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them, universally, to the invaders recognised under the appellation of Danes.
The earthen-works of Ireland, falling under the customary term of Raths, are extremely various in form and size. Sometimes they rise singly, in districts possessing no contiguous vestige of antiquity. In many instances two are seen near to each other ; and often they are ranged in an extensive line, as if for the purpose of ready communication in times of need. Some raths consist of an elevation of moderate proportions, encompassed by a single agger and slight ditch. But often they rise to a considerable height; comprise not less than eighteen or twenty acres ; and are encircled by numerous ramparts, and ditches, or intrenchments. These more spacious raths, or fortresses, bear a strict similitude to Maiden Castle, near Dorchester, and other works in Britain, ascribed to the early Celtic or Belgic inhabitants, with all the strength of the best arguments that antiquarian research has hitherto been enabled to collect.* To the labours of people deriving their customs and habits from the same source we may securely attribute the greater number of the raths of Ireland, although it is highly probable that many were altered and occupied by the Danes as places of defence ; whilst some mounts, designed for military works, were perhaps entirely constructed by that people.t
Irish, to the villages in which they lived; to the seats of their Flaiths, or princes; and to a fortress, or place of security.” Caledonia, vol. i. p. 2728, Note.
* Notwithstanding all that has been conjectured and written on the subject, it is extremely difficult, if not quite impracticable, to discriminate between many works of the Celts and Belgæ. We are told by Dr. Ledwich, that woods and marshes served the Celts for camps and ditches, but “ that they learned from the Firbolgs (Belgæ), to take refuge on hills, as Cæsar says the Britons did.” Thus, in the opinion of Dr. Ledwich, both nations practised the same mode of fortification, but the Belgæ had the merit of setting the example.
+ Giraldus Cambrensis, in his Topographia Hiberniæ, affords one of the earliest historical notices respecting the earth-works of Ireland. According to Giraldus, these works were effected by Turgesius and his followers, who invaded Ireland in the early part of the ninth century. But this author, writing about 185, appears to have merely echoed vague VOL. I.
The raths of Ireland, like works of the same rude character in Britain, although usually approaching towards a circular form when entirely artificial and situated on a plain, assume an irregular figure when formed on a natural hill, varying then in outline according to the circumstances of the ground.
In consequence of the lengthened adherence of the Irish to antient laws, customs, and manners, these earthen elevations were used for the purpose of residence, long after such rude places of dwelling were exchanged by the inhabitants of Britain for regular castles of stone and walled towns. Hence we still find on many of the raths, traces of buildings, appearing to have constituted the residence of the Irish chieftain and his dependants. Such vestiges will form subjects of remark in the future description of several raths, or defensible places of retreat and abode. By the AngloNorman settlers the antient rath was often adopted as the site of a castle, or fortress.
Independent of earthen-works designed for defence or sepulchral purposes, there are numerous mounts in Ireland which are believed to have been used as places of conference and judicial decision. It has been conjectured, and with much appearance of probability, that the mounds intended for these purposes were chiefly such as are but slightly elevated, and are surrounded by a raised
agger of earth, and a shallow ditch ; the latter being on the inner side of the agger, or rampart.
That artificial mounts were used as places of popular assembly so recently as the sixteenth century, is proved by a passage in Spenser, which at once assists in explaining the history of this species of tumulus, and conveys a forcible idea of the ill-regulated state of society at the period in which it was written.*
traditions, collected from particular districts. It is well known that Turgesius did not conquer the whole of Ireland, and yet the earth-works usually denominated Raths are seen in nearly every part of the country.
* “ There is a great use amongst the Irish, to make great assemblies together upon a rath or hill, there to parlie (as they say) about matters and wrongs betweene township and township, or one privat person and another. But well I wot, and true it hath been oftentimes proved, that in their meetings many mischiefes have beenc both practised and wrought ;
ROUND, OR PILLAR TOWERS.-These structures assuredly constitute the most remarkable antiquities of Ireland, and are, indeed, objects of curiosity so striking and attractive, that they are uniformly mentioned as a national characteristic, in regard to vestiges of remote ages. The people by whom these towers were constructed, and the purpose for which they were designed, are equally annoticed in history. A theme of such potent incitement to antiquarian conjecture and discussion, has necessarily induced copious disquisitions amongst those modern writers who flourish in so advanced a stage of literature, that leisure is allowed for serious labours of retrospective inquiry on topics of much less importance in the annals of art and science.
We are desirous of affording the reader comprehensive intelligence on a subject of such acknowledged interest; and it appears that the most satisfactory method of conveying information will be that of stating, in these introductory pages, the prevailing characteristics of the round towers of Ireland, together with the opinions entertained by various authors concerning their date of erection and intended use. Occasional remarks are necessarily presented in the same part of our work ; but we reserve to pages descriptive of the most curious examples, such observations as may tend to confirm or to invalidate the theories of preceding writers.
