town, the second oldest in Ireland, since the dawn of civilisation and locals are proud of it as a key feature of their locality.
Indeed the development of a ring-road in the 80s and the opening of the M7 motorway in the 2000s was much lamented by some who were saddened to see that, for the first time in more than 1,000 years, Roscrea would no longer be on the main road linking Munster to the seats of power in the north and east.
As the Slí Dála meanders through Roscrea, it passes some of the finest examples of early stonework in the country. The beautiful carved arch and the round tower at the 12th Century St Cronan's Church have seen travellers pass this way for almost a millennium. While generations of visitors move on, the crafted stones remain, examples of one of the oldest skills practiced by mankind.
In recent years the stone cutting trade has been in decline with many of its associated skills and techniques in danger of being lost. David Kinsella, a rural entrepreneur based in Roscrea, and an innovator in the stone business, has set about doing his bit to revive the craft with the establishment of a Stone Mastery Academy.
A revivalist and an innovator he established one of the first online businesses in the country in the 1990s when he transformed the family quarrying enterprise on the Offaly-Tipperary border into a company called WeSellStone.com.
The boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s saw the company go from strength to strength, but as soon as the downturn happened it took a massive hit.
"Since things got quieter," says David, smiling at his own understatement, "I've had a lot of time to think and reflect. As a company we had no choice but to scale down and look at niche markets and more specialised stuff. This brought me to a realisation that stonework as a craft is under threat so I made contact with two master craftsmen with a view to establishing the Stone Mastery Academy to train a new generation in stone."