Category: Abbeys

The Irish Round Tower

An intriguing aspect of the archaeology of Ireland is the “Round Tower”. These are found, as illustrated below, in many stages of repair. Tradition had it in the past that they were constructed post-800 AD to provide a safe refuge for Church treasures, and clergy/monks. This is because they are nearly all found in the grounds of what would have been early Christian churches. However there are now second thoughts on this topic. This is because many have been declared to be much earlier in origin than Christianity, and to possibly date to the Iron Age, if not the Bronze Age.

There is nothing out of keeping in pre-Christian structures being found in the grounds of abbeys and churches. In both the British Isles and Europe dolmens, barrows, standing stones, stone circles and alignments abound on the same sites as early Christian structures. One could assume that it was easier to have a new faith accepted if practiced on what was already a sacred site. (Perhaps there is a message there for today?).

It is perhaps a good idea in archaeology to, instead of saying “either——or”, to accept the concept of “both——–and”. In other words, when exposed to Viking raids, church personnel could have repaired the round towers  – even constructed new ones  on the same pattern as places of refuge. In their present form round towers have an entrance door well above ground level, which would have made them less accessible to an invader. The narrow windows to be found in most towers could have been inserted at any time in their history. There is evidence that wooden floors and internal staircases have been inserted within most structures at unknown dates I have seen an intriguing feature in some towers – namely the lower reaches of the interior walls having a “glazed” finish (vitrification) which could indicate exposure to intense heat over a period.

Of the towers indicated, Drumbo is an example of a ruined structure, while Devenish fits in with the normal concept, with its graceful lines and conical roof. Whether the original structures did have such roofs is debatable. Drumbo is in the grounds of a post-Reformation Presbyterian church which is on the site of an ancient abbey. Such are the changes in faith through time.

Alongside the Irish Round Towers we need to be aware of equally mysterious structures elsewhere – perhaps of a parallel period? These are Sardinian Nuraghi, Persian Fire-Towers, and Scottish Brochs.