Cabmen’s Shelters

Cabmen’s Shelter at Hyde Park Gate

While I was in London back in April, I spotted a large wooden hut that looked like Dr Who’s TARDIS if it had been a Siamese twin and had turned green around the gills from all the crazy adventures. Alas, the truth was a bit more grounded but at least there were no Daleks to deal with.

This hut (@Hyde Park Gate) is one of a number of Cabmen’s Shelters which can still be found around London. They were built by the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund which was founded in 1875. The idea for the shelter came about after journalist/gentleman with deep pockets George Armstrong tried to hail a cab during a blizzard but found that the taxi drivers were sheltering in a nearby pub and weren’t sipping orange juice and sparkling water. The idea behind these shelters was to give the cab drivers somewhere else to go and to stop them from getting drunk on the job. The cabs were built to be no bigger than a horse and cart and served food and hot drinks to the cabbies seeking some shelter. Needless to say, no alcohol was served at these huts.

The first hut was built at St. John’s Wood and it still stands to this day. In total, just over 60 huts were built in London over the coming years but only 13 survive now. The existing ones are run by the wonderfully titled Worshipful Company of Hackney Carriage Drivers and 10 of them are still in operation. Many of them now serve drinks and snacks to the public. The one I found is near Hyde Park Gate and wasn’t serving a morsel of anything 😦

The huts are now Grade II listed so all going well, they’ll be around for a while yet.

The chances of anything coming from Mars…

On a recent trip to London, a friend and I went along to Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds: The Immersive Experience. Billed as “the only place in London where you can experience a real Martian invasion” how could we not go?

The show, for want of a better word, is being staged in the historic Hallmark Building on Leadenhall Street. For years, it was home to the London Metal Exchange and was the perfect setting for this. Even the windows look right for what’s going on inside.

Once you check-in at the venue, you’re assigned a “team” with whom you’ll experience the Martian invasion. You’re issued with a wrist band which makes it easier to know where to go. Amusingly, the young man who checked us in got mixed up so we were double-tagged 🙂

Deathly pale Irish skin alert!

And so, on to the experience itself. It’s described as being a mixture of live-action, multi-sensory effects and virtual reality. It follows the plotline of the 1978 Jeff Wayne album and either uses music and songs straight off that album or a score adapted from there. Really nice. At the beginning of the tour, we were greeted by a lady in Victorian dress who explained the ground rules and how to adjust the magical headwear we’d be popping on later on. By now everyone had put their phones away (no harm in that!) and were doing their best to pretend they were back in the early 1900s. And so, on to the show. Over the next hour and three quarters, we made our way through the set. Sometimes the settings were indoors, such as in people’s houses or outdoors (Horsell Common, most notably). Without spoiling too much, the first part largely involved live actors and sets, holograms and a surprise special effect or two. All of it was enjoyable but things really stepped up a gear once we got to wear the Virtual Reality headsets. I had never worn any sort of VR equipment before so it was great to experience it in such a spectacular way.

My first introduction to Virtual Reality here was a boat trip down the Thames and out to sea, soundtracked by Justin Hayward’s “Forever Autumn”. At the start of the boat trip (in which we were sitting in an actual wooden boat), it’s nice and pleasant and autumnal. By the end of it, London’s not looking too good after being trashed by those pesky Martians and we’re out at sea. Rough seas at that! It certainly felt real and that’s the praise the creators are after. Some of the footage can be seen in this short trailer by Layered Reality, the company staging this.

Half way through, there’s a chance to stop and have a drink at the Red Weed bar. This was a welcome break because experiencing a Martian invasion first-hand is thirsty work. A toilet is never unwelcome either, it has to be said.

It was all good fun, with the good-humoured actors adept at thinking on their feet when interacting with dumb members of the public. Special praise should go out to the lady who has undoubtedly heard those jokes about telephones never catching on about 5 squillion times. After surviving (spoiler alert!) the Martian invasion, we returned to real life and the bar outside.

Martian fighting machine in the bar

Overall, it comes highly recommended. One minor quibble, which has nothing to do with show itself, is about the VR headsets. I wear glasses most of the time and would have found life a little bit easier if I’d popped in a pair of contact lenses before going to this. My specs didn’t spoil the experience by any means but they sometimes made taking the headsets on and off a bit of a faff. Anyway, enough of that. If you are thinking of going, keep an eye out for special promotions or vouchers to reduce the entry cost.

On a final note, when my friend and I walked outside afterwards and looked up along the street, we noted that The Gherkin seemed to be looming over us ominously…

Roscam – Never finished?

A recent trip to Galway afforded me the opportunity to “bag” another round tower. And so, I went in search of the tower at Roscam, which is on the outskirts of the city, overlooking Oranmore Bay. It’s a beautiful location, though the view is hampered somewhat by the inevitable development on the other side of the bay.

