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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 42: Kilmurry Parish


Nat. Grid Ref. R487727; ½” Sheet 17

Photo 1: South face of Kilkishen Tower House
Photo 1: South face of Kilkishen Tower House

R.C. Parish : Sixmilebridge – Kilmurry
Townland : Kilkishen Demesne
6” O.S. Sheet number : 43 (Co. Clare)
Reference : 22.3 cm North; 33.3 cm West
Height (G.L.) : c. 115’ O.D.
1” O.S. Sheet number : 133 (Sixmilebridge)

For information on this interesting site refer to:- a) site plan b) site description c) series of photographs.

Plan of Kilkishen Tower House
Plan of Kilkishen Tower House


This site, as an examination of O.S. Sheets showing Barony boundaries will show, is only some few metres within Bunratty Lower Barony. In fact the large field between it and the main Sixmilebridge – Kilkishen road to the south-east, is in the neighbouring Barony of Tulla Lower.

The entrance into this interesting site is from the east via a pointed stone cut doorway (Photo 2). This door is 2.35 metres high and 1.15 metres wide. Field examination found that the actual cut-stone has been damaged in areas, especially in the area of both sides 1.50 metres above the ground level. The smooth cut-stone has been damaged and in this area we now find a rough face. (At the time of site visitations during 1978 - 1979 it was impossible to get into the Tower House via this pointed doorway. It was closed off by a large timber door. Thus to get into the site’s interior one had to climb in through the damaged window in the north wall, quite close to its junction with the east wall). Directly inside the doorway the murder-hole can be seen overhead. This feature, 2.50 metres above the ground floor, is 65 cm by 45 cm in size.

The ceiling over this entrance area was achieved by using the wattle technique. In fact some of the actual timber framework used is still visible in the ceiling, particularly in the area by the murder-hole.

Walking in further from the entrance area one has the guardroom to the left (i.e. south). Part of the wall here, and much of the cut-stone doorway is damaged (see site plan). This small room only contains two features of interest. A small shelf exists in the south wall. This is 67 cm wide and 58 cm high. The other feature of note is the narrow slitted window in the east wall. As the site plan shows this has an inside recess. Though the opening is 50 cm wide on the inside and almost 60 cm high it is only 45 cm high on the outside and 10 cm wide.

The floor of the guardroom contains some rubble.
Directly across from the guardroom, to the north, is the room leading to the spiral stairway. You enter this area via a pointed cut-stone doorway, in a good state of preservation (see site plan). The actual door is 95 cm wide, 1.92 metres high and 20 cm thick. A short distance beyond (north of) this feature are the first stone steps of the spiral stairway. This leads to the first and successive floors. To provide light along the narrow stairway, as well as for lookout purposes, narrow slitted windows were provided. As the site plan shows the first of these windows, on the ground floor and along the northern wall, is in a poor condition. There is now little trace of the actual cut-stone, the opening now partly blocked up by red brick and mortar. The top part is open and in fact this is the only way to enter the eastern part of the site as the main doorway, as stated previously, is blocked up.

Twelve cut-stone steps lead to the room over the entrance area. As stated previously the murder-hole in this room is open and looking down through it one can see the entrance area of the site (Photo 3).

This room has two windows, one facing east and the other south.

The eastern window is especially interesting as it is of ogee form and in a good state of preservation (Photo 2). The full window, including the cut-stone area, is 1.30 metres high and almost 30 cm wide. The actual opening, however, is 1.20 metres high by 15 cm wide.

The southern window has a flat top (Photo 1). The inner cut-stone area of this opening has two little hollows which supported the shutters which covered the windows. Such shutter spaces occur at a number of sites though they are uncommon, especially with so many cut-stone windows damaged or destroyed. In the case of this particular window the light opening is 1.17 metres high and 15 cm wide.

The actual murder-hole room is 3.45 metres wide (east-west) by 3.15 metres long (north-south). Its ceiling, of the arched wicker work type, is 3 metres high at its centre.

