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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 41: Kilmaleery Parish


Nat. Grid Ref. R368649; ½” Sheet 17

Photo 1: Clenagh Tower House, from the north-east
Photo 1: Clenagh Tower House, from the north-east

R.C. Parish : Newmarket-on-Fergus
Townland : Clenagh
6” O.S. Sheet number : 51 (Co. Clare)
Reference : 31.2 cm North; 12.7cm West
Height (G.L.) : c. 25’ O.D.
1” O.S. Sheet number : 133 (Sixmilebridge)

For information on this ivy covered site refer to :- a) site plan b) site description c) series of photographs.

Ground Floor Plan of Clenagh Tower House
Ground Floor Plan of Clenagh Tower House


The entrance into this site is via a semi-circular topped stone doorway, 2.50 metres high and 1.18 metres wide (Photo 2). As the site plan shows this area was observed via a spy hole which leads into the stairway room. Using this, occupants of the Tower House could see who was at the door without having to actually open it. A similar feature existed to the east of the cut-stone doorway but though traceable from the inside (guardroom) it has been blocked up on the outside.

Below the cut-stone door is a step, 32 cm wide, 10 cm high and 1.15 metres long. On stepping over this one enters the site proper. At this point, directly overhead, is the now blocked up murder-hole, 46 cm long and 25 cm wide. This, of course, acted as a secondary defence if the main door was broken down.

An examination of the area behind the actual cut-stone doorway yields the following information. The original hanging-stone is still in place in the upper eastern part of the entrance. Below it, 80 cm, and almost 1 metre above ground level, is the beam slot, 16 cm high, 13 cm wide and 26 cm long. Directly opposite it, also in the south wall, is the longer beam slot. Field examination found this to be at least 1.50 metres long. A short distance below it is a small stone projecting 15 cm from the wall. This has a small 2.50 cm deep impression in its centre. This suggests that not only was the tower house door closed by a large beam but that the door also had a bolt.

From this point, just inside the door, one was faced with 3 further cut-stone doors, only two of which now survive. The door to the left (west) led to the spiral stairway. The actual semi-circular topped doorway is of cut limestone, almost 2 metres high and 1.30 metres wide. It is now almost completely blocked up by collapse and the room inside is covered by rubble to an average depth of 2 metres. There is a small opening on top and one can climb through this and get to the first floor area (more about this later). To the inside right (north) of this door is the original hanging stone. It is very interesting in that it is decorated with both parallel line and wave-type decoration.

Across from this area (to the east) is the now damaged guardroom (see site plan). No trace survives of either the stone cut doorway or the walls by it. The actual room has two features of interest. In the south wall is the inner part of the spy hole, described previously. The east wall contains a now altered window. Originally, because of the level it is at, this would have been of the long narrow slitted type, some 8 cm wide. As it exists to date 1979, we have a 1.05 metre high by 60 cm wide opening looking onto a garage built against the site to the east. The roof of the guardroom is of the arched type and twig impressions (associated with the method of roofing) are clearly visible in it. The roof itself averages 2.50 metres high at its centre.

This room is now used by a local farmer as an agricultural storage area. A deal of equipment and packs of fertiliser are to be found in it. This made a thorough examination of the room impossible.

That part of the guardroom nearest the entrance area contains some red brick in the wall.

Continuing in (i.e. northwards) one comes to the main cellar area. This also was entered via a cut-stone doorway, 1.20 metres wide. The upper part of this door is decorated by a pecked stone decoration and this looks quite impressive.

This door was also closed by a beam, the two shaft positions are represented on the site plan. The original hanging stone also exists here, to the east.

Passing under this door and walking for a distance of 1.20 metres one enters the large cellar area. The arched roof of this area is 5.50 metres above the ground level, at its centre.

As we noted in both Cratloemoyle and Rossmanagher Tower Houses this site also contains a fireplace, in the north wall. As both the site plan and Photo 3 show part of the actual opening has been blocked off by red brick, especially to the east. The opening that is left is only 42 cm wide instead of the original 2.70 metres. The local farmer still used this area for burning rubbish and a deal of partly burnt material is to be found around the fireplace area.

This fireplace has a 15 cm high retaining kerb around it (see site plan). Another interesting feature is the presence of two cut limestone blocks with simple decoration on either side of the fireplace (Photo 3).

The cellar area originally had two windows, both presumably of the long narrow slitted type. The opening to the left (west) has been enlarged, giving it a width of 65 cm in place of the probable 8 cm. This opening is now largely blocked up by cement, stone and red brick.

The second window, to the right (east) has been completely removed. At some later stage the window was cut through here to form a door which is now completely blocked up (see site plan).
The cellar contained a number of shelves, all above floor level. As mentioned previously it is quite difficult to get to the first floor due to the amount of collapse in the area of the stairway. Nevertheless it is still possible to reach the first floor area.

When dealing with Rossmanagher and Cratloemoyle Tower Houses reference was made to the existence of two floors, corresponding in height to the ground floor cellar. This, we stated, was due to the height of the arched cellar roof, in comparison to the lower roof over the entrance area. We also find this in Clenagh Tower House.

Over the southern entrance (ground floor) area is a small room containing the murder-hole. Much of this room is now covered by collapse so that it is difficult to examine it. This room contained two windows – both since destroyed. In the south wall is a 3 metre high by 1 metre wide opening, with no trace of cut-stone. To the east the opening is even larger, 3 ½ metres high and 1 ½ metres wide.

The room over the actual cellar is in a poor condition. It contained a fireplace and a number of windows, mostly destroyed though some retain part of their cut-stone (Photo 1). The ceiling of this room is gone and looking up one can see evidence of two further floors.

Because of the ivy clad nature of this site I did not take photographs of the four walls individually as such photos would show up very little. However there is one very interesting and unusual feature on the lower right (east) part of the south wall. Here we have a Sheila-na-gig, the only one noted in the 90 plus square miles of the Barony of Bunratty Lower (Photo 4). This feature is 35 cm high, and in a fair state of preservation.

There is no information available as to either the builder or period of construction of this site, so states O’Donovan, 1839, page 143.

He is not only referring to the actual time of construction but even to later periods as this site is not mentioned in the College List of 1580 A.D. Locals say this was a Mac Mahon site and based on its features, a deal more elaborate than those found in many local tower houses, I suggest an early sixteenth century date rather than late fifteenth century.

The site would certainly have existed by 1580 A.D. (College List) but was missed while that document was being drawn up.

Occupation at a later period, perhaps early nineteenth century, is suggested by the amount of red brick used to repair damaged parts of the tower house. It may not have been used as a centre of habitation but certainly was put to some use (storage?).

The site itself is in an interesting location, built close to the Fergus estuary. Prior to the construction of the early nineteenth century nearby embankments the land close to the tower house would have been subjected to seasonal flooding.


O’Donovan, O.S. Letters (1839), Volume 2, page 143
Frost, 1893, page 190
Westropp, 1899, page 363

Photo 2: Entrance to Clenagh Tower House, from the south
Photo 2: Entrance to Clenagh Tower House, from the south

Photo 3: Fireplace in the cellar of Clenagh Tower House
Photo 3: Fireplace in the cellar of Clenagh Tower House

Photo 4: Sheila-na-Gig at Clenagh Tower House
Photo 4: Sheila-na-Gig at Clenagh Tower House