Killeshin. No round tower but…but…that doorway!

Killeshin is a small village in County Laois, just a few kilometres from Carlow town. It is also the site of former monastery, founded by either St. Comgan or St. Diarmait in the 5th century. It seems to have been a monastic site of note in its early days and was mentioned in historical literature. Little remains of this monastery now – according to the information board on the site it was mostly destroyed in 1077 AD. The only historic artefacts which are to be found there now are now are the ruins of a later church, a pretty amazing Hiberno-Romanesque doorway, and a baptismal font. But first, can I lament the demolition of its round tower in 1703? Hell, it’s my blog so I can do what I want to 🙂

The graveyard in Killeshin isn’t that large these days but until 1703, there was a round tower in the south-western corner of the graveyard. It seems to have been in pretty poor condition by that time but the worst was yet to come. The tower is recorded as having been 105 feet high (32m) and lay to the north-west of the church. It was “this was taken down in 1703 because the owner feared that it might fall on his cattle! . So in short, let me smite Colonel Wolseley who decided to demolish the tower, and add my voice of support to the Protestant Bishop of Leighlin who was “very displeased with him.”.

The Hiberno-Romanesque doorway in the gable end of Killeshin church

Despite this, the cemetery in Killeshin is still worth a visit if Romanesque doorways are your thing. The church ruins here are mostly from the 12th century and comprise mainly of two gable ends and plenty of fresh air in between. One of the gable ends has a window that looks out into the nice Laois countryside but it’s for the doorway that these ruins are most notable.

Part of the inscription dedicated to Diarmit MacMurrough

The doorway is in the unique “Hiberno-Romanesque” style and is one of the best examples to be found on the island of Ireland. To add an element of intrigue, the doorway may have been commissioned by the notorious Diarmit MacMurrough, the Irish king whose actions led to the English first coming to Ireland. There is an inscription in the doorway which reads ‘Orait do Diarmait Ri Lagen‘ or ‘a prayer for Diarmait, King of Leinster’ if your Irish is a bit rusty.

Regardless of who commissioned the doorway, it’s wonderful. It’s covered with all sorts of carvings, from written text to animal heads to all sorts of decorations. I’d go as far as to say it’s mesmerising if you have any liking for crumbly old ruins at all.

Getting There

It is an easy site to find – it is signposted and is on the side of a country road. It is a 2 minute walk from the current Killeshin Catholic church. The church’s car park is the handiest place to leave your four-wheeled means of transport. The cemetery is beautifully maintained – indeed on the evening I called in there was somebody mowing the grass.

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