Of the many Round Towers found in Ireland, Mayo is lucky to be home to five of these truly unique structures. These magnificent relics of medieval Christian Ireland are believed to have been build between 8th and 12th centuries.
The purpose of these towers is still under debate, but many believe that they were bell towers, others say they were used as defensive structures against the Vikings, others still as places to safely store religious relics.
Regardless of their designated purpose, they are imposing and visually impressive structures, and their hazy history only adds to their mystique.
Although some of these round towers are south of north Mayo, a perfect one day family road-trip would be visiting all of these sites in one go for a day full of Irish architecture, history and the odd pit stop for ice-cream!
1. Killala Round Tower
Killala Round Tower is thought to have been built in the 12th Century. The tower stands 52 metres (170 feet) high. The original monastic foundation here possibly dates back to the 5th Century, when Saint Patrick appointed Muiredach as first Bishop of Killala. That makes Killala very old indeed!
The tower is composed of limestone, many of the stones being quite large. About halfway up the drum of the tower, is a noticeable bulge in the stonework. Reports in 1779 mention a damaged roof and damage midway up the tower from lightning. The OPW did some repair work in 1841. Though reports are not specific, the cap and wall were repaired at this time.
The picturesque village of Killala is located 12.6 km north of Ballina on the R314 road. Map link
2. Meelick Round Tower
Meelick Round Tower, near Swinford is 17.10 metres (56 feet) tall. The tower lacks its cap and traditional bell-storey, it is level at the top. This may be due to the very even courses of light sandstone that comprise the tower. The doorway arch and jamb-stones are carefully crafted and the sill stone is exceptionally wide, extending to the left more than a meter past the doorcase.
It is also reported to have a vault in the second story supported on corbels with a ladder hole. The doorway has a modern metal gate inserted which is usually open.
Nothing is known of the early monastery here as the round tower is the only surviving structure. As with other towers, the OPW did some work repointing in 1880-81, but details are not recorded.
Meelick is located 7.1 km SE of swinford on the R320 road. Map link
3. Turlough Round Tower
Turlough Round Tower is 22.86 metres high (75 feet), one of the smaller round towers, and is an early monastic site, possibly founded in AD 441 by Saint Patrick.. The tower stands adjacent to a cruciform church, and like many others is surrounded by a graveyard.
Below the blocked original doorway at ground level is what appears to be a later doorway. As the tower stands almost touching the side of an 18th Century Church of Ireland ruin, it is possible that this opening was used to gain access to the interior of the tower. Perhaps the church used the tower to house their own bells. This second doorway has also been repaired and a headstone lies immediately in front of it.
Not much is known about the monastic site at Turlough.The first reference to the Round Tower is in a drawing dated 1792 showing the cap in a ruinous state at that time. It was repaired in 1880 by the OPW. The cap lacks the traditional pointed capstone, giving it a rather rounded appearance and adding to the illusion of squatness.
Turlough Round Tower is located 8.7 km NE of Castlebar on the N5 road. Map link
4. Balla Round Tower
Balla Round Tower was built on the site of a monastic settlement built by Mo Chua, the founder of Balla. The tower itself is believed to date from the 12th century and was used as a bell-tower in the 19th Century. Balla Round Tower IS 10 metres (33 feet) high and was built with red and brown coursed sandstone, and only the lower three stories survive.
There are two doorways one in the east 6.5 metres (21 feet) up, and an arched north-facing lower down doorway probably a later insertion. There is only one window, in the south of the tower. The lintel of the east door reused an old cross slab, and two bullaun stones are built into the base.
Through the gate from the churchyard can be seen an old ruin. In this ruin is a complex of what appears to be a tiny old church along with two holy wells – one dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. Like the churchyard enclosing the round tower, it appears to be in a state of early preservation or early neglect. Hard to say, as it did not appear to have any very recent restoration work going on.
Balla Round Tower is located 13.7 km SE of Castlebar on the N60 road. Map link
5. Aghagower Round Tower
Aghagower Round Tower is 16 metres (52 feet) high. Like in most round towers, the original doorway faces east, just over 2 metres from the external ground level. Its shattered stones show signs of heavy fire damage, though whether by accident or vandalism is impossible to know.
It has an arched three-stone top, three stones in each jamb (all stones carry through the width of the wall). The later doorway at ground level faces northwest, is square-headed and roughly made. There are three windows, the lowest of which is blocked up. The other two windows are lintelled. The tower is open to the sky, having no roof.
Traditionally founded by St. Senach who was created Bishop of Aghagower by St. Patrick, but there is little information about it. In letters of 1838, local lore has it, the top was blasted by lightning to the hill of Tevenish, half a mile to the south. It had been in a single piece there up until a few years previous to 1838 when the stones were all burnt for limestone with the exception if the capstone which is preserved in the churchyard.
Aghagower Round Tower is located 7.3 km SE of Westport on the R330 road. Map link
We hope you enjoy exploring our round towers here in Co. Mayo!