Ireland has dozens of towers that date back to possibly as early as 4 A.D. These architectural gems have left many puzzled as to why they were built and who exactly used them.
It seems that many originally believed that they were refuges for monks who might need to flee in a moment of panic if they were targets of Vikings. You must remember that these times predated the entrance of Christianity to Ireland. The early centuries in the world were fraught with seizing, revolts and persecution of Christians in most areas. Perhaps, since most of those assailants lived elsewhere, the few Irishmen who embraced Christian ideals had less to fear. They also must have known this.
A prime reason many believed that these towers were useful for monks or religious characters was because nearly all of these towers were built next to a church. Therefore, many assumed that they were towers used for defense, hiding or escaping.
However, it seems that none of these hypotheses were correct. What most know is that the monks probably wouldn’t have stood a chance against a gigantic viking who could easily trap them in a cylinder-shaped tower.
It is also important to recognize that these towers were most likely the first structures built on the land and that the churches were then built later around them. The prime question remained which was; why were these towers built independently of anything else around them in the first place?
Many have speculated that it was most likely that these early monks or clerics believed that there was energy in the skies or heavens. They thought that by building these circular-framed towers it would give them a better glimpse of the heavens and even most importantly, that these towers would somehow become beacons of spiritual energy that could be contained and then utilized.
The craftsmanship was relatively the same in all of the towers borrowing a design invented by the Romans. The differences only resided in length and width, generally.
The entrances to the towers were usually rather small to accommodate those who might want to crawl inside. There were a few floors once indoors, usually on the lower levels of these towers and many had accessories like hidden ladders to help navigate.
In many accounts it has been said that St. Patrick visited several towers when he was traveling through Ireland. They remain mostly because their shapes enable them to withstand the strong, gale-force winds common in Ireland. Virtually close to thousands of years of history stand tall in the countrysides of Ireland today.
If this were not enough of a reason to visit, consider the legend of the healing cross at Glendalough. The tale states that when you hug the cross with your arms and make a wish for healing that the request will be rewarded in relation to the apostle’s level of love towards God. It sounds like good enough reason for visitors to give it one big squeeze!
For more information on the epic, round towers of Ireland please see: Irish Round Towers.