Mayo’s Round Towers

Round Tower Killala
Author's Personal Collection

Ireland’s Round Towers ‘Cloigtheach’ were a distinctive feature of the Irish landscape.  Several various eras are offered as to the original date of construction during Ireland’s historical foundations.  Round Towers were established as free – standing structures; shaped like a stony tube, topped by a conical roof.  These were constructed, it is believed between the tenth or thirteen centuries as ecclesiastical buildings also protection from Viking raiders or warring local tribes.  Initially roofs were wooden but due to vulnerability of fire or lightening were replaced by stone roofs to reduce danger.  Stone roofs also improved acoustics plus the bell’s resonance.  The builders were extremely skilled experts with knowledge of pulleys, hoists or external scaffolds.  The towers’ foundations were just 0.51 metres below ground level.  They were approximately 30 metres high with a single doorway.  Inside wooden floors divided the space into levels.  The last one under the roof included four windows for illumination.  During 1845, the Artist, Scholar, Antiquarian George Petrie demonstrated their ecclesiastical origin plus functions of the peculiar buildings.  He portrayed that the towers were constructed near Monasteries where the ringing of the bells were essential for the monastic life with a call to monks at prayer time.  [i]

The Round Towers ranged in height from approximately 20 metres to 40 metres.  The doorways may have been of Romanesque round headed or lintelled shaped while the windows were small plus set high up in the drum.  The interior of the towers was divided into several floors, each one reached by ladders inside the building.  The roof was conical in shape.  [ii]

There are remains of sixty – five round towers scattered across Ireland; soaring as high as 34 metres above ground level.  With a probable construction period between 7th to 13th centuries the towers were at sites of well-known Christian churches from 5th to 12th centuries.  Initially the towers were free standing structures; in later years Monastic foundations were constructed around the towers.  The principles used were the same for all: two walls of block & mortar constructed with space in between with a core of rock rubble.  Of the original sixty – five towers: twenty – five were built with limestone, thirteen of iron -rich, red sandstone whilst the rest were of balsalt, cray slate or granite.  Thirteen towers retain their conical caps.  In his ‘Irish Round Towers’ Lennox Barrow’s article on dimensions states that: ‘it is remarkable how little the main dimensions vary.  In the great majority of towers, the circumference at base lies between 14 metres to 17 metres.  The thickness of the wall at the lowest point on which it can be measured varies from 0.g metres to 1.4 metres.  Most doorways were raised 15 metres to 45 metres above the ground.  The higher you could build before making an opening in the wall; the stronger the base would be.  Doorways. windows, story heights & diameter also follow clearly defined patterns, & we may well conclude that most of the towers were the work of teams of builders who moved from one monastery to another using the standard designs.’  Philip Callaghan discussed in ‘Ancient Mysteries, Modern Visions’ his research that ‘round towers may have been designed, constructed, utilized as huge resonant systems for the collection plus storage of metre – long wave lengths of magnetic & electromagnetic energy formed from the earth plus skies.’  He also stated that ‘the seemingly random geographical arrangement of the round towers throughout the Irish countryside actually mirrored the position of the stars in the Northern sky during the time of the Winter Solstice.’ He discussed the probability that ‘the towers were powerful amplifiers of radio resonance from the atmosphere generated by lightning flashes around the world’: in another article from his ‘The Mysterious Round Towers of Ireland  Low Energy Radio in Nature: The Explorer’s Journal’: Summer 1993.  (Martin Gray)  [iii]

From Armoy in County Antrim to Aghadoe outside Killarney there are sixty – five of these slender, tapering round towers in various degrees of survival.  They range from thirteen which are complete to eight that merely now resemble stumps at not more than 3 metres in height.  Co. Dublin has four towers whilst Counties Clare, Kildare, Kilkenny plus Mayo have five remaining towers.  Included in the above are Island sites ie; Tory in Co. Donegal, Scattery at mouth of the Shannon, Inishmore off Co. Galway’s coast, Ram on Lough Neagh, Cealtra on the Clare side of Lough Derg plus two on Devenish on Lower Lough Erne near Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh.  (Paul Ross)  [iv]

Mayo round towers are located at Aughagower, Balla, Killala, Meelick also Turlough.

