'Rathmichael Church' : Round Tower

TownlandRathmichael
CountyDublin
Grid RefO 239 218
GPSO 23857 21844 (8m)
Longitude6° 8' 41.68" W
Latitude53° 13' 57.19" N
ITM east480366
ITM north584435
Nearest TownBray (3.8 Km)
OS Sheet50
UTM zone29U
UTM x449041
UTM y5761192

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Rathmichael - Bullaun Stone
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Visit Notes

Thursday, 15th November 2001

From the map I thought that this would not offer much. However when I reached here I was astounded. There is a stump of a round tower (now only 2m high) and the most incredible early Christian grave slabs I have seen to date. Most slabs from this period are simply pieces of stone with no markings.

The markings on the slabs are purely cup marks or spirals, one has a leaf pattern on it. They are definitely very early and show traces of Neolithic art forms. These blew my mind. It is amazing that these are still in situ and have not been carried away to some museum.

The whole complex sits in a huge henge or rath (hence the name) that was once the fort of a very powerful local chieftain.

Round Towers are found all over Ireland. They are very tall towers associated with early monastic settlements. Their purpose is one of much debate: were they bell towers, look-out towers or were they defensive structures, built to protect the sites relics and books during Viking raids? Maybe they were all three! The high-set doors certainly give the impression that some element of defense was considered in their construction.

Internally they had four or five floors, each accessed via a ladder from the floor below. Not every floor had a window, but the top floor usually had four windows which aligned to the cardinal points of the compass. The one at Kells (County Meath) unusually has five windows on the top floor which point at the five gates to the town.

Not many of the eighty plus examples left are full height these days. Many crumbled and were taken down for safety purposes. Some, however, are still very impressive inded with Kilmacduagh (County Galway) reaching an incredible 35m tall.

Originally all of them would have had a conical roof and those that still possess this feature give the impression of being ready to blast off into space.

Click Thumbnail to View Full Size Image

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Monday, 18th March 2002

Just stopped off for a re-visit while passing. I was hoping to get some better pictures of the burial slabs, but the light still wasn't right. I'm not sure what light would really be good to photograph these though.

Click Thumbnail to View Full Size Image

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Sunday, 7th November 2004

There is supposed to be a bullaun stone near to the church, but I can't find it. Any info about it would be greatly appreciated.

I do love this graveyard. There's something quite special about it that the round tower stump and beautiful grave slabs add to. Whilst looking for the bullaun I saw the fantastic view to the east that is obscured by the hedges along the lane. From the otherside of the hedge there is a great view to Dalkey Head, Killiney Hill, Dalkey Island and to Howth.

The original purpose of bullan stones is not really known, but they have an undisputable association with water and Brigid worship. A 'bullaun' is a deep hemispherical cup hollowed out of a rock. Bullaun Stone refers to the rock itself, which can have many bullauns in it, although many are single.

It is generally thought that they date from the Bronze Age, but I personally believe there is a much old provenance to them and that there is a relationship to prehistoric rock art, for a good example of this see Glassamucky Mountain (County Dublin).

Ritual use of some bullaun stones has continued well into the Christian period and many are found in association with early churches (The Deer Stone (Glendalough D) (County Wicklow) is just one of many at Glendalough (County Wicklow)) and holy wells. Their presence at so many early Christian sites, to me, places them as being of massive importance to the pre-Christian inhabitants of Ireland and something the church was very eager to assimilate.

The beautiful example at St Brigit's Stone (County Cavan) still has its 'cure' or 'curse' stones. These would be used to by a visitor turning them whilst praying for (or cursing) someboby.

Round Towers are found all over Ireland. They are very tall towers associated with early monastic settlements. Their purpose is one of much debate: were they bell towers, look-out towers or were they defensive structures, built to protect the sites relics and books during Viking raids? Maybe they were all three! The high-set doors certainly give the impression that some element of defense was considered in their construction.

Internally they had four or five floors, each accessed via a ladder from the floor below. Not every floor had a window, but the top floor usually had four windows which aligned to the cardinal points of the compass. The one at Kells (County Meath) unusually has five windows on the top floor which point at the five gates to the town.

Not many of the eighty plus examples left are full height these days. Many crumbled and were taken down for safety purposes. Some, however, are still very impressive inded with Kilmacduagh (County Galway) reaching an incredible 35m tall.

Originally all of them would have had a conical roof and those that still possess this feature give the impression of being ready to blast off into space.

Like this monument

Marked Sites

Directions

From Stepaside head south to Kiltiernan. Take the left turn after the StatOil garage (It may be best to zero your mileometer at this junction.) Continue for 1.9 miles until you pass a few cottages on the left. On the right there is a rough farmtrack with a Cul-de-Sac sign - blink and you'll miss it! Drive up this track to the white gates. Go through the white gates to reach the church - just keep walking up the lane until it appears on your right.

Random Gazetteer

A Selection of Other Round Towers

About Coordinates Displayed

This is an explanation of (and a bit of a disclaimer for) the coordinates I provide.

Where a GPS figure is given this is the master for all other coordinates. According to my Garmin these are quite accurate.

Where there is no GPS figure the 6 figure grid reference is master for the others. This may not be very accurate as it could have come from the OS maps and could have been read by eye. Consequently, all other cordinates are going to have inaccuracies.

The calculation of Longitude and Latitude uses an algorithm that is not 100% accurate. The long/lat figures are used as a basis for calculating the UTM & ITM coordinates. Consequently, UTM & ITM coordinates are slightly out.

UTM is a global coordinate system - Universal Transverse Mercator - that is at the core of the GPS system.

ITM is the new coordinate system - Irish Transverse Mercator - that is more accurate and more GPS friendly than the Irish Grid Reference system. This will be used on the next generation of Irish OS maps.

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