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A Survey of Monuments of Archaeological and Historical Interest in the Barony of Bunratty Lower, Co. Clare by William Gerrard Ryan

Part 1: Commentary: Castles and Tower Houses: Date of tower houses

The 1429 statute, already cited in part, shows us that Tower Houses were being erected around that date. Westropp (1899, 351) would see them somewhat earlier and gives a date of before 1402 for Rosroe Tower House which field examination suggested to be probably the earliest such feature in the Barony. The Commissioners of Public Works give a date of around 1400 A.D. for the earliest Tower Houses (see National Distribution Map: O’Danachair, 1979, opposite 160) and have them being constructed in areas as late as 1650. However I feel the main period of construction in the Barony of Bunratty Lower was from 1450 – 1500 A.D., with a few somewhat later (Westropp, 1899, 348-363). This fifteenth century period was a time of comparative peace in Ireland. The English throne was fully occupied, firstly in the French war and then in a bitter Civil War (Wars of the Roses). Thus Ireland was left in peace and local lords could extend their power and build defensive residences.

In south-east Clare the native Irish Mac Namaras were the dominant clan. By 1580, according to tradition, they had 42 Tower Houses – all visible, for security reasons, from a couple of others. All the Tower Houses in the Barony were built by Mac Namaras. This was also true of Bunratty Castle but this later became O’Brien property. (This ownership question is developed further under each of the respective sites).

In 1580 A.D. Clare became an English County and part of the Province of Munster. In that year the government appointed a commission to inquire into Castle/Tower House ownership in the county. A copy of this report later came into the possession of Trinity College, Dublin and is now referred to as the College list.

The majority of sites in the Barony of Bunratty Lower appear in this list and reference will be made to it under the relevant site description. A few, however, do not appear. This may suggest:-

(a) the site had not been built
(b) site was now unoccupied
(c) the Commissioners missed the site in their survey

O’Donovan and Curry make reference to a second list in Volume 2, Co. Clare O.S. Letters (1839). This list, drawn up in the c. 1750 period by a William O’Lionain, was discovered among the MS. Collection of Hodges and Smith, College Green, Dublin. In it Lionain lists the founders of some of the Castle/Tower Houses in County Clare.

In this section I will make reference to the O’Lionain list where relevant.