Kilkenny Round Tower
At a Glance
County Kilkenny
OS Map 67
OS Coordinate S 503 564
Condition complete w/ battlements
Height 30m
Doorway Type Arched
Window Type 10 lintelled
Number of Windows 10, 6 are bell story windows
Ground to Doorway 3m
Distinguishing Features Climbable in season
Traditional Association St. Canice
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Kilkenny Round Tower Co. Kilkenny


Kilkenny Round Tower
County Kilkenny
O.S. Map 67

Kilkenny (Cill Chainnigh, or Canice's Church) territory of the Osraige (Irish for "Deer People"), later anglicised as Ossory.

Location: Kilkenny is located at the crossroads of N 76 and N 77, approx. 48 km north of Waterford and 51 km south of PortLaoise. At the lower end of the town of Kilkenny, just off R 693 (St. Canice's Place) on one of the highest points, stands St. Canice's Cathedral. The round tower proudly overlooks the town just meters from the south transept of the cathderal. The roads are very narrow and negotiating them to find the tower can be very frustrating, but is worth the endeavor.

Map of Kilkenny town

Dimensions: There is no visible offset above ground level at this time, though Barrow reports one just below the ground level. An excavation during 1846-47 found that the foundations extend less than three feet down. The circumference is just over 14 meters, giving an external diameter of approx. 4.5 meters. The towers stands just over 30 meters to the top of the battlements. The parapet projects approx. 8 cm. at a string course above the main drum. The SSE facing arched doorway is devoid of decoration and approx. 2.7 meters above ground level. The windows, all lintelled and in ascending order, face NW, NE, just to the E of S and just to the S of W. The top storey just below the parapet has six evenly spaced windows, unique, except for the round tower at Kilmacduagh.

Features: Though it is unclear as to when the Kilkenny tower was built, figures range from a completion date of around A.D. 700 to 1100. During the 19th century excavation, a number of skeletons were found, some completely within the base of the tower and some partially under the foundation walls, evidence that the tower was built within an existing cemetery, probably Christian, as the skeletons were found facing the traditional E-W orientation. Evidence of a severe fire at this time suggests that the tower may have existed when buildings in Kilkenny were burnt, though before the Norman invasion. It has been suggested, from holes and corbels in the interior, that the tower was constructed from the inside. No evidence has been found to date the battlements and no record of when or if the traditional conical roof was removed.

Comments: Though ordinarily this tower can be climbed for a small fee, during October of 2004 the ancient heating system was being replaced and the tower and cathedral were both closed for safety reasons. Though disappointing, I am consoled when I remember just how shallow the foundations of this very tall tower are, and that it has a bit of a lean toward the cathedral.

History: The round tower is the oldest surviving structure in the town of Kilkenny, despite the uncertainty of it's time of construction. Composition is of local limestone. The 13th century cathedral of St Canice is the second longest cathedral in Ireland . The site on which the cathedral stands has been a site of Christian worship since the 6th century, traditionally founded by St. Canice. Built to replace a succession of earlier churches, the architectural style of the cathedral is Early Gothic and it is also built of local limestone. The early Gothic cathedral was built between 1202 and 1285.

Other Items of Interest: The cathedral contains some of the finest 16th century monuments in Ireland. In addition to varied memorial plaques, there are a number of altar tombs with effigial carvings. The baptismal font is original and the ancient stone of enthronement for bishops still exists under the seat of the medieval throne in the North Transept. The carvings on the choir stalls are noteworthy as is the hammerbeam roof .

  © 2004-2005 F.J. & K.D. Schorr - All rights reserved.