Building the walls

Building the walls

Walls are in the news at the moment. Walls to keep people out or to keep people in. In the Fota Frameyard and Throughout the gardens, our benign stone walls give shelter and support to many of the beautiful and sometimes delicate plants and shrubs growing there.

The Frameyard itself is surrounded by walls, old walls in red brick and grey limestone. Recently one of our volunteers, Anna, went to a workshop on the conservation of historic masonry walls, run by Cork County Council. She learned some interesting things there. 

How to “identify features and characteristics of historic walls.”  How “walls reflect geology, topography, land-use and construction style of local area, which can help to enhance the distinctive character of the locality and promote individual identity.” This is particularly interesting for us as the building in the Frameyard, called “The Bothy” is built with local brick which came from the nearby Belvelly Brick Factory.


Belvelly Brick in the Frameyard

This was a thriving factory which produced brick used at Fota,  Cobh and further afield. Local lore has it that when the First World War broke out, Lord Barrymore wanted the workers on his estate, including the factory, to enlist in the British army. When they weren’t inclined to do this, he shut down the factory.


The Bothy is an interesting building as the front wall has a distinctive curve. The reason for this is that the back wall of the building is built in line with a bend in the road that runs behind it. The builders followed this curve on the front and it gives the red brick wall the elegant curved line, visible in the photograph below.


The same red bricks are used in the glasshouses and pit houses, which were derelict and covered in vegetation before the painstaking restoration by the Irish Heritage Trust when they took over the house and Frameyard in 2008. 

The limestone blocks in the Frameyard are interesting for other reasons. The stone arch over the gate leading into the Rose Garden (formerly the Market Garden), shows various forms of carving. Images there include a hand and other shapes that are harder to decipher. Apparently these carvings were done by masons in training for their work on St Colman’s Cathedral in Cobh.


The hand of the mason


Carved Design


Carved Design


Carved Design

This neo-Gothic cathedral was designed by Pugin and Ashlin. The foundation stone was laid in 1868 and building continued with changes to the original plans until 1915, when the last piece of scaffolding was removed from the spire.

The limestone walls in the Frameyard and elsewhere in the gardens in Fota are well maintained. Our volunteer Anna, who attended the course on walls, learned a lot. Particularly on the care of old walls, where ivy or other vegetation grow over the years. And she advises the following:

Don’t attempt to remove or kill ivy by using weed killer or herbicide without making sure the masonry is in good repair. This plant may be what’s holding the wall in place. Vegetation should be cut back close to the wall’s surface without interfering with the basic structure. “Part of the historic, ecological and visual value of the old stone walls is their natural accommodation of plants such as lichens, mosses, small ferns and grasses.” These types of plants have little impact on the walls as their roots don’t run as deep as ivy, valerian or certain trees. The message is simply that if you want a pristine wall, build it from scratch.

The designs of the masons have become part of our daily lives in the Frameyard. Mostly they go unnoticed by visitors (and ourselves), unless it’s pointed out to them. But sometimes we wonder about the handiwork of these masons and about the masons themselves, long gone but with their work enduring.

In her poem “Where there’s a Wall”, Canadian poet Joy Kogawa writes

Where there’s a wall there are

words to whisper by loose bricks,

wailing prayers to utter, birds

to carry messages taped to their feet.

There are letters to be written —

poems even.


Faint as in a dream

is the voice that calls

from the belly

of the wall.

With thanks to Anna (Frameyard volunteer) for sharing her workshop experience with us 

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