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" the apertures in them, they are rather culcated to stifle than
*' to transmit to a distance any sound, that is made in them;
" lastly that, though possibly a small bell may have been accident-
" ally put up in one or two of them at some late period, yet we
*' constantly find other belfries or contrivances for hanging bells
*' in the churches adjoining to them." Molyneux was aware of
the difficulty, which the smallness of the dimensions opposed to
their having been belfries, and, to ward it off, argued that they
were ancient, because, he says, " large bells are an invention of
later times, and were not used in the earlier ages of the Church."
This is a pitiful evasion, especially coming from him, as he thought,
of which by and by, that the round towers were built by the
Danes, and consequently long after the early ages of the Church.
To his argument Harris answers, {Antiq. of Ireland ch. 17.) that
large bells were used in England as far back as the sixth century ;
and in fact, wherever belfries were erected designedly, a larger
space was left for the swinging of the bell, and more opening al-
lowed for the conveyance of sound, than we find in these towers.
The very remarkable circumstance of the entrance or door into
the towers being usually from 8 or 10 to 16 feet, or more, above
the ground, without steps or any other means of getting in, unless
with the help of a ladder, is, I think, a sure indication that they
were not originally designed for belfries. What ai'chitect would
have constructed a belfry, which the bell-ringer could not enter
except by a ladder ?

(127) Lynch, touching on the Round Towers, (Cambr. Evers
p, 133.) says, that they were erected not for belfries but for watch-


towers, but that afterwards bells were placed in them ; " Non ut
pro campanili sed pro speculo haberentur, unde prospectus ad Ion-
gi7iqua late protenderetur, Postea tamen usus invahit ut, campanis
in earum culmine appensis, campanilium vices gererent — Vel no-
minis enim etymon illas indicat illi usui accomodatas Juisse ;
Cloctheach enim perinde est ac dooms campance, voce cloc cam-
panam et teach domum signijicante" Ledwich refers {p, 285.)
to this passage, but, in his usual mode of misquoting, omits what
Lynch has about said towers not having been originally intended
for belfries. He then quotes a passage from Peter Walsh, which
is taken nearly word for word from Lynch, except that what Lynch
mentions as a report is called by him certain. I cannot subscribe
to what Lynch seems to assert, viz. that all the Round towers we
are treating of were called clocteachy after some time ; although an
odd one of them might have been so called, from the circumstance
of a bell being placed in it at a late period. But this was not the
real name for a tower strictly understood. Towers are often men-
tioned in ancient Irish MSS, by the names Tuir, Tura, Turreadh;
(see Dr. O'Conor, Ren Hih. Script. Ind. ad. proleg. p. 207.) bu.
Clocteach is the precise name for a belfrey, as translated by O'Brien
of whatsoever form or materials. As long as churches were h\ii\
in Ireland of wood, it may be justly supposed that so were also
the belfries; and we have seen, {Not. 140. to Chap, xxii.) that
tliere was a wooden belfrey at Slane, which was burned by the
Danes. Lynch's idea that the Round towers were originally
watch-towers, which he connects with his false supposition of their
having been built by the Danes, (of which lower down) cannot
. be admitted no more than that of others, who imagined that they
were erected to serve as beacons. Neither of these hypotheses
can stand, as Harris and Dr. Milner have proved [locc. citt.) by
very good reasons, such as their often being found in low and
hollow situations, two of them being in some places near each
other, &c. &c.

(128) Giraldus (Topogr. Hib. Dist. 2. cap. 9.) calls them,
u Turres ecclesiasticasy quae more patriae arctae sunt et altae,
necnon et rotundae.'' He does not specify what ecclesiastical use
they were applied to ; but we may fairly conclude, that they were
not then used as belfries ; for if they were, he would in all proba-
bility have mentioned it. He must have considered some of them


as very ancient ; whereas he says, that the fishermen of Lough-
Neagh used to see and show such towers in the bosom of that lake,
which was said to have been formed by a sudden inundation at a
veiy ancient period. He alluded to the tradition of Lough-Neagh,
having burst out in the reign of Lugaid Riabhderg, who be-
came king of Ireland in the year 65 of the Christian era. (See
Harris' County of Down, ck, 1.)

