The typical round tower is a free standing cylindrically shaped building, usually in close proximity to a church and located most likely to its NW or SW side. Distribution fairly evenly covers most of Ireland and even some off shore islands, but two areas, south Munster and the north midlands, have relatively few. County Cork has only 2 extant examples but possibly had up to 6 in the past. In total there are c.64 surviving in Ireland. Round Tower windows always ascend clockwise, right to left, and very often four windows mark the upper storey. The latest treatise on Round Towers, Ireland’s Round Towers, 2004, by Tadhg O’Keeffe, classifies them using doorways and says doorways give the best indication of tower chronology, though dating them is difficult. In historical sources their destruction was more often recorded than their construction. The first historical reference to a Round Tower, Slane, Co. Meath, was in 950AD.
Described as a ‘curious tower’ by O’Keeffe, Kinneigh uniquely has a hexagonal base measuring 18 ft high (fig.2). The drum measures 67ft 3in high and has a ‘marked batter’. In the mid 1800’s the upper section was added to allow a bell be inserted. It is built of slate laid in reasonably horizontal courses. The stone is ‘well squared, especially at the quoins of the base’. All the surviving windows and door are lintelled giving it a plain appearance. The doorway is in the NE face of the base at first floor level, which originally had a flagstone floor. Kinneigh Tower is one of eight Round Towers in Ireland that have all lintelled openings. Kinneigh is incomplete so the possibility exists that the upper storey windows were more elaborate. These 8 Towers have a wide distribution across Ireland and stylistically are very simple, and therefore difficult to date. Based on this ‘simple’ appearance an earlier date for Kinneigh’s construction is suggested by O’Keeffe, possibly the tenth or early eleventh century (c.900-c.1050AD). This suggests that the tower could be broadly contemporary with Cahirvagliar ringfort which was dated ‘within a century or two of the year 1000AD’ (c.800-c.1000AD), which brings us to the function of Round Towers.
Any discussion of function must take into account the annalistic references to Round Towers. They are frequently referred to as cloicteach – bell houses. Death and fatality within towers is another theme, particularly the death of royal or high status persons.
The actual morphology of Round Towers must also tell us something of their function being as they were singularly unique buildings in their time requiring deep resources, both in terms of money or patronage and craftsmanship. Their use as depositories for relics and/or treasures is another possible function. Looking at Kinneigh and attempting to tease out its origins and function we must surely take the proximity, both temporally and spatially, of Cahirvagliar bivallate ringfort into consideration. Here we have two high status sites built within possibly 100 years of each other. The distinct possibility exists that Kinneigh was patronised by the household that occupied Cahirvagliar, a household that appears to have had ample resources.
For information on the ongoing Kinneigh Graveyard Survey, click here