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works to foreigners, namely, the supposed rudeness of the Irish, is evidently ill founded. For can we suppose that the tutors of the English, French, and Germans, in the learned languages, the sciences, and music, as the Irish are known to have been during four centuries, were incapable of learning how to build plain round towers of stone, when they saw their scholars all around them erecting stately churches and monasteries of stone; most of which we are assured were ornamented with towers.
Some persons have conceived the Round Towers of Ireland to have been built as places of security. I grant that a single person might defend himself in one of these cæteris paribus against a single enemy; but the man who had the means of erecting a tower of this nature would want space for many other defenders, and for many persons to be defended besides himself. Other conjecturers have supposed they were intended for pharos, or beacons.But not to mention that they are frequently placed in low situations, and that two or three of them are sometimes found to stand near together; the apertures at the top of them are not large enough to transmit any considerable body of light; being very different, in this respect, from our modern light houses.A third opinion, which is that of the learned Vallancey and others, is, that they were made by the Phoenicians or Carthaginians, in their commercial visits to Ireland, as Pyratheia, or fire-altars.But to answer this pur
pose there was no occasion of carrying them up to so great a height; and they ought rather to have been left open at the top, like our great furnaces, than closed up as they are found to be.
-A fourth system is, that they were built for watch-houses, in which guards were stationed to give notice, by trumpets, or other means, of the approach of enemies or thieves; and certainly if these towers had been placed near the castles which were built in the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries throughout Ireland, there would not want tolerable good authority to support this system in a passage of a well-informed author of the 16th century which has generally been overlooked *.
But as they are universally found near churches or chapels, or at least near the site of ancient churches or chapels, and as they are not always even in elevated situations, I cannot admit them to have been watch-towers.-A fifth hypothesis is, that of Molyneaux and Dr. Ledwich †, who maintains that they were built for belfries to the churches near which they are
* Stanyhurst describing the manners of the Irish says: primis autem castellano præsidio se tuentur, ne, illis quiescen"tibus, nocturna vis inferatur. Quare, ut tale quiddam incom. " modi de nocte non accidat, habent in castelli vertice, tanquam in specula, excubias, quæ sæpissime vociferant, et in frequenti"bus clamoribus majorem partem noctis vigilant. Atque has " vociferationes idcirco iterant ut nocturnis furibus et viatoribus "significent patrem familias non ita graviter dormitare quin promp "tus sit hostes a suis laribus viriliter ejicere.”-De Rebus in Hib. Gestis, p. 33.
See his Dissertation in Collectanea, vol. ii. also his chapter on Round Towers, in his Antiquities, p. 155, &c.
placed. In opposition to this assertion I have to observe, that none of these towers is large enough for a single bell of a moderate size to swing round in it; that from the whole of their form and dimensions, and from the smallness of the apertures in them, they are rather calculated 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 accidentally 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. In the mean time, we can derive no information from the earliest writer who takes notice of the towers, except that they were common throughout Ireland, that they were of great antiquity in the 12th century, and that they were considered to be built for some religious purpose t.
* Dr. Ledwich tells us, from Mr. Smith, that the Round Tower at Ardmore has been, at some period, used to hang a bell in, as appears by three “ pieces of oak still remaining near the top of it,"
and by two channels which are cut in the sill of the door where "the rope went out, the ringer standing below the door on the "outside," Antiq. p. 163. But if these pieces of oak were coeval with the tower, it is unaccountable that they should have remained entire while the beams in every other tower have mouldered away. Again, what reason can Dr. Ledwich assign why there are not holes in the sills of every other tower.-In a word, the ancient architects were too wise to place the bell under cover and the ringer in the open air.
+ Giraldus giving a fabulous account of the origin of the lake called Lough-Neagh, which, he says, was caused by the overflowing of a fountain, that on a sudden deluged a large tract of land
The idea, Sir, which first struck me, upon attentively surveying these towers, was the same which I have since learnt was adopted by Dean Richardson and the learned Harris, namely, that they were built as habitations for a certain set of anchorites, called Inclusi, or Cellani. We otherwise know that such recluses were often found close to the churches of Ireland in ancient times. An early model of anchorites was St. John the Baptist, who passed his life in the deserts of Judea, clothed with a hair-cloth, and living upon locusts and wild honey*. Afterwards, we find a Paul the Hermit, an Antony, an Hilarion, and a crowd of other solitaries, who filled the deserts of Egypt and Syria. The greater part of these lived in monasteries, but several of them resided by themselves in caves, or upon the tops of mountains, or in other situations almost inaccessible. At length, in the fourth century, one of them, St. Simon, a Syrian, to prevent the interruption of visitants, and to lead a more mortified life, caused a pillar to be erected 40 cubits high, and three feet in diameter, at the top of
and destroyed a wicked race of people, adds that, in calm weather, the fishermen of the lake are accustomed to point out "the tall narrow "ecclesiastical round towers, peculiar to Ireland, under the water; "Piscatores aquæ illius turres ecclesiasticas, quæ, more patriæ, "arctæ sunt et altæ, nec non et rotundæ, sub undis mánifeste, sereno tempore conspiciunt et extraneis transeuntibus, reique "causas admirantibus frequenter ostendunt." Topograph. Hib. Dist. ii. c. 9.
* Mark i. 4. Luke i. 8.
which he passed the last 20 years of his life *. His example was followed by others, and an order called Stylites, from their living upon pillars, subsisted in the East till it was desolated by the Saracens. An attempt was made to lead the same kind of life in the West by one Vulfilaic, a native of Lombardy, who undertook to live upon a column, near Triers, in Germany. But the German bishops judging this practice to be too singular in itself, and too rigorous for these climates, put a stop to it, and obliged the new Stylite to descend from his column t. It is well known that the number of the recluses, together with their austerity and abstraction from the things of this world, was in no part of the western church so great as in Ireland, during the first four centuries after its conversion t. This being so, what wonder that those amongst them who resided near the churches, for the sake of approaching to the sacraments, should wish to raise their cells into the air, to be thus more retired from the crowds which frequented the churches, and also to imitate, as closely as this northern climate would
Amongst other vouchers for this extraordinary fact is the famous church historian Theodoret, who professes to have been perfectedly well acquainted with the saint.-The Stylite, as he was called, was, from time to time, furnished with a small quantity of food from below, and he reposed against certain rails which surrounded the top of the pillar when he slept.
+ Greg. Turon. Hist. l. viji. c. 15.
Harris has furnished us with a long list of Irish anchorets pr Inclusi, though it is evident he could not get to a knowledge of one thousandth part of their number.