The round tower at Aughagower
Aughagower was an important religious centre in times gone by. It was also quite a large settlement –with a population of approximately 12,000 before the Irish famine of the mid 1800’s. However, by the year 2002, the census reported the population of Aughagower as 875 (Visions of the Past, 2017). In addition, Aughagower used to be a strategic centre, being at the midpoint of the Tochar Phadraig routeway. Tochar Phadraig was the route that originally connected Rathcruachan (the seat of the kings and queens of Connacht) going through Aughagower, all the way to Croagh Patrick at the end of the trail (Ballintubber Abbey, n.d.). Tochar Phadraig later became a crucial part of the pilgrim path from Ballintubber Abbey to Croagh Patrick (Visions of the Past, 2017). Today, Aughagower itself is small and the monastic site and round tower dominate the village (Megalithic Ireland, 2014).
It is said that Saint Patrick visited Aughagower in the 5th century and a church was set up there not long afterwards (Visions of the Past, 2017) (For more information on the monastic site at Aughagower, see the article on this website entitled “Church of the Teeth”).
In central Aughagower there are a few noteworthy artifacts—namely a graveyard, a ruined church from the 12th-15th century, as well as an old round tower—which is the subject of this article. It is estimated that the round tower was built sometime between 973 A.D. and 1013 A.D (Visions of the Past, 2017). It is said that Brian Boru, the High King of Ireland, built 32 round towers across the island of Ireland, and according the source ‘Mayo Ireland’ (2023), the tower in Aughagower was one of those towers. It appears that the squared and hammer dressed blocks used to erect the tower, and the semi-circular headed doorway are two features of architecture that are associated with that period of the Middle Ages (Mayo Ireland, 2023).
However, it is difficult to discern the original height of the tower because the top of the tower was struck by lightning in the middle of the nineteenth century (Michigan State University, 2009), but it is estimated that the tower stands at approximately 16 metres high (Megalithic Ireland, 2014).
According to legend, the capstone is supposed to have landed on a neighboring hill called Tevenish after a lightning strike on the round tower. The tale tells of a woman who found the capstone and carried it back to the village in her apron. Also, according to tradition, the bell from the tower is buried in a nearby bog, named Knockadooge. People also used to claim that they could still hear the bell ring (Michigan State University, 2009).
There has been damage done to the tower over the years, but there has also been much done in the way of repairing the tower. There was an attempt to restore a large part of the northern side of the tower in the late 1960’s. This area was to the left of the tower doorway, where the stonework is not as heavy as the stonework to the right of the building. That is the particular portion of the tower that was repaired in perhaps a less skillful way. On account of this, the tower is currently a bit slanted to the north. Later, in order to give access to the interior, a new door facing northward was inserted (Michigan State University, 2009).
These were primarily bell towers, however, famously they were also possibly used as a place of refuge during a violent attack on the monastery (e.g., a Viking attack). Appearances suggest that this tower might have been used in this way, because on the east facing doorway there is evidence of intense burning –with cracks and sagging—in what was possibly an attempt to forcibly oust the monks from the tower (Michigan State University, 2009).
Ballintubber Abbey (n.d.) Tochar Phadraig—the Pilgrim Path to Croagh Patrick. Available at: https://www.ballintubberabbey.ie/tochar-phadraig-the-pilgrim-path-to-croagh-patrick/ Accessed 13th of July, 2023.
Britannica (2023). St. Patrick. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Patrick . Accessed 3rd of August, 2023.
Irish Central (2016). Top ten facts about Brian Boru and the Battle of Clontarf. Available at: https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/history/brian-boru-battle-of-clontarf-facts Accessed 2nd of August 2023.
Mayo-Ireland (2023). Aughagower Round Tower in Co. Mayo. Available at: https://www.mayo-ireland.ie/en/towns-villages/aughagower/aughagower-round-tower.html Accessed 21st of July, 2023.
Megalithic Ireland (2014). Aghagower Round Tower. Available at: http://www.megalithicireland.com/Aghagower%20Round%20Tower,%20Mayo.html Accessed 21st of July, 2023.
Michigan State University, Study Abroad Programme. (2009). Round Tower. Internal Report: Folder 3, Croagh Patrick Heritage Trail—Clogher Environmental Group Ltd. Unpublished.
Visions of the Past (2017). Aughagower Round Tower & Church, Mayo, Ireland. Available at: https://visionsofthepastblog.com/2017/02/02/aughagower-round-tower-church-mayo-ireland/ Accessed 21st of July, 2023.