(129)JThis opinion seems to have been proposed first by a
Dean Richardson of Belturbet, from whom it was taken by Harris,
who has endeavoured {Antiq. ch. 17.) to make it appear probable.
It has been adopted also by Dr. Milner, (^Letter 14, quoted above)
who maintains, that these towers were well adapted for habita-
tions of the Inclusi. In the Acts of St. Dunchad O'Braois. (of
whom see Chap. xxir. §, 15.) the place, in which he led the life
of an anchoret, is called a prison of narrow inclosure, in arcti
indusorii ergastulo clausus ; but it is not mentioned whether it
was a tower or not. Harris imagined, that all the Irish anchorets
lived in the round towers. For this he had no foundation whatso-
ever Many of them lived in huts or caves in unfrequented places.
We have met with several of them at Armagh ; but their ha-
bitations are constantly called cells not totvers,

(130) I do not find, that those, who think that the Round
towers were built for anchorets, have given us any explanation of
the use of the four windows. Dr Milner assigns one or two reasons
for the division into floors or stories ; and I know that they were
requisite for enabling a person to ascend to the top by means of
ladders ; but I confess that I cannot see the necessity for making
so many stories, or, what comes to the same point, for raising the
towers so high, if they were originally intended merely for anchor-
ets. He does not say what Harris strives to maintain, viz. that
they were divided into stories or lofts in imitation of the pillars of
the Eastern Stylites, such as St. Symeon, St. Daniel. «Src. ; for, let
Harris say what he will, the only means of ascent to the tops of
those pillars was fi-om without, there being none inside.

(131) This is the^^ account given by Smith {History of the
county, 8fc. of CorJc, Vol. 2. p. 408.) from, he says, some Irish
MSS. If we could rely on this reference, it should be admitted,
that the Round towers were applied to that purpose. As an addi-
tional proof, he states, that the Irish name for a penaftce is turris


the Latin name for a tower. I doubt much, whether it had that
acceptation in Irish ; at least I cannot find it in any Irish diction-
ary. Ledwich [Antiq. 8^c, p. 298) charges Smith with inconsis-
tency, as if he had said elsewhere, that those towers were belfries.
Now the fact is, that Smith merely said, that the one of Ardmore
had been used as a belfrey ; but he did not assert, that such was
the general use of all of them. (See above Not. 126.) I wish
Smith had given us the title of the MS, or MSB. to which he

§. XVI. Yet after all, notwithstanding it cannot
be denied that they were applied in Christian times
to some ecclesiastical or religious purposes, some as
belfries, others perhaps as retreats for anchorets,
others as habitations for penitents, or, as may also
be conjectured, of some persons connected with the
service of neighbouring churches, the question still
remains, whence the singular style of architecture,
in which they universally appear, was derived to
Ireland. There are no towers of a similar construc-
tion to be found in any part of continental Europe.
To suppose, as some have thought, that they were
erected by the Danes or Ostmen, is evidently a great
mistake ; for, were they of Danish architecture, how
could it have happened, that neither in the Scandi-
navian countries whence those people came, nor in
England, where they ruled more or less for a great
number of years, nor in Normandy or other parts of
Europe, which they occupied, is there a vestige of
such buildings or any tradition concerning them to
be met with ? (132) Round towers or the remains
of them are found in every part of Ireland, and
very many of them in places, which were never pos-
sessed by the Danes. (133) On the contrary, there
neither were nor are any of them in some of the
chief seats of the Danes, such as, Waterford and
Wexford. The peculiarity of these towers consists
not in their being merely round ; for round build-
ings were common enough, and the pillars, not

D D 2


towers, of tlie Eastern Stylites are said to have been
round ; but where do we find in other countries
towers of a conical form, having the entrance into
them many feet above the ground, with at the top
four windows facing the four cardinal points, roofed
&c. ? Now it is exceedingly remarkable, that towers
of an exactly similar construction exist at this day in
Hindostan. Lord Valentia saw two of them near
Bhaugulpore, of which he has given a drawing.
The door or entrance into them is, as appears from
the drawing, about twelve feet above the ground ;
there are four windows at the top, just as in the
Irish towers, and they are covered with a small
roundish roof. Of them he writes thus ; ** I was
" much pleased with the sight of two very singular
" round towers about a mile N. W. of the town.
** They much resemble those buildings in Ireland,
** which have hitherto puzzled the antiquaries of the
" sister kingdoms, excepting that they are more or-
** namented. It is singular, that there is no tra-
** dition concerning them, nor are they held in any
** respect by the Hindoos of this country. The
*' Rajah of Jyenagur considers them as holy, and
" has erected a small building to shelter the great
" number of his subjects, who annually come to
" worship here. I have given an engraving of them,
•' as I think them curious." (134) These towers
w^ere undoubtedly erected by a people, who professed
a religion different from that of the majority of the
modern Hindoos.

