Ferns, Co. Wexford is a fascinating place in its own right and I plan to write a little bit more about it soon. For now, I’ll concentrate on the round tower which is is part of the site.
Ferns is closely associated with Dermot MacMurrough (Diarmaid MacMurchada), the King of Leinster who was deposed from his throne in 1166. In an effort to regain his title and his lands, he travelled abroad in either 1167 or 1168 to seek help from King Henry II of England. This led to some Anglo-Norman Lords from south Wales invading Ireland in 1169/1170 and the beginnings of English involvement in Ireland.
MacMurrough is also associated with the Augustinian Abbey which is where the round tower comes into the picture. The Abbey was founded by him in 1158 but was burned around 1160. MacMurrough had it rebuilt. Presumably the tower/belfry was built at this time. The Abbey was plundered in the 14th century during the wars triggered by Robert the Bruce’s brother Edward invading Ireland. It was still in existence in the 16th century when King Henry VIII was suppressing the monasteries. It was recorded at the time as consisting of a church and belfry, a dormitory, a chapter house and a hall. The Abbey had 600 acres of land at the time.
These days, all that remains is the belfry (round tower) and the ruins of its attached church. Because the tower isn’t free-standing like most round towers and is only round for its upper half, there are some who don’t consider it to be a proper round tower. On the other hand, there are some examples of towers with unusual shaped bases and which are attached to churches. Or as Brian Lalor puts it in his book “If it isn’t an early medieval Round Tower, than what is it?”. It has similarities with the free-standing round tower at Kinneigh, Co. Cork. All of which are good enough for me.
The tower has a doorway and a brick spiral staircase can be seen through the locked gate. It is believed that the internal staircase dates from the 17th century
Click on a thumbnail below to open the gallery
The tower is in the middle of a field behind St. Edan’s Cathedral. There is plenty of street parking nearby.
Is it worth visiting? Absolutely. Aside from the ruins here, there is lots to see in Ferns. Seeing as I’m confined to the house because of Covid-19, I might just write about it next.
Vital Tower Stats
Square Base: 2.9m x 2.9m
Diameter of base at circular section: 2.9m
Suggested Date: 12th Century
Stats from The Irish Round Tower: Origins and Architecture Explored by Brian Lalor
Published by Collins Press, Cork (2005)
ISBN 10: 1903464773 ISBN 13: 9781903464779