Roscrea – Sliced and Diced

Unlike most of its contemporaries which are to be found in the countryside, the round tower in Roscrea is in an urban setting. It stands on the side of a street close to the town centre. The original monastic site is now split by a road, though if you stand back from the tower you can still see the tower’s relationship to the church it served as a belfry.

Roscrea Tower and Church
The tower faces the remnants St. Cronan’s church

The monastery which once stood here was founded by St. Cronan in the 7th century. Most of what is to be found here now dates from the 12th century. The tower is thought to have been built during this century. There is a record of it being struck by lightning in 1135. As it turned out, it wasn’t just lightning which caused problems for this tower. During the 1798 rebellion, it was used by insurgents to attack nearby buildings. As a result, the top of the tower was removed. This reduced its height by about 6 metres 😦 The tower has an unusual large (by round tower standards) window on its first floor. It is thought that this was to let more light into the tower so activities could take place. As to what activities they might have been, who knows?

IMG_3702
Romanesque façade of St. Cronan’s Church

It wasn’t just the tower which was sheared of its original bulk. Across the road from it stands the gable end of the 12th century St. Cronan’s Church. Alas, it was largely demolished in 1812 to make way for the less interesting church which now stands behind it. Soem of the material from the old church was used to build the new one. A replica of a high cross stands nearby – the original is now housed in the nearby Black Mills Centre.

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Getting There: This tower is easy to find. It stands on Church Street, close to the town centre

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Ardmore – Pointy!

The round tower at Ardmore, Co. Waterford is one of my favourites. It stands in a graveyard which overlooks the seaside village of the same name and is one of the finest round towers in Ireland. The site also has some other interesting features, as you’ll find out if you keep reading 😉

Ready for lift off….5….4….3….

The monastery in Ardmore was founded by St. Declan in the 5th century. Perhaps the most notable thing about St. Declan is that he was already busy converting Irish people to Christianity before St. Patrick came along. It is believed that he met the great snake banisher in Rome while he was being ordained as a bishop. There’s more information about him on Wikipedia if you’re interested – he was considered important enough to have had his life documented.

The round tower is believed to be the last one to be built in Ireland. It is thought to have been built in the mid to late 12th century. This is quite late in the life of the monastery that had been here for hundreds of years by then. Perhaps it isn’t all that surprising that when the base of the tower was excavated in the 19th century, skeletons were found underneath it.

The tower, as featured in a 2005 postage stamp
2005 postage stamp

This sandstone tower is quite distinctive in few ways. While all round towers are narrower at the top than at the bottom, the batter on this one is more pronounced than usual. At its base, the tower is 5 metres. At the top it is just over 3 metres. It also has 3 string courses around its outside. These don’t coincide with what is thought to be its interior floors and are merely decorative. The tower had 6 floors over its basement. Its doorway faces towards the cathedral, which presumably was the site of the original church. According to Brian Lalor’s book, there some decorative non-structural corbels in the tower. Of course, nobody can see these because there is no access to the tower these days.

The 19th century was a busy time for the tower. In the mid-century, some internal floors were installed in the tower but were removed about 50 years later. Repairs were also carried out to the top of the tower. The capstone was repaired and a cross placed on the top. More can be read about the repairs here.

Tower repairs in the 19th century. No, I didn’t take this photo…

Even if the tower wasn’t here, Ardmore would be worth a visit for the other features to be found in the graveyard. As you can see from the above photo, there are some rather striking sculptures set into the gable end of the ruined cathedral. It is though that the sculptures were moved to here when the cathedral was extended. They denote scenes from the Bible, such as Adam and Eve and the Judgement of Solomon.

One of the panels in the gable end

The cathedral itself was built in the 11th/12th century. It is thought that some of it incorporates an earlier church. Although the cathedral is now ruined, there is still plenty to see inside. 3 ogham stones were excavated on the site and 2 of them are still to be found here (the 3rd is housed in the National Museum of Ireland). Ogham is an old form of written Irish and it dates back to the 4th to 7th century. Amazingly, it can be read.

This one reads LUGUDECCAS MAQI[  ̣  ̣ ?   ̣  ̣MU]/COI NETA SEGAMONAS/ DOLATI BIGAISGOB… which translates as ‘of Luguid son of …? descendant of Nad-Segamon’.

Close to the cathedral is St. Declan’s Oratory. It is believed to be built over the grave of St. Declan. If there was ever anything of value in here, it is long gone. All that remains inside is an open stone-lined pit which has been empty for many a year. Still, it is an interesting little building and it is in better condition than similar shrines in Clonmacnoise and Glendalough. The oratory was renovated and re-roofed in 1716.

St Declan’s Oratory
An aerial view of the site, as stolen from the BBC series “Coast”

In 1947, the cargo ship SS Ary capsized off the Waterford coast, killing 15 of its 16 crew. The dead sailors are now buried in the cemetery.