Aughagower

The name of Achadh Fhobhair means Field of Springs.  This eleventh century round tower was constructed within a Monastic site founded by St. Senach in a small enclosure in the centre of the village.  It was an important pilgrimage site.  The tower’s height was 15.85 metres with a diameter of 5 metres.  It had a 2.2 metres Tripartite Arch.  The original arched doorway faced east.  A second lintelled doorway was later an addition to the northwest of the drum.  There were three lintelled windows installed.  The original coursed masonry on the south side was of much better quality than that of the refurbishment during the 1960’s.  The cap stone is missing plus the tower has been damaged, it leans slightly to the North with that side higher than the South.  [v]

A church ruin, cemetery lie close to tower within an enclosure in middle of village.  The tower stood sixteen metres high.  Circumference above ground level was 5.76 metres with an external diameter of five metres.  The south side is slightly lower than the north.  The original doorway that faced east was just two metres from the external ground level, it had an arched three stone top with three stones in each jamb.  The wooden ground floor doorway allowed entry into the tower.  The inside ground level was approximately nine inches lower than the external level.  There were five rings of stone corbels for floor supports: the first was just below the original doorway with the highest below the top of present wall.  The later added doorway that faced northwest at ground – level was square – headed.  There is no off visible perhaps it is now below ground.  A modern doorway allows access to ground floor.  There is severe fire damage visible to original door.  Tochar Paidraig runs through this Monastic site (between Ballintubber Abbey & Croagh Patrick or its local name ‘The Reek.’ [vi]

A legend reported that the Cap Stone was struck by lightning with the result that the Cap landed on a hill in Teevinish over half – a – mile away, it was brought to the Church by a woman who carried it in her apron!  This is preserved within the present church.  [vii]

A monastery was founded in Aughagower by St. Senach between the fifth & seventh centuries.  It was in existence until the thirteenth century.  The earliest structure visible now is the fantastic 16 metre leaning round tower that was erected between 973 AD and 1013 AD.  The tower’s original entrance door is about 2.2 metres above ground level however a lower entrance was added at a far later date.  [viii]

According to this site: West of a Medieval Church in Aughagower is a much damaged & repaired tenth century Round Tower. [ix]

An article by Suzette Hughes ‘The Round Tower of Aughagower’ is published in Westport’s Historical Society’s Journal ‘Cathair na Mart’ 2008 No. 26 pages 50 – 55.

A utube video of Round Tower plus Church ruins by Dr. Oliver Whyte is available on this link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKjRYpSRTk0

Turlough

The Turlough, in Irish Turlach meant a ‘dry place’ This Round Tower is situated on a hill.  A Cruciform shaped eighteen century church is within the Monastic settlement.  Tradition stated that the site was established during the eleventh century.  It is a smaller than average tower as it is just under twenty – three metres.  The original arched door is approx.  four metres above ground level.  There are four large – angled – shaped windows with each faced left of the four cardinal points.  The other four windows in drum are all lintelled.  The height is reputed to be 22.85 metres plus has a circumference of 5.5 metres.  The conical cap was substantially repaired during the nineteenth century. [x]

This Turlough round tower is offset at its lowest side.  It lacks the traditional pointed capstone. Because the drum is so wide the tower appears small.  The height above offset is 22.86 metres.  It has a circumference of 17.5 metres.  There is an arched doorway 3.96 metres above ground level that faces east.  The angle – headed bell – story windows echo the shape of the drum; they face just left of the cardinal points.  The other small lintelled window in the drum are oriented to south then slightly skewed to the other points.  Below the original door at ground level, beside the eighteenth-century Church of Ireland ruins appears to be a later doorway.  The first reference to Turlough tower was a drawing dated 1792 that showed the cap in a ruinous state.  Repairs by the OPW occurred during 1880. [xi]

This nineteenth century round tower was unusual in its short or squat stature.  This site has beautiful images of the tower.  [xii]

A utube video of Turlough round tower may be vied at this link: https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=mcafee&p=turlough+round+tower+utube#id=2&vid=fcaf2b55ff4a2c8e40e899328f0e7eaf&action=click

