If you’ve been to the west of Ireland you’ll know we love making walls out of rocks. They’re everywhere. In the valleys, over the tops of mountains, cliff edges; straight walls, bendy walls, rectangular walls, cross-shaped walls, even circular walls.
But I’d like to introduce to the most useless wall of all: the slab wall. A ‘wall’ you can step over. Sometimes they’re quite distinct and solid; sometimes they’re mounded over with earth and barely visible; sometimes they’re little more than the odd rock here and there. These ‘slab walls’ may be anything from medieval (say 500 years old) all the way back to Iron Age (2000 years old) or more. The cairns on the hilltops have been dated back to the Neolithic (5000 years ago), and who knows, maybe some of the walls go back that far.
Once you start to notice them, you’ll see them basically everywhere. They are at least as common (and probably far more numerous I think) as the ‘modern’ waist-high dry stone walls. But unlike the dry stone walls which follow field boundary and are mostly straightish, slab walls can meander, form ovals, start in the middle of nowhere and end as abruptly.
What really baffles me is what they were for. You can step over them so they could hardly have been for containing cattle. Were they once taller and their stones ‘recycled’ for other walls? I don’t think so as they’re usually made of large flat slabs, unsuitable for drystone walling. Were they nominal boundaries at a time when all herds perhaps had their own herders? Maybe someone more knowledgable can enlighten me in the comments.
In the Burren, one lives with the constant reminders that humans have lived on and worked in this landscape for at least 5000 years. And what a tough life it must have been without running water, without heating, without antibiotics, without safety - when hunger, the cold, an infected cut, a war or a tribal raid could change your world. We have it tough right now, but still, we have a lot of things to be thankful for.