Donaghmore Round Tower & Church

Donaghmore Round Tower & Church (1)

The ruins of the old Round Tower and Church at Donaghmore were quite an unexpected find. Located just outside the town of Navan on the road to the infamous hill of Slane. I had pulled into what looked like a car park only to be met by a surprising site. To the end of the car park just behind an old wall stood a damn fine specimen of a Round Tower rising up from the grounds of a local graveyard. Well needless to say, the soggy sandwich I had packed for my lunch was left on the passenger seat as I grabbed my camera in eager anticipation of what else I might find. And I was not let down either.

Donaghmore Round Tower & Church (2) Donaghmore Round Tower & Church (4) Donaghmore Round Tower & Church (3)

Donaghmore has a long history, which is said to date back the time of St. Patrick, whom is credited with founding an early monastery here in the fifth century. However the existing ruins, do not date back that far. Its original Gaelic name was ‘Domhnach Mór’ or ‘The Great Church’ and some say that this may have been Patrick’s first settlement in Ireland. St. Cassán, a disciple of Patrick became its first Abbott. Cassán is still said to be venerated here. This early Christian monastery would have consisted of a collection of wooden structures surrounded by a circular enclosure, with perhaps a stone church which survived until the tenth century.

Donaghmore Round Tower & Church (5) Donaghmore Round Tower & Church (7) Donaghmore Round Tower & Church (6)

Much of what we know about Domhnach Mór comes from the Book of Kells. In 845AD the Abbot Robhartach Mac Flainn died, followed by an attack from our Northern friends the Vikings in 854AD. Another account tells how the monks at Kells bought the lands at Domhnach Mór for 20 ozs of gold. This was said to have been witnessed by Maelmuire O’Dunan the bishop, Donnchad Mac Flainn the High King of Ireland and a chap identified only as Ó Fiachiach whom was the custodian of Donaghmore at the time.  By the 13th century Domhnach Mór had become a parish church, but only two centuries later it was described as being in a ruinous state.

Donaghmore Round Tower & Church (8) Donaghmore Round Tower & Church (10) Donaghmore Round Tower & Church (9)

The main feature of Domhnach Mór is of course the Round Tower which as it happens, is also the oldest remaining feature of this site. I The Church was replaced in the 13th century by a new and larger structure, built by Anglo Norman settlers.  Its similarities to the Towers at Glendalough and Kildare are quite astonishing. With the many similarities they share, it might be possible that they were constructed by the same builder? Domhnach Mór is 110ft in height which actually knocks the tower in Kildare out of second place in the height stakes.  Whilst still standing the tower actually predates the remaining ruins of the church as it was built in the 10th century.

Donaghmore Round Tower & Church (11) Donaghmore Round Tower & Church (13) Donaghmore Round Tower & Church (12)

Although it is fairly well preserved, it is in fact missing the upper portion of the conical cap. The Tower once would have had wooden floors which were connected by ladders, much like many others of the time. The four upper windows which would have faced each of the cardinal points are also missing, which we can thank a previous owner Mr. Thomas Rothwell, whom carried out restoration work back in 1841. The entrance is about three meters above ground level with a double raised rounded moulding. . It has a head on either side above the jambs and on the keystone there is a depiction of the crucifiction with some rather odd twisted legs on the key stone

Donaghmore Round Tower & Church (14) Donaghmore Round Tower & Church (16) Donaghmore Round Tower & Church (15)

Moving on to the remains of the church, if indeed you could call it that. All that remains is the west gable wall of a church which looks to be from the fifteenth century. To the top of the wall there is what is left of a double belfry. It is most likely the third Church built on this site, with a previous one said to have been built in the 13th century by the Norman settlers to possibly replace the original stone chapel which dated back to Patrick’s monastic settlement.

Donaghmore Round Tower & Church (17) Donaghmore Round Tower & Church (19) Donaghmore Round Tower & Church (18)

Walking around the graveyard, unearths some more discoveries. There was once a large High cross made from sandstone which stood in the surrounding graveyard. The damaged head of the cross is now housed in the National Museum of Ireland.  Its shaft was said to have been divided into panels with interlace confined to a knot at the crux and on the ring. Many of the burials seem to date from the 18th century, along with a number of interesting sandstone cross & grave slabs some of which feature interesting fleur-de-lys terminals. The graveyard also contains the family vault of the Fitz Herbert’s, a wealthy landlord family from Navan whom were associated with the nearby Black castle.

