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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. R412631; ½” Sheet 17

Photo 1: Smithstown Tower House (1979)
Photo 1: Smithstown Tower House (1979)

R.C. Parish : Newmarket-on-Fergus
Townland : Smithstown
6” O.S. Sheet number : 51 (Co. Clare)
Reference : 13.0 cm South; 36.4 cm East
Height (G.L.) : c. 35’ O.D.
1” O.S. Sheet number : 143 (Limerick)

For information on this site refer to: a) site description b) photograph c) field sketches


As the photograph below shows this site is in a very poor condition, with only one of the four walls standing, and this is even in a poor and dangerous condition. Such a view contrasts quite sharply with that put forward by Frost in 1893 when he said “…It remains subsist in very good preservation”. (page 187). This tells us that the site has suffered much damage over the past 80 years.

Field examination noted the following. Only one wall (north-west) survives intact. Its length of 12.95 metres shows that it was formerly one of the site’s long side walls (see Field sketch 1). At present this wall has five window spaces, all now without trace of cut-stone, from the outside. Two of these openings are within 1.50 metres of the base of the tower house. They average 0.45 metres in width and 2 – 2.50 metres in height (Photo 1). There is a third window space above the former two, near the centre position. Measurements for this opening also centre on ½ metre width and 2 ½ metre height. By the top north corner of this wall is a fourth rectangular opening.

The window spaces described to date suggest that these were formerly occupied by long narrow slitted windows, with inside recesses. The actual opening for light may have been 7 cm to 12 cm as we will notice in relation to other sites in a better state of preservation.

The wider (fifth) opening towards the top central part of this north-west wall suggests a larger type window. This would have been possible as the opening is at a safe height of 8 metres above the ground level. This space now is in danger as two marked cracks occur above it. (Field sketch 1). There may have been further windows along this north-west wall but the collapse of part of the upper area has removed such evidence.

Apart from the cracks on this wall further damage has been done by the removal of the cut-stone facing along its full base area (see Photo 1 and Field sketch 1). Not only is the lower 2 – 3 metres of facing fully gone but the corner stones are also missing.

What of the inner face of this north-west wall? Field examination found that when some of the site’s walls collapsed stones fell into the site’s interior. Thus this area is now at a somewhat higher level than formerly. Such collapse has covered most of the actual interior floor, as well as the lower sections of the north-west wall. In spite of this covering the wall’s inner face does provide some useful information.

Though no actual trace survives of the stairway field observation noted that it was in the northern corner of the site and with the former entrance area therefore presumably to the north-east. In this area, to the top of the wall, one can see the positions occupied by the horizontal stones of the stairway. Close to these, where the stairway led into the first, second and third floor, one can still clearly see some of the hanging stones and beam shafts connected with the doorways of the various floors.

Otherwise this inner face of the north-west wall has no features of special interest. The top central window, described previously, has two cut-stone corbels at either side of the window space, though as we noted on the outside no actual trace of cut-stone survives in the window area.

An examination of the four narrow windows, already described from the outside, showed that they had inside recesses.

A small 3 metre wide stretch survives of the south-west face. It has no features of interest.

The actual tower house was, again, built on outcropping limestone in a marshy area. On average this outcrop is 2 metres above the surrounding field surface.

Westropp makes no reference, in his 1899 article, to the probable date of construction of this site. Using the presence of other tower houses in the area we can say that around 1470 A.D. many sites were built in this section of the Barony. Smithstown may also date to this period.

Concerning this site O’Lionain has written: “Shane, the son of Sheedy, who was son of Donogh Cumarach, erected Baile na nGaibne (Smithstown) from the hall down and his father that part of it extending from the hall up…” (O.S. Letters, 1838, Vol. 2, p.137).

The College List (1580) says the tower house was in the possession of Mortogh O’Brien, son of Conor, first Earl of Thomond. (Frost, 1893, page 187).

Later Use:
During the Cromwellian period of Irish history, 1650s, many of the tower houses throughout the country had their stone spiral stairways destroyed. This ensured that the sites could not be used again in times of trouble. This may account for the destroyed stairway at Smithstown.
Also during this troubled period a number of tower houses were garrisoned by Cromwellians while an area was being subdued. Smithstown was one such site (Westropp, 1899, page 361).

In comparatively recent times, 1808, the Tower House of Smithstown is listed in the statistical survey of Co. Clare (Dutton) as being inhabited at that time. However as the spiral stairway was already destroyed by this date such occupation would have been restricted to the ground floor area.


O’Donovan, 1839, page 137 (Volume 2)
Frost, 1893, page 187
Westropp, 1899, pages 360 and 363
O’Brien, 1977, page 23 (Distribution map)

Field Sketch 1: North West Face
Field Sketch 1: North West Face