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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 36: Feenagh Parish


Nat. Grid Ref. R467628; ½” Sheet 17

Photo 1: North-east entrance face of Rossmanagher Tower House
Photo 1: North-east entrance face of Rossmanagher Tower House

R.C. Parish : Sixmilebridge - Kilmurry
Townland : Rossmanagher
6” O.S. Sheet number : 52 (Co. Clare)
Reference : 9.7 cm South; 16.2 cm West
Height (G.L.) : c. 45’ O.D.
1” O.S. Sheet number : 143 (Limerick)

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

Ground Floor Plan of Rossmanagher Tower House:-


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

  1. Description of site’s interior
  2. Description of site’s four walls
  3. References to site and possible date of construction

Site’s Interior: – (Refer to site plan)
On entering the site from the north-east one passes under a cut-stone doorway in a fair condition (O’Brien, 1977, photo page 20). This survives to a height of 2.25 metres. Unfortunately cattle using the site’s interior for shelter have worn the lower sides of this 1.15 metre wide cut-stone doorway. Otherwise this cut-stone feature is in a fairly good condition. As the site plan shows the shafts for the closing beam can still be examined. These average 12 cm square.

A short distance in from this entrance area, and directly overhead, is the now enlarged position of a former murder-hole. This, as has been stated previously, is a fairly common defensive feature in tower houses.

To the left (south-east) is the area of the cut-stone spiral stairway, also entered via a cut-stone doorway. In this area one has a narrow slitted window, with inside recess, facing the entrance area of the site (i.e. north-east). To stop cattle movement into this part of the tower house large blocks have been placed across the doorway, to a height of 40 cm. Behind this the original floor area is covered by a deal of loose stone and rubble, to a depth of 30 cm. Not only is all the floor area covered here but also the first few cut-stone steps of the spiral stairway.

As the site plan shows a narrow slitted window occurs towards the site’s eastern corner, to provide light for the stairway in that area. Though 70 cm wide on the inside this window has only a 15 cm opening on the outside. It averages 1 metre in height. Passing this opening the cut-stone steps lead up to the first and formerly successive floors. However the upper floors of the site will be mentioned later, here we are only concerned with the ground floor features.

Directly across from the area of the stairway is the now enlarged, and much damaged, guardroom. Originally this room contained two windows, presumably of the long narrow slitted type (probably c. 10 cm wide on outside by 80 cm high). As the site plan shows both of these window areas have been enlarged and cattle now freely move through both of them (Photo 1). This guardroom was, originally, presumably entered via a stone cut doorway, no trace of which now survives.

Leaving the guard room, and heading towards the south-west, one comes to the area of the cellar/store. As the site plan suggests this was originally entered via a cut-stone, arched, doorway. Only the left hand (i.e. south-east) of this now survives with a beam shaft space behind it. A short distance beyond this is the cellar/store proper.

What was the purpose of the store in tower houses? Was it, as the name suggests, to store food? Because of the few narrow slitted windows in such areas and the absence of a fireplace I feel that in most cases such an explanation is quite feasible. However what of those sites with a fireplace in the “cellar” area and perhaps a wider window? The presence of such a feature (i.e. fireplace) surely suggests occupation, perhaps by the lord’s servants. Rossmanagher Tower House is one such site where a fireplace is to be found on the ground floor, in the cellar area. This feature is in the site’s north-west wall and is now partly blocked up by red brick (see site plan).

What are the other features of this “cellar” area? The arched roof is in a good condition with the wicker work impression clearly visible in many areas. The central part of this ceiling is, on average, 4.50 metres above the present ground level of the cellar. I use the word “present” because cattle sheltering in this area over the decades have been responsible for raising the floor level. Clay also seems to have been brought in and spread over the interior.

As the site plan shows the two former window spaces, in the south-east and south-west walls, have been badly damaged. Field evidence suggested these to have been narrow slitted windows with inside recesses. However as the cellar is some 4 metres above the base of the tower house, due to sloping nature of ground, it may have been that these windows had wider than usual openings as they were quite a safe height above surrounding field surface in case of an attack.

To protect cattle from injuring themselves both of these window spaces are now blocked up by timber poles and sheets of galvanised iron (see site plan).

Such are the features of the ground floor of this site. What about succeeding floors?

By using the nine visible cut-stone steps of the stairway one comes to that part of the tower house directly over the entrance area below (including guardroom and stairway area). As stated previously this room contains, towards its centre, a now much enlarged murder-hole space (1 metre square).

Two windows occur here, one facing to the north-east (towards approach to entrance) and one looking to the north-west. Both of these stone cut windows are in good condition, are of ogee nature and have inside recesses. They average 1.40 metres in height and 20 cm in width. The north-east wall window is the more elaborate of the two (O’Brien, 1977, photo on page 22).

The actual room is 3.50 metres long (north-east) by 2.50 metres wide (north-west). The floor is covered to the depth of 1 metre by collapse from succeeding floors.

The roof over this floor has collapsed and looking up through the opening one can see that the site had three other floors, plus the area of the wall walk. (O’Brien, 1977, photo p. 20 & 21).

It is, unfortunately, impossible to go up any higher by the spiral stairway as the cut-stones have been removed.