So in conclusion, Ardmore is well worth a visit. The area around it is rather nice too if you’re in the mood for some pretty seaside scenery. And if you fancy long walks, you could always try St. Declan’s Way

Getting There: This is pretty easy to find. The tower overlooks the village of Ardmore and is well signposted.

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Castledermot – battlements!

The town of Castledermot in Co. Kildare gets its name from a hermitage founded by St. Dermot. The date when it was founded isn’t entirely clear but it seems to have been some time after 810AD. The monastery was raided twice during that century and burned in 1106. The tower is now the only intact remnant of the monastery.

Castledermot round tower

The tower which stands beside St. James’s Church of Ireland is rather unusual looking. Unlike most round towers, it is built from field stones and looks a bit like it has been coated with crinkled bubble wrap. Instead of being topped with the usual conical-shaped roof, it has castle-like battlements. It isn’t known when the battlements were added to the tower or when it lost its original roof. Another unique feature of this tower is that it doesn’t have a raised doorway. It is just 53 centimetres from the ground. The doorway can’t be seen from outside because it is at the end of a short passageway running between the church and the tower. The photo above is the nearest anybody can get to the tower’s doorway, unless they can gain access to the church. It is believed the doorway is original to the tower and not something that was added later.

The tower was used as a belfry in more recent times. According to Brian Lalor’s book, the bell is still up there, as are the internal floors and ladders. The tower is locked up though so it isn’t accessible. The tower seems to have been altered in other ways too, starting with a little window at floor level. It may also be missing a floor at this stage. It is not known for sure where the original monastery church stood at this point.

castledermot_round_tower

Apart from the tower, this churchyard also has two high crosses plus the base of a third one. It is also home to the only known Scandinavian style “hogsback” grave slab in Ireland. There is also a reconstructed Romanesque archway close to the church and tower. It is all that is left of a now-vanished medieval church.

castledermot_stats

Getting There

The tower is right beside St. James’s Church of Ireland, a short detour from Castledermot’s Main Street. There is plenty of parking nearby.

Date of visit:  21st August 2013

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Fertagh – the tall, thin one

Fertagh or Grangefertagh, is about 4km from the village of Johnstown, Co. Kilkenny. It’s easy to spot from a distance because it is rather tall. It is a shame that only a small fragment of its cap remains because if it was rebuilt, it would become the tallest round tower in Ireland. Maybe somebody needs to sort that out! 😀

Fertagh (7)

According to the OPW information here, the monastery was probably founded by St. Kieran of Saighir (the same saint who founded Seir Kieran) in the 5th or 6th century. Like just about every other monastery in Ireland, it found itself under attack at various times. It is recorded that the Vikings tried to raid it in 861 but were repelled by Cerbhall of Ossory, who was a powerful King at that time. Indeed, it is suggested that no Vikings raided monasteries in Kilkenny at that time because they did not relish the thoughts of tangling with him. Anyway, he was long gone when the monastery was raided and burned in 1156. It is said that the tower was burned by Muirchertach MacLochlainn (High King of Ireland) with the monastery’s lector inside it…

There are some other ruins on the site but they date from later on. Some remnants from the buildings which were here can now be found in the Catholic and Church of Ireland churches in Johnstown. Nothing else remains of the original monastery.

Fertagh (3)

The original doorway into the tower was badly damaged around 1800 when a local farmer decided that the stones from it would protect his property from fire. The doorway was repaired at a later date but it is still easy to see the damage this idiot did. Indeed, wanton vandalism is a regrettable feature of this site. The ruins of the adjacent medieval church were later converted into a handball alley.

Getting there

The tower is easy to find – it is in a small cemetery on a narrow country lane. There aren’t many places to park a car though, as you can see from Google Streetview.

Tower Height 31 metres. Diameter at Base 4.77 metres Height at Door Sill 3.3 metres. Date 11th Century

Date of Visit: 16th March 2008

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Glendalough – 1.5 towers is better than none

Glendalough is one of my favourite crumbly old ruins sites and that’s not just because it boasts 1.5 round towers. Nestled in a valley in the Wicklow Mountains, the drive to it from any direction takes in some gorgeous scenery. The ruined monastery itself isn’t too shabby when it comes to its location either. Situated an hour from Dublin city centre, the area is popular with hikers who enjoy its many walking trails. As of 2020, there are nine marked walking trails

The monastery at Glendalough was founded by St. Kevin who died in 617AD. He was a hermit so it isn’t clear how much monastery building can be ascribed to him. Still, the site went on to become quite a significant monastic settlement. Even today, there are numerous ruins to be found and not just at the main site. This is where the stand-alone round tower and the one attached to a nearby church are to be found

glendalough_round_tower

The round tower here has survived through the centuries fairly well. It is known that its roof fell in at some point. There is an old photograph taken around 1870 which shows it with its roof missing. It was rebuilt from the original stones a few years later. It stands close to the ruined cathedral and is mostly built from local granite. 30m in height, it is one of the more impressive towers.

