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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 4: Castles and tower houses c.1500
Chapter 38: Kilfinaghta Parish


Nat. Grid Ref. R503682; ½” Sheet 17

Photo 1: North entrance face of Ballycullen Tower House
Photo 1: North entrance face of Ballycullen Tower House

R.C. Parish : Sixmilebridge - Kilmurry
Townland : Ballycullen
6” O.S. Sheet number : 43 (Co. Clare)
Reference : 42.3 cm East; 1.0 cm South
Height (G.L.) : c. 330’ O.D.
1” O.S. Sheet number : 133 (Sixmilebridge)

For information on this interesting site refer to: a) site plan b) site description c) series of photographs d) field sketches.

Plan of Ballycullen Castle (i.e. Tower House):


When dealing with the main features of this interesting, two period, site I intend to use the following procedure:-

  1. Introduction, with reference to two period use
  2. Description of the four walls of the Tower House as they survive in 1979
  3. Description of site’s interior.

To follow the descriptions one should refer to: a) ground floor plan of site b) series of field sketches c) series of photographs.

As Photo 1 shows here we have the ruins of a tower house, with a structure attached to its north and east walls. We know the tower house itself is of a late fifteenth century date but what of the attached structure? Though unable to find references to it in any of the usual sources (O’Donovan, Curry, Frost and Westropp) there was some local information on it. This stated, and all local sources agree on it, that the later attached building was an R.I.C. Barracks, built in the early nineteenth century. In fact tradition can still name some of the R.I.C. men who served in the Barracks, which accommodated about ten men. Entrance to the Barracks proper was from the north, via a now collapsed arched gateway (Photo 1; Field sketch 1). Corner turrets covered not only the actual entrance area but also the surrounding countryside via narrow slitted (gun) windows. The policemen lived in the house attached to the east face of the tower house. Some of the windows and doors of this structure are still clearly traceable (see Photos: 1, 2, 3).

This nineteenth century site is certainly interesting and worthy of a more detailed treatment. Let us now look at the main features of the four walls of the tower house:-

North Wall: (Photo 1; Field sketch 1)
As stated previously entrance to the tower house proper was also via the northern area. As Photo 5 shows the actual doorway area is now in a poor condition and consists of a 3 metre high by 2 metre wide open space. Originally this would have been a cut-stone doorway only the semi-circular top of which now remains.

An interesting feature of the site, and which is to be seen on Photo’s 1, 2, 3 and 4, is the presence of grey cut-stone window areas in sandstone walls. A close examination of Photo 5 shows that the surviving arched arrangement of cut-stone over the former entrance area consists also of a grey limestone. This also holds for the surviving six windows. I use the word surviving as field examination found that the windows on the ground floor had been blocked up during the construction of the R.I.C. Barracks and these can now be only traced from the inside (see site plan). The other traceable six windows are generally in quite a good condition. Three of these openings, on different floors, occur over the guardroom. These ogee type windows average 1.15 metres in height and a width of only 15 cm. The other three windows, less decorative and flat topped, are over the site’s stairway room, again on different floors. These also average 1.15 metres in height but now the width is only 7 cm. The top part of the uppermost window (see Field sketch 1; Photo 1) is missing. The two upper windows are now closed up by loose stone.

These window spaces originally provided light for the spiral stairway, near the north-east corner.

East Wall: (Photo 2; Field sketch 2)
Because of the presence of ruins of the R.I.C. Barracks against the east wall it is difficult, as Photo 2 shows, to examine the main features in detail.

The east wall seems originally to have had six windows. Three of these are towards the north-east corner of the site and provided light for the spiral stairway. Again these windows, only the central one is intact, were probably 1.15 metres high by only 7 cm wide. Part of the upper window is covered by ivy while all trace of cut-stone on the ground floor window has been removed (see site plan).

The three other windows were towards the central part of this wall that on the ground floor is represented on the site plan. The uppermost window would seem to have been of the central column type though no cut-stone trace of this now survives. In its space we have a 2 metre high by 30 cm wide opening.

Ivy covers the south-east corner of this wall (see Photo 2).

South Wall: (Photo 3; Field sketch 3)
Even the ground floor window, which is represented on the site plan is difficult to trace on this wall. The reason? The presence of a very heavy ivy covering which has hidden most of this wall. (Part of the R.I.C. Barrack, to the east of the tower house, may also be observed in Photo 3.)

West Wall: (Photo 4; Field sketch 4)
With the exception of a small area to the south-west this wall is largely free of ivy. This is an interesting wall to examine as it is the only one of the four which has neither a major ivy covering or part of the nineteenth century barracks against it.

As Photo 4 shows this wall has four windows which are in a good state of preservation. Three are of cut limestone, the exception being the window on the ground floor which is of sandstone (site plan).

