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Ordnance Survey Letters by John O'Donovan and Eugene Curry, 1839

Parish of Disert (c)

At a few feet distance from the southwest angle of the Church is a ruined round tower about sixty feet in height as it stands at present, and sixty one feet in circumference at the height of five feet from the ground. The southeast side is down to within twelve feet of the ground, where the wall is five feet thick, but diminishes there to the thickness of three feet seven inches by a gradual taper from without and an abrupt shift from within. At the height of about thirty feet it diminishes from the outside abruptly by about a foot.

The door is circular, placed in the northeast side at twelve feet six inches from the ground, five feet ten inches high, two feet ten wide at the springing of the arch, and three feet at bottom. It is built up with finely cut stones resembling in workmanship those of the choir arch in the Church and looking quite as fresh. Two cut stones of the side of a window appear near the top on the south side.

Round Tower S.W. of Dysart Church

From what remains of this window, if my eye be right, it was built in the pointed style, and the front angle of the stone cut away, which I believe is not the case in buildings of the supposed antiquity of the round towers of Ireland. There is a modern doorway open in the west side near the ground.

Some (several) years ago, the interior of this tower was dug up in search for money, but nothing was found except a good-sized bell, a little cracked, which was carried away and placed in the Church of Corofin, where it remained in use till about twenty years back, when it was exchanged in Limerick for a larger and better one. I have but very little doubt that this steeple was battered down by Ireton’s artillery, sufficient evidence of which remains on the shattered and shivered stones on the south side, if I am not much mistaken.

Detail of window in Dysart Round Tower
It was built of large and small stones in somewhat irregular courses, the mortar much whiter than that in others that I have seen. Without assigning any particular reason for my opinion I think that neither the Church nor the tower is as old as the time of Brian Boru, and that they were built or rebuilt by O’Dea when he fixed his residence here.

A little to the east of the Church on the south side of the old road, is the pedestal of a cross, the lower part built of seven large cut stones, surmounted by another stone in which the cross stood.

The cross, which was a very fine one, stands in two pieces on the east side of the pedestal, and appears to have been originally formed out of two pieces of stone, as there is a mortice in the top of the shaft for the reception of a tenon from the upper part. The shaft is four feet ten inches high, two feet wide at bottom, one foot eight at top, one foot three inches thick at bottom and one foot one inch at top, having the raised figure of a bishop stretching its whole length, holding a Bachall in the left hand, and a square hole cut into the body at the middle near the right side.

Pedestal of Cross to the East of Dysart Church

The top part stands near this, measuring four feet two inches in height, three feet three across the arm, having a very rude representation of the Crucifixion with a moveable head inserted in the stone, on one side. All the sides of the Cross are handsomely sculptured, as are the north and south sides of the pedestal. On the north side of the square part of pedestal is the following inscription, in plain characters: “This Cross was newly repaired by Michael O’Dea, son of Connor Crone O’Dea, in the year 1683.”

This was the Michael O’Dea who erected the monument in the Church about the same time. There is no remembrance of when or how the cross was removed from its proper place and position. The people all about here call it Cross-Bhánála, i.e., Bánála’s Cross, and believe that Bánála, who they think was a woman, was the Patron Saint of this Parish, but it is easy to see how this mistake grew up with the corruption of the name. They have a habit of distinguishing objects and places by their colours, as Boirni-bhan-an Aolmhaighe, White Limy Burren; Teampull-Dubh-na-h-Eidhnighe, the Black Church of Eidhneach; Crosa-Geala-Chillfhionnabhrach, the White Crosses of Killfenora; and in the present instance, Cros-Bhán-Thola, i.e., the White Cross of Tola, which subsequently was corrupted into one word thus, Cros Bhanola, which was further altered into Bánála, and supposed to express the name of the foundress of the Church. There was no person in the Parish to whom I explained the progress of this corruption who did not believe it to be the truth and acknowledge that doubts were always entertained in the Parish on the same subject, as the name of Bánála could not be found among any of the works on the Irish Saints. It is curious to find, however, that the Disert Tola in the Co. Westmeath is called by the natives Diseart-Aivla.