Remarks on the Round Towers of Ireland (concluded)

The want of a satisfactory solution to this question, involving so much of the ancient history of Ireland, has not arisen from neglect; it has been often and laboriously mooted—much learning and research have been brought to bear upon it; indeed, no writer, affecting to treat of the antiquities of the country, would presume to pass an opinion on them without taking cognizance of these great indexes of the antiquity of the national civilization. Every writer, therefore, from Cambrensis downwards, has noted them more or less largely, and most have hazarded a theory upon them. Within the last few years the Royal Irish Academy offered a gold medal as a prize for the best Essay upon the subject. The bonus drew forth two candidates, Mr. O'Brien, a learned and enthusiastic young writer, and Mr. George Petrie, a gentleman distinguished as an artist and as a cautious inquirer into the antiquities of his native country—to the Essay of the latter the Academy awarded the prize.

It will be sufficient to observe on these papers that Mr. Petrie contends for the Christian origin of the Round Towers, to which he does not assign an earlier date than the sixth century, founding his opinion upon the similarity of their architectural style with some authentic monuments of ecclesiastical construction, and also from the sculptures found upon several of them, which he insists were executed at the time of their being built: he also makes the period of their erection subsequent to the introduction of Christianity into Ireland. Mr. O'Brien, on the contrary, supports the opinion that they were erected in the remote ages of Paganism. His theory supposes that all the various theological systems, which have divided the world up to the present time, are founded upon an allegory; and the pillar-towers are an emblem of that allegory—multiplied personifications of the great object of worship, which has led away the bulk of mankind from the spiritual worship of the invisible God. It is not very easy, and still less desirable, to convey a palpable idea of the theory of this very learned, very ingenious, and very visionary writer; but it it will suffice to say that he has discovered an identity in the form of the towers to the Hindoo Lingam, and that their use "was that of a cupboard," to hold those figures sacred to the Indo-Irish Budha. Mr. Windele, a recent writer, who has devoted much attention to the subject, rather coincides with Mr. O'Brien's opinion; he says the Irish names of these towers "are of themselves conclusive, and announce at once a fane devoted to that form of religion, compounded of Sabaeism or star-worship, and Budhism,—of which the sun, represented by fire, was the principal deity in all the kindred mythologies of Persia, India, Phoenicia, Phrygia, Samothrace, and Ireland. This idolatry in many respects differed from that of Gaul and Britain. Zoroaster was its great reformer in Persia, and the reformation seems to have been acepted in Ireland.

There are a few round towers in England, chiefly in Norfolk and Suffolk, where they are attached to old churches, and these, from a faint similarity to the pillar-towers of Ireland, have caused Ledwick and other antiquarians to believe that they were all identical in character, and of ecclesiastical origin. A very slight inspection will, however, convince any person that these English towers, which are uniformly constructed in a rude manner, and composed of flints, rough stones, chalk, and other coarse ingredients imbedded in mortar, are extremely unlike the well-executed pillar-towers of Ireland.

An opinion, which bears with it some show of probability, has been advanced latterly, namely, that these pillars were monuments erected over the graves of celebrated kings, priests, or heroes. Such a belief would not be at variance with the character of the Irish towers—human bones having been found interred beneath one at Ram Island, in Antrim; and similar relics, which had undergone the process of burning, have also been recently discovered under the tower at Timahoe. When we behold the stupendous pyramids of Egypt, which were doubtless intended only as sepulchres for the dead, we need not feel any great surprise if these aspiring pillars of Ireland should have been devoted to the same monumental purpose.

I shall now dismiss this interesting, but perplexing inquiry, which there is little probability will ever lead to a solution of the enigma that has puzzled so many antiquarians.