The Catholic University of America

Aug. 6, 2014 

Spirit of Place Project Celebrates Irish Heritage

  A crowd gathers at the dedication ceremony for the monument built by CUA students in Ireland.

Twenty-one architecture students from The Catholic University of America built a monument this summer on the rugged coast of County Mayo, Ireland, that celebrates the area’s natural beauty and historical legacy.

Working over 12 days, the students created “The Crossing” at Downpatrick Head, the first signature stop on the Wild Atlantic Way, a coastal touring route that highlights the geography and culture of western Ireland.

More than 500 people attended the July 4 dedication ceremony for the monument. At the ceremony, Irish dancers performed and several Irish wolfhounds made an appearance while attendees dined on barbecue in honor of the U.S. Independence Day.

Travis Price, lecturer and outreach director for the Cultural Studies and Sacred Space graduate concentration at CUA’s School of Architecture and Planning, notes that the project enabled the students “to immerse themselves in Irish culture and to tell that story in their architectural design.”

Working with Irish craftsmen, “they learned about a great place and built with their own hands a permanent reminder of Ireland’s legacy. This structure has become part of the culture of the country,” he adds.

The students designed the monument during the fall 2013 semester as part of the architecture and planning school’s Spirit of Place/Spirit of Design studio. “The Crossing” marks the program’s 18th project.

The monument was unveiled in conjunction with a daylong conference sponsored by County Mayo, Failte Ireland, IPB Insurance, National Geographic, and Catholic University. A blog with project updates, videos, photos, and reflections by the students can be found at

The meditation shrine and story room at the monument.  

The monument is situated near a blowhole at Downpatrick Head — a high point of land with a sheer drop that extends out into the Atlantic Ocean. An underwater channel runs from the ocean to the blowhole. When waves crash against Downpatrick Head, water can shoot 150 feet from the blowhole.

When the students started working on the project, the site was flat and surrounded by an ugly fence, Price says. The students moved 5,000 cubic feet of dirt, taking up the old sod and reusing it at the site. They built a berm around the site that is reminiscent of Irish ringforts, the circular fortified settlements of the early Middle Ages. They also built a meditation shrine and story room of stone blocks and glass panels and surrounded the blowhole with a new fence of stainless steel pipes.

Etched on the glass panels are stories of St. Patrick, favorite folk tales of local school children, and the names of the CUA students who participated in the project.

In addition, the students cleaned up the ruins of a church established by St. Patrick near the site. They also restored the World War II-era watchtower and Eire 64 stone marker at the top of Downpatrick Head. The marker guided Allied planes as they hunted for Nazi U-boats during the Battle of the Atlantic.

Kathleen Lane, lecturer and director of the Spirit of Place Institute, says, “Through this project, CUA architecture students learned how their design of a small project reflecting the spirit of place can have a big impact on cultural and eco-tourism, and economic development.”



Founded by architect and Lecturer Travis Price, Spirit of Place/Spirit of Design is a design-build, educational program for undergraduate and graduate architecture students. Over the past 19 years, the program has produced a series of 18 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.

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 nonprofit 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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