Oughterard – Pint Sized

The original monastery at Oughterard is said to have been founded by St. Briga (aka. St Brigid). Confusingly, this isn’t the same St. Brigid who is connected with the settlement in nearby Kildare or one of the many other Brigids out there. Honestly, your head would start to spin if you try to figure all of it out. Less confusingly (and more of that in a moment), it is also the final resting place of Arthur Guinness, who founded that brewery.

Little remains of the original monastery now, apart from the round tower. It stands at the back of a cemetery which is found at the top of a hill. Indeed, the Irish name for Oughterard is Uachtar Ard or high upper place. Like many other monasteries, it was raided by the Vikings. In the case of Oughterard, it was raided by the wonderfully named Sigtrygg Silkbeard who was a well-known Dublin-based Viking. At one point, the area was owned by Dermot MacMurrough, who’s possibly buried near another round tower

Now partially ruined, the tower here is built from shale rubble. Its doorcase is round-headed and made from granite. There is a padlocked metal door now in the doorway, ensuring that nobody’s getting in.

Close to the tower is a ruined church which dates from the 14th century. Its most striking feature, apart from the window which faces the cemetery gate, is the stairs turret which looks like it’s ready to topple over o_O Looking at other photos online, it is still possible to climb it but it wasn’t for me!

Inside the wall of the church is a plaque which begins “In the adjoining vault are deposited the mortal remains of Arthur Guinness…..” Guinness was born locally in either 1724 or 1725 – the date and place of his birth are disputed. Tradition has it that his grandfather and his father brewed ale, so it was inevitable that he’d end up continuing that line of business. After initially leasing a brewery in Leixlip, he signed a 9,000 year lease at a site in St. James’s Gate, Dublin. This is where the Guinness brewery and adjoining tourist trap continue to operate to this day.

Getting There

These days, the cemetery is marketed as part of “Arthur’s Way”, a Guinness related tourist trail run by Kildare County Council. The entrance is near a bend in a country road but there is room to park along there. It is a well-maintained site and even though there isn’t a lot here, it’s quite a pleasant place to spend a while. There are some nice views too.

Taghadoe

I went to university in Maynooth in the early 1990s and spent my time there blissfully unaware that a 2o minute bike ride out of town would’ve taken me to a round tower. Anyway, I took the opportunity to finally take a look at the round tower in Taghadoe after all these years. What’s 30 years in the lifespan of a round tower anyway?

Sorry about the overcooked looking photo – this is exactly what came out of my phone. Visiting at 8:30pm on a summer’s evening isn’t the best time for tower snaps

Very little is known about the monastic site which once stood here. Taghadoe is attributed to St. Tua (also known as St. Ultan the Silent). The only other thing known about the monastery is that one of its abbots (Folachtach of Tech-Tua, died 770AD) had previously been abbot of Clonmacnoise.

All that remains of the monastery is the tower. It stands in a small, well-kept graveyard beside a ruined 19th century church. It is built from limestone and stands 19.9 metres high. Above the round-headed doorway is what appears to be a heavily worn head. There is a similar feature in Monasterboice, some 80km away. At one point, the tower was used as a coal store of all things and doorway was cut into the wall. It was closed up in the 19th century and my untrained eye couldn’t say for sure where the doorway once was.

Taghadoe Round tower
How dairy come along and take photos of our tower

And there you have it…. There isn’t a lot to see here other than the tower. The church beside it was built in 1821 and abandoned 40 or so years later. The site surrounded by a dairy farm and fields of cattle – as a result, my visit was soundtracked to the sound of vigorous mooing and the scent of cow dung 🙂

Getting There

The tower is easy to find – it is on the side of a country road, 5km south of Maynooth. There isn’t a lot of parking around here, so be mindful of where you leave your car and don’t block any gateways.

Clondalkin

There are four round towers in County Dublin but the one in Clondalkin is the only one I have photos of. (I took a look at the one in Swords when I was a teenager) Anyway, the one in Clondalkin is notable for being the only round tower in Ireland which is thought to still have its original roof intact – there are no records of it having been reconstructed. It is made of stern stuff too. In the late 18th century, there was an explosion in a nearby powder-mill. The explosion of its 250 barrels of gunpowder demolished the parish church but the tower remained standing.

