Dromiskin - Round Tower

The Irish Round Tower is one of the great generic icons of Irishness along with the harp, the wolfhound and the high cross. Yet along with the latter, it is one of those ancient monuments which until relatively recently was much mis-understood. When Thomas Wright recorded this tower in the 1740s he was convinced it was built by the Danes! Moreover, despite the fact that all Round Towers are found in old Christian graveyards, he and his contemporaries were entrenched in the idea that they were pagan in character. While Wright himself wisely refrained from much speculation regarding their function, others opined that they were 'fire towers' for pagan sacrifice or symbols of fertility. It was not until the 1840s that the case for Round Towers being the bell-towers of early monastic establishments became widely accepted.

Even today, the idea that they were primarily built as refuges for monks from Viking raids is still persistent. This arises from the regular placing of the doorways in round towers well above ground level: at Dromiskin, the sill of the doorway is an impressive 3.75 metres above the ground. In fact, the real reason for the placing of the doorways is probably related to the perceptions of the masons that ground-level doorways in such tall and narrow structures would likely result in unstable buildings. In this regard, one must remember that Round Towers were the sky-scrapers of the late 1st millennium AD, and were undoubtedly the talk of the day in a society where most buildings were single storey wooden constructions.

The main function of Round Towers is likely to have been as symbols of Godliness and power, as well as places for the safe-keeping of valuables. Though the example at Dromiskin stands only 15m in height, it is a fine example of a relatively rare monument type. For despite their ubiquity in the popular imagination, only some 6o round towers still stand out of an original total of circa 100 towers (for further details, see Barrow 1979).

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