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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 35: Drumline Parish


Nat. Grid Ref. R431646; ½” Sheet 17

Photo 1: Drumline Tower House, from the north-west
Photo 1: Drumline Tower House, from the north-west

R.C. Parish : Newmarket-on-Fergus
Townland : Drumline
6” O.S. Sheet number : 51 (Co. Clare)
Reference : 26.7 cm South; 19.5 cm East
Height (G.L.) : c. 70’ O.D.
1” O.S. Sheet number : 133 (Sixmilebridge)

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

Ground Floor Plan of Drumline Tower House:-


When dealing with this site I propose to use the following procedure:

  1. Description of each of the site’s four walls, illustrated by photographs and field sketches
  2. Description of site’s interior
  3. References to site and possible date of construction

Description of site’s four walls:

North Wall: (Photograph 2)
This wall, as both field sketch (number 1) and photograph (2) show, is in a fair condition. Most of its cut limestone windows remain intact, though as we shall see the area by the original doorway has been damaged.

The main entrance into the site was via what was presumably a cut limestone doorway in the centre, of this wall. However as both Photo 2 and Field sketch 1 show very little trace now survives of this cut-stone feature. In fact the only remnants of the cut-stone doorway is the arch arrangement of stones overhead. Not only has most of the cut-stone been removed from the actual door area but a close examination of Photo 2 shows the absence of some of the cut limestone and sandstone in parts of the lower 3 metres of this north wall. This original entrance area, 2.50 metres high and 1.45 metres wide, is now blocked up to a height of 1.25 metres by loose stones (see site plan).

What of the windows in this north wall? Originally there were nine, five of which now survive in a good state of preservation (Photo 2). All traces of cut-stone from the two lower windows have been removed leaving open spaces (see Field sketch 1). The lower right (i.e. west) “window” now exists as a 2 metre high by ½ metre wide open space. Originally this window was of the long narrow slitted type and provided light for the stairway inside it. The similar type cut-stone window over the door area to the left (i.e. east) has also been removed leaving a wide open space, almost 3 metres high by up to 1 ½ metres wide.

Three cut limestone windows survive near the site’s north-west corner, on different floors. These all provided light for the stairway. They average 1.0 metres in height but only 7 cm in width. There originally was a fourth window of this type overhead but all trace of the cut-stone has been removed.

Two wider, cut-stone, windows occur in the eastern part of this northern wall. These average 1.15 metres in height but only 10 cm in width.

What may have been a window of the central column type existed on the top central part of this wall. All that survives now is an open space, 3 metres high and up to 1.50 metres wide (Field sketch 1).

A close examination of Photo 2 as well as Field sketch 1, shows three protruding corbels near the top of this northern wall. Based on field examination I feel that here we have the final surviving traces of a machicoulis, which once protected the doorway directly below. However, as stated above, only the supporting corbels of this defensive feature now survive.

Back from the north wall proper is the remains of the angled gable which supported the site’s north-south running roof (Field sketch 1).

East wall: (Photograph 3)
This wall is in a fair condition though as both Photo 3 and Field sketch 2 show it has a wide opening to its centre, on the ground floor. Originally, based on field examination, there was a narrow slitted window here. However at some stage it was decided to use the site’s interior, ground floor only, as a shelter for cattle. This area of the wall was then cut through removing all trace of the former window and leaving only an open gap. The area of this opening, as well as the site’s interior, has been heavily churned by cattle.

The second, and only other, window on the ground floor has also been badly damaged. This is in the guardroom, see site plan, and will be discussed later when dealing with the interior of the tower house.

Apart from the two windows just described this eastern wall has nine other windows, most of them, fortunately, in a good condition (Photo 3). The most interesting of these, and one that is in a good state of preservation, is to the upper left (i.e. south) of the wall. This is a double window, of ogee type, with the shaft intact. It is 1.50 metres high and 0.50 metres wide. It is now largely blocked up by loose stone.

The other windows of this wall are of the narrow slitted type and flat topped (Field sketch 2).

South Wall: (Field Sketch 3)
This wall originally had three cut-stone windows, one of which was on the site’s ground floor, in the cellar (store) area, see site plan. This has been completely removed, and all that exists now is an open space blocked up to 2 metres in height by loose stones to restrict livestock movement.

Two other windows existed on this south wall, one towards the centre of the wall about 8 metres above ground level. All that survives now is a 2.50 metre high by 1.0 metre wide open space, though an examination of the space from the inside suggested that formerly it had an inside recess and may have been a narrow slitted window.

The upper window still has much of its cut limestone intact (Field sketch 3). Though now flat topped the open space in this area suggests that formerly there was a window of ogee type, with a central shaft.

Further above this window, but inside the south wall proper, is the angled gable used in the roofing of the site.

West Face: (Photograph 1)
When dealing with the east wall previously we noted the presence of a large opening on the ground floor into the cellar area (site plan). This, I said, was the site of a former window, presumably narrow slitted with inside recess, which had been removed to provide an entrance for cattle who use the site for shelter. Exactly the same thing happened on the west wall. An examination of the site plan shows this wide opening, though unlike the one to the east it is now blocked to the height of 1.50 metres by loose stone. This is to restrict cattle movement so that all entrance - exit is now via the one, eastern, gap.