A monastic settlement was founded in Clondalkin by St. Mo-Chúa or St. Crónan in the late 6th or early 7th century. The road now splits the site in two, with a churchyard standing on the opposite side of the street to the tower. Still, the general layout make sense, with the doorway still facing a church. It’s not the original – perhaps the one that fell foul of the gunpowder explosion was on the site of that. There are two early crosses and a baptismal font in the churchyard, along with the remnants of the demolished church. You can see photos of those on the Ireland in Ruins blog. The evening of my flying visit, the churchyard was locked up.

Like many other old buildings in Dublin (i.e. Kilmainham Gaol, part of the old library in Trinity College, numerous Georgian houses), the tower is built from calp Limestone. The masonry is somewhat uneven and unlike most other towers, this one doesn’t narrow as it moves upwards. Indeed, the top of the tower flares out a bit.

At the bottom of the tower is a base which was added at a much later time. There is no date for this addition but it is thought it may have helped stabilise the tower. The base has some steps cut into it, which provide access to the door. The lintelled doorway and windows are much less elaborate than ones that are found elsewhere. The doorway is surrounded by granite.

According to Brian Lalor’s book, there are floors and ladders in the tower and that a key for access is available from the caretaker. It is unclear if that is still the case.

3D Google view of the site. The tower doorway is still facing in the direction of the now-vanished church

Getting There

The tower is hard to miss, seeing as it is standing on the side of the road in Clondalkin. There is parking in the nearby shopping centre. Since my brief visit back in 2014, a visitor centre has been developed close to the tower (more info here). An excuse to revisit? 😉

Kells – the one in Meath

There are two monastic sites in Ireland which are called Kells. One is in Co. Kilkenny (note to self, write about that one soon) and the other is in Co. Meath. The Co. Meath Kells has a round tower but as you’ll soon see, there is a lot more to the place than that.

The founding of the monastery here is attributed to St. Colmcille (a.k.a. St. Columba) around 554AD. Colmcille spent most of his life in Scotland and founded Iona Abbey in 563. The monastery at Kells was re-founded around 807AD, still with strong connections to Iona. This explains how the world-famous Book of Kells came to be in Kells. It isn’t clear when or where the book was written but it is generally believed that it came from Iona. It was likely moved to Kells for safekeeping because Iona, which is on an island, was frequently being raided by Vikings. The book went on to spend several centuries in Kells. It was moved to Dublin for safe keeping in 1654 and then given to Trinity College where it can still be seen. Most of what is to be found here now dates from after the monastery’s “reboot”.

The tower, as seen from the street

The round tower stands in the corner of a churchyard and when viewed from the street, can be seen in its entirety. It has a plinth at its base, which isn’t often seen on these towers. Inside the churchyard, the ground is about 2m higher. And so, unlike many towers the doorway is now lower and can be seen without craning one’s neck 🙂

Less neck cranage required!

The tower no longer has its cap but is in good condition otherwise. Unusually, it has five windows on the top floor, rather than the usual four. It is thought that these were to symbolise or overlook the five ancient roads leading into Kells. Originally it had six floors but they are long gone, along with the ladders which brought people to the top.

The doorway

What else is there?

The church for which the tower served as a belfry has long gone, replaced by a more modern building. Still, there are some 9th and 10 century high crosses in the churchyard. The South Cross stands near the round tower and is the oldest of these. It is somewhat worn but still fully intact.

The South Cross

The same can’t be said for the West Cross which is now just a shaft.

The North Cross

The East Cross was never finished. Still, it’s interesting to see how these crosses may have looked while they were being created

Work in progress…

As for the North Cross…

Kells also has two other significant monuments, related to this monastery.

St Colmcille’s House is nearby. He never actually lived in it, being long dead before it was actually built. It is thought his remains were stored here for a while though. The Book of Kells was stored here too. You can see photos of the interior here

St Columb’s House

The Market Cross used to stand in a different location but was moved after one traffic collision too many. It now stands under a perspex roof near the old courthouse

Getting There

The round tower and crosses are in the centre of Kells and are easy to find. St. Colmcille’s house is close to the churchyard. The market cross is a little further away but hopefully safe from being hit by marauding buses.

Gallery – Click on an image to launch

Aghaviller – Two doors for the price of one

Of the five round towers in County Kilkenny, the one at Aghaviller has fared the worst over the centuries. It now stands just 9.6 metres tall. Worse still, it now boasts a ground level entrance door which is nowhere nearly as nice as its doorcase 😦

Anyway, enough of the negativity. What is left of this tower is very nice. It is built from sandstone and boasts a really nice rounded doorway. It has an unusual base, which finishes it off nicely. The tower at Kilree, just over 5km away, is the only other round tower with a base like this.