Balla

This early Monastic site was founded by St. Mochuu a Cronan Mochua a Disciple of St. Cartage of Lismore during the sixth century.  The tower was well constructed with red & brown coursed sandstone.  Lawlor described it as a Rogue Tower in his publication ‘Irish Round Tower’ 2005 Collins Press.  There were two doorways with upper lintelled east facing.  There are two bullaun stones on east & west of drum.  There is a single small window on the towers side. [xiii]

There is an offset of large rocks at base of tower approximately twenty to twenty – five cm wide plus six cm in height.  The circumference at base was approx. 16.5 metres with an extended drum of five and a quarter – metres.  [xiv]

This utube video of Balla round tower is available at this link: https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=mcafee&p=utube+video+balla+round+tower+mayo#id=1&vid=90cdbae70477719d9e4669cacced11f3&action=click

Killala

Killala Round tower is one of the best examples of a complete Mayo tower.  Possibly founded by St. Patrick.  There is a notable bulge half – way up drum caused by a lightning strike.  It was constructed with limestone.  At 25.5 metres in height it stands on a one metre Plinth composed of twenty stones.  There is a doorway 3.5 metres facing south – south east.  On the last floor beneath roof are three windows face east – north east, south -south east, plus west.  The original doorway of brown limestone blocks contrasts with the grey of drum or tower. [xv]

This site states that the tower is 84-foot-high, it stands on a three foot high plinth with a doorway one foot above ground level.    [xvi]

According to Lennox Barrow in ‘Round Towers of Ireland’1979 Gill & Macmillan, Killala round tower sits on an offset that is more like a plinth composed of twenty large stones with smaller stones below them.  Depending on whether the tower is measured from ground level or plinth offset: it is 2.98 metres or 3.8 metres in height.  Circumference is 15.78 metres with a diameter 5.02 metres.  There is an arched doorway that faces south – south east.  On the drum face are three lintelled windows.  The traditional four windows in bell – story are angled – headed but slightly skewed.  It was constructed with limestone with a three stone arch of doorway produced of a light brown sandstone that contrasts with the grey of tower.  It was reported during 1779 that the roof plus mid – section had been damaged by lightening.  Repairs by the OPW were carried out during 1841. [xvii]

A utube of Killala Round Tower may be viewed at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=se2p3L5kqB4

Meelick

Meelick (Irish Mileac) near Swinford round tower established in an early Monastic site now stands at 25.5 metres high with its cap missing.  The door was 3.45 metres above ground level.  Possibly it had five or six floors in the original drum.  It was erected during the eleventh or twelfth centuries with evenly coursed limestone.  Height was 21.5 metres with a diameter of 5.45 metres.  The tower had a southeast facing arched doorway with an extremely long sill stone that includes jambs.  The arch was comprised of five or six voassar.  There were six windows on the drum with the two lower ones angled – headed also the upper four were lintelled.  A Cross Slab was decorated with a superb interlacing design that had inscription: Or Do Cricour (or Or Do Criene) that translated as ‘A Prayer for Cricore’.  Two offsets are visible on the northwest side of tower.    [xviii]

According to this site the tower was built between 923 to 1013 AD.  It stood sixty – six feet in hight with a doorway at eleven feet. above ground level.  An inscription from the tenth or eleventh century is at base of tower. [xix]

The diameter of tower was 5.45 metres with a circumference of 17.10 metres.  The five– stone arched doorway was 3.45 metres with jamb stones were carefully crafted with a wide sill stone that extended to the left more than a metre past the door case.  It was reported that there was a vault in the second story of drum.  Due to the slight sloping ground there is offset visible on southeast of tower plus two visible on northwest side of which one appears to be of undressed rock. [xx]

The Tower was built by St. Broccaidh with his Monks.  The round tower was repaired during the 1800’s. [xxi]