Due to the high arched ceiling of the cellar area there is no room directly over that corresponding, and at the same level, to the murder-hole room. However from this latter room one can climb by a small stairway (three steps) into a room directly over the arched cellar. This area is in two parts, containing a guardrobe and probable private quarters of the lord.

The actual guardrobe is approached by a narrow passage along the south-east wall. Light here was provided by a small square window 52 cm wide and 80 cm high on the outside and 82 cm wide and 87 cm high on the inside (see Field sketch for south-east face; also Photo 3).

The actual guardrobe, from which one can see the ground level directly below, is some 1 metre square (Photo 2).

The large room by the guardrobe and directly over the cellar is in a poor condition with its ceiling fully collapsed. There are signs of later re-use here, especially in the fact that some of the windows are defined by red brick. The floor is covered by rubble and some vegetation grows here.

The windows in this room are represented on the various field sketches.

Walls of Tower House:

North-East Face: (Photo 1)
As the relevant field sketch shows this wall originally had eleven, if not twelve, windows. Reference has already been made to some of these in the course of the interior description. In particular mention was made of the open space in the guardroom – this formerly was a stone cut, narrow, window (see Photo 1).

The flat topped window on the ground floor, by the stairway, averages 1.10 metres in height and 35 cm in width.

The room over the entrance area formerly had three cut-stone windows, only two of which now survive. The centre one is completely gone and in its place is an open space (Photo 1). To the right of this is an elaborate ogee type window (O’Brien, 1977, page 22, photo). The second floor also has three windows but only the long narrow slitted one to the north is of interest. Similar type windows occur over the next two floors.

At the top of this north-east face is a square opening (Field sketch 1). This may have been used in the roofing of the site as it occurs in the gable (Photo 1).

South-East Face: (Photo 3)
As it survives this wall has eight windows, or window spaces, visible. In all probability there may have been more but the depth of the ivy covering on much of this wall has hidden such evidence. The three windows near the site’s east corner are of the narrow slitted type. These provide light for the stairway.

Reference has already been made to the opening in the cellar area. This averages 2 metres in height and 1.45 metres in width. Originally there was a narrow slitted window here, with inside recess.

The square window to the top right of this space, in the room area over the arched cellar, provides light for the narrow passageway leading to the guardrobe. Reference has already been made to this. On the uppermost part of this 17 metre high wall some of the stone slabs of the original wall walk are visible (Photo 3).

South-West Face:
As Field sketch 3 shows this wall originally had 3 windows, all now in a poor condition. When describing the cellar area previously reference was made to the open space in the south-east wall (see site plan). This marks the position of a former stone cut window, probably of long narrow slitted type, no trace of which now survives.

Directly over this is a second opening. This occurs in the room over the cellar area. No trace here now of a stone cut window. The third, and uppermost window, now survives as a rectangular space with some red brick about it.

North-West Face:
The Field sketch (No. 4) deals with this wall in quite adequate detail. It shows the eight windows as they survive in various states of preservation. A number of these are worthy of comment.

On the ground floor area, by the site’s north corner, is a 1.80 metre wide by 2.10 metre high open space (see site plan). This marks the former position of a narrow slitted window which formerly existed in the guardroom.

Three windows occur in the second floor room. Though possibly originally narrow and slitted two of these now exist as rectangular openings, partly defined by red brick. The third window, to the west, is in fact, a slitted one though now blocked up by sandstone blocks. This has a semi-circular top.

This wall also has traces of stone slabs on the top of the wall (see Field sketch 4). (For a photograph of this face refer to O’Brien, 1977, page 21, “Rossmanagher Tower House”).

Like other tower houses in the area this site was built on outcropping rock. Photo 3 shows some of this outcropping limestone.

There is no reference in any of the sources as to the date of construction of this site. We can, however, state that other tower houses in this area were constructed around 1470 A.D. and Rossmanagher may likewise date to that period. In 1580 according to the College List, the site was owned by the Earl of Thomond (O’Curry, 1839, page 114).

Later occupation at this site is shown by a reference in Frost which states: “It (Rossmanagher Tower House) was inhabited until the middle of the present century by the tenants of the Earl’s representatives” (1893, page 187). Such occupation is evident by the presence of red brick repair work which occurs over areas of the site. (Reference has already been made to this brick throughout the site description).

This site would seem to have had an outhouse attached to its north-east face. Certainly a close examination of both Photo 1 and Field sketch 1 suggest this. It is unclear if such a structure dated to the fifteenth century or to a later period.


Curry, 1839, page 114
Frost, 1893, page 187
O’Brien, 1977, pages 19 – 23 (especially photographs)

Photo 2: Guardrobe discharge shaft at Rossmanagher Tower House
Photo 2: Guardrobe discharge shaft at Rossmanagher Tower House

Photo 3: South-east face of Rossmanagher Tower House
Photo 3: South-east face of Rossmanagher Tower House

Field Sketches 1 and 2: North-east and south-west faces of Rossmanagher Tower House
Field Sketches 1 and 2: North-east and south-west faces of Rossmanagher Tower House

Field Sketches 3 and 4: South-west and north-west faces of Rossmanagher Tower House
Field Sketches 3 and 4: South-west and north-west faces of Rossmanagher Tower House