Little is known about who founded Aghaviller. Still, it must have been a settlement of note at one point. The cemetery in which the tower stands also contains a large, ruined church which has a tower house attached to it. It is likely that the round tower acted as a belfry for this church and may explain where the ugly ground floor doorway came from. Did I mention how much I hate the new doorway??

Getting Here
The tower is at the back of an old cemetery and can be seen from the road. The ruined church/tower house is what you will spot first though unless you have the worst case of round-toweritis ever! Thankfully, no narrow country boreens need negotiating here and there is some parking space. All good.

Date of tower visits: July 2008/May 2015

Kilnaboy

Of the three non-island round towers in Co. Clare, the one in Kilnaboy has suffered the most over the centuries. The other two at Dysert O’Dea and Drumcliff, whilst ruined, still look like they were once towers. Kilnaboy is little more than a stub these days.

The tower stands in the grounds of a ruined church in the village of Kilnaboy. The church has a couple of noteworthy features but more about those in a moment. Unusually, the foundation of the monastery here is attributed to a woman. Killinaboy – is an angliciation of the Irish Cill Iníne Baoithe or “Church of the Daughter of Baoithe”. There’s a question mark over who this daughter might have been, with one suggestion being that she dates back much further than the monastery. Another is that she was a member of a wealthy family and that a clan chief allowed her to build her monastery here in the 6th century.

The tower has been this short for quite a long time. It has been said that the tower served as a lookout post until it was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell’s forces around 1650. Whether the story is true or not, all that remains now is a stub 3.6m high. Brian Lalor’s book describes the tower as being severely neglected in the 1990s, covered with ivy and filled with debris. The tower looks like it is being better maintained these days, which gives you a better look at what remains. The tower is made from limestone blocks but in comparison to others, it has a rough and ready feel to it.

The ruined church, which was built afterwards, has a couple of interesting features worth noting. The gable end facing the road has a double-barred cross integrated into it. This is generally known as a “Cross of Lorraine”.

Over the doorway into the church is a somewhat worn Sheela-Na-Gig. Googling this particular one led me to a site which documents numerous Sheelas around Ireland. It made me chuckle so I recommend it heartily 🙂

While there isn’t much to keep a visitor here, it’s worth a visit. The information board in the nearby car park details other places of interest in the area and they might be worth investigating

Getting here

This is a site which is easy to find and doesn’t involve hair-raising rural roads. Close to Kilnaboy, it’s on top of a hill and there are some car parking spaces near the steps up to it.

Tower Visit: 18th September 2020

Drumcliff – Nuffink to do with Yeats

According to the Placenames Database of Ireland, there are 3 places called Drumcliff in Ireland. Two of these are former monastic settlements and have a round tower to take a look at. The third one in Donegal needs to up its game, though I’m sure it’s very nice too. I haven’t been to the most famous of the Drumcliffs since I was a kid – this is the one where WB Yeats’s grave is to be found (note I didn’t say bones…). Instead, I’ll talk about the lesser known (but by no means inferior) Drumcliff in Co. Clare.

The round tower and ruined church

There isn’t a lot known about the monastic settlement which once stood here. It is believed to have been founded by St. Conal/Conald, possibly in the 7th century. There are no records of the monastery in any of the annals which document such things. Still, there’s a round tower here and that’s what I came for 🙂

Drumcliffe is about 4km from Ennis and it’s obvious that there have been a lot of people buried in the area over a considerable period of time. There are two cemeteries on either side of the road and a reasonably large car park. As you might have guessed, the round tower is to be found in the older of the two cemeteries.

There are lots of old graves and vaults here

The old cemetery is dedicated to St. Senan and is on a hill which slopes up from the road. The tower is on the right hand side of the cemetery, towards the top of the hill. It stands beside a ruined 15th church which is believed to have replaced the original one for which the tower would have been a belfry. Sadly, the tower is also in ruins and stands just 11 metres in height. Still, if you’re interested in how these towers were built this one will give you an idea. You can see how thick the walls were and how they were constructed.It’s also possible to see where the internal floors would have been. At its lowest, the tower is around 3 metres from the ground.

