Builders in Ancient Ireland

From A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland 1906

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CHAPTER XX....continued

2. Builders.

From the most remote times there were in Ireland professional architects or builders, as there were smiths, poets, historians, physicians, and druids; and we find them often mentioned in our earliest literature. There were two main branches of the builder's profession:—stone-building and wood-building. An ollave builder was supposed to be master of both, and, in addition to this, to be so far acquainted with many subordinate crafts as to be able to "superintend" them, as the Law expresses it: in other words, to be a thorough judge as to whether the work was properly turned out by the several tradesmen, so as to be able to pass or reject as the works deserved: all which resembles what is expected from architects and builders of the present day.

The most distinguished ollave builder of a district was taken into the direct service of the king, and received from him a yearly stipend of twenty-one cows, answering to a fixed salary of £250 or £300 of the present day: for which he was to oversee and have properly executed all the king's building and other structural works. In addition to this he was permitted to exercise his art for the general public for pay: and as he had a great name, and had plenty of time on hands, he usually made a large income.

By far the most celebrated of all the ancient architects of Ireland was the Gobban Saer, who flourished in the seventh century of our era, and who therefore comes well within historic times. He is mentioned in the Lives of many of the Irish saints as having been employed by them to build churches, oratories, and houses, some of which still retain his name. To this day the peasantry all over Ireland tell numerous stories about him.

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