The only other window on the ground floor, along the west wall, is near the site’s north-west corner and this provided light for the first steps to the stairway. Reference will be made to the poor, open, condition of this window when dealing with the site’s interior.

Nine other windows existed on this west wall, see Field sketch 4. Four of these, three of which are intact, provided light for the stairway near the site’s north-west corner (Photo 1).

The main window of interest is to the top right (i.e. south) of the tower house. This cut-stone window originally had a central shaft which is now missing. Otherwise the window is in a good condition and is 2.25 metres high and 0.50 metres wide.

As the field sketch shows some of the lower cut-stone has been removed from the west wall, to a height of 3.50 metres by the south-west corner.

Interior of Drumline Tower House:
As already stated, when dealing with the site’s northern wall, one originally entered this tower house via a stone cut doorway to the north-central, little trace of which now remains. As both Photo 2 and Field sketch 1 show this entrance area is now partly blocked up by loose stone and one has to enter the site’s interior via the previously described large gap in the east wall (Photo 3).

On standing on the inside of the north entrance area one notices the following. Though the floor over this area has collapsed in part there is an indication of the former presence of a murder-hole within 2 metres of the cut-stone doorway. This, as I have already stated in the introduction to tower houses, is a common feature in most defensive sites. An examination of the inner door area, to the left (i.e. east) found the cut hanging stone of the original doorway.

On walking further in from the main north entrance area one has:

  1. guardroom to the left (i.e. east)
  2. stairway to the right (i.e. west)
  3. cellar-store straight on (i.e. south)

The guardroom is entered by a 1.75 metres high opening, which now has no trace of a cut-stone doorway. However based on evidence from other sites in all probability such a cut-stone door existed. This small room (see site plan) has only one window which faces east. This window is now in a poor condition, with no trace of actual cut-stone. Formerly it was probably a narrow slitted window with inside recess. As the site plan shows the lower part of this opening is now blocked up by loose stone to the height of 1 metre.

A small niche (shelf) exists in the north wall of this guardroom. It is much smaller than the usual type shelf, being only 35 cm long, 20 cm high and 25 cm deep (site plan). The ceiling of this guardroom is arched with a maximum height of 3 metres at its centre. There is much evidence of the wattle method of this area’s construction.

Directly opposite the guardroom is the area of the stairway, now covered to a depth of 1 metre by large loose blocks. This stairway area was originally probably entered via a cut-stone doorway, though no trace of this feature now survives. As the site plan shows two window spaces exist in this area of the site’s ground floor. I use the word “spaces” as all evidence of cut-stone has been removed, leaving only gaps in the wall (see Photos 1 and 2). Both of these “windows” would have been of the long narrow slitted type, with inside recesses (probably 1.15 metres high by 0.07 metres wide).

As the cut-stone steps of the stairway have been knocked down it is not possible to get to the first or succeeding floors. However by looking upwards one can see where these steps originally were, as well as the narrow slitted windows which provided the light for this stairway.

On leaving the area of the stairway one heads south and enters the cellar (store) via a 2.50 metre high, slightly arched, area of sandstone. As already mentioned in relation to the east wall (Photo 3) cattle use the cellar area for shelter. To allow free movement for the livestock the original three slitted windows have been completely removed and replaced by open gaps (see field sketches). The floor area of the cellar has been heavily churned and contains some collapse.

The cellar area had an arched ceiling, the corbels used in the erection of this are still in place. Field examination found that the central 4 metre wide stretch of this arched ceiling has collapsed, though the sides are intact. Originally this roof would have been some 8 metres high at its centre.

Looking up through this opening one notices that the site had two floors over the cellar, plus the roof (attic) area. The central parts of the roofs in these two floors have likewise collapsed.

Like other tower houses in the area this site was built on outcropping rock above a marshy area. On average the site is 3 metres above the surrounding field surface, though this is somewhat greater to the north than south (Photo 1).

Westropp quotes the Annals of Lough Cé which state that the castle (i.e. tower house) of Drumline was built by John, son of Maccon McNamara, who died in 1467 A.D.

Based on an examination of the site plan, and especially the thickness of the main walls, I feel a construction date of c. 1440 – 1450 A.D. is quite probable for this site.

O’Lionain (c. 1750) has no reference to this site. The College List (quoted in O.S. Letters, 1839, Volume 2, page 141) tells us that in 1580 Drumline Tower House was in the possession of Moriertagh O’Brien, and not John O’Maoelconery as suggested by Frost (1893, page 187).


O.S. Letters, 1839, page 141, (Volume 2)

1893, page 187

Westropp, 1899, page 351
O’Brien, 1977, pages 19 - 23

Photo 2: North entrance face of Drumline Tower House
Photo 2: North entrance face of Drumline Tower House

Photo 3: East face of Drumline Tower House
Photo 3: East face of Drumline Tower House

Field Sketch 1: North Face of Drumline Tower House
Field Sketch 1: North Face of Drumline Tower House

Field Sketch 2: East Face of Drumline Tower House
Field Sketch 2: East Face of Drumline Tower House

Field Sketch 3: South Face of Drumline Tower House
Field Sketch 3: South Face of Drumline Tower House

Field Sketch 4: West Face of Drumline Tower House
Field Sketch 4: West Face of Drumline Tower House