Scattery Island: The Round Tower
Clare County Library
 Home | Search Library Catalogue | Foto: Clare Photo Collection | Search this Website | Copyright Notice

The round tower, widely believed to have been built by St Senan, is 120 feet high with a unique doorway at ground level. It does not contain any floors or ladders. Hely Duton's Statistical Survey of 1808 describes the tower thus: 'This tower is about 120 feet high, and, though split almost from the top to the bottom by lightning, is still standing, and is a very beautiful object, and an useful land-mark to seamen.' It was still in this state in 1838 when John O'Donovan, in his letter to the Ordnance Survey, noted a large breach on the north east in addition to the split. O'Donovan has left us an extensive desription of the round tower.

'The Round Tower, called in Irish Clogas Inse Cathaigh. It stands at the distance of seventy seven feet seven inches to the west of the Damhliag, with parts of which it seems coeval. It is fifty two feet four inches in circumference at the base (measured on the outside) and according to Archdall one hundred and twenty feet in height. The wall is four feet six inches in thickness; its internal diameter is seven feet eleven inches and its entire diameter sixteen feet eleven inches. Its doorway is placed on the east side, and now level with the surface of the field (which is not much raised) and facing the north west corner of the Damhliag.


Round Tower

Unfinished conical cap
Unfinished conical cap

This doorway is certainly not the original one for it could not for a moment be rationally supposed to be coeval with the opposite doorway of the Damhliag. It is very rudely constructed of small rough stones, and inclines to a point. It measures in height four feet eight and half inches and in breadth at top two feet and at bottom two feet three inches. I could not incline my mind to believe that this doorway is more than four or five centuries old, though I could see no place in the side of the tower exhibiting any appearance of a more ancient one built up or destroyed; but it is my opinion that the greater part of this side of the tower was rebuilt, or at least, breaches made in it by lightning, patched up. At present there is a large breach in the north east side apparently made by lightning, and a split (rent) extending from bottom to top (it is also split on the west side from within a few feet of the bottom to the top window); but the original doorway could not have been placed where the present breach is, as is evident from the position of the first window.

The first storey over the original doorway (wherever it was placed) was lighted by a small square window placed in the north side; the second, by a rude little window, now much disfigured, placed in the south side; the third, by a small quadrangular window (evidently modern) on the east side nearly over the present doorway; the fourth, by a similar one (but more ancient) on the west side; the fifth by a similar one on the north side; and there are four windows of good size exactly facing the cardinal points under the Bencover or Conical Cap. The cap has suffered considerably from the shock of elements, not enough of it remains for ascertaining its original height.

The tradition in the country is that this Clogas was built by St. Sennaun, the Patron Saint of the Island, and the same tradition existed in the year 1794 before any of the theories of the fire worshippers and Budhists were published. This we learn from Michael O'Brannan's poem on the Shannon, in which he recites the tradition relating to the Tower of Scattery, and also to those of Inis Cloithrinn in Lough Ree and Inis Cealtra in Lough Deirgdheire.

Is iomdha oileán féarmhar, fairsing,
A gcompás sholasach a réime
Ó Chathair Luimnighe go Ceann Léime.

'S d' á n-uimhir oileán Inse Cathaigh
Air ar' chuir an Naomh ba glórmhar beatha
Seanán aén cheann déag de Theampluibh
A's Clogás alainn, árd 'na dteannta.

Many a grassy extensive island
In the bright compass of its course
From Limerick City to Leap (now Loop) Head.

Of the number is the isle of Inis Cathy
On which a Saint of glorious life,
Seanan, placed eleven Churches,
And a beautiful high Clogaus beside them.

Round Tower, 1939
Round Tower, 1939
Fr. Browne Collection

It has been the tradition along the Shannon that the Clogaus of Inis Cathy was built by St. Senan from time immemorial, and though the Danes were in possession of the island in the year 975 no one ever heard that it was at any time a tradition that the Clogás was built by them. According to a wild and unintelligible legend about St. Senan and a woman, the cap of this tower was never finished:

Clogás go h-aér é a Sheanain! Ol in bhen. Ní clogás níos airde é, ol Senán. Do rinne in bhen mothugadh do'n obair le radh na bhfocal sin; agus is ar an ádhbhar soin nár cheaduigh Noebh Senan, do én mnaí thecht for ind indsi ó shoin ille, más fior.'

In 1855, on the initative of the Catholic curate of Kilrush, the split was repaired with a grant of £40 from the Limerick Harbour Board. Today there is no sign of the split and the breach on the north east has been blocked up. The cap of the tower is still incomplete.

<< Back to Scattery Island: The Monastic Settlement