Moving on to the most noticeable building in the entire Glendalough Valley, Round Tower. It can be seen from various parts of the road as you approach from the mountains before descending into the valley. Situated to the north-west of the Cathedral, surrounded by various gravestones, and rising to approx 33 meters above ground, the Tower commands a watchful presence over the Monastic City and much of the valley itself. Sadly unlike most towers with the exception of the one at St. Brigid’s Cathedral in Kildare, it was not possible to ascend the Tower, which I am sure gives some stunning views of the surrounding countryside. Said to have been built over 1000 years ago by the monks of St. Kevin’s monastery, I can only imagine what a site this must have been for weary travellers approaching the city.
The Tower looks to have been built mainly from mica-schist and granite. A round headed doorway facing south-east is situated approx 3.5 meters above ground, with a further six floors that rested on wooden beams set into beam-holes, each floor would have been connected to the next by a wooden floor. There are four trabeate windows at various levels and another four windows facing the cardinal points, just below the reconstructed conical cap. There is said to be a rectangular channel, roughly 0.2m x 0.15m which runs right through the thickness of the wall just below the doorway which has been suggested it may have been used as a spy-hole.
During medieval times in Ireland, Round Towers which were known as Cloigh Theach in Gaelic, meaning Bell Tower, had many uses. Aside from serving as the name suggests, A Bell Tower. They could also function as a beacon to guide pilgrims travelling from afar, a storehouse, a watchtower or a place of refuge in times of attack. The unusual height for the door, which is a feature of all these towers, is commonly believed to be a defensive feature of the Round Tower. Using a ladder of some description which could be withdrawn into the tower to prevent attackers gaining access. Whilst this is a practical theory for a defensive purpose, it would have made using the tower for other purposes quite difficult.
The doorway itself was constructed with larger stones similar to the cyclopean masonry used in the early parts of the nave over at the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul. The arch above the doorway has been carved from a single stone, which despite its age, appears to be in remarkable condition. After being severely damaged by a lightning strike around 1876, the conical roof had to be rebuilt. It is believed to have been rebuilt, using the original stone that was found inside the tower. Despite their being no access to the tower, it is a magnificent structure that has to be seen in person to appreciate it.