Round Towers (continued)

SeeRound Towers,” in Appendix I., p. 724, (ante.)

Various theories as to the origin of our Round Towers have been propounded, viz.:

1. That they were erected by the Danes.

2. That they are the work of the early Christians.

3. That they are of Pagan origin.

4. That they were erected by the early Aryan settlers in Ireland, and that St. Patrick and his followers converted them to Christian ecclesiastical uses.

That the Round Towers were built for Pagan worship; and that those ancient temples were, when the Christian religion was established in this country, utilized and sanctified by the early Christian Church, is our own firm conviction.

Dr. Lanigan says;—

“It can scarcely be doubted that the original models, according to which they were constructed, belong to the times of Paganism, and that the singular style of architecture, which we observe in them was brought from the East.”

The Very Rev. Dr. Charles O’Connor is of opinion that the Round Towers have come to us from Pagan times—“from time immemorial,”—ab immemorabili conditas memorari.

The Pagan origin of the Round Towers has been ably advocated by General Vallancy, Mr. Beaufort, Dr. O’Connor, Miss Beaufort, Moore, D’Alton, Windele, O’Brien, Keane, Giraldus, and by the late Very Rev. Canon U. J. Bourke, M R.I.A, and P.P. of Claremorris, Co. Mayo, one of the ablest and best informed of Irish scholars, who says:—

“Sameness of architectural features point to identity of origin. But the Round Towers of Ireland present, in the slanting door-way, in the style of arch, in the material used, in the cement, in the shape and size of the stones, and in the manner in which they are laid, architectural features which are nowhere to be found, except in the Cyclopean edifices of the earliest historic period. Therefore the Round Towers[1] had been built by men skilled, at the very earliest period, in the Cyclopean style of architecture.”

There are now only sixty-six Towers remaining, and of these only forty-six have got doorways, the others are reduced to their foundations or have lost their original entrances. Thirty-four out of the forty-six doorways are round-headed, the remaining twelve are square-headed. Round-headed doorways generally exhibit a better style of workmanship and materials than are found in the quadrangular specimens.

There is a Tower at Kinneigh, co. Cork, erected on an octagonal base, convenient to an ancient Tuatha de Danaan Dun or Fort. This tower has a battlemented top, in which a bell is hung.

Another very fine Tower is at Cloyne, on a limestone eminence, between which and St. Colman’s ancient Cathedral runs one of the streets of the town; the distance from the Church to the Tower being about thirty yards. Its present height is a little more than 100 feet; the diameter at the door is about 9 feet 2 inches, with a thickness of wall of 3 feet 8 inches; at the upper floor the diameter is 7 feet 2 inches, with a thickness of wall of 2 feet 9 inches. The Tower is divided internally into storeys by seven off-sets, taken from the thickness of the wall, so that drawn in section the internal line of wall would show a zig-zag outline. The Tower was originally crowned by the usual conical stone roof, which was destroyed by lightning on the night of the 10th of January, 1749. The stones of the building are flat-bedded, carefully worked to the curvature of the Tower, with a chisel-pointed hammer; the masonry of the doorway is put together in a laboured manner, and finely chiselled, each stone being apparently worked as it was required; a file would scarcely produce such careful work now!

In Lough Derg on Holy Island, near Inniscaltra old church, is a Tower in a remarkably perfect state.

The Tower at Clones is broken on the top and around the doorway which is nearly on a level with the surface of the adjoining graveyard.

At Killashee, co. Kildare, there is a Tower very much ruined, and within a mile of Naas.

A beautiful Tower formerly stood at the south-west of Down Cathedral, but, in 1789, it was pulled down by Vandal hands.

At Drumbo, co. Down, a Tower 35 feet high and 47 in circumference, stands near the site of an ancient church.

At Ard-Patrick, co. Limerick, is a fragment of what was once a very fine Tower, built in regular courses of masonry; it is now only 45 or 50 feet in height.

The Tower of Donoghmore, co. Meath, near the ruins of an old Priory, is in good preservation, and has a curious carving on the keystone of the arch.

The ruined Tower at Aghagower, co. Mayo, is near the ruins of a church. The present door is a modern formation on the ground floor; the upper portion of the Tower has fallen, and now the ruin is nearly covered with ivy.

In Devenish Island, Lough Erne, there is a Tower in a good state of preservation, near the ruins of a very ancient church. Other interesting ruins may also be seen on that island.

The Round Tower of Dromiskin, co. Louth, called the “Tor” by some, is about 50 or 60 feet in height; on its south side was to be seen an entrance 5½ feet high, and 3 feet at bottom; there were four openings near the top facing the cardinal points, these were four feet high by two feet and a half broad; a bell once hung in the top. The common name for this Tower was “Clogar.”

A very fine Tower remains at Killala, co. Mayo, quite perfect, retaining its original stone roof of conical shape.

At Turlough, co. Mayo, another fine Tower exists, overshadowing the grave of the celebrated George Robert Fitzgerald.

The Round Tower near St. Cronan’s Church, Roscrea, co. Tipperary, is in good preservation; 8 feet 3 inches in diameter; about 15 feet from the ground is a window with a circular arch; and at an equal distance above this is another window with a pointed arch. The roof having fallen, the height is now only 80 feet; it is 50 feet in circumference, and the wall is 4 feet in diameter. It is built of sandstone, in irregular courses, specially shaped, and notched peculiarly, lapping into one another. The stones are of moderate size, and worked roughly to a curve; while, on the interior and below the door, there is rough masonry, evidently intended to be filled up to that level. On the inside are projecting stones. Two floors remained in 1840; it was inhabited in 1815.

