Light shone on local history

Tullaherin Heritage Society organised lectures on Stroan Fountain and Tullaherin Round Tower as the Society’s contribution to National Heritage Week.

Tullaherin Heritage Society organised lectures on Stroan Fountain and Tullaherin Round Tower as the Society’s contribution to National Heritage Week.

The talk on the fountain was given by Richard Cody, a member of Dúchas who was deeply involved in the restoration work, while Joe Doyle spoke about our understanding of the function of round towers in medieval Christian Ireland. Those in the sizeable attendance were welcomed by Patricia Cullen, Society Vice-Chairperson. She dedicated the event to the memory of the late Dr Walter Walsh whose sad and unexpected death occurred recently. Walter was a founder member of Dúchas, its Treasurer, and the only person to have contributed to all numbers of the Society’s publication - ‘In the Shadow of the Steeple’.

Joe Doyle spoke about our understanding of these features of early medieval Ireland, which date from the tenth to the twelfth centuries. From the Annals it would appear that they were primarily bell towers attached to Christian monastic settlements. They may also, it is suggested by modern-day scholars, have functioned as repositories for church treasures, particularly relics of the saints; places of refuge; security look-outs; physical landmarks for the location of a monastic settlement; and buildings designed to emphasise the prestige of the monastery and its local aristocratic patron. The possibility has also been aired that they had a very important ritualistic function within the monastery and in times of strife were expected to be regarded as places of sanctuary.

There are 64 free standing round towers to be found in Ireland. Kilkenny is one of four counties with five - Aghaviller, Fertagh, Kilkenny (St Canice’s), Kilree, and Tullaherin.

Tullaherin, probably dates from the 11th century, was certainly in existence in 1121, for in that year the Annals record that it was struck and split by lightning and that a student in the nearby church was killed by falling masonry. It was subsequently repaired with the number of windows in the bell floor being increased from four to eight. Clearly, it was again struck and damaged by lightning at a later date, resulting in the destruction of the cap and much of the bell floor, leaving only four of the eight windows.

Due to problems arising from early conservation work, which caused a bulge to develop on one side of the tower that, ultimately, would have put the entire structure at risk, extensive remedial work was carried out on the tower over a ten-year period by the Office of Public Works. This has ensured that Tullaherin Round Tower will be a very important part of, not only, our local but, indeed, national heritage for centuries to come.

Richard Cody also gave a talk on the Stroan Fountain, which is a limestone fountain intended as a source of water for the tenants of nearby Kilfane Demesne. The fountain consists of a basin supported on a stone base from which the water projects through spouts located on either side. The basin is covered by a domed structure which supports a limestone obelisk. Three limestone steps provide access to the structure. The fountain is fed from a cistern located to the northwest which is in turn fed by a natural spring. This spring may be linked to the origins of the townland name,Stroan, a corruption of sruthan meaning stream. The south side of the obelisk bears the inscription, “1766 Erected by subscription by permission of the landlord Gervase Parker Bushe. Designed and arranged by Thomas Seigne” The fountain was carefully restored in 2010 with assistance from the following, Tullaherin Heritage Society, Kilkenny County council, The Follies Trust and The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.