Church and Round Tower, Clonmacnoise

Artist(s) : Andrew Nicholl (Draughtsman), J.A. Wheeler (Engraver)

View of twelfth-century Temple Finghin and adjoining round tower at Clonmacnoise, showing Romanesque detail on the church doorway and the tower's conical cap. One of the tower's windows is seen on its right-hand side. There is a wall adjacent to the buildings and the River Shannon flows in the background.

Inscribed in Image

  • Signature – A. Nicholl. A.R.H.A. Del. / I.A. Wheeler Sc
  • Caption outside of boundaries of image – Church and Round Tower, Clonmacnoise.

Image Details

Genre Landscape
Technique Wood engravings
Subject(s) Antiquities and archaeological sites, Architecture
Geographical Location
  • Temple Finghin - Named locality
  • Clonmacnoise - Named locality
  • Offaly - County
  • Leinster - Province
Keywords(s) Churches, Doors & Doorways, Rivers, Round towers, Ruins, Windows
Colour Monochrome
Dimensions 7.1 cm x 8.2 cm
Published / created 1839

Bibliographical Details

Travel Account A tour in Connaught
Print or manuscript Print
Location of image in copy opp. title page
Source copy National Library of Ireland J 91412
Alternative source

This is a link to a digital copy hosted by an external website.
Rights Courtesy of the National Library of Ireland

Related text from travel account

From thence we proceeded, the old man following us to the church and round tower which stands in the north-western extremity of the cemetery, and which is usually called McCarthy's church and tower. The round tower, though small, is one of the most perfect [p. 86] in Ireland: it is conically capped, and the ranges of stone, forming the cover, are of the most beautiful and singular arrangement. The tower stands on the south side of the chancel of the church; and the doorway of the tower, instead of being elevated ten or fifteen feet from the ground, is on a level with the floor of the chancel from which it leads ; it is within a few feet of the altar; moreover, the archway leading from the nave of the church into the chancel, which is of the most finished and at the same time chaste order of Gothic construction, is wrought into the body of the round tower part of whose rotundity is sacrificed to give room and form to the display of its light and elegant span; now these two circumstances convince me that, in the first place, the church and tower were built at the same time; moreover, that as the church was placed more remote than other churches, and nearer invaders coming across the Shannon, the tower was provided as a look-out station and place of ready retreat for the priests to retire to with their sacred vessels and books.

M'Carthy's church, in the north-west corner of the cemetery, was built by the M'Carthy More of Munster, the greatest sept in Cork he who held under his sway the O'Learys, and the O'Sullivans, and the O'Donohus, and I don't know how many more Milesian O's and Macs. It is a curious and peculiarly interesting ruin, because, as I said before, there is here evident proof that the round tower and church were built at the same time; for, besides that they both [p. 87] are formed of the same kind of stone, and are constructed with the same range and character of masonry, there is part of the rotundity of the tower sacrificed, to give play to the full span of the chancel-arch, and exhibit one of the most chaste specimens in the world of what is called the Saxon arch. This tower is not large or lofty; it measures but seven feet in diameter within, and is but fifty-five feet high; it has a conical cap, which is essential, according to antiquarians, to make a round tower perfect; and a freemason, suppose he was master of his craft, would say "well done," to the artist who constructed the beautiful courses of cut stone by which the conical cap was brought to a point. As I have already said, the door of the tower is level with the ground; and I think I could discern the marks of stairs that rose spirally to the top; unlike all other round towers which, though there are marks of floors, story over story, in no other instance present marks of spiral stairs. On the right side of the altar, connected with the tower, there is, as usual, a niche in the wall, forming a receptacle for holy water. It is a prettily carved shallow stone basin, with a small aperture in the bottom, introduced, no doubt, to let off, after a term, the water that had been used, in order to substitute fresh. This receptacle was now covered, and almost filled with as curious a melange of articles as ever I saw collected together: a bent nail, a shankless button, a bit of unripe apple, a tobacco stopper, a broken comb, a decayed human tooth. I might have supposed that such a thievish [p. 88] animal as a pet magpie, in its indiscriminate larceny, had made this hole its hiding-place, and here was its treasure. "What can be the meaning of this?" said I to my cicerone, Mr. Claffy. "Och, plase your honour, this is the greatest place in the varsal world for curing the tooth-ache. Any one that comes here on the pathern day, if a tooth or sound or rotten pained them, so that they could not eat a boiled pratie, always, by course, saying the proper aves and paters, and leaving something as you see behind them, as their offering to the saint, why, as you may say, in no time the pain would pass off, and they might, as a body may say, go crack nuts. But troth, sir, if I must tell the truth, the vartue is very much gone out of this same place ever since a polisman came here, and that not along ago; for before he came, do you see me, there never was wanting a drop of water here, no, not in the driest of seasons, that a body might take up in their fingers, and put it, hoping in the merits of St. Keeran, to his tooth. But that polisman, may bad luck and fortune ever attend him, drove the point of his walking stick into the hole, and from that day to this never a drop of water came up out of the same, so that it is as dry as any other part of the wall, as your honour now sees." [pp. 85-88]
Church and Round Tower, Clonmacnoise