New Publication: A New Interpretation of Irish Round Towers
Barbara Freitag, A New Interpretation of Irish Round Towers: Their Secular Origin and Function in the Tenth to Twelfth Centuries, Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2018.
Plain-looking though they may be, the Irish round towers continue to evoke admiration for the beauty of their proportions and for the engineering skills underlying their construction. In the mid-nineteenth century, George Petrie delivered the coup de grace to all wild speculation about their exotic or very remote pagan origin. With his assertion that they were built primarily as belfries, but also to provide a place of safety for the monks and their valuables, the argument for a Christian origin became an almost unquestioned orthodoxy.
This study challenges all of Petrie’s assertions and proposes a radically new understanding of these towers. Guided by Martin Carver’s hypothesis regarding early medieval monumentality, and by his three essential questions – ‘Why that? Why there? Why then?’ – this study deploys historic, annalistic, architectural, literary, and linguistic evidence to establish a secular origin and function for the towers and to situate them as products of the period between the tenth and twelfth centuries.