Rewind - The Round Tower Clondalkin

By Sean Heffernan 

For this week’s Rewind, we start where we left off last week, once again discussing Round Towers; moving from Glendalough to the towering presence of the structure built by Saint Crónán-Mochua in Clondalkin.

If you have ever travelled on a 76 bus to Liffey Valley Shopping Centre, you would easily spot it on the left hand side near The Mill Shopping Centre.

Round Tower Visitors Centre Clondalkin credit Ben Ryan Photography

(Pic: Ben Ryan) 

It is reputed to be over 1,000 years old, is 27.5 metres in height and four metres in diameter at the bottom.

The four windows at the top each face the four compass points of North, South, East and West and it also had internal ladders that the monks would climb up - and had six floors, five of which remain.

Also at the base is a buttress, which was used to give added support to the structure, which is not normally found in round towers.

There are steps inside the tower which are believed to have been a 19th-century addition, and a handrail, which may have been added later.

The famed Viking King of Dublin, known as ‘Olaf the White’ is reputed to have built a fort in Clondalkin around the year 852 AD.

REWIND Round Tower

Irish born of Danish parents, he was feared across Ireland due to the brutality of his raids, and in one such siege of Armagh, he and his forces are said to have burnt the town to the ground and kidnapped 1000 inhabitants and forced them into slavery.

He was the brother of infamous ‘Ivarr the Boneless’ who is notoriously known across the water as the man who ransacked York.

He married the daughter of ‘Ketil Flatnose’ the king of the Hebrides, and Olaf’s armies were part of various raids in Scotland, including the well documented raid on Dumbarton.

Indeed his son ‘Thorstein the Red’ tried to conquer all of Scotland, this and other actions led to their falling out with the Ketil clan, and Thorstein and his Mother were banished from Dublin by the King, and sent back to the Hebrides.

In 867 a force led by Cennétig mac Gaíthéne, king of Loígis, (An area the bulk of which now encompasses the county of Laois) burned the fort to the ground and slaughtered all the inhabitants.

Olaf died in battle somewhere in Britain, and the Danes continued to rule Dublin with an iron fist, until 1016, when Brian Ború famously defeated them at the battle of Clontarf.

In homage to the ecclesiastical structure and the saint associated with it, the local GAA team is named Round Towers, and the Central Remedial Clinic school on the Old Nangor Road is called “Scoil Mochua”.

There are three other round towers in Dublin, in Swords near the main street, Lusk in the North of the county, and the base stump is all that remains of another one in Rathmichael, near Shankill, but none are as impressive, or well known as their compatriot in Dublin 22.

Nationally there are over 50 still fully standing, or part remaining with Cork, Kildare and Mayo top of the table with five each in their respective counties.

Kilmacduagh in County Galway claims the prize of the tallest of them all at 34.5 metres tall.

There are historians who claim the idea for the round towers came from monks visiting the Ravenna area of Italy and taking inspiration from what they saw in the province to the north-west of Florence.

They contained a bell at the top, and a slowly rung bell was the call to prayer, whereas a rapid ringing was a warning that they were about to be attacked

Viking attacks were the principal scourge that initially only occurred on the east coast, but then later on the south coast and further inland, including the settlement of Saint Maelruain in Tallaght (now the Church of Ireland across the road from IT Tallaght).

Monks were seen as very important highly regarded individuals, and it was very much a badge of honour for a king to have an ecclesiastical settlement in his kingdom.

In most cases the towers were built in areas that had a lot of sandstone or other types of stone in abundance and a favourable ruler who allowed the locals free use of the building blocks to construct the long narrow centrepiece of their monastery.

Visitor Centre 

Back to our local version in Clondalkin – did you know it now has an excellent visitor centre located beside it?

It is a great place to take children with lots of easy to understand information on the walls relating to the tower itself and the rapidly expanding area it is located in.

There are also interactive events taking place at certain times, and a café with a courtyard out back that is a joy to sit out in when the sun shines.

Fancy taking a trip? Viist the Round Tower visitor centre website for details.

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