Hide Subscribe Panel
Heritage boundary stones in the streetscape and landscape of Ireland

Heritage boundary stones in the streetscape and landscape of Ireland

Thomas O'Doherty

Mountain top, seashore, village, town, or city there is bound to be a boundary stone, plate or marker demarcating a municipal or government property. Use a map or heritage source to locate and visit one near you.

The following is a write-up on boundary stones:

"Heritage Military Boundary Stones found in the Streetscape and Landscape of modern Ireland"

In this short essay it is hoped to convey to the reader the presence of many heritage military boundary stones, a diminutive piece of street furniture, to be found in Ireland in many varied places in the streetscape and landscape.

Boundary marking, or in this case "Boundary Stones" have been a popular method of delineating territory by many governing bodies down the centuries. From many varied institutional bodies, county or town councils, all have chosen stones/ tablets in various ornate fashions to mark out areas of ownership or control. The catchment area of the upper reservoir of the Bohernabreena waterworks, county Dublin. The port of Greenore, county Louth : Rathmines and Rathgar township, Dublin: The town of Drogheda, county Louth: The Parliamentary Wards of Dublin city: the Cork city suburbs and even the coast guard station at Lusk, county Dublin have remnants of boundary stones in the streetscape.

In the establishment of many and varied military installations on the island of Ireland by the evolving British Empire down the decades, a diverse collection of boundary stones remain in locations very representative of the threats, demands and needs of an colonial power. Sometimes the only remaining evidence, of a past military, economic and social entity, is the small sentinel like boundary stone. This legacy and in part a military heritage of defences and buildings can be found in a great variety of places in our countries streetscape and landscape. Unlike the city or big town boundary stones, the locations of the military boundary stones stretch out into literally every backwater of Ireland, from our shores, islands and inlets to lofty mountain tops. The diminutive boundary stone is found in villages, town and cities surrounding barracks. They have been used to delineate numerous military graveyards. Military roads whose original purpose have now faded away have discreet boundary stones. Several military camps, even a farm to train military horses and hillside rifle and artillery ranges are circled by meticulously positioned boundary stones. The desire for a clear declaration of boundary has led some stones to be located in the tidal zone of a headland in Galway bay!

The heritage military boundary stones have markings on them which has itself a certain heritage and legacy. The common feature is the "broad arrow". Generally accepted as a legacy from the 1700 century and possibly earlier. The procurement by the "Crown", or Board of Ordnance, of all military hardware and munitions got this stamp/arrow of approval embossed in a prominent position to denote ownership. It's unclear when the need for boundary stones around barracks and fortifications was introduced. While the earlier stones have just the arrow, many stones have the capital letters B and O, Board of Ordnance, placed each side of the arrow. The War Department took over responsibility of installations and procurement in 1855. Hence, boundary stones onwards have capital W and D placed each side of the arrow.

Boundary stones can be free standing, akin to a milestone, or embedded in the perimeter wall of the installation. The material used can vary to suit the circumstances and character of the structure. Granite and limestone predominate. At the Arbour Hill side of Collins Barracks, Dublin city, a neat granite engraved block is inserted into that section of redbrick perimeter wall. Some rather large and squared off granite blocks are used in the sturdy limestone wall on the western side of Cathal Brugha Barracks, Dublin city. In the case of the Grangegorman military cemetery, Dublin city, the engraved arrow and letters are at the base of the elegant corner pillars. On the mountain summits of Lobawn, Logar and Cawrawn in the Glen of Imall, county Wicklow the circuit of boundary stones surrounding the original land acquisition are granite. The same use of good quality "dimension stone" is repeated on the mountain tops of Seehan and Corrig surrounding the rifle ranges and camp at Kilbride, county Wicklow. These lofty positioned markers have endured over a century of harsh climate and many a mountain walker has trekked pass them down the decades.

