Sculptor Michael Biggs on the dying craft of stone carving and how his stonework for a Dún Laoghaire church gives it new life.

In 1965 the 160 year old St Michael's Church in Dún Laoghaire was destroyed by fire. The re-building of the church began in 1969 using the original granite stone, but this time, with an ultra-modern design by architect, Pierce McKenna.

The centrepiece for the new church is an eight ton solid granite altar. The altar and four other liturgical pieces of stonework are being sculpted by one of Ireland's leading stone artists Michael Biggs.

Michael Biggs sourced the granite for the pieces from the quarry owned by Peter Walsh at Ballyedmonduff in Stepaside, high up in the Dublin mountains. His idea for working with stone being,

You take a lump straight out of the quarry and you should shape that.

His is saddened to be working in an environment where there is a distinction made between arts and crafts.

Arts to us is really an extra, no matter how desirable, an extra.

Michael Biggs believes Irish people in the past were great craftsmen and sensitive handlers of materials and they could be again if these skills were properly nurtured.

We would have something for the world that other countries don’t have and now I think we’re going to end up with less of it than they have.

Germany still has a flourishing tradition of stone cutting and carving, even with mechanisation they still have respect for the work of stone cutters whereas in Ireland they treated as backward specimens.

What you’ve been looking at today and filming is a survival there’s no doubt of it and hardly anybody is interested in that.

St Michael's Church re-opened on 7 October 1973.

This episode of 'The Shape of Our Lives' was broadcast on 17 May 1973.