Slender, tapering, stone towers dot the Irish countryside from the northern county of Antrim to Ireland's most southern county of Cork.
The harp and the shamrock are obvious choices for the honorary title of "symbol of Ireland", but today I once again wish to elevate another emblem to this distinguished title - the magnificent Irish Round Tower.
After reading this blog post I hope you too will consider the round tower a true symbol of Ireland.
What Is A Round Tower?
Irish round towers stand majestically all over Ireland. They are early medieval, stone towers with a small door or opening, usually positioned high above the ground. Access was by ladder.
The are mainly found in Ireland. However there are two located in Scotland, and one on the Isle of Man. Their construction was probably influenced by missionary monks from ireland.
Their name in the Irish language, is Cloigtheach (pronounced klig-hock). This literally means bell house. These were mighty tall houses for bells. Their Irish name indicates their original purpose, but as we'll learn in this post, they served other important purposes also.
Why I Love Round Towers:
For me, round towers are symbols of endurance, pointing towards heaven as testament to our resilience as a people.
These towers have stood for many hundreds of years. A few are over a thousand years old.
Imagine that! One thousand years standing unchanged, without succumbing to the forces of nature or man.
I can thankfully say I have never seen a round tower defaced by graffiti. Perhaps there is a spiritual aura around these ancient buildings deterring would-be artists from defacing these magnificent structures.
And boy am I glad Ireland's round towers have stood the test of time, surviving for us to appreciate to this very day.
How Many Round Towers Have Survived?
There are 65 towers around Ireland in various degrees of survival, 13 of which are still standing intact with conical roof tops in place.
Some are merely stone stumps, reminders of their previous glory. Towers are known to have stood on twenty-five other sites.
The survival of so many Irish round towers for over one thousand years is without doubt related to the diligent stone workers who first created them.
Ireland's round towers stand as a tribute to the monks who built them.
Why Were Round Towers Built?
When I was a school girl in Dublin I listened to stories of marauding Vikings harassing and terrorizing holy Irish monks.
In our stories these ever-so holy Irishmen used their cunning to evade these Nordic trouble makers by stealing away to the safety of their stone towers.
I felt such pride on hearing how monks carefully climbed a precarious rope ladder to the tower door high above the ground, clambering to stow their treasures within the tower, and evade these terrifying invaders.
Retrieving their ladders and closing the high door, the monks simply waited for the Vikings to lose patience and return to their boats. I believed every word of these enthralling tales.
You can imagine my disappointment when I discovered historians today are questioning this age-old tale of stowaway monks to explain the purpose of these towers, and their high, inaccessible doors.
But if the towers were not holy hiding spots, then the obvious question is why on earth were the doors usually built at least 10 feet above ground level???
Apparently the answer lies in the engineering or architectural structure of the tower. By placing the door so high above ground level the need to dig a deep foundation was eliminated. The centuries have only proved these towers were soundly designed.
Another feature of note is that the door of every round tower always pointed to the most prominent or important building in every monastic complex.
Electromagnetic Energy Transmitters:
As I researched this post on the internet I came across a very interesting article on the Sacred Sites website.
Apparently an American scientist, Philip Callahan proposes these towers were built to store and transmit electromagnetic energy from the earth and skies.
Callahan believes these tall stone structures were like man-made antennae. The monks built them to absorb subtle magnetic radiation from the sun which assisted them while meditating in the tower.
In addition Callahan explores the location of these towers throughout the Irish countryside and even believes their geographical arrangement is far from random.
Their locations actually mirror the positions of the stars in the northern sky during the winter solstice.
Archaeological excavations have revealed some towers were constructed on ancient sites which were considered sacred places long before the arrival of Christianity to Ireland.
Wow! This research just tore to shreds my childhood belief in marauding Vikings and cunning, hiding monks.
But at least we can accept these round towers were truly bell towers and were probably used as lookouts for approaching raiders, even the non-Viking kind.
Their Irish name is cloigtheach which literally means bell house.
And less face it, the Vikings no doubt would have been experts at burning tower doors to smoke the monks out of hiding.
But whatever the true purpose of these towers may have been, there is one unquestionable fact. All of these towers were in magnificent settings, surrounded by the beauty of Ireland.
Some are now even part of Dublin's suburbs. Even in the city, our links to our ancient past endure.
Slán agus beannacht!
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom
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