Monday, March 04, 2013

Ireland: Palisade Fencing Paranoia?

Note: The following is a guest post by Seamus Murphy of Trenditionist. Geographic Travels encourages guest posts on geography-related topics. Please contact catholicgauze [at] gmail [dot] com if you have any idea for a guest post submission.

Usually, most Irish stereotypes are true. The people are extremely welcoming, the grass is indeed very green and the whiskey tastes magnificent. Added to that, the country’s rugged landscape is a smattering of stone walls, fields, sheep, rolling hills and that most quintessentially Irish thing of all, palisade fencing. Wait a second… palisade fencing is the most notable and memorable feature of the country’s landscape? Sadly, the answer is yes. And sadder still, nobody in Ireland seems to realise it.


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What is palisade fencing anyway? Most people probably know that a palisade is a type of defensive wall constructed from wooden stakes or tree trunks. A palisade fence on the other hand “provides a formidable barrier and is manufactured from cold roll formed steel sections designed to provide strength and rigidity”, according to Press Release Distribution. The website goes on to state that the “forbidding appearance and inherent strength of the pales provide an effective deterrent to would be intruders”

Palisade fencing has existed in Ireland for decades. Over the past 20 years, however, it seems to have sprung up everywhere imaginable, invading every last corner of the picturesque green island. Perhaps the situation wouldn’t be too bad if the fences were somehow attractive. Or confined to farms, industrial estates or the perimeter of an army barracks. Unfortunately, the typical Irish palisade fence can be found in front of hospitals, schools, apartment blocks and houses.


Are the fences really that bad? One is reminded of American poet Robert Frost when he wrote a piece called “Mending Wall” where you can find that highly memorable quote “good fences make good neighbours”. Waking up after a solid and undisturbed night’s sleep in Ireland, you might thank the palisade fence at the end of the garden path for providing effective security. Peering out of your bedroom window after waking up, you’ll notice the green hills in the distance. The rain is finally starting to stop and a vivid rainbow is forming. But dominating the view is your “good” neighbour, the palisade fence.

Oh that cursed cold palisade fence! Its profiled steel components are sword-like and intimidating. Worse still, the strip steel is unpainted, unimaginative and unbelievably bland. It wouldn’t be so bad if it reflected light, but after years outside, it’s fallen victim to moss and dirt. The entire thing would look far more natural surrounding a prison yard than a back garden. Sometimes, you’ll find a green palisade fence, but the dirty unpainted look seems to be more fashionable…and less expensive.  

The fence-heads come in three forms of intimidation – the “triad top”, the “flat top” and the “round top”.  Of the three, the “triad top” is probably the most daunting and unattractive. The very top of the fence is divided into three sharp knife-like points, obviously designed to impale and kill any individual thoughtless enough to climb over it. Don’t think for a second that the other options are a walkover, or somewhat more accurately “a climbover” in this case. The flat top and round top also have the capacity to maim, featuring extremely sharp edges.

Why do people in Ireland destroy their scenic countryside and charming villages with such horrendously dangerous and intimidating edifices? Of course the answer is rather simple. It’s all about security. If you look at statistics on violent crime in the United States in 2011, you’ll find that 1,203,564 incidents were reported throughout the year. And guess what? Yeah, that’s right – there’s barely a palisade fence to be found from New York to Los Angeles. Ok, they do exist, but in smaller quantities in comparison to those found in Ireland.

Americans seem to place their security in assault rifles these days, which is a whole other (and more serious) discussion. The Irish place their security in fencing. Would the palisade fencing phenomenon work in the United States? Perhaps it would make people feel more secure, reducing gun ownership figures. However, it would have that same detrimental effect on the country’s landscape. Just imagine a palisade fence running along the top of the Grand Canyon. On top of that, a palisade fence shows that you have something to hide, often inviting anti-social behaviour and break-ins.

Are there any other countries that love palisade fencing as much as Ireland? This form of intimidation has become commonplace in South Africa, a country well known for its high levels of crime. There, the fences come in even more shapes and sizes – the same profiled steel can be installed alongside more modest and picturesque wooden varieties.

Interestingly, the South Africans have developed electrified palisade fences made from aluminium and mild, galvanised or stainless steel. A whole new level of fear-mongering, these steel beasts stand 2.4 metres high and are equipped with energisers that send high voltage electric pulse through the entire structure at a frequency of one Hertz. It’s enough to deter an elephant, ensuring the residents of Johannesburg can count on their fencing to sleep softly at night.

Due to its notorious rate of carjacking, rape and murder, the notion of living in a South African gated community surrounded by monstrous electrified palisade fences may not seem unusual, perhaps even something that should be encouraged. Yet in Ireland, the crime level is nowhere near that of South Africa, and those standardised palisade fences have manifested themselves in a pugnacious plague of steel. Should Irish people secure themselves in the best way possible? Of course the answer is yes. Are palisade fences the best way to secure Irish homes? The answer to that important question is both yes and no.

True, they act as an absolutely formidable deterrent, especially the one with the ferocious “triad top”. However, from an aesthetic perspective, they are absolutely disastrous. Ireland does have extensive problems in poorer working-class districts where individuals engaged in anti-social behaviour are known as ‘knackers’, a derogatory term. Accordingly, the palisade fence has often been labelled an ‘anti-knacker fence’ or a way of keeping knackers off your property.


At this task, it excels. Though knackers or individuals intent on vandalism sometimes find their way over palisade fencing (even the much feared triad top), its horrifying spread across the Irish landscape must be cause for concern. It has become a sign of fear and paranoia. Getting back to a point made earlier, wherever there is a palisade fence, something is being protected. Therefore, the sight of one of these steel barriers subtly announces to the degenerates of society that they must scale it and defeat it before robbing or vandalising whatever lies beyond.


The sad reality of the situation is that the fencing used to be necessary in some situations, but now it can be found in every unnecessary location imaginable – lining roadsides, parks and fields. Unfortunately palisade fencing is now so commonplace and ingrained in society that Irish people don’t even notice it anymore. More often than not, Irish emigrants point out the problem in a state of shock and disbelief when they come home for Christmas.

Surely there is some way for the people of Ireland to remain safe and secure without erecting something with a “forbidding appearance and inherent strength to provide an effective deterrent” in plain sight across the length and breadth of the country. If Robert Frost was able to catch a glimpse of Ireland’s green landscape with its ugly streaks of cold steel, surely he would have abandoned the phrase “good fences make good neighbours” and come up with something different. For in Ireland, there are no good fences anymore, just a palisade fencing paranoia.


Note: Semus does a good job at pointing out the palisade fences' primary use and growth is due to anti-social behaviors (i.e. criminal activity). While they may be ugly clearly these fences have some uses in some places. It sad though, that the fences are societal decline manifested physically on the landscape much like bars on windows became widespread in many urban centers in the United States or qalat walls growth in height throughout Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan. There is a whole subfield of geography which studies this merger of culture, architecture, and spatialness.

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