Building a Rock Fence

A young Jackie Steves rocks!
By Rick Steves and Pat O'Connor

The Emerald Isle is as rocky as it is green. When the English took the best land, they told the Irish to "go to hell or go to Connaught" (the rugged western part of Ireland where the soil was particularly poor and rocky). Every spring, farmers "harvest" rocks driven up by the winter frost in order to plant more edible fare. Over generations, Irish farmers stacked these rocks into fences, which still divide so much of the land.

The fences generally have no visible gates. But upon closer look, you'll see a "V" built into the wall by larger rocks which are then filled in with smaller rocks. When a farmer needs to move some cattle, he slowly unstacks the smaller rocks, moves the cattle through, and then restacks them. Flying low over western Ireland, the fields — alligatored by these rock fences — seem to stretch forever. And nearly all have these labor-intensive V-shaped fences built in.

Pat O'Connor is the co-author of Rick Steves' Ireland guidebook