Stone Fences: Struggle, Sacrifice, and the Expat Life & Legacy

For the past week I’ve spent an hour or so every day digging in the garden, preparing a 4-foot by two-foot patch of ground for planting. Ever day, as I pull dozens and dozens of stones from the ground, I develop a new respect for the rugged men and women who tamed Ireland.

For all of us tourists and soft expats who take our regular trips through the countryside and comment, “Oh Deirdre, look at the stone fences. How cute”, we have no clue how much work it took to pry every one of those damn stones from the ground. They didn’t go to the garden shop and buy some rocks because the missus wanted a fence, they bloody well dug the ground and stacked the stones knowing they’d starve if they didn’t get the land ready for planting .

By comparison, we modern expats seem like such candy-asses with our endless Skype calls, and bitching that, “It’s so hard to transfer money internationally”. We have no clue what the original immigrants went through to make Ireland (or anywhere else) habitable. And it’s not as if they had a choice over where to set up shop. This is either where they were from, or the only place they could get to. Necessity is an amazing motivator.
Faced with starvation, slavish masters, crop failures, marauding clans and pillaging Norsemen, those men and women made Ireland what it is today, and I take my hat (and my candy-assed garden gloves) off to them.

It’s not like anybody wants to see the sausage being made, but, as an adult, when you move somewhere new, particularly a completely new culture, it’s hard not to contemplate and compare. You contemplate the strange and alien place you’ve moved to, and you compare it to what you know and where you’ve come from. Over the past three years I’ve become far more conscious of the way countries behave towards each other, and towards their citizens. I’ve also become aware of the signs and symbols around us that remind us where we’ve come from.

That then makes me wonder what will be the legacy of modern expats (in Ireland and elsewhere)? As screwed up as Ireland may be at times, we have a fairly high standard of living, have shucked off any number of colonial masters, and have had, by turns, the most expensive and most devalued real estate on the planet. Though we’re a small and chronically underfunded country, we participate in world peacekeeping efforts and have one of the highest rates of charitable giving in the world. But the foundations of those things were all put in place long before we came along with our iPad cameras and our Celtic whiskey gift boxes.

Ireland’s ever-present stone fences should not just be quaint curiosities, they are standing monuments to the men, women, and children who, quite literally, fought stone-by-stone for the things we now take for granted.

I ask you, what will our stone fences look like?

Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:

* Renting Abroad, Home Maintenance and Property Management in a Foreign Country

About Glenn Kaufmann

I'm an American freelance writer, photographer, and web publisher. I specialize in writing about travel, food, arts, and culture. I also write dramatic scripts for stage and screen. I'm based in Ireland.
This entry was posted in Dublin Life, Emigrant/Immigrant Life, Immigration & Emigration, International Moving, Irish Countryside, Irish History, Irish Life & Society, Modern Life, Things to See in Ireland and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Stone Fences: Struggle, Sacrifice, and the Expat Life & Legacy

  1. Totally agree.
    In fact, I had a similar realisation when I visited somewhere in Quebec few years ago.
    In that village, most of the early settlers are from Ireland. We went to the church and saw all the headstone saying ‘so and so, co. Mayo’, then you have co. Cork, co. Clare, everything.
    It’s a village where there is no cell phone reception, and people need to go to library for internet access even today.
    It got me thinking – how did these Irish people came here a century ago to this middle of nowhere place and started farming? With their Irish clothing, how long did it take for them to realise this land the Crown gave them will go -30 in winter? How long did it take for them to realise the snow covers the ground 6 months a year? Did they miss Ireland? Did they stay together do bit of ‘session’ and have some hot whiskey to stay warm?
    Suddenly, it makes us modern immigrant looks bad when we are complaining about little inconvenience.

  2. Marta says:

    I love reading your blog about your experience living in Ireland.I visited Ireland 2 years ago & loved it, beautiful country.

  3. Thomas says:

    Regarding your garden, the soil around this part of south Dublin Milltown/Terenure is clay maybe clay/loam with granite bedrock. (granite been used in stone walls in south Dublin County Wicklow) Neutral to mildly acidic on the PH scale, I measured mine last November at 6.7, fairly fertile soil. The soil was glacially deposited here in the last ice age from the Wicklow Mountains via river valleys. The small stones you find were boulders that were crushed together in the ice. Traditionally people tend to add peat to ‘loosen’ the clay soil, improve aeration.

    Given that peat is non renewable more people are turning to alternatives, I use a non peat compost 40% garden waste 40% food waste & 20% fish waste from a company called Quickcrop they call it ‘Envirogrind‘ it really is black gold, delivered in 60 litre or metric tonne bags, see website ––60-litre-bag I tend to use organic fertilisers seaweed tonic/fish emulation/chicken poo pellets/worm poo castings/blood meal/fish bone and blood.

  4. Glenn, I love this post. Excellent reminder. I wish it was mandated that Americans in particular get out of their country for some decent period of time – it’s the only way you can get perspective on all this. Maybe we all need a “world walk about.”
    Thanks for doing this blog. I look forward to every new post.

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