A stone cut, pointed, doorway leads into this small room. It is 1.80 metres high by 70 cm wide.

By climbing a further four steps along the spiral, cut-stone, stairway one comes to a second pointed doorway. This leads, via a narrow passage, to the room directly over the cellar. This cut doorway is now partly blocked up as the arched ceiling of the cellar has collapsed thus there is now no floor in the room beyond the door.

One can climb a further twelve steps to another floor. On this climb one passes three narrow slitted windows with inside recesses and all in a good state of preservation. The actual openings in these windows average 1.15 metres in height and only 7 cm in width. The twelve steps lead to the room directly over the murder-hole room, in the eastern part of the site. This room is smaller in size than that one directly below it. It also contains two windows but on this occasion both are of ogee nature 1.20 metres high and 15 cm wide.

The ceiling over this small room has collapsed though the top arched (eastern) roof of the tower house still survives, two further floors up.

From here a short climb of three steps leads one to a narrow passage leading to a large room, two floors over the cellar area. However as the floor of this room is fully collapsed one cannot go more than 3 metres in from the pointed, cut-stone, doorway which is at the start of the narrow passage.

The spiral stairway continues to climb along the site’s north-east corner. Twelve more steps, via two narrow slitted windows, brings you to a small room three floors over the entrance area. This room is in a poor condition. The floor has fully collapsed and its two windows are now blocked up by stone.

Three further steps lead one to a large room area, also three floors up. The floor has also collapsed here so that one cannot examine the former features of one of the main rooms of the tower house.

Though steps lead higher up the building a number of factors make continued progress dangerous: a) rubble on actual stone cut steps b) lack of floors over cellar area c) lack of floors over entrance area.

Having described, in some detail, the main features of the eastern entrance part of the site what can be said of the cellar area? Originally one would have entered this large room via a pointed 2 metre high doorway a short distance in from the site’s main entrance to the east. Field examination found that this opening had been fully blocked off by timber and stones. Thus the only way into the cellar is now via a wide gap in the site’s south wall (see site plan). Originally this opening would have been a narrow slitted window with inside recess but the local farmer, at some stage, broke down the wall in this area to provide an opening for cattle to use this site for shelter (Photo 1).

In all, the cellar originally had three windows, in the north, south and west walls. As stated above the south has been completely destroyed and the wide opening that now exists contains some red brick. As the site plan shows the north window area has also been badly damaged. At some stage it was possible to walk through an opening here though now it is closed up by red brick, stone and mortar (Photo 5). The third window, on the west wall, is also in a poor condition. The opening is largely blocked up leaving only a small space at top (Photo 6). The floor area of the cellar is heavily churned by the cattle that use it for shelter. The vaulted ceiling over this floor has also collapsed and some of the rubble occurs in the cellar area.

After having described the site’s interior what can be said of the four walls as they survive to date (1979)?

East Wall: (Photo 2)
There are a number of features of interest not only connected with this wall but with the site in particular. 3 metres east of the doorway is a 1 metre drop in slope (see site plan). This manmade stone faced drop can be followed about the site to the east, north and west but there is no trace to the south. In the case of the eastern area this platform can be clearly traced from the site’s south-east corner to the north-east area.

The main feature of interest in this east wall is the presence of a machicoulis, directly above the main door, at the top of the Tower House (Photo 2). This is in a good condition and similar to that at Mooghaun Tower House.

This east wall has ten windows. Five of these, along the area of the spiral stairway to provide light, are long and narrow. Average measurements for these windows are 1.15 metres high and only 7 cm wide. These five windows all occur, on different levels, near the site’s north-east corner.

The sixth window along this east wall is in the guardroom. Reference has already been made to this window when describing that small room (see site plan).

The remaining four windows, of the ogee type, occur in the murder-hole room and floors directly over this. Reference has already been made to these when describing the site’s interior features. On average such windows are 1.20 metres high and 15 cm wide.

A close examination of Photo 2 will show the suggestion of an outhouse attached to part of the east wall. A similar type feature has already been noted for Cratloemoyle Tower House.

