Tower House

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Dunguaire Castle in Ireland
Aughnanure Castle in Ireland
Drawing of a typical Scotland tower house ( Coxton Tower )

As a tower house (German tower house ) is a design on the British Isles . Tower houses are residential towers that, with the appropriate periphery, also served as defensive towers . They were widespread from the 14th century, especially in Ireland and Scotland , and shape the Irish landscape (often as ruins ) to this day. In Ireland around 2000 of what is believed to be 8000 tower houses have been restored or preserved as ruins. There are around 700 preserved or traceable in Scotland. The design developed in the 14th century and was used for over 300 years until the 17th century.


Spread of tower houses in the British Isles

It is not entirely clear where the design came from. It may be based on the older, wooden Norman design of the moth . Some typical features, such as the very thick walls with recessed niches, can also be found in Scottish brochs . As with many traditional designs , it is difficult to make clear statements about the derivation.

While many Irish clans underestimated the military importance of the tower houses, the O'Conors and O'Flahertys in Connacht recognized them early and had built their own tower houses at Annaghdown and Roscommon around 1300 .


The tower houses served as permanent residence for the landed gentry and were defensive enough to offer the family clans protection from the raids and raids that were common at the time. The buildings offered little comfort. They were cold, damp, poorly exposed and, because of the narrowness, offered little privacy.

Maurice Craig notes that a standard design was established in Ireland in the 15th century, which was widely used with minor deviations.

Most tower houses have a rectangular floor plan . The outer walls consist of quarry stone masonry , with chiseled natural stone frames around the door and window openings. The design is oriented vertically. The rooms are on top of each other. As a rule, tower houses have three to four, sometimes up to six floors . On top of each is a central room, surrounded by niches and chambers that are let into the thick outer walls. Here some light and air come in through narrow slit windows. Many tower houses have secret chambers that served as hiding places.

Most of the simple tower houses have stone vaults on the lower floors, the ceilings above are usually wooden beam ceilings. The substructure of the gable roof is also made of wood, often covered with slate .

The floor plan varies, but there are typical, recurring elements:

  • The entrance is in or near the middle of the short side. This is a clear difference to residential towers in continental Europe, whose entrances were mostly on the second floor or higher for protection.
  • On one side of the entrance there is a spiral staircase within the massive outer wall. On the upper floors, the position of the stairs often jumps to another side, presumably to confuse attackers.
  • There is usually a small chamber opposite the entrance, presumably a room for the gatekeeper. Above the short passage from the entrance to the inner room there is often a murder hole in the stone ceiling through which attackers could be attacked from above.
  • The roof is surrounded by a battlement with a parapet wall, which is often crenellated .
  • Most tower houses were originally surrounded by defensive walls, varying from small courtyards to large, square enclosures in which the tower house stands free. The surrounding walls are rarely preserved. The Gaelic name for these enclosures is bádún (English bawn ), which means something like enclosure for cattle . Some, such as Clonony Castle , have decorative gatehouses .
  • In Ireland in particular, many of the tower houses were built in older Promontory forts or similar earthworks so that their fortified walls could continue to be used as defensive structures; Applied to mainland Europe, one would say: simple ramparts were expanded with residential towers, fixed houses or dojons .

Larger castle complexes

Loch Leven Castle , transition to the Keep

The design was also used for larger castle complexes, the transitions to the Keep are fluid. Examples are Carlow and Ferns in County Wexford , Lea near Portarlington, County Laois , Ross Castle in County Kerry, and Terryglass in County Tipperary . Some of them have very high walls with round towers at the corners.

Some of the castles in the towns enclose large complexes (e.g. Limerick , Dublin, and Kilkenny ) and have outer fortifications with ramparts: Roscommon and Ballintober, Counties Roscommon , Ballymote Counties Sligo , Liscarroll Counties Cork , and Ballymoon and Ballyloughan in County Carlow . Carrickfergus in County Antrim and John's Castle in Limerick are the best preserved castles of its kind in Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Almost all of the castles were built with wooden houses, none of which has survived. There is only a description of Swords Castle in Swords , County Dublin from 1326 to give an idea of ​​the buildings. This included, comparable to the structures of an autarkic monastery community, the storage and supply facilities for the defenders, stables, workshops, a chapel and a representative hall.


Kisimul Castle on Barra



  • Terence B. Barry: The Archeology of Medieval Ireland . Routledge, London 1999, ISBN 0-415-01104-3 .
  • Maurice Craig: The Architecture of Ireland from the Earliest Times to 1880 . Batsford 1982, ISBN 0-7134-2586-5 .
  • Paul M. Kerrigan: Castles and Fortifications in Ireland 1485-1945 . The Collins Press, Cork, 1995 or Spellmount Publishers, 1995, ISBN 1-873376-49-9
  • Harold G. Leask: Irish Castles and Castellated Houses . Dundalgan Press (W. Tempest), Dundalk 1999, ISBN 0-85221-010-8 .
  • Matthew J. McDermott: Ireland's Architectural Heritage . Folens, Dublin 1975
  • Tadhg O'Keeffe: Medieval Ireland. An archeology . Tempus Publishing, Stroud 2000, ISBN 0-7524-1464-X .
  • David Sweetman: The Medieval Castles of Ireland . The Collins Press, Cork 2005, ISBN 1-9034-6480-3 (EA 1999)


  • Martin Coventry: Castles of the clans. The strong holds and seats of 750 Scottish families and clans . Goblinshead Publishing, Musselburgh 2008, ISBN 1-899874-36-4 .
  • Martin Coventry: The castles of Scotland. A comprehensive reference and gazetteer to more than 2700 castles and fortified cities . Goblinshead Publishing, Musselburgh 2001. ISBN 1-899874-27-5 .
  • Stuart Cruden: The Scottish Castle . Nelson Books, London 1963 (EA London 1960)
  • Joachim Zeune : The Scottish castle building from the 15th to the 17th century. Investigations in particular on the living area (publications by the German Castle Association / New Series; Series A, Research; Vol. 1). DBI, Marksburg over Braubach, 1989. ISBN 3-927558-00-1 ( plus dissertation, University of Bamberg 1989).

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Craig: The Architecture of Ireland from the Earliest Times to 1880

See also

Web links

Commons : Tower houses  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files