The perimeter outline could vary from neat squares or rectangles requiring only four or six boundary stones to more complex shaped properties. Most War Department stones are numbered, generally in a clockwise manner. An exception is the Remount Farm in Lusk, county Dublin and McKee barracks, Dublin city which is numbered anticlockwise. Perhaps going anti clockwise or left handed is a nod to equestrian habits! The extensive land parcel that is Kilworth rifle and artillery range in county Cork has more than 134 boundary stones , or to only a singular boundary stone at Ship Street Little near the side entrance to Dublin Castle. While the barracks in the provincial town of Navan had six with two remaining, B.O.# 4 boundary stone visible to public view and # 3 hidden in under growth awaiting rescue. The numbering of the 20 or so stones at Finnavarra village, military road and Martello tower are, interestingly, engraved in roman numerals, with several in the tidal zone. The British Admiralty, liked to inscribe their boundary stones with a fouled anchor to denote Admiralty property. While this symbol, in Ireland, remains elusive, a set of more practical and economical concrete Admiralty stones with, a capital letter "A" has recently been uncovered at the old Coastguard houses adjacent to Martello tower #7 north, Portrane, county Dublin. Possibly, a rear or typical example of delineation between two armed bodies of the crown?

Some suggestions of the meticulous nature of the boundary comes through by the addition of information on the stones face giving distance and direction to the boundary line, e.g. Remount Farm, Trim barracks, Kilbride rifle range. And not to exclude, possibly the almost invisible and at risk, boundary stone near Pigeon House Fort, South Bull wall, Dublin city stating a distance of "560 ft SOUTH" to a bygone rifle range that sat on Sandymount beach! One location that can exhibit both early B. O. and latter W. D. boundary stones, side by side, is the majestically located Martello tower and gun battery # 7 South at Ballybrack crossroads, Killiney, county Dublin. It is understood that the war department reappraised the usefulness of this towers position since its original purpose of a defensive network.

These heritage military boundary stones are not just unique to Ireland or for that matter England. The earlier stones inscribed with B.O are to be found in the street scape of Quebec city, Canada. Similarly the later W.D. boundary stone are still to be found in far flung corners of old empire such as Halifax, Canada, Bermuda, Malta and Hong Kong, to name a few. These identical neatly dressed chambered stones also belie a military, social and economic past similar to Ireland. It's uncertain as to when the need for boundary stones faded out. For instance, during the construction of numerous aerodromes in Ireland at the end of the first world war, was there a circuit of boundary stones or perhaps boundary posts required to mark property ownership or did emerging legal interpretation of land ownership no longer require such symbolic markings?

The small discreet boundary stone that is regularly passed by unnoticed and may be down the list of archaeology interest, can more times than not, offer a small reminder of a place and purpose now forgotten in the community. This short essay has hoped to elevate the significance of the diminutive heritage military boundary stone put in place by anonymous surveyors, stonemasons and labourers so many years ago with it symbols of government administration in our streetscape and landscape.

A particular Boundary Stone to me.
In establishing the military camp and rifle range at Kilbride, county Wicklow, a new military road was laid to act like a shortcut to the camp. This road has now reverted to local private ownership. Again the only remainder of a previous history and perhaps recent folklore is a modest military boundary stone. This boundary stone #4, of a group of four stones is located at a road junction at Ballyfolan. Great use was made of the Blessington Tram from Terenure, Dublin to convey troops and supplies to the village at Brittas, Dublin. From there, a five mile walk was required. Marching from Brittas along the Lisheens road, wheeling left at Butter mountain onto the military road soldiers seeing Corrig and Seefingen mountains must have felt a great adventure ahead away from the doldrums and the smog of Dublin.

During world war one the tram lines fortunes had been lifted by the presence of the camp. So for me, this solitary boundary stone with it clump of mountain heather nearby was passed by thousands of troops who's visit to these hills of Dublin and Wicklow was perhaps a significant fond memory before marching along some war torn roads in France.

Further Information

  • Thomas O'Doherty

Explore Similar Projects