Very little is known about the monastery which once stood here. It is thought it may have been established here in the 5th century, which would make it one of the oldest monastic settlements in Ireland. It has been associated with St. Patrick (yep, that one) and with Odran, brother to St. Ciarán of Clonmacnoise. In 807, the site was attacked by those serial monastery pillagers, the Vikings. The monastery might also be where the bones of King Brión mac Echach Muigmedóin were brought to by Saint Aedus. There are question marks as to whether King Brión ever actually existed so you can make up your own mind.

The putlock holes are still visible on the tower

The tower stands 10.98m tall and is unusual for two reasons. One is that the lintelled doorway is quite low to the ground. The other is that the tower still has numerous putlock (or putlog) holes on its external walls. These were used to support scaffolding while the towers were being built, but were covered up afterwards. The presence of these holes in the tower raises doubts as to whether this particular one was ever finished. There is just one window in the tower, directly over the door. At some point afterwards, somebody attempted to add some height to the tower but the new stonework is not of the quality of what went before.

The church, and some company…

Close to the tower are the ruins of a medieval church. I wasn’t able to get near them because of the extensive stone walls and unclimbable gates in the area. Some of these are the remnants of ancient fortifications and they’re still doing their work effectively in 2021!

Far more interesting is the ancient graveyard which overlooks the bay. It doesn’t appear to be still in use but it looks like it was used extensively over the centuries. It’s populated with lots of broken, illegible headstones and rocks and it’s wonderful. There are two large bullaun stones in there as well, one of which is associated with St. Patrick. It seems the great snake banisher was also a dab hand at making round dents in big rocks.

One of the bullaun stones in the grave yard

By a long shot, this was the trickiest round tower to get to. For better or worse, I accessed it by driving along the Rosshill Road, then walked (carefully!) along the rocky beach that runs south of the site. Then some clambering over stone walls and navigating electric fences came into the equation. The tower is in the middle of a working farm, so naturally the animals come first.

Liathmore – New(ish) to the party

Every now and then, a new round tower gets added to the list of known towers. In 2018, some mortar from a ruined tower in the grounds of a grammar school in Derry were radiocarbon dated. It had been thought that the tower was a ruined windmill but the analysis of the mortar revealed it to be an older building. Evidence suggests it could quite likely be a round tower that had been known to have stood in the area.

The rediscovery of the tower at Liathmore, Co. Tipperary took place nearly 50 years before this. In 1969-70 Dr. Robin E. Glasscock from Queens University, Belfast led excavations at this site. The foundations of the tower were found, along with some worked ashlars which were later used to reconstruct the base. The foundations went to a depth of 2.6 metres which is unusually deep for a round tower. As to why the tower vanished and was forgotten about, that’s anybody’s guess. Subsequent to the excavations, the Office of Public Works (OPW) reconstructed the base of the tower using the material found during the dig. The base is surrounded by a larger circular stone wall, constructed by the OPW to protect it from cattle.

The reconstructed base of Liathmore Round Tower. To its north is the smaller and older of the two churches here.

The monastery here was founded by St. Mochoemóg in the early 7th century. Tradition has it that he is buried in the larger church. And in a blurring of fact and fiction, he features in some versions of the Children of Lir story as the monk who baptised the four swans and turned them back into humans. Local folklore has it that every four years, four swans return to the area and spend a week here.

The tower base is situated almost half way between two ruined churches. Apart from these, there is evidence of a settlement which once existed here, perhaps until the 16th or 17th century. These lumps and bumps in the ground are easily visible in the area around the larger church

Aerial photo of the tower base and the two churches.

The smaller of the two is an 11th-century oratory. The larger church dates from the 12th century, though it was modified after that. Alterations made in the 15th century are quite noticeable here. There is a loft and steps that access the roof. This church has some interesting features, including some carved heads over the doorway and a Sheela-na-Gig that’s a little hard to find unless you know where to look (fnar). I visited this site on a sunny summer’s evening and wasn’t able to get a decent picture of said exhibitionist. So if you’re curious, there are pics on the “Ireland’s Síle na Gigs” website.

This site wouldn’t make it onto my “must see” list but it was a pleasant way to spend a sunny summer’s evening. The larger church in particular is interesting to look at. Because it’s a much altered building, there are random carvings set into doorways and masonry to look at inside.

Heads!

Getting There

This site is trickier to find than most of the others because it is on private farmland and isn’t signposted from the main road. The entrance to the farm, and the farm track out to the site, look a bit different to the 2009 Google Streetview imagery. Other online accounts of visiting this site mention the mud and advise wearing wellies, so I left my visit to this one until we’d had a dry spell of weather.

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.

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