Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Killeshin Round Tower
Queens County

Source: 'The Parish of KILLESHIN, Graiguecullen'. by P.MacSuibhne. 1972.

Old Map of Killeshin
(Click to enlarge)
The above map is of Killeshin and clearly shows the location of The Round Tower

Map provided by Carloman

The site of an old monastery founded allegedly by, St. Comdhan or Comghan, towards the end of the 5th century. The last historical reference to the monastery is in 1082. An oratory here was destroyed in 1041 and the monastery was burned in 1077. The present church was built in the 12th century, and has one of the finest Romanesque doorways in the country. The doorway has four orders, with capitals bearing heads with intertwined hair, an arch with foliage and animal motifs, the whole being topped by a partially modern hood.

An inscription on the door which may possibly read 'A prayer for Diarmait King of Leinster' might refer to a king of that name who died in 1117, but the church was probably built some decades later. The chancel is a later addition to the church and in the north wall it has a window which is round-headed inside and pointed outside. There is an old font beside the door. A round Tower, 105 feet high, lay to the north-west of the church, but this was taken down in 1703 because the owner feared that it might fall on his cattle!"

Source: Carlowman c2004

The Round Tower

The ancient Round Tower of Killeshin was destroyed at the beginning of the XVIIIth century. The record of this wanton vandalism reads:

“Monday 8th March. 1702/3 the steeple of Killeshin, undermined and flung down by one Bambrick, employed by Colonel Wolseley in three days’ work. At three o’clock in ye afternoon ye steeple fell to ye grounds, being measured it was 105 feet high”


And thus it came to pass that the venerable Round Tower that had cast its shadow over twenty generations of the ancient barony folk of Sliabh--Mairge, was wantonly destroyed.

Sir Thomas Molyneux, who made a tour of Ireland in 1709 and who visited Killeshin from “Cousin Best’s at Knockbeg.’’ Now Knockbeg College, writes: “Near the foot of the mountain on this road stands the old church of Killeshin, which is a very old building.

Here lately stood, over against the door of the church one of the old round Steeples, which, I am told, was very high and well built, so that when the owner of this place had it fallen, it came to the ground in one solid piece, and was not even by the fall against the ground so broke but that several vast pieces yet remain sticking together so that you easily discover what this building was. It plainly appears to be of the same building and age as the adjacent church, and this was certainly an Irish building as appears from two inscriptions on each side of the door as you enter, which I transcribed.’’

On 16 December I 838 Petrie wrote to O’Donovan:

“I have read your account of that most interesting church of Cill Oissean . . . I grieve that the inscriptions are more mutilated than I had supposed . . . and that many of these mutilations are recent. There can be no doubt that these inscriptions are coeval with . . . the church and ... the round tower, for according to a writer in Ware’s Antiquities these buildings were of the same age”

Petrie then refers to the barbarian who had the tower pulled down, one Colonel Wolseley, for which act of vandalism the "Protestant Bishop of Leighlin was very displeased with him. This Col. Wolseley got estates in that part of the country after the revolution of 1688 and they are still in possession of his descendants, one of whom is a baronet. I will hand him down to posterity with additional honours, in my work on the Round Towers of Ireland. 

The Tower of Cill Oissean was a high one and from the elegance of the contemporary church to which it belonged. I should not be surprised if it had been raised, as you state, on four small pillars. The thing is quite possible and the effect would have been singularly striking.  I quite concur with you that this church and tower were erected in the 12th century, though it is most probable that the church occupied the site of an earlier ecclesiastical edifice. I had caused drawings of the church and doorway to be made for me some years ago when the inscriptions were more perfect than now and it is from these drawings of the doorway that I got my first clue to the date of the church. 

About the same time (1708) the chancel arch of the church and a great part of the south wall were also demolished. It is said that the latter contained two round-headed windows, widely splayed on the inside and similar to those yet remaining on the north wall.”

Yet Dr. O’Donovan wrote: "I never saw nor heard of a Round Tower which stood on pillars. I incline to the belief that it was a real Cloighteach, coeval with the doorways, but I think that the pillars mentioned as having supported it might have been added in later times when the lower part had become holed".  Adjoining the old church in Castlequarter is an extensive mound about thirty feet high and surrounded by a deep fosse. A castle is said to have stood here and to have been pulled down about 1791. There is or was a tradition that a large town extended from Killeshin to Sletty.

Sir Charles Coote in his Statistical Account of Queen’s Co. states that a town stood at Killeshin in modern times: that at Killeshin were the (‘n. Gaol and Courthouse where the Assizes were held: also the Governor’s mansion, a fort and public buildings. The elevation on which the Church of the Holy Cross stands was called Cnoc an Chrochaire or Gallows Hill. 0’ Donovan however thinks ii. highly improbable that there ever was anything like a large town at Killeshin.

The humble chapel which preceded the present church of the Holy Cross stood at the crossroad of Clonmore on the road to Carlow. Opposite the site of the old chapel was the Spa of Killeshin, the healing qualities of which are eloquently set out by Dr. Francis Hayden in his pamphlet, the Medical Mentor

1. A small shed which belonged to the Spa is there still.


1. Medical Hall, Carlow. 1822. Comerford, Collections I.
Previously published in 'The Parish of KILLESHIN, Graiguecullen'. by P.MacSuibhne. 1972.


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