Irish round tower
- This is about Irish-style round towers. See round tower for other types of towers.
Irish round towers (Irish: Cloigtheach (singular), Cloigthithe (plural) – literally "bell house") are early medieval stone towers of a type found mainly in Ireland, with two in Scotland and one on the Isle of Man. Though there is no certain agreement as to their purpose, it is thought they were principally bell towers, places of refuge, or a combination of these.
Generally found in the vicinity of a church or monastery, the door of the tower faces the west doorway of the church. In this way it has been possible to determine without excavation the approximate site of lost churches, where the tower still exists.
Construction and distribution 
Surviving towers range in height from 18 metres (59 ft) to 40 metres (130 ft), and 12 metres (39 ft) to 18 metres (59 ft) in circumference; that at Kilmacduagh being the highest surviving in Ireland (and leaning 1.7 metres (5 ft 7 in) out of perpendicular). The masonry differs according to date, the earliest examples being uncut rubble, while the later ones are of neatly joined stone work. The lower portion is solid masonry with a single door raised two to three metres above, often accessible only by a ladder. Within, in some, are two or more floors (or signs of where such floors existed), usually of wood, and it is thought that there were ladders in between. The windows, which are high up, are slits in the stone. The cap (roof), is of stone, usually conical in shape, although some of the towers are now crowned by a later circle of battlements.
The towers were probably built between the 9th and 12th centuries. In Ireland about 120 examples are thought once to have existed; most are in ruins, while eighteen to twenty are almost perfect. There are four examples outside Ireland. Two are in north-eastern Scotland: the Brechin Round Tower and the Abernethy Round Tower.
Famous examples are to be found at Devenish Island, and Glendalough, while that at Clondalkin is the only Round Tower in Ireland to still retain its original cap. With five towers each, County Mayo and County Kildare have the most. Mayo's round towers are at Aughagower, Balla, Killala, Meelick and Turlough, while Kildare's are located at Kildare Cathedral (which is 32 metres (105 ft) high), and also at Castledermot, Oughter Ard, Taghadoe (near Maynooth) and Old Kilcullen. The only known round tower with a hexagonal base is at Kinneigh in County Cork, built in 1014.
||This section may contain original research. (September 2008)|
The purpose of the towers has been somewhat unclear until recent times. A popular hypothesis in the past was that the towers were originally a redoubt against raiders such as Vikings. If a lookout posted in the tower spotted a Viking force, the local population (or at least the clerics) would enter, using a ladder which could be raised from within. The towers would be used to store religious relics and other plunderables.
However, there are many problems with this hypothesis. Many towers are built in positions which are not ideal to survey the surrounding countryside and would not work efficiently as watch towers for incoming attacks.
The doors to these towers would have been wooden and therefore easily burned down. Due to the almost chimney-like design of the towers, the smoke from the burning door would have been carried upwards inside the tower causing any occupants to suffocate. Indeed, the round towers at Dysert O'Dea and Aghagower show evidence of fire damage around the doorway. There are also records of people being burned to death in round towers.
The main reason for the entrance-way being built above ground level was to maintain the structural integrity of the building rather than for defence. The towers were generally built with very little foundation. The tower at Monasterboice has an underground foundation of only sixty centimetres. Building the door at ground level would weaken the tower. The buildings still stand today because their round shape is gale-resistant and the section of the tower underneath the entrance is packed with soil and stones.
The distance from the ground to the raised doorway is somewhat greater than that from the first floor to the second; thus large, rigid steps would be too large for the door. Excavations in the 1990s, revealing postholes, confirm that wooden steps were built. However, the use of ladders prior to the construction of such steps cannot be ruled out.
Therefore, according to the arguments immediately above, the primary reason for the round tower was to act as a belfry imitating the continental European style of bell tower which was popular at the time. The Irish word for round tower, cloigtheach, literally meaning bellhouse indicates this, as noted by George Petrie in 1845.
However, the Irish language has greatly evolved over the last millennium. Dinneen notes the alternate pronunciations, cluiceach and cuilceach for cloigtheach. The closely pronounced cloichtheach means stone-house or stone-building,. The round tower seems to be the only significant stone building in Ireland before the advent of the Normans in 1167 AD. Although the physical evidence pointing towards a bell tower is strong, we must await confirmation from original sources such as glyphs on medieval manuscripts.
Modern symbolic towers 
At Saint Mary's Cemetery in Milford, Massachusetts a round tower was built of Milford granite in the late 19th century as a memorial to central Massachusetts' Irish immigrants, of whom thousands are buried there.
Another "revival" round tower was built in 1997 in the Island of Ireland Peace Park in Belgium, as a war memorial to the soldiers of the island of Ireland who died, were wounded or are missing from World War I. The 110-foot (34 m) tower is in the traditional design of an Irish round tower and is partially built with stone from a former army barracks in Tipperary.
