Rattoo Round Tower Co. Kerry
Main text below
Rattoo Round Tower
O.S. Map 63
Location: From Tralee, take R556 north approximately 16 km. About one km past
the junction with R551 (joins R556 from the left), turn at the third small road to the right
(one of these roads is barely a farm track). This narrow road dead ends at the Rattoo complex.
If entering the village of Ballyduff, turn around and follow R556 south to the first road
on the left. The road should be sign posted for Rattoo Round Tower.
Dimensions: The base of the tower has an offset about 5 cm wide and approx.
12 to 20cm above a second offset of less regular stone at least 10 to 12 cm wide, varying
heights at ground level and in some places disappearing under the ground level.
Circumference above the top offset is 14.5 m, giving it a diameter of 4.6 meters.
Overall tower height is just over 27 meters. The arched and lovely moulded doorway is 2.83 meters
above ground level and faces to the S.E. There is a single window in the drum of the
tower, in what would most likely have been the fourth storey - directly above the doorway.
This window's angle head is carved from a single stone, unlike the usual two stones abutting
to form the angle. The four large bell-storey windows are all angle-headed and roughly
face the cardinal compass points.
Features: This beautifully proportioned round tower features doorway moulding
unlike any other. A curvilinear design runs along the top of the arch,
resting on the wide raised moulding of the arch itself and terminating in scrolls to either
side. At the apex of the arch, above the first design, is a smaller abbreviated
curved design that stretches most of the width of the keystone. All of the carving,
including the doorway moulding stand proud of the face of the tower by a centimeter or two.
The tower drum is composed of a variety of large purple, brown, gray and red sandstone
blocks, regularly spaced with smaller stones at intervals. There is evidence of several
lightning strikes. In 1880-81,the OPW reset part of the conical cap.
Photographs show the top two thirds of the cap are of an obviously different construction
from the bottom five courses closest to the cornice. During this same restoration work,
the OPW discovered a sheela-na-gig (a female exhibitionist figure of sorts) carved on the
top left-hand corner of the frame of the north window, facing the
interior. A plaster cast
made at the time of discovery is now in the National Museum.
Comments: The tower lies immediately behind a high wall that encloses the church
ruins and graveyard. At least two of the bell-storey windows have partial bead moulding
along the angled sections. The carved feature along the shoulder of the arch in the doorway
reminds me a bit of a handlebar moustache. The angles on the windows echo the shape
of the tower itself.
History: The monastery historically dates from the 6th century and founded by Bishop
Lughach, though the present church ruin is certainly of later date. In the mid 19th
century, the tower sat on a raised earth causeway in what was then a swamp. The swamp
was drained and the causeway removed in the late 1800s so that the fields which surround
it could be planted with crops. These field remain under cultivation today.
Other Items of Interest: Whether the church ruin on this site was oddly built to
begin with or oddly restored, I couldn't say. A stone
set just inside the arched doorway
has a date of 1667 inscribed on it, along with other marks I couldn't interpret. There
is beautiful double ogee-headed window that frames the tower nicely from the right angle.
Much of the ruin seems to be a mismatch of old and new, but then the graveyard is a wide
mixture of vaults and headstones and simple boulder stones. Another church ruin lies some
distance to the southeast which we did not investigate on this visit.