Just outside Maynooth on the side of the Straffan road there is a small graveyard. This is the site of an early Christian monastery which contains the ruins of a 6th century Round Tower and a 19th century Church. The monastery which was known as Teach Tua or Tua’s House, was founded by St. Tua or Ultan the Silent as he was better known due to his practise of silent prayer for the duration of lent. It is believed that he came from the nearby monastery of Clane to found the monastery at what is now known as Taghadoe, in Kildare. Little else is known about Tua or his early settlement. The earliest mention I could find concerned one of its Abbotts, known as Folachtach, whom had previously been an Abbott at Clonmacnois. He is said to have died at Teach-Tua in 770AD. Some of the information about the great history and archaeology of this great site comes from the guys at Abarta Heritage. Please take a moment and check out the link at the end of this post where you can hear the story for yourself with their free audio guides.
The site is set within the confines of a relatively modern oval shaped wall on slightly raised pasture land. And is surrounded by a working farm on both sides of the road. So parking is a bit tricky, but it is possible to park a car on the verge, in tight to the wall. Just make sure that you don’t block the farm gates. The only remaining sign of this early monastic settlement is the Round Tower which sadly is missing its conical cap. Believed to have been in use for almost a millennium, it was said to have fallen in to ruin during the 17th century. Ancient lore tells that Round Towers were places of refuge for people and treasures when the monasteries were attacked. With the entrance door positioned above ground level, its sole purpose was to act as a defence against marauding invaders out to pillage the sacred possessions that the Monks held. However, modern historians seem to believe that they were merely bell-towers and those stories of safe refuge are only folklore.
The Round Tower is situated in the south section of the graveyard and stands at almost 20 meters in height. Although it is missing its original conical cap, it appears to be in decent condition and is believed to have been five stories. It was constructed using roughly coursed limestone. As usual the entrance door can be found at 3.5 meters above the ground. The door resides within a rounded three stone archway, with a plain moulding. It is made from mostly granite with some limestone in the east jamb which would suggest that at some stage an attempt was made to repair or replace the original doorway. Just above the center stone of the archway is another quite weathered stone which may once have been decorated with a head carving. Although there is no current access to the tower it has been stated that the floor levels are all marked by setbacks which would have held the wooden floors in place. These floors would originally have had several floors, linked by ladders, similar to the one at St. Brigid’s Cathedral in Kildare Town which is opened to the public at certain times of the year. The tower is lit by three windows each with inclined jambs and square tops. The first on the second floor to the west, the second is on the third floor just above the doorway with the third on the fourth floor level facing west-north-west.
One strange thing I noticed on the tower was a ring of small square holes going around the tip of the tower. My guess would be that these are Putlog holes. These holes were used to receive wooded beams, a type of early scaffolding which dates back to Roman times. And were most likely used when fitting the towers roof. Obviously when the roof fell down or was removed, these beams would have rotted away due to weather exposure. During the 19th century a door was inserted into the tower on the ground level to store coal for heating the newly built adjacent church, but this was blocked up in 1886 when the tower was declared a National Monument.
The current church ruins were built back in 1821 but was strangely said to have been abandoned only 40 years later. Considering it is only 195 it’s a shame to see it in ruin. Ok so it has no roof, but the structure looks to be in good nick. The church has four distinctive octagonal turrets, one at each corner, with some rather pleasant decorative stonework. Whilst visible grave markers are concentrated to the south east of the site, most of the burials are dated from the 17th and 18th century and where used by Roman Catholics. A geophysical survey suggested that the whole graveyard contains interments and that there was an earlier chapel built here, but there is no longer any visible trace of this to be seen. The church was built using funds left from the will of a John Dillon from Carton amounting to £1000 and a donation from Board of First Fruits of £830. This site at Taghadoe is now in the care of the Office of Public Works, with some visible restoration work on both the church and the tower. Steel support bars have been inserted on both the front and rear walls of the church with some masonry work on the Romanesque style windows.