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The Partial Tower

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St. Kevin’s Kitchen. Not the local tea-room

St. Kevin’s Church, more commonly known as St. Kevin’s Kitchen is not too far away from the tower. This is a little 12th century church which has a partial round tower attached to its roof. It’s the “chimney” that gives the church its kitchen nickname. The tower would have served as the church’s belfry and is accessed from there. Sadly, the church is locked up so all anyone can do is look in through the gate. Still, it is an interesting variation on the classic round tower. It is believed that the church and the tower were built in the 12th century. The tower may have been a slightly later addition to the church.

glendalough2stats

Visit date: 5th March 2013

Getting There

Glendalough is easy to find and to access. The area is a popular hiking destination so there are car parks and good facilities. The monastery can be accessed by the original gateway. It is the only surviving medieval gateway to a monastic settlement in Ireland so that’s worth walking through. There is also a visitor centre on the site but unlike at Clonmacnoise, you don’t have to walk through it (and pay) in order to visit the extensive ruins.

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The third (missing) tower I haven’t visited yet

Trinity Church isn’t part of the main monastic site at Glendalough. A ruined church, there are 18th century drawings of it with a round tower attached to its roof. A storm in 1818 led to the collapse of the tower. It can be seen from the road on Google Maps.

 

St. Mullins – so where’s the tower?

St. Mullins in rural Carlow is one of those sites where there’s very little round tower to be seen. Yet, it is still somewhere worth visiting if you’re interested in crumbly old ruins. There is plenty more to see besides the stump of the round tower in this pretty location.

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St Mullins, as seen from the top of the nearby Norman Motte

The original monastery was founded by St. Moling who was Bishop of Ferns in the 7th century. He died in 696. He may have been descended from a King of Leinster, though a lot of his back story sounds more like mythology than fact. Before establishing the monastery here, he was a monk in Glendalough. The Venerable Bede, an Anglo-Saxon scholar, referred to him as “”good and wise man, excellently versed in the knowledge of the Scriptures”. The 8th Century Book of Mulling (now digitized and available online) was possibly written here. It has been speculated that it is a copy of an earlier book. Possibly even one dating back to St. Moling’s time.

St Mullins Round Tower
This is all that remains of the tower. It was found in 1880 during excavations by the Office of Public Works

The round tower (or what’s left of it) is built from granite. It now stands just 1 metre in height, with five courses of masonry.  The church it stands beside was built at a later date. While it goes without saying that it is a real shame the tower has all but disappeared, its stump does give a good idea of how these towers were constructed.

St Mullins Round Tower 2

 

Getting There

The roads to St. Mullins won’t win any prizes for wideness or straightness. It is easy to find though and there’s plenty of room to park. It is something of a popular local beauty spot so there are public toilets close to the graveyard and a cafe beside the nearby river.

Vital Tower Stats

measuringHeight: Unknown
Diameter at Base: 5.1m
Height at Door-Sill: Unknown
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

Visit date: 5th March 2020

Kinneigh – The one with the hexagonal base

The monastery at Kinneigh was founded in the 6th century by the wonderfully named St. Mocholmóg. Little is known about the monastery or its founder. All that remains is the unusual round tower which stands on a rocky outcrop to the rear of a cemetery.

The lower 6 metres of the tower are hexagonal in shape. This section houses the basement and entry floors. The skill with which the tower transitions from being hexagonal to round suggests that this was the work of a particularly talented master mason. The work bears some resemblance to cathedral towers in Europe, suggesting that this could have been built around the 12th century. The tower itself is built from slate, a material local to the area. The base of the tower cracked quite severely in the past, possibly because of its hexagonal shape. It would appear that the classic cylindrical shape is the best design for these structures.

These days there is no access into the tower. Brian Lalor, whose book on round towers is well worth a read, climbed the tower in the 1980s. He has some useful observations about it, starting with a reference to the rickety metal internal ladders. At least one of these ladders is now gone, saving or denying visitors a hair-raising climb to the top. It’s up to you which description you prefer…

The entrance floor is thought to be original and made from large slate slabs. It has a rectangular hole in its centre, which gives access to the basement. The upper floors in the tower are made from rough poured concrete. It is unknown when the tower had a cap on it.

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Just to the west of the tower is St. Bartholomew’s Church of Ireland. It was built around 1857. During this time, the tower was again put to use as a belfry. This might explain the concrete upper floors. The top 1.5m of the tower may be work done to help fit the bell. According to the Irish Round Towers website, the bell was removed and is now on display in the museum at Charles Fort, Kinsale.