At Kilcullen, co. Kildare, is a fine Tower, partly destroyed at the top; near old ruined crosses.

On Scattery Island (in the mouth of the Shannon) there is a very old Tower, showing marks of time; the top of the cap is wanting; it is 120 feet in height; four windows of good size in the top face the cardinal points; the present doorway is evidently modern.

On the summit of Oughterard, co. Kildare, is a ruined Tower, near the ruins of an old church. The doorway of this Tower is formed by a circular arch, 10 feet from the ground; and 10 feet higher, on the south side, is a window of the same shape and dimensions.

In the parish of Antrim, baronies of Upper Antrim and Upper Toome, at some distance N.W. of the Town of Antrim, and now called Kilbride parish, is a very fine Round Tower, from near which a quantity of human bones were some time ago cleared away; the place is now levelled, and planted with trees.

At Lusk, co. Dublin, may still be seen a very perfect specimen of a Round Tower, attached to a mediæval church, lately restored for Protestant worship.

At Armoy, co. Antrim, about 28 feet from the N.W angle of the modern church, are the remains of a Round Tower, 35 feet high and 47½ feet in circumference. The doorway, which is 6 feet high, and on the south side, is semi-circular-headed, the arch being hollowed out of a single stone; internally this Tower is about 9 or 10 feet below the outside surface of the graveyard.

There is a portion of a Tower at Drumcliffe, a parish in the barony of Lower Carbury, co. Sligo, where St. Columb-Cille founded a religious house.

A very fine Tower is also seen on the Rock of Cashel; and who has not read of the Tower at Glendalough, co. Wicklow, which yet casts its shadow over the remains of very ancient Churches founded by St Kevin.

Two very ancient Towers yet remain at Clonmacnoise, that ancient retreat of Ireland’s regal and noble families.

Another Tower stands near the Cathedral Church of St. Canice, Kilkenny within the enclosure of the extensive burial ground.

A very fine Tower stands near the ruins of the Church of St Brigid, Kildare.

At Kilmacduagh, co. Galway, there is a very ancient looking Tower near the great church, erected for St. Colman MacDuach, by his kinsman, Guaire Aidhne, King of Conacht.

On Mahee Island, co. Down, stands a ruin, which is all that remains of a Round Tower; at present it is only 9 feet in height, and is covered with ivy.

The Tower at Ardmore, co. Waterford, erected over the graves of two persons, is nearly perfect. It is built of hard, chiselled sandstone quarried four miles off at Slievegrian; it is 15 feet in diameter; and tapering gradually to its stone conical apex, 97 feet from the ground. Four string-courses divide it externally into five storeys; grotesque corbels spring from the interior of the walls; the windows in the top storey, each 3 feet 9 inches high, face the cardinal points; a bell once hung under the apex, whose tone was heard at Gleannmhòr, eight miles distant.

On Ram’s Island, in Lough Neagh, barony of Upper Massereene, is another Tower, evidently erected before the waters of the lake covered this part of the Antrim coast, which took place in the reign of Lugaidh Sriabhn-dearg, the 98th Monarch of Ireland, who died B.C. 8:

“On Lough Neagh’s banks, as the fisherman strays,

When the calm clear eve’s declining,

He sees the Round Tower of other days

In the waves beneath him shining.”


Besides these here partly described, there are Round Towers at Aghadoe, Co. Kerry; Balla, co. Mayo; Castledermot, co. Kildare; Clondalkin, co. Dublin; Drumlane, co. Cavan; Dysert, co. Limerick; Dysert O’Dea, co. Clare; Kilcullen, co. Kildare; Kilree, co. Kilkenny; Monasterboice, co. Louth; Rathmichael, co. Dublin; Rattoo, co. Kerry; Seirkieran, King's Co.; Swords, co. Dublin; Taghadoe, co. Kildare; Timahoe, Queen’s Co.; Tory Island, co. Donegal; Tomgrany, co. Clare; Trummery, co. Antrim; and at Tullaherin, co. Kilkenny.

The late Denis Florence MacCarthy writes:

“Two favourites hath time—the Pyramids of Nile,

And the old majestic temples of our own dear Isle;

And the breeze o’er the seas, where the halcyon has his nest,

Thus time o’er Egypt’s tombs and the Temples of the West!

“The names of their founders have vanished in the gloom,

Like the dry branch in the fire, or the body in the tomb;

But to day, in the ray, their shadows still they cast—

These Temples of forgotten gods—these relics of the past!

“How many different rites have these grey old Temples known?

To the mind what dreams are written in these chronicles of stone!

What terror and what error, what gleams of love and truth

Have flashed from these walls since the world was in its youth!

“Here blazed the sacred fire, and when the sun was gone,

As a star from afar, to the traveller it shone;

And the warm blood of the victim have these grey old Temples drunk,

And the death-song of the Druid, and the matin of the monk.

“Here was placed the holy chalice that held the sacred wine,

And the gold cross from the altar, and the relics from the shrine,

And the mitre, shining brighter with its diamonds, than the East,

And the crozier of the Pontiff, and the vestment of the priest.

“Where blazed the sacred fire, hung out the Vesper bell,

Where the fugitive found shelter, became the hermit’s cell;

And hope hung out its symbol to the innocent and good,

For the cross o’er the moss of the pointed summit stood.”


[1] Towers: In another paper (“Ireland before the Milesians,” p. 747, ante,) it has been shown that Daghda Mór, the celebrated Tuatha de Danaan Monarch, who planned and fought the battle of the second or northern Magh Tuireadh against the Fomorians, erected a fort around the grave of his son Aodh; that the buildings inside the circular wall were also of cut stone, and were of circular form,—like our Round Towers.