List of Irish round towers 
The following is a list of surviving Irish round towers, excluding modern reconstructions.
|Ardmore||Waterford||Munster||Complete||30.0m||has three string courses and a noticeable lean|
|Castledermot||Kildare||Leinster||Complete to cornice||20.0m||the conical cap has been replaced with battlements and the tower has been attached to a church (which was built later)|
|Clondalkin||Dublin||Leinster||Complete||27.5m||strengthened by a stone buttress|
|Clones||Monaghan||Ulster||Complete to cornice||22.9m|
|two towers a short distance from each-other
O'Rourke: full height but capless; has 8 windows at top
McCarthy: attached to a church
|Cloyne||Cork||Munster||Complete to cornice||30.5m||the conical cap has been replaced with battlements|
|Donaghmore||Meath||Leinster||Complete to cornice||26.6m||full height but without cap|
|Dromiskin||Louth||Leinster||Incomplete||15.2m||a conical cap was added to what remains of the tower|
|Drumcliffe (near Ennis)||Clare||Munster||Incomplete||11.0m|
|Drumcliff (near Sligo)||Sligo||Connacht||Incomplete||09.0m|
|Glendalough||Wicklow||Leinster||Complete||30.5m||nearby Saint Kevin’s Church includes a miniature round tower|
|Grangefertagh||Kilkenny||Leinster||Complete to cornice ||30.0m||full height but without cap, located in the parish of Johnstown|
|Inishcaltra (in Lough Derg)||Clare||Munster||Incomplete||22.3m|
|Inishkeen||Monaghan||Ulster||Incomplete||12.6m||the top has been sealed with brick and cement|
|Kells||Meath||Leinster||Complete to cornice||26.0m||full height but without cap|
|Kildare||Kildare||Leinster||Complete to cornice||32.0m||climable; the conical cap has been replaced with battlements|
|Kilkenny||Kilkenny||Leinster||Complete to cornice||30.0m||climable; the conical cap has been replaced with battlements|
|Killala||Mayo||Connacht||Complete||25.5m||there is a noticeable bulge about halfway up the tower|
|Kilmacduagh||Galway||Connacht||Complete||34.5m||has 11 windows (more than any other tower) and the door is 8m from the ground (higher than any other tower)|
|Kilree||Kilkenny||Leinster||Complete to cornice||27.0m||the conical cap has been replaced with battlements|
|Kinneigh||Cork||Munster||Complete to cornice||24.5m||has a hexagonal base and a sealed top|
|Lusk||Dublin||Leinster||Complete to cornice||26.6m||full height but without cap; is attached to a church (which was built later)|
|Maghera||Down||Ulster||Incomplete||05.4m||stump with a large hole in the side|
|Mollaneen (Dysert O'Dea Monastery)||Clare||Munster||Incomplete||15.0m|
|Rattoo||Kerry||Munster||Complete||27.4m||includes a Sheela na Gig|
|Scattery Island||Clare||Munster||Complete to cornice||36.5m|
|St Patrick’s Rock (near Cashel)||Tipperary||Munster||Complete||28.0m||attached to a church (which was built later)|
|Steeple (near Antrim)||Antrim||Ulster||Complete||28.0m|
|Swords||Dublin||Leinster||Complete||26.0m||has a deformed top floor, which is topped by a stone cross|
See also 
- Chaine Memorial, a relatively modern tower lighthouse at Larne, in the style of a round tower.
- Pele tower
- Rock of Cashel
- Alan Van Dine, Unconventional Builders, Doubleday Ferguson, 1977, p. 29, 34
- Peter F. Stevens, "One of a kind: America's Irish round tower", World of Hibernia, June 22, 1998
- Patrick S. Dinneen, An Irish English Dictionary, The Educational Company of Ireland, Dublin, 1927
- Tomás de Bhaldraithe, English-Irish Dictionary, An GUM, Dublin, 1959
- "The Tower of Peace" World of Hibernia, December 1998, quoted in Find Articles
- British Military Garrison - Tipperary Co. Tipperary Ireland (retrieved 31 January 2010)
- Brian Lalor (1999), The Irish Round Tower: Origins and Architecture Explored, ISBN 1-898256-64-0
- Roger Stalley (2000), Irish Round Towers, ISBN 1-86059-114-0
- T. O'Keeffe (2004), Ireland's Round Towers. Building, Rituals and Landscapes of the Early Irish Church, ISBN 0-7524-2571-4
- George L. Barrow (1979), The Round Towers of Ireland. A Study and Gazette
- George Petrie (1845), The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Ireland: An Essay on the Origins of Round Towers in Ireland
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Round towers of Ireland|
- Irish Round Towers — detailed photographic archive and information for fifty two Irish round towers.
- Irish Round Towers from "A Handbook of Irish Antiquities (1848)" by William Wakeman
- Kinneigh Round Tower — articles and photos about Kinneigh Round Tower
- Irish round towers in Google Earth — A link to a Google Earth forum post containing a Google Earth overlay file of all Irish round towers.