There isn’t a lot else to see here. St Bartholomew’s church is still in use but closed up most of the time. Inside the grave yard is a slab commemorating the people buried there during the Great Famine of the 1840s, plus victims of a different sort. As to whether it’s worth visiting especially, the jury is out. The tower is an interesting curio but there isn’t much else to see here.

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Getting There

Kinneigh is out in the countryside so be prepared for some nice, winding country roads. Unless there happens to be hordes of round tower enthusiasts visiting at the same time, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding somewhere safe to park your car.

Vital Tower Stats

measuringHeight: 21.5m
Diameter at Base: 6m
Height at Door-Sill: 3.24m
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

Visit date: 22nd August 2019

 

Ferns – the one with the unusual round tower

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.

Dermot MacMurrough's Grave
The final resting place(?) of Dermot MacMurrough. The grave is marked with the broken shaft of a high cross.

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.

Ruins of Abbey and Round Tower in Ferns. St. Edan's Cathedral is in the background
Ruins of Abbey and Round Tower in Ferns. St. Edan’s Cathedral is in the background

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

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Getting There

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

measuringHeight: 18.24
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

 

Kilkenny – this one is climbable!

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I nearly got locked into the cathedral grounds overnight when taking this photo (oops!)

The round tower in Kilkenny stands beside the rather wonderful and historic St. Canice’s Cathedral. It is a complete tower, although it lacks the usual capped roof. Instead, the top of the tower is a low stone wall with a modern day cage around it. This is to stop people who’ve climbed to the top of it (yes!) from falling off. The ground is a long way down – just over 30 metres in fact. And yes, it does lean a bit but let’s not think about that. The cathedral and the tower are built on top of a hill, which gives it a fine view over Kilkenny. It is thought that this led to the tower doubling up as a watchtower and why the roof was either removed or not added in the first place.

The original monastery here was founded by St. Canice in the 6th century. The original church for which the tower was a belfry has vanished without a trace. The doorway of the tower faces away from the cathedral, suggesting that the church stood elsewhere.

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Weather permitting, the tower can be climbed. As you can see from this photo, the weather was not permitting on this particular day.

The original ladders and floors in the tower are long gone but happily, it can still be climbed. There are a number of wooden floors and connecting ladders which will bring you right up to the top. It’s probably not a climb for the faint-hearted or anyone who suffers from claustrophobia. The interior of of the tower is quite small and the climb to the top involves ascending a series of steps which are glorified wooden ladders. Still, if you make it to the top, the view is worth the effort. There are so few of these towers which can be ascended, it’d be a shame to pass up the opportunity.

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A more youthful me atop the tower

Getting There

The cathedral and tower are best visited on foot. Parking is limited in the area and a quick glance at Google Streetview  might dissuade you from driving the lane-way that goes past the front gate 😉  There is ample parking in the city’s car parks (Market Yard and Market Cross Shopping Centre are 5 minutes walk away). Besides, nobody visits Kilkenny just for the tower…

Vital Tower Stats

measuringHeight: 31m
Diameter of Base: 4.77m
Height of Door Sill: 3.3m
Suggested Date: 11th 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

Timahoe – the one with the fancy doorway

Timahoe is a village about 12km south of Portlaoise, Co. Laois. It’s a rather pretty place and more importantly, from this blog’s point of view, it has a round tower! A rather fine one at that.

timahoe_round_tower

Timahoe gets its name from a monastery which was founded by St. Mochua in the 7th century (Tígh Mochua = St. Mochua’s Church). Little remains of this monastery now, apart from the tower. The former church which stands alongside the tower was built much later and is now a heritage centre.

St. Mochua founded a monastery here sometime in the 7th century. He is recorded in the Annals of the Four Masters as having died in 637AD and that “His wondrous acts are mainly legendary”. Now that is what you call an obituary 😀

The tower itself is believed to date from the 12th century and is built from sandstone (bottom 3m) and limestone. It is leaning a little but it is fully intact. What’s striking about it, apart from it being in such good condition, is the doorway. It is unique – no other tower has a Romanesque style doorway. It is also quite a wide tower at its base. 5.58m. The tower itself stands 29.26m and the door sill 4.5m from the ground.

Timahoe (4)

There is little else of note to be seen in the churchyard but it is in a rather nice setting. The ruins near the tower probably stand on the spot of where the original church originally stood. Most of what is there now dates from the 17th century, with parts of an older 15th century church included in its wall. timahoe_2

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Getting there

The tower is very easy to find and access. It’s visible from the roads leading into Timahoe and is in a churchyard close to the village green. Simply cross a footbridge and you’re there. There’s plenty of car parking space around too.

Vital Tower Stats

measuring

Height: 29.36m
Diameter at Base:5.58m
Height at Door-Sill: 4.3m
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