Donaghmore Round Tower & Church (20) Donaghmore Round Tower & Church (22) Donaghmore Round Tower & Church (21)

There is also a croppy grave. Croppies was the name given to those who took part in the 1798 Rebellion against the oppression of British rule.  As the story goes the unknown corpse of a croppy was brought by locals to Domhnach Mór for burial in the dead of night as it was frowned upon at the time for rebels to be buried on church grounds. Inset into a stone bench in the perimeter wall of the graveyard there is what looks to be an old millstone. Around the graveyard there is an inner wall and pathway, at various points in the wall there appears to be numerous stonework fragments which have been inset into the wall. Some are quite plain whilst others are highly decorated and stick out like a sore thumb. These are most likely fragments from one of the earlier churches which once stood on this site. Whilst there is no access to the round tower and very little of the church left, Domhnach Mór still retains a great deal of interest and is well worth spending a hour or two exploring.

Donaghmore Round Tower & Church (23) Donaghmore Round Tower & Church (27) Donaghmore Round Tower & Church (26) Donaghmore Round Tower & Church (25) Donaghmore Round Tower & Church (24)

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About edmooneyphotography

Photographer, Blogger, Ruinhunter, with an unhealthy obsession for history, mythology and the arcane.
This entry was posted in Diary of a Ruinhunter, Photography and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to Donaghmore Round Tower & Church

  1. Ali Isaac says:

    Fascinating Ed, particularly as it is so close to me and I never knew it existed!

  2. Great photos Ed, and a fascinating commentary. I was particularly fascinated by the round tower, we have such a tower here in Fife, in Abernethy which was built by the Culdee monks in approx 1100, who of course would have originated from Ireland themselves. In Scotland such towers are a real rarity, but I gather there are quite a few over in your neck of the woods.

  3. beetleypete says:

    Great stuff as always, Ed. It’s a shame the tower restoration in 1841 removed some of the original features though. Perhaps that Mr Rothwell was English!
    Best wishes, Pete.

  4. jfwknifton says:

    Again some wonderfully atmospheric photographs, with black and white another good choice.

  5. noelleg44 says:

    Great atmosphere with the photos, Ed. Why would the man who restored the tower brick up the windows – if he was trying to preserve it? Tell me again what purpose these towers would serve?

    • Thanks Noelle, it’s still open to debate and no one can really say for sure. Some said that they were a place of refuge, others storage or a lookout or a simple bell tower. Whatever the case they sure are impressive😁

  6. Great photos.

    Ever consider publishing a book? Hint, Hint!! 🙂

  7. John says:

    Great photos again. love all your work and explanation, Ed!

  8. I love the sky in the first picture Ed, it is so intense!

  9. aidymcglynn says:

    Interesting post Ed. I stumbled upon the location in the summer when staying in Slane for a couple of days. Had a quick stop despite family protests, and snapped a couple of shots, but haven’t got round to posting yet. Great to get your history of the site.

  10. Wow, that’s a fantastic set of pictures. What a rich site. The church wall looks hauntingly like a skull, especially in the shot you took head on. The first shot in the post is gorgeous. Totally enjoy all the history, too.

  11. As always, love the history and pictures. Thanks Ed.

  12. The Croppy Boys, unsung heroes they were. Outside Ireland anyway. I’ve yet to meet anyone here who knows what happened in 1798. Their brains start running after Napoleon and ticking off his campaigns. Nobody has a clue they sent ships to Ireland.

    • So true Jane. Much of the history they teach to this day in schools is utter Sh$t, pardon my French 🙂
      I guess if the rebellion have been more successfull they might have covered it more. Its a shame how such people are treated for standing up for whats right, only to be spat on by their own 😦

      • It puts me in mind of the famine graves that were considered too shameful to even signpost. I’m sure the priests are to blame, they were ever on the side of the establishment, even when the establishment wouldn’t recognize their rights. And as for being buried without a proper Christian service—you might just as well go straight to hell, not pass go and not collect your 200 quid.

  13. belshade says:

    Great photos. Ed and a real gem of a site.Interested in your comment Jane on the “98. Yes -nobody wants to know about it. There seems to be a lot of “sensitivity” aboutsuch issues as the French Revolution, Napoleon, and the Scottish Presbyterian settlers in the North being leading lights in the rebellion. History is like that – whole chunks get conveniently “forgotten”. Des.

    • Thanks Des, thats the problem when history is written by the victors, it tends to be normally all one sided.
      Just imagine what the books would read like if say Germany had won the War???

      Beggars Belief my friend……..

  14. Wonderful post. there are so many intersting places in Ireland I would love to visit.

  15. I love reading the comments as much as your wonderful posts Ed. So much history!

  16. aj vosse says:

    I found the spot quite by accident as well and went back on another occasion when the sun shone to get photos. Your photos look great! 😉

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