The largest window on this west wall, and one which originally probably had a central column, is near the site’s south-west corner, on the second floor (see Field sketch 4). This now survives as an opening, almost 2 metres high by 30 cm wide.

The other two windows on this wall are towards the site’s north-west corner. These are of ogee form and in a good condition – especially the uppermost one.

As the site plan shows the guardrobe discharge shaft is to be found in the central part of this wall. Though traceable it is now largely blocked up by stone, on the inside.

Site’s Interior:
As stated previously entrance to this site was from the north, via a wide opening which now has little trace of the actual cut-stone doorway. As the floor area immediately over the entrance has collapsed there is now no evidence available to suggest if the site had a murder-hole or not.

Immediately beyond the entrance area one has the guardroom to the right (i.e. west) and the start of the stone cut, but damaged, spiral stairway to the left (east). Straight on leads into the cellar area (see site plan).

The guardroom has no features of interest. As mentioned previously, when describing the site’s north wall, the only window in this room - of the narrow slitted type with inside recess – is damaged and blocked up all but for a 30 cm high section.

The roof of this guardroom is arched and though in a good condition there is no evidence, now, of actual wattle work. Nor is there trace of the probable cut-stone doorway which led into this area (see site plan).

The cellar area is also entered via a wide and high open space, with again no evidence of a cut-stone doorway. The floor of this space is now covered by rubble, earth and excreta as animals use this area for shelter.

Three windows, all long and narrow, provide light for the cellar. These have, as the site plan shows, inside recesses though such recesses on the western and eastern walls are now partly blocked by loose stone. The window in the southern wall is in a good condition, though some ivy has begun to grow in from the outer face of this wall (Photo 3).

The roof of the cellar is of the typical arched type, though now only consists of uncut-stones with no trace of plaster or wicker work. At its centre this ceiling is some 6 metres above the present ground floor level.

The first series of steps in the spiral stairway have been completely removed, so that animals will not be able to reach the second, or successive, floors. However it is still possible to climb up the area of the 7 missing steps and examine the first floor area. However care must be taken here. Due to the height of the cellar area we find that there are two low floors in the front (north) corresponding to the one high ground floor cellar.

Apart from the actual entrance area, as well as the guardroom and room leading to the spiral stairway (see site plan) there is the floor directly overhead, which probably contained the murder-hole. However combination of collapsed stairway and damaged floor has now made it impossible to examine the surviving features of this “murder-hole room”. Immediately behind (i.e. south of) this room and at the same level is a long east-west passage which leads to the guardrobe in the west wall. This feature is now only in a fair condition as the actual opening has been blocked up by collapse (Photo 6).

The floor directly over the ground floor cellar can be examined. It consists of two large side windows, already described in relation to the eastern and western walls. The window area in the south wall may, originally, have been of this type, though now it only consists of an ivy covered opening.

Two shelves (niches) exist in this room, by the south-west and south-east corners.

There is now no trace of the roof over this floor. In fact the walls only survive to a height of 5 metres, with no trace of succeeding floors.

Ballycullen Tower House was built on a level area of land to the west of Ballycullen Hill (872.7’ O.D.). From this level rise one has a wide view over the surrounding low-lying area, as far as the Shannon and Fergus estuaries.

Below the site, to the north and west, is a marked drop in slope of some 20 metres. The drop to the south is more gradual and this, therefore, would have been the route way up to the site.

“… The Castle of Bealocullen (Ballycullen) stands to about half its height in the townland of the same name and is mentioned in the College List as having belonged to John Mc Donall (Mac Namara)…” Curry, 1839, page 112.
So states the only reference to Ballycullen Tower House. There is no information available as to date but in all probability – based on its features – it dated to the c. 1470 period.

Continued occupation, in the sixteenth century, is shown by the reference to this site in the 1580 College List.

Reference has already been made to the early nineteenth century R.I.C. Barracks which was attached to the Tower House. These policemen may also have used part of the site, possibly for a store. Actual occupation in the site is most unlikely.


O.S. Letters (1839), Volume 11, page 112

Photo 2: East face of Ballycullen Tower House
Photo 2: East face of Ballycullen Tower House

Photo 3: South face of Ballycullen Tower House
Photo 3: South face of Ballycullen Tower House

Photo 4: West face of Ballycullen Tower House
Photo 4: West face of Ballycullen Tower House

Photo 5: Main entrance into site, from the north
Photo 5: Main entrance into site, from the north

Photo 6: Guardrobe in Ballycullen Tower House
Photo 6: Guardrobe in Ballycullen Tower House

Ballycullen Tower House

North Face
North Face

East Face
East Face

South Face
South Face

West Face
West Face