(132) Lynch is, as far as I can discover, the first author, who
has mentioned the Danes as the builders of the Round towers, and
this he gives as only a hearsay. He writes ; {Cambr, Evers. p, 133.)
" Exiguas tamen illas orbiculares arctasque turres Dani, Hiber-
niam Giraldo authore anno Dom. 838 primum ingrcssi, primi
er€xisse dicuntur, non ut" &c. as above Not. 127. Peter Walsh co-
pied Lynch, changing his dkuntur into most certain. This idea
was taken up by Molyneux, who has nothing but loose unhistorical


conjectLires on the subject, one of which is quite wrong. He says ;
" Had the old native Irish been the authors of this kind of archi-
tecture, they surely would have raised such towers as these in se-
veral parts of Scotland also, where they have been planted and
settled many ages past ; but there we hear of none of them,'' Now
the fact is, that there are two of them in Scotland, one at Aber-
nethy, and the other at Brechin, as Ledwich himself mentions,
(p, 294.) who has given a drawing of the latter together with that
of the church and the adjoining square belfrey. From this belfrey
annexed to the church of Brechin it is clear, that the Round tower
at the other side vvas not one. Ledwich has shamefully imposed
on his readers by representing (p. 288. seqq,) Giraldus Cambrensis
as having asserted, that the Round towers were built by the Danes.
Now Giraldus says no such thing, nor in the little that he has said
relatively to their mode of construction, which is all comprised in
the few words quoted above, ( Not. 128.) does he make any men-
tion of Danes or Ostmen, On the contrary he plainly hints, that
the architecture of them was purely Irish, more patriae. Besides,
from his having looked upon at least some of them as very ancient,
(see ib.) it is evident, that he could not have imagined, that they
were erected by the Danes, whereas he supposed that they ex-
jsted in Ireland before the arrival of that nation. Ledwich squeezed
his misrepresentation of Giraldus out of another of Lynch's mean-
ing in the above quoted words. Lynch says, that the Round
towers are reported to have been first erected by the Danes, whose
first arrival in Ireland was, according to Giraldus, in the year
838. The sense of this plain passage is twisted by Ledwich, as
if Lynch had stated that Giraldus said, that the Danes not only
first came to Ireland in 838, but that they were likewise the first
builders of the Round towers. Lynch could not have even thought
of attributing such an assertion to Giraldus, whereas his object
was to refute the supposition of Giraldus, that there were such
towers in Ireland at times much earlier than those of the Danes.
Lynch was arguing against what Giraldms has about Round
towers being seen in Lough Neagh, (see ib.) and strove to refute
him by showing, that there were not any such towers in Ireland at
the very ancient period alluded to by Giraldus, whereas, he says,
they are reported to owe their origin to the Danes, who, accord-
ing to Giraldus himself, did not come to Ireland until A, D. 838.


( By the bye Giraklus was wrong in his date ; for, as has been seen
elsewhere, there were Danes in Ireland several years earlier.) The
reader will now be able to form an opinion of Ledwich's logic and
critical rules, and to judge of his fidelity in referring to authorities.
I must here touch upon a pitiful argument adduced by Molyneux
in confirmation of his hypothesis. He supposed, that Cloghachdy
a word formed from Clocteach, and signifying Belfrey, was the
original name for a Round tower. In this he was mistaken ; and
even according to Lynch, whom he seems to have followed, that
coald not have been the original name ; for Lynch says, (see Not,
127) that they were not erected for the purpose of being used as
belfries. Molyneux then tells us, that Cloghachd was taken from
a foreign tongue, and derived from Clugga a German- Saxon word,
that signifies a bell ; and that therefore said towers were built by
foreigners, that is, by the Ostmen. Now he was quite m-ong as
to this derivation ; whereas Cloghachd was formed from the Irish
Cloc or Clog the very ancient name for a bell, and which was used
by the Irish long before the German-Saxons had churches or bells.
We find it latinized into Clocca, and it was used by Columbkilh
and generally by the ancient Irish writers, as signifying a bell*
(SeeiVo^ 186. to Chap. xi. and Colgan, Tr. Th. p. 374.) So
that, instead of giving Saxon etymology to Cloghachd, the Saxon
Clugga was most probably derived from the Cloc or Clog of the
Irish teachers of the Saxons.