The structures usually described under the appellation of Round or Pillar-Towers, are dispersed over every part of Ireland. Several have been taken down, or have sunk in dilapidation, produced or hastened by human agency, within the memory of man ; and it is, therefore, rational to conclude that the number was formerly very great. There are now remaining at least fifty-six.*
for to them doe commonly resort all the scumme of the people, where they may meete and conferre of what they list, which else they could not doe without suspition or knowledge of others. Besides, at these meetings I have knowne, divers times, that many Englishmen, and good Irish subjects, have bin villanously murdered by moving one quarrell or another against them. For the Irish never come to those raths but armed, whether on horse or on foot, which the English nothing suspecting, are then commonly taken at advantage, like sheep in the pin-folde.” View, &c. p. 126-127. * Such is the number stated by Dr. Beaufort, but these towers are, in
The existing examples have frequently suffered injury, but their altitude, in their present condition, may be stated as varying from twenty-five to 133 feet. The usual circumference, at five feet from the ground, is from forty to fifty feet; and in one instance fifty-six feet, decreasing pyramidally to the top. They frequently, but not uniformly, spring from a projecting plinth, and diminish gradually as they ascend. In some remaining towers the roof is of a conical form; and there is reason to believe that the roofing of the whole was originally of a similar shape. Battlements now crown the summit of several towers, but appear to have been added long after the erection of other parts of the structure. The architecture is extremely simple, but the mas
masonry is very good. The few openings which occur are, in general, either square or roundheaded, and are usually quite devoid of ornament. In some few instances, however, are seen carved mouldings and sculptural decorations. These exceptions to the general mode of building are very rare, and it may be doubted whether such ornamental particulars were not inserted at a period subsequent to the first erection.
The door, or place of entrance, is usually at a considerable, but indeterminate, distance from the ground, and commonly measures from five to six feet in height, by two feet in width. In some towers the sill of the entrance is not less than twentyfour feet from the surface, but the usual height from the ground is that of ten or twelve feet; and the door is generally placed towards the east. In some there is seen an entrance nearly nearly level with the ground; but we believe it will be invariably found, either that such an aperture has been formed since the original construction of the fabric, or that the soil has been factitiously raised in recent ages.
The interior is destitute of any stairway whatever, but has, in most instances, evidently been divided into several stories, varying
fact, more numerous. Several still remaining in the obscure parts of the country are entirely unnoticed by topographical writers. Among the finest examples may be noticed the towers of Ardmore ; Devenis ; Roscrea; Kildare ; Kilry; Kilkenny; Monasterboice ; Lusk; Castledermott; and Clonmacnois.
in number according to the height of the structure.* It appears that each of these stories, except the upper room, was lighted by one small and narrow window. The upper story had four apertures, or windows, corresponding with the cardinal points. The walls vary in thickness from three feet to four feet and a half.
Where these towers are seen, we generally find also a church. The buildings are seldom united, and the distance between them varies from upwards of 100 feet to that of five or six feet. In regard to the church, they frequently stand in a north-west position.
Giraldus Cambrensis, whose work was produced about the year 1185, is the earliest writer that notices these singular towers. He mentions them as “ Turres ecclesiasticas, quæ, more patrio, arctæ sunt et alte, necnon et rotundæ." Ecclesiastical towers, built in a manner peculiar to the country, narrow, high, and round. From such scanty terms of notice we acquire little other useful information, than that these towers were considered as sacred appendages to the ecclesiastical edifices of the twelfth century. All that follows, with the exception of some assertions in manuscripts of uncertain date, and, therefore, of dubious authority, is entirely the offspring of conjecture and hypothesis.
From the date of the twelfth century until the year 1662, these aspiring and insulated towers remained destitute of literary notice. John Lynch, writing at the latter period, observes that they were termed Clochtheach (the house of the bell); and, according to report,
• The following passage in Dr. Ledwich's “ Antiquities of Ireland" conveys some information, in regard to the principle on which these towers were constructed : A very ingenious friend remarks that almost all our Round Towers are divided into stories, of different heights : the floors supported in some by projecting stone, in others by joists, put in the wall at building; and in many they were placed upon rests. The last are from four to six inches, carried round, and taken off the thickness of the wall in the story above. And he very probably conjectures, these rests do not diminish the thickness of the wall as they ascend, because then it would not have been sufficiently strong to bear storms, or support the conical cap. They seem, therefore, to be swellings in the wall, which rather add to its thickness upwards, and this is confirmed by the Round Tower at Lusk, whose wall is three feet thick at top.” Antiqs. of Ireland, p. 168-9.