Monday, August 19, 2019

Timahoe round tower and medieval church


Timahoe round tower and medieval church

Niall C.E.J. O’Brien

In the first half of the seventh century St. Mochua founded a monastery at the base of the Slieve Margy hills some 8kms south-west of Stradbally in the modern county of Laois (formerly known as Queen’s County). The site of the monastery became known as Teach Mo-Chua which today is called Timahoe. St. Mochua was a local man, son of Lonan of the Tig Mochua in Laois and of the nation of Eochaidh Finn-Fuathairt.[1] St. Mochua died in 657 but his monastery at Timahoe continued on.[2] St. Mochua was buried at Derenish in Co. Cavan where he had a second monastery.[3]



The only remnant of St. Mochua’s monastery is the 12th century round tower.[4] Known in Irish as cloigheach or bell-house, these buildings called the monks to time at different times of the day.[5] 



The Timahoe tower, standing 96 feet high, is one of the best preserved round towers in Ireland.[6] The average height of a round tower was 97 feet according to the twenty-six round towers in Ireland of which the height is known. It is possible that the medieval builders were aiming for a tower of 10 feet as the number was often cited in the Old and New Testament in relation to the dimensions of buildings.[7] The tower is built of sandstone with finer limestone for the upper courses.[8] 



The fine double Romanesque doorway with its fine chevron patterns and grotesque heads makes the Timahoe tower unique in a country of over a hundred round towers. The doorway is 15 feet above ground level.[9] But the doorway is not the only Romanesque sculpture on the tower as the third floor window is also finely dressed.[10]



The monastery was attacked by the Vikings in 919 and 1142.[11] But it recovered and monks were active at Timahoe in 880 and 1007. In 1069 a church is mentioned at Timahoe but it is unclear if that relates to the medieval stone church. But the monastery would have had many buildings of stone and timber within the circular enclosure such as kitchens, infirmary, scriptorium, living quarters and workhouses.[12] 



After the Norman Invasion south-east Laois came under Norman control with a motte and bailey constructed near Timahoe but by the start of the 14th century the Irish made a recovery.[13] The O’More family came to control Laois and refounded the monastery of Timahoe. After the Suppression of the monasteries in 1539-40 the area around Timahoe was granted to Sir Thomas Loftus. But the monks didn’t leave the area. The last monk is said to have been killed in 1650.[14]




By 1609 Richard Cosby of an old Irish family acquired Timahoe for the new English influence. It is said that the Cosby family transformed the old medieval stone church into a fortified tower house. The castle fell into ruin as domestic fashions changed and the Cosby family moved to Stradbally Hall to take up residence. The east wall of the castle is the only substantial part of the castle to remain standing. 







The base of this wall incorporates the 15th century arch of the church with its sculptured motifs.[15] This was possibly the chancel arch of the medieval church but Richard Cosby so cannibalised the church to build his tower house that it is difficult to be certain.   







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[1] Kennedy, J., The Monastic Heritage & Folklore of County Laois (Roscrea, 2003), p. 139
[2] Kennedy, J., The Monastic Heritage & Folklore of County Laois (Roscrea, 2003), p. 136
[3] Monyague, H.P., The Saints and Martyrs of Ireland (Gerrards Cross, 1981), p. 133
[4] Harbison, P., Guide to National and Historic Monuments of Ireland (Dublin, 1992), p. 210
[5] Stalley, R., Irish Round Towers (Dublin, 2000), p. 6
[6] Harbison, P., Guide to National and Historic Monuments of Ireland (Dublin, 1992), p. 210
[7] Stalley, R., Irish Round Towers (Dublin, 2000), pp. 36, 37
[8] Kennedy, J., The Monastic Heritage & Folklore of County Laois (Roscrea, 2003), p. 137
[9] Kennedy, J., The Monastic Heritage & Folklore of County Laois (Roscrea, 2003), p. 137
[10] Harbison, P., Guide to National and Historic Monuments of Ireland (Dublin, 1992), p. 210
[11] Kennedy, J., The Monastic Heritage & Folklore of County Laois (Roscrea, 2003), p. 136
[12] Kennedy, J., The Monastic Heritage & Folklore of County Laois (Roscrea, 2003), p. 137
[13] Kennedy, J., The Monastic Heritage & Folklore of County Laois (Roscrea, 2003), p. 138
[14] Harbison, P., Guide to National and Historic Monuments of Ireland (Dublin, 1992), p. 210
[15] Harbison, P., Guide to National and Historic Monuments of Ireland (Dublin, 1992), p. 210

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