North Wall: (Photo 5)
The stone faced platform, already mentioned in relation to the east wall, may also be traced by this north wall (see site plan).

Certainly the most interesting feature along this wall is the clear evidence to show that the site was built in two separate parts. A line can be noted running down this north wall (4.70 metres from the north-east corner) dividing the entrance area from the cellar section. This division, as we shall see, is also clear in the south wall (Photo 1).

This northern wall has eleven windows (Photo 5). Six of these occur by the north-east corner and were used to provide light for the spiral stairway. During the description of the site’s interior reference was made to the existence of such openings. I then said they average 1.15 metres high by 7 cm wide.

The remaining five windows are closer to the site’s north-west corner. Reference has already been made to the window space on the ground floor, in the cellar area. No trace of cut-stone survives about this. The other windows are in a good state of preservation and of ogee type. Of these the uppermost window is most interesting as it has a central shaft. Ivy on the top of this opening is now causing damage.
Drainage chutes, similar to those noted at Cratloemoyle Tower House, occur on the upper part of this wall (Photo 5).

West Wall: (Photo 6)
The stone faced platform, mentioned in relation to the east and north walls, is not as clearly defined here. Certainly evidence of its former existence exists, especially in a 7 metre stretch out from the central part of the wall. On the whole, however, such evidence is scarce.

This west wall has five window spaces, though the cut-stone has been removed from a number of these. The opening on the ground floor cellar (see site plan) is now largely blocked up by stone, red brick and mortar. The two windows directly over this on different floors now survive as 1.50 metre high by 1 metre wide open spaces.

The two uppermost windows, on the third and fourth floors, are in a good condition though partly covered by ivy. The top window has a central shaft and is of ogee form.

South Wall: (Photo 1)
As stated previously, when dealing with the northern wall, clear evidence exists here that the site was built in two parts.

This wall originally had ten cut-stone windows, only five of which are now undamaged. As the site plan shows the “window” on the ground floor has been entirely removed and replaced by a wide opening which cattle use. Some red brick occurs about this area.

Over this opening, but on separate floors, are four further windows. The window directly over the ground floor opening is now fully blocked up but one can still make out its outline in the wall. Above this is a small rectangular window. Further up still is a window of ogee type in a good condition. On the top floor of the Tower House is a double ogee window, with shaft intact, which is in a good state of preservation.

That part of the south wall near the south-east corner has five further windows. Three of these, on different floors, are of ogee type. However one of the three is fully blocked up and a second partly so. The two other windows in this area are: 1) small rectangular opening, with no special features of interest 2) a long narrow slitted window in the murder-hole room, which has been previously described.

There is no trace of a platform near this southern wall.

On average the walls of Kilkishen Tower House, above the platform area, centre on 16 metres each (Height).

There is no definite evidence available with which to date this quite well-preserved Tower House. As it is quite similar in features to a number of sites, notably Ballintlea, I suggest a date centring on c. 1500 A.D. Thus it would be one of the later sites.

The site, according to the 1580 A.D. College List, was owned by Rory son of Mahone MacNamara at that period.

Later occupation is suggested by the occurrence of red brick in the site. This was used to repair damaged walls.


Curry, O.S. Letters (1839), Volume 2, page 109
Frost, 1893, page 152
Westropp, 1899, page 351

Photo 2: East, entrance, face of Kilkishen Tower House
Photo 2: East, entrance, face of Kilkishen Tower House

Photo 3: View down murder-hole, towards entrance, at Kilkishen Tower House
Photo 3: View down murder-hole, towards entrance, at Kilkishen Tower House

Photo 4: Cellar at Kilkishen Tower House, showing blocked up east door
Photo 4: Cellar at Kilkishen Tower House, showing blocked up east door

Photo 5: North face of Kilkishen Tower House
Photo 5: North face of Kilkishen Tower House

Photo 6: West face of Kilkishen tower House
Photo 6: West face of Kilkishen tower House