(133) Ledwich seems to have been aware of this difficulty ; for
he says {p. 289.) that the Irish imitated the Ostmen in the con-
struction of these towers. To make us believe, that the Irish
imitated their bitterest enemies, would require more than his bare

(134) Lord Valentia's Voyages and Travels, Vol l.p.85,

§. XVII. The great similarity of these towers in
the interior of Hindostan to our Irish Round towers
has convinced ine, that, as my worthy and learned
friend General Vallauccy had long endeavoured to es-
tablish in various tracts of his, (1^5) that this mode of
architecture was introduced into Ireland in the times
of paganism by a people, who came to this country
from some far distant part of the East. The pat-


terns, from which the construction of our towers was
imitated, were most probably the fire-temples of the
Persians and others, who followed the Magian reli-
gion as reformed by Zerdusht, or, as he is usually
called, Zoroastres. (136) Those temples were usu-
ally round, and some of them were raised to a great
height. (137) That fire was in pagan times an ob-
ject of worship, or, at least, great veneration in Ire-
land, and particularly the sun, which was considered
the greatest of all fires, is an indubitable fact. (138)
Now the lower part of an Irish Round tower might
have answered very well for a temple, that is, a place
in which was an altar, on which the sacred fire was
preserved, while the middle floors could have served
as habitations for the persons employed in watching
it. (139) The highest part of the tower was an ob-
servatory intended for celestial observations, as, I
think, evidently appears from the four windows be-
ing placed directly opposite to the four cardinal
points. The veneration, in which the pagan Irish
held the heavenly bodies and, above all, the sun,
must have led them to apply to astronomical pur-
suits, which were requisite also for determining the
length of their years, the solstitial and equinoctial
times, and the precise periods of their annual fes-
tivals. (140) I find it stated, that the doors of most
of these towers face the West. (141) If this be
correct, it will add an argument to show, that they
contained fire-temples ; for the Magians always ad-
vanced from the West side to worship the fire. (14^)
According to this hypothesis the Round towers ex-
isted in Ireland before churches were built. I see
no reason to deny, that they did ; and the particular
style of their construction shows, that they are very
ancient. (143) But then, it is said, how does it
happen, that they are usually found near old churches?
In the first place this is not universally true. (144)
Secondly it is to be observed, that these towers used
to be built in towns or villages of some note, such.


in fact, as required churches in Christian times.
Thus, wherever there was a Round tower, a church
was afterwards erected ; but not vice versa, whereas
there were thousands of churches in Ireland without
any such tow^ers in the vicinity of them. (145)
Thirdly, there was a prudential motive for the
teachers of Christian faith to build churches near the
sites of the Round towers, that they might thereby
attract their new converts to worship the true God in
the very places, where they had been in the practice
of worshipping the sun and fire. (146) It may be,
that some of these towers were built after the estab-
lishment of Christianity in Ireland for penitential
purposes, as already alluded to, although I have some
doubts about it ; (147) but I think it can scarcely
be doubted, that the original models, according to
which they were constructed, belong to the times of
paganism, and that the singular style of architecture,
which we observe in them, was brought from the
East, between which and this country it is certain
that there was an intercourse at a very ancient pe-
riod of time.

(135) I need refer only to his Second Essay on the Round
Toxvers of Ireland in the Collectanea De Reb. Hib, Vol, 6, part i.

(136) This is not the place to enter into the question of the times
of Zoroastres, or as some would have it, of divers Zoroastrea- Bu
the one, who is called the reformer of the Magian religion, lived,
as far as I am able to judge, during the reign of Darius Hystas •
pides, king of Persia. Ledwich amidst his low and scurrilous ob-
servations fp. 298.) on Vallancey's system, strives to show by re-
ferring to Hyde (Relig, Vet. Pers.) that the Persians had no tem-
ples. He did not know how to distinguish the times. Let us
hear Prideaux, who also referring to Hyde writes ( Connection, Sfc»
Part 1. ck.4:); " Another reformation, which he (Zoroastres)
" made in the Magian religion, was, that he caused fire-temples
" to be built wherever he came. For whereas hitherto they had
" erected their altars, on which their sacred fire was kept, on the
" tops of hills, and high places in the open air, and there per-