The cemetery itself is a lovely place to wander around. There are lots of interesting old graves, including many from people who obviously had plenty of money. That contrasts with other parts of the cemetery where there are mass graves. The pauper’s grave was used up until the 1950s. Many of the vicims of a cholera outbreak in the 1830s were buried here, close to a slightly later mass grave for those who perished in the Great Famine of the 1840s. It is thought that are there are around 350 cholera victims buried in the cholera plot and about 2,000 in the famine plot. They were grim times indeed.

Given how hilly and uneven this cemetery is, keeping the grass cut must be quite a challenge. Still, the cemetery is well maintained and makes it a pleasant place to visit.

Getting There

This one is nice and easy to find. Close to Ennis, there is no shortage of car parking. Then it’s just a matter of walking through the cemetery gates and climbing the hill. The tower isn’t easily seen from the road but it’s easy to find.

Date of Visit: 17th September 2020

Dysert O’Dea – wet socks!

Dysert O’Dea church and round tower

For some reason, my abiding memory of my visit to Dysert O’Dea is getting my feet wet in the cemetery. I mean, why would you wear trainers into a graveyard in the middle of a spell of glorious weather in September? 😀 The things I do when struggling to come up with a heading for a blog post. Anyway, enough about my sodden feet. Let’s talk crumbly old ruins.

Dysert O’Dea was founded by St. Tola in the late 7th century or early 8th century. He is believed to be the bishop who appears below Jesus Christ on the nearby 12th century high cross. It isn’t clear when the monastery was abandoned but it is claimed that Oliver Cromwell’s troops torched the round tower and damaged it. Perhaps this is why there is a breach in the north-west wall of the tower.

These days, the round tower and church stand in a cemetery which is still in use. The tower stands just 14.6m high now, though it looks like there may have been battlements added to the top at some point. There are also the remnants of a window which was added later. Its base has the largest diameter of any of the round towers, though it’s unclear how tall the tower ever was.

Breach in the wall

On the north-west side of the tower is evidence of fire damage to the tower. There is also a breach in the wall, now supported by a column. It’s not known if this is as a result of the fire or the remnants of a doorway added later on. Either way, it’s not what one would expect to see just around the corner from the doorway. If around the corner is “a thing” on round towers…

The tower stands very close to the ruins of St. Tola’s church. The church itself dates mostly from the 12th and 13th century and is quite substantial in size. Its most striking feature is the Romanesque doorway in its south wall. I didn’t know this was here at all so what a nice surprise it was to see this.

The doorway was originally in the west wall but was moved here. It is believed to have been carved in the 12th century and has 19 heads on the top row – 12 human, 7 animal. The rest of the doorway mostly consists of geometric patterns and it’s stunning. I came here for the round tower but the doorway was my favourite feature

In the field behind the church and round tower is an unusual looking high cross. St Tola’s High Cross, known locally as the White Cross, stands in the middle of a very ordinary looking farmer’s field. According to another website I read, there can be a bull in the field. Thankfully, there were no ill-tempered bovines to be seen so I was able to admire the cross at my leisure.

It is believed that this high cross stands close to where it would’ve originally been erected. The base it now stands on looks like it originated elsewhere so we’re now looking at some historical upcycling. Still, it and the plinth underneath give the cross quite a bit of height and keep it safe from livestock. The top figure on the cross is Jesus Christ and it is thought that the bishop underneath is St. Tola, the monastery’s founder. There is a hole where his right hand should be. It is believed that a now missing piece would have been inserted into it. According to separate inscriptions on the base the cross has been repaired and re-erected twice – 1683 and 1871.

The less decorated side of the cross

Way back in 1908, a Plaster of Paris copy of this cross was made as part of an exhibition of high crosses. I was lucky enough to see this copy back in 2011 and was surprised at the time by its unusual appearance. It was really nice to finally see it in person, even if it was to be found in slightly surprising surroundings.

The church, round tower and high cross are very close to Dysert O’Dea Castle. It’s open during the summer but was closed up on the day of my visit. Weekdays in mid-September during a global pandemic probably keeps the crowds away! What was there was worth visiting, sodden socks and all.

Dysert O’Dea Castle.

Still, following the signposts for the castle was the better way to visit the site. There are two routes which will bring you to the monastic site. This route is probably more direct but if you like your car, you might not fancy parking it on the narrow country road for long. The last leg of the road to the castle is pretty rural (to say the least) but there is more room to safely park your car. The field with St. Tola’s Cross is close by and then it’s just a matter of climbing a stile into the churchyard.

