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.

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

Old Kilcullen – a dwarfed dwarf?

The monastery at Old Kilcullen is said to have been founded by St. Patrick and left in the care of Mac Táil (Son of the Adze) who he ordained. It is built on top of a hill 2km outside the town of Kilcullen and overlooks some nice rolling countryside. It is also 500m south-east of the Dún Áilinne  hill fort which was a significant neolithic site. Perhaps something is to be read into an early Christian site being founded so near a pagan one?

Kilcullen

If you have been reading any of these round tower posts, it will come as little surprise to learn that the monastery was raided by Vikings in the 10th century. It was burned again in 1114.

kilcullen_outside_wall

Little remains of the monastery, apart from the tower, the ruins of a 12th-century church and the remnants of 2 high crosses. The tower now stands just 11m high but was taller until 1798. Just like the round tower at Roscrea, it was damaged during the 1798 rebellion. It lost some of its height but not to the extent that the Roscrea tower did.  It is believed that this one wasn’t all that tall to begin with. Old drawings and records suggest the tower had no cap but had 4 windows on what would have been its bell floor. This is unusual in the world of round towers but not unique. The towers at Dromiskin, Co. Louth and on Tory Island off the Co. Donegal coast are not that tall either.

Old Kilcullen Round Tower 2021 (23)

The doorway into the tower is quite low too (the door sill is just 1.8 m from the ground) but this is because the ground around it has risen over the centuries. Until the 1990s, it was possible to access the tower but there is now a metal grille in the doorway. Still, it is nice to take a closer look at a doorway that is almost at eye level.

Kilcullen doorway 2021

Apart from the tower and the partial high crosses, there isn’t a lot to see here. I’d rate this as one for round tower completists. If you want to see one round tower in Kildare, go for the one in Kildare town. Not only is it complete, it’s climbable!

kilcullen_tower_stats

Getting there. The tower is situated 2km outside Kilcullen, not too far from the motorway or the town. The site is easy to find and there is parking outside the graveyard.

 

Tower visits May 2009/June 2021

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 in the 5th or 6th century by St. Kieran of Saighir. This is the same saint who founded the monatery at Seir Kieran. 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. Cerbhall was long gone when the monastery was well and truly raided and burned in 1156. It is said that the tower was burned by the High King of Ireland, Muirchertach MacLochlainn, with the monastery’s lector inside it…

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 that was done by this local.

Also in the cemetery are the ruined remains of a 13th century church. It remained in use until the 1780s. In the 19th century, its west doorway and east window were removed and are now to be found in Johnstown Church of Ireland. The Catholic Church got its baptismal font and a representation of the Crucifixion. Later still, part of the church was converted into a handball alley. Still, after all of that there still is something left to look at. Inside the church’s side chapel is a tomb, believed to be the final resting place of a king called Seán Mac Giolla Phádraig. Alongside the effigy of the late king is one of a woman. This is believed to be his wife Nóirín Ní Mórdha.

Fertagh 2021 (36)

Fertagh 2021 (40)

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.

glendalough1_stats

 

The Partial Tower

glendalough_st_kevins_kitchen2
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.

st_mullins
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

st-mullins-stats

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.

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.

kinneigh_tower2

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