" formed all the offices of their religious worship, where often by
" rain, tempests and storms, the sacred fire was extinguished, and
" the holy offices of their religion interrupted and disturbed, for
" the preventing of this he directed, that, wherever any of those
" altars were erected, temples should be built over them, that so
" the sacred fires might be the better preserved, and the public
" offices of their religion the better performed before them. For
*' all the parts of their public worship were performed before these
*' public sacred fires, as all their private devotions were before pri-
** vate fires in their own houses ; not that they worshipped the fire
" (for this they always disowned) but God in the fire." D'Her-
belot makes mention of these fire- temples or Pyreia CBiblioth.
Orient, at Aluand and Parsi) ; nor is there any one acquainted
with Oriental learning, who denies, that they existed. But what
did Ledwich care about learned men.

(137) Hanwaysays, (Travels, Part 2. ch, 43. ;;. 292.) that
there are at Sari in the province of Mazanderan four temples of the
Gebres or worshippers of fire, who formerly inhabited that country.
'* It seemed inconsistent" he adds, " that the Persians suffered
** these temples to remain unmolested after the abolition of a re-
** ligion, which they now esteem grossly idolatrous ; but they are
" made of the most durable materials. These edifices are rotund,
** and above 30 feet diameter, raised in height to a point near 120
** feet," It were to be wished, that he had been more particular
in his description of them, and that he had said something about
the entrance, and about the windows, &c. The elevation of these
towers supplies an answer to Dr. Milner's observation [Letter l^.)
on Vallancey's hypothesis of the Irish Round towers having been
Pyratheia or fire temples. He says, that for that purpose '* there
was no occasion of caiTying them up to so great a height ;" but we
have now seen, that the temples of Sari are also very high. Mau-
rice states in his Indian Antiquities, quoted by Vallancey, that
those fire temples were alvoays round. This much is certain, that
such was the shape of a great number of them.

(138) See Chap. v. §.5. and ib» Not. 4-3. There seem to
have been in Ireland, as there were in Persia two sects of fire-
worshippers, one, that lighted their fires in the open air and per-
formed their religious ceremonies on hills and high places, (Com-


pare with Not, 45. ib.) and the other, who having received the
refonnation of Zoroastres kept the sacred fire in temples.

(139) Prideaux, having spoken [loc cit.) of the sort of hierarchy
of the followers of Zoroastres, viz. the inferior clergy, as he calls
them, the superintendants, and the Archimagus or High priest,
says, that they had three sorts of temples. He then proceeds
in these words ; " The lowest sort were the parochial churche^
" or oratories, which were served by the inferior clergy — And the
*' duties, which they there performed, were to read the daily
" offices out of their liturgy, and at stated and solemn times to
*' read some part of their sacred writings to the people. In these
** churches there were no fire-altars ; but the sacred fire, before
*' which they here worshipped, was maintained only in a lamp.
" Next above these were their fire-temples, in which fire was con"
** tinually kept burning on a sacred altar. And these were — the
" churches or temples, where the superintendant resided. In
" every one of these w^ere also several of the inferior clergy enter-
" tained, who — ^performed all the divine offices under the super-
*' intendant, and also took care of the sacred fire, which they
" constantly watched day and night by four and four in their turns,
" that it might be always kept burning, and never go out.
" Thirdly, the highest church above all was the fire-temple, where
" the Archimagus resided," &c. From this statement it appears,
that the people at large had access only to what Prideaux calls
the lowest sort of churches, and that they were not admitted into
the fire-temples strictly understood. The same system is still kept
up by the Parsees ; for as Anquetil du Perron relates, {Zend,
AvesfOy Tom. 2. p. 569.) the part or chamber of a modem Par-
see temple, called Atesch^gah (place of fire), is not accessible to
any persons except the Mobeds and Herbeds^ i. e. their sorts of
clergymen, except on soiue particular occasions, as in case of such
clergymen not being present, when a privileged Parsee, who has

Online LibraryUnknownAn ecclesiastical history of Ireland, from the first introduction of Christianity among the Irish, to the beginning of the thirteenth century , Compiled from the works of the most esteemed authors ... who have written and published on matters connected with the Irish church; and from Irish annals an → online text (page 36 of 45)