Irish round tower

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Irish round towers (Irish: Cloigtheach (singular), Cloigthithe (plural) – literally "bell house") are early medieval stone towers of a type found mainly in Ireland, with three in Scotland and one on the Isle of Man. Though there is no certain agreement as to their purpose, it is thought they were principally bell towers, places of refuge, or a combination of these.

Generally found in the vicinity of a church or monastery, the door of the tower faces the west doorway of the church. In this way it has been possible to determine without excavation the approximate site of lost churches, where the tower still exists.

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Construction and distribution

Surviving towers range in height from 18 metres (59 ft) to 40 metres (130 ft), and 12 metres (39 ft) to 18 metres (59 ft) in circumference; that at Kilmacduagh being the highest surviving in Ireland (and leaning 5.3 metres (17 ft) out of perpendicular).[1] The masonry differs according to date, the earliest examples being uncut rubble, while the later ones are of neatly joined stone work. The lower portion is solid masonry with a single door raised two to three metres above, often accessible only by a ladder. Within, in some, are two or more floors (or signs of where such floors existed), usually of wood, and it is thought that there were ladders in between. The windows, which are high up, are slits in the stone. The cap (roof), is of stone, usually conical in shape, although some of the towers are now crowned by a later circle of battlements.

The towers were probably built between the 9th and 12th centuries. In Ireland about 120 examples are thought once to have existed; most are in ruins, while eighteen to twenty are almost perfect. There are four examples outside Ireland. Two in north-eastern Scotland; the Brechin Round Tower and the Abernethy Round Tower.

Famous examples are to be found at Devenish Island, and Glendalough, while that at Clondalkin is the only Round Tower in Ireland to still retain its original cap. County Kildare has the most, with five towers, at Kildare Cathedral (which is 32 metres (105 ft) high), and also at Castledermot, Oughter Ard, Taghadoe (near Maynooth) and Old Kilcullen. The only known round tower with a hexagonal base is at Kinneigh in County Cork, built in 1014.

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