This Tower was erected 923 – 1013 AD on the site of an ecclesiastical complex.  It was founded St. Broccaidh was once the principal Abbey in the barony of Gallan. It served as a refuge for the monks. The Tower stands twenty – two metres in height, it has a circumference of over seventeen metres at the base.  The cap is missing but the doorway is visible at 3.5 m above the ground.  A stone floor is over a vault is above the doorway.  The stonework consisted of sandstone that gleams with quartz, it has patches of lichen in places.  At the foot of the Tower is an early gravestone with a crudely interlaced cross & border that bears the Irish inscription from the tenth or eleventh centuries; ‘Or Oit Do Grien’ – a prayer for Griene. (Brian Hoban) [xxii]

This site has a utube video of tower: https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=mcafee&p=meelick+round+tower+utube#id=2&vid=ffa5338e5d1ea933b79d78d9d6fc271f&action=click

Footnote

The idea that ‘Towers were ‘Antennae’ plus forces of energy was trialled in an experiment of Turlough Round Tower when it was soaked in a diamagnetic solution of Epsom salts, then allowed to dry naturally: thin force lines spaced evenly at one millimetre appeared up the tower.  On the conical roof at the top of the force line spiralled up to the point.  At certain heights up the tower the force lines became much thicker bands.  These correlate precisely with the floor levels in the actual towers.’ ‘Enigma of the Towers’ Professor Philip Callaghan 1997 Kindred Spirit Autumn.  [xxiii]

This may be of interest ‘The Round Towers of Ireland’ by Henry O’ Brien: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/42538/42538-h/42538-h.htm

These sites have images with information on several round towers: https://visionsofthepastblog.com/category/round-tower/

https://sacredsites.com/europe/ireland/tower_of_cashel.html

Tom Gillespie has an article (part 1) in ‘The Connaught Telegraph’ dated 18th May 2021 that mentions Killala Tower plus has an image on page 25.

An image of Turlough Round Tower features on this site by www.castlebar.ie

Bibliography

[i] The Round Tower (https://westporttourism.com/ ) [assessed 9th November 2019]

[ii] Mayo’s Monasteries ( https://www.mayo.ie/visit/history/ ) [assessed 8th November 2019}

[iii] Round Towers of Ireland (https://sacredsites.com/ ) [assessed 9th November 2019]

[iv] Ireland’s Round Towers (https://www.catholicireland.net/ )  [assessed 9th November 2019]

[v] Aughagower Round Tower (http://www.megalithicireland.com/) [assessed 8th November 2019]

[vi] Aughagower Round Tower (http://roundtowers.org/) [assessed 9th November 2019]

[vii] The Round Tower (https://westporttourism.com/the-round-tower/) [assessed 8th November 2019]

[viii] Aughagower Round Tower & Church (https://visionsofthepastblog.com/) [assessed 9th November 2019]

[ix] Saints & Stones (http://saintsandstones.net/)  [assessed 9th November 2019]

[x] Irish Round Towers (http://www.roundtowers.org/turlough/) [assessed 10th November 2019]

[xi] Irish Round Towers (http://www.roundtowers.org/turlough/) [assessed 10th November 2019]

[xii] Turlough Round Tower (https://visionsofthepastblog.com/)  [assessed 10th November 2019]

[xiii] Balla Round Tower (http://www.megalithicireland.com/) [assessed 10th November 2019]

[xiv] Balla Irish Round Tower (http://roundtowers.org/) [assessed 10th November 2019]

[xv] The Round Tower (https://westporttourism.com/) [assessed 10th November 2019]

[xvi] Saints and Stones (http://www.saintsandstones.net/) [assessed 10th November 2019]

[xvii] Killala  Irish Round Tower (http://roundtowers.org/) [assessed 10th November 2019]

[xviii] Meelick Round Tower (http://www.megalithicireland.com/) [assessed 10th November 2019]

[xix] Meelick Round Tower, Swinford (https://curiousireland.ie/) [assessed 10th November 2019]

[xx] Meelick Irish Round Tower (http://roundtowers.org/) [assessed 10th November 2019]

[xxi] Meelick County Mayo (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/) [assessed 10th November 2019]

[xxii] Meelick Tower (https://www.mayo-ireland.ie/en/towns-villages/bohola/history/meelick-round-tower.html) [assessed 17th February2021]

[xxiii] The Enigma of the Towers (http://whale.to/b/callahan.html ) [assessed 10th November 2019]

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