Saturday, 26 April 2014

Foundations of a Millennium by Ruby Barnes

St Canice's Cathedral, Kilkenny


The other weekend we (my ten-year-old son and I) climbed up the round tower of St Canice's Cathedral in Kilkenny, Ireland. We had different objectives in mind. His was to view the city streets from above and check out the accuracy of the maps he has been drawing since last summer. Mine was to collect a periodical reminder that I don't like heights and climbing ancient towers.

Here's the mandatory tourist stuff - estimated mid-9th century construction, 100 feet 30 metres high, built as a place of refuge during Viking raids, one of only two round towers in the country open to the public to climb.

Rapunzel springs to mind when I think of this tower and the nearby one at the Rock of Cashel (which Rapunzel may still live in, who knows, it isn't accessible to the public).

Rock of Cashel

When we returned home we read the photocopied leaflet from St Canice's. The foundations of that 100 foot tower are ... two feet deep. Originally built on top of fresh graves, the tower has stood for a millennium with foundations shallower than my house.

It set me thinking. The tower only leans two feet off true vertical. That might not be due to subsidence in the shallow foundation - it might be a limitation in 9th century building technology. Its walls are a couple of feet thick. Solid granite blocks set on top of each other. There's little or no sign of renovation. This isn't a structure plastered together on the inside with modern concrete. The tower is built with a durable integrity.

As authors we believe in our writing. Building blocks are required to reach the sky, to stretch up above the street and gain a view of the city. We worry about our foundations - the validity of our concepts, our ideas. We hone our materials - the skills which are our mortar, the plot which is our granite. Social media is our scaffolding (presumably those Dark Ages Viking-avoiders used scaffolding). Those who have confidence raise themselves up and charge for entry. Here endeth the metaphor.

5 comments:

JO said...

Oh heck, if social media is our scaffolding it all feels very flimsy. Thank goodness for the solidity of stone.

Lee said...

Second that, Jo!

(And it's precisely my confidence that allows me not to charge for my writing.)

Susan Price said...

What an amazing place, Ruby! - Thanks for letting me know about it. A thousand years old and it looks like a Black Country factory chimney. But will probably still be around when they've all fallen down.

Lydia Bennet said...

fascinating Ruby. it would be a bit crowded at the top during a raid however... you don't always need deep foundations if you have solid ground to build on, perhaps... damn this metaphor business is catching!

Bill Kirton said...

Very interesting and thought-provoking, Ruby. Maybe, given your antipathy to heights, it's as well you didn't check those stats before you visited. But the metaphor's a good one. I used it recently in a talk, but my intent was to draw people's attention to the gaps between sentences which need to be bound carefully together to achieve our aims, so my focus was on mortar as well as stones.