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Irish Round Towers

Historical Stuff

Irish Round Towers  

      Lundy, Isle of Avalon         Historical Stuff

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One author has called them 'Elegant, free-standing pencils of stone.' 

As their name suggests most examples of Irish Round Towers are to be found in Ireland; where the remains of nearly seventy are known. However they are found elsewhere. 

There are examples on the Isle of Man and in Scotland. The notable monastery of St. Gall in Switzerland had two such towers according to an early 9th century plan. The earliest example of a surviving Round Tower in Ireland is thought to date from 940 AD. 

The Ulster Annals tell us that 57 round towers fell in the great Irish earthquake of 448. Giraldus Cambrensis wrote that in 65AD Lough Neagh was created by an inundation, or sinking of the land, and that in his day the fishermen could still

"See the round-towers of other days
In the waves beneath them shining."


In unsettled times Irish round towers provided secure refuge for people and possessions. Their doorways could be up to 5 meters above ground level only reached by a ladder; in peaceful times to a society used to single storey dwellings their imposing height ( they could be up to 35 meters high ) marked the importance of their inhabitants.


The base of the tower was usually some 4.5 meters in diameter, the walls could be up to 1.5 meters thick. Their foundations were surprisingly shallow, less than a meter, and to provide extra strength they were usually filled up to the level of the door with packed stones and rubble bonded with lime mortar. Most Round Towers had wooden floors, although there are two surviving examples with stone floors. Very few intermediate storeys had windows but the top floors usually had four, facing the cardinal points. 

They were used as belfries ( for tongueless hand bells), as watch towers, as beacons, as storehouses for religious treasures and relics, as a refuge in times of trouble and much more

There are remains of at least four such towers on the island of Lundy


Irish Legends.

Irish legends tell how after the Battle of Moytura the Danaans ruled Ireland until the coming of the sons of Miled, the Milesians. The Milesians were essentially human and the tale of their coming to Ireland from 'Spain' (later christian scribes and historians used 'Spain' as a rationalisation for the 'Otherworld' of earlier mythology) is as follows:-

"Ith, the grandfather of Miled, dwelt in a great tower which his father, Bregon, had built in 'Spain.' One clear winter's day, when looking out westwards from this lofty tower, he saw the coast of Ireland in the distance, and resolved to sail to this unknown land. He embarked with ninety warriors, and took land at Corcadyna, in the south-west."  Rolleston, Celtic Myth and Legend.



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Towers on Lundy



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