The Catholic University of America

June 25, 2013

Students Design and Build Legacy Marker in Ireland


CUA students designed and built a monument in Ireland. For more photos, see the photo gallery.

A dozen architecture students from The Catholic University of America constructed an architectural installation/cultural legacy marker last week titled The Tale of the Tongs on Inishturk in County Mayo, Ireland.

Students from CUA designed the monument in a class during the fall semester as part of the Spirit of Place/Spirit of Design (SPSD) program.

Inishturk, which translates as “Island of the Wild Boar,” is located off the west coast of Mayo. It is only 5 km X 2.5 km in size; yet it is rich in archaeological sites, and has been inhabited on and off since 4000 B.C.

As part of The Gathering Ireland 2013 tourism initiative, the project commemorates those families who have resided on Inishturk for generations, those who inhabited the island for more than 6,000 years, as well as those who emigrated from Inishturk and Ireland generally.

The project was dedicated with public festivities on June 21. A blog with project updates, videos, photos, and reflections by the students on the experience can be found at

According to Travis Price, director of SPSD, the Tale of the Tongs represents the centuries of cultural gatherings on Inishturk as a shrine, a view point, and rest point. It will function as a spiritual and cultural focus point representing the global Irish diaspora. It will be a place that unites the Druidic and the Christian traditions in the shadow of Croagh Patrick — a mountain in County Mayo, where it is said that St. Patrick fasted for 40 days during the fifth century.

The installation consists of a burning fire on a hilltop enclosed in glass. Near the fire, are iron tongs, representing an old tradition of emigrants taking a block of turf (peat from bogs which is burned as fuel in Ireland) in tongs to their parents’ or neighbors’ houses. The project also involved the erection of plaques with the surnames of all of the island families.

The installation was constructed by students alongside local craftsmen, with local stone, glass, and stainless steel, using both traditional and modern building methods. The project builds public awareness and support for the ongoing conservation, eco-tourism, and economic development underway on Inishturk Island with the support of the Mayo County Council.

In addition to the installation, architecture students in a related studio developed hypothetical designs for an ecologically sustainable fish farm far off the coast of Inishturk, to provide economic development and employment opportunities for the area. These designs were presented and exhibited at the Inishturk Community Center as part of the opening festivities on June 21.

The 2013 SPSD project is led in conjunction with the National Geographic Society as part of The Gathering Ireland 2013 in collaboration with the Mayo County Council. The Gathering Ireland 2013 is being supported by Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland. It the biggest tourism initiative ever staged in Ireland.



About Spirit of Place-Spirit of Design
Founded by architect and professor Travis Price, Spirit of Place-Spirit of Design is a design-build, educational program for undergraduate and graduate architecture students. Over the past 18 years, the program has resulted in a series of 17 built projects with students and local host countries, that respond to regional ecology, the diversity of the vanishing cultures, threatened historic resources, and building and craft traditions associated with the historic sites. Projects have taken place in Peru, Canada, the United States, Ireland, Nepal, Italy, and Finland. See

The design process of the program takes place over the period of a semester, while the construction phase takes place in nine days. The students work with faculty, regional government, and non-profit sponsors as well as local artisans. For many students, this hands-on experience is their first exposure to construction techniques, environmental challenges, and cross-cultural immersions. The work is intended to encourage emerging designers to design architecture that responds to the specifics of culture, ecology, and the ‘spirit of place.’

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