Date of Visit: 18th September 2020

Tullaherin – Now Repaired

I first visited Tullaherin’s round tower in 2008. At that time, the tower was covered with scaffolding, undergoing some badly needed repairs. Brian Lalor’s book (first published in 1999) describes extensive and ominous fissures in the tower wall. The doorcase of the tower is long gone, leaving an ugly jagged hole behind. In 1892, a concrete pillar was built into this doorcase to help stabilise the tower. This made it impossible for anybody to get into the tower. The tower was struck by lightning in 1976 and it would appear that the damage from this strike led to the fissures forming. Thankfully, the scaffolding is long gone now and the tower can be seen properly again.

Tullaherin round tower

Little is known about the history of the site. Tullaherin may have been founded by St. Kieran of Saighir (also connected with Seir Kieran and Fertagh). According to the information board at the site, there used to be a pilgrimage held in his honour here. Apart from the tower, there is little left from the original monastery. It stands at the back of a cemetery which is still in use. To the north-east of the tower stands a ruined church which is a bit like Frankenstein’s monster – parts of it were built at different times. A portion dating from the 10th century is thought to be the original church for which this tower was a belfry. The rest of the church was built between the 12th and 17th centuries. Sadly, it wasn’t possible to get a closer look at the church because it’s largely fenced off and quite overgrown inside.

Now that the tower has been repaired, the concrete column in the doorcase is gone. It makes it easier to see the damage done by the removal of the tower’s doorcase though – it is sad to see a nasty looking hole there now. The tower is built from sandstone and seems to have had its top 3 metres rebuilt. There is a record of the tower being struck by lightning in 1121. A falling stone from it hit a student in the church and killed him. The repairs to the tower resulted in the bell floor having 8 rather than the usual 4 windows. This tended to happen when round towers were repaired in medieval times.

The tower doorway faces the church it once served

There are two badly worn ogham stones near the tower. The larger of the two was found locally and moved here. The second one is harder to find and while I took a photo of it, I was facing the wrong way. The writing is on the other side 😀 The other ogham stone is thought to have been removed from here. It was used as a gate pier for 30 years by a local farmer, before being returned here in 1983.

This ogham stone was used for 30 years as a gate pier

Getting There
Tullaherin is a short drive from Bennettsbridge, Co. Kilkenny. It’s close to the local church which has a car park beside it.

Date of Visit
Mostly 18th August 2020

Kilree

Kilree Round Tower is to be found in a field, about 15km south of Kilkenny city. It can’t always be seen from the road because it is surrounded by lots of trees but there is a fine tower here. All that remains of the original monastic settlement is the tower, some church ruins and a high cross in the field it.

Because of all the trees, it’s difficult to take photographs of the tower from anywhere apart from the field behind the churchyard. Still, it is well worth hopping over the wall and into the field because there is a nice high cross to be found there. When I visited the site in 2008, I shared the field with some Friesian cattle who grazed peacefully and weren’t particularly interested in me. Another website warns of a bull being in the field so be careful if you decide to visit.

Kilree_Round_Tower_1

Very little is known about the monastic site. A St. Rhuidche is connected with it but it isn’t known when he lived here. The lands belonged to the Dean of Ossory until the 13th century and were then handed over to the nearby Priory of Kells.

The tower has battlements on the top rather than a cap and some of the windows look like they’ve seen better days. The doorway is still in good condition though. Better still, because the graveyard is higher off the ground than the field below, you can get a closer look at the doorway.

kilree_tower_doorway

The tower has an unusual plinth at its base, which can be better seen from the field behind. The tower at nearby Aghaviller has the same sort of plinth. This may mean that the same master mason worked on both towers.

The high cross out in the field is thought to date from the 9th century. It is badly worn but there are a couple of biblical scenes on it. It has a tenon joint on the top, which makes it likely it once had a capstone.

Kilree
Kilree

And there you have it really. It’s not one of the must-visit round tower sites out there but it’s worth a trip if you happen to be visiting the nearby Kells Priory

kilree stats

Getting There

There’s some country road driving involved here but the tower is easy enough to find. There are a couple of parking spots across the road from the entrance gate into the field.  Link

Date of visit: 15th May 2008