Tower Castles or Tall Houses as they are sometimes called, dot the landscape of Ireland. Left to ruin, they are an eerie reminder of clans and medieval life on the Emerald Isle. I think they are fascinating.
Three or more stories tall, they have a their characteristic compact footprint. Many of these structures, serving both residential and defensive purposes, were positioned within sight of each other and a system of visual communication is said to have been established between them, based on line of sight from the uppermost levels,
There are well over 2,000 tower houses left and some estimate that there were as many as 8,000 built during the Middle Ages. The construction of the majority of tower houses is thought to have commenced in the early 15th century AD and lasted until the mid-seventeenth century.
In the 1700s many of the wealthy owners of these castles and the thousands of acres surrounding them, decided they were too cold and drafty to live in so they built homes nearby for a more comfortable life. This is what happened with the current Gregans Castle Hotel.
The Martyn clan built a home nearby. Over time wings were added and eventually the house was converted to a charming hotel.
Sometimes, the family just added on to their tall castle. Leamanch Castle, now a ruin, is a perfect example. If you look carefully you can see the tall castle on the right and then the huge addition on the left. I would love to know how that space was used.
And some times the old tall castles are restored. For example, Gregans Castle, open for limited public viewing in May and June, is now a private home. I had a chance to meet the owners and see this historic castle on a recent trip to Ireland.
It took many years but they rebuilt the tall house, not to replicate what was once there but for modern use. Here’s a photo of the tall castle, now white washed and the great room three narrow winding flights up. The owners, generally live in an attached house, using the tall castle for entertaining and special occasions.
“We love to take guests there for champagne before dinner,” the retired couple explained. “But then we come over here to eat. Once you open the wine, and enjoy every much of it, it isn’t really safe to maneuver the tiny winding stairs.”
The connecting house is charming with an especially nice kitchen/dining area where the where guests can jump in to help with meal preparation and others can chat at a big table nearby.
They are restoring the wall around the castle and grounds, enjoying a treasure that is discovered in the ruble. A face, possibly female, is carved into the rock, possibly reflecting a matriarchal society that some believe existed in this area in the 1200’s.