An extraordinary carved doorway makes this the most elegant round tower in Ireland. Carvings of human heads, with flowing beards and moustaches, decorate the main entrance, about five metres from the ground. Smaller carvings decorate a second storey window. No one knows why the monks at Timahoe carved such a beautiful doorway. They may have used it to display a sacred relic to pilgrims, or the elegant decoration could reflect the monastery buildings that have disappeared from this site.
The round tower was built some time in the 1100s, on the site of a religious community founded by St. Mochua around 600. The tower rises almost 30 metres high and is more than 17 metres wide at its base. Its walls are nearly 2 metres thick. Inside there are five different floors, which were reached by ladders.
The tower made it easy for travellers to find the monastery. Bells would be rung to call the monks to prayer, and to signal when the monastery was under attack. When the alarm sounded, monks would grab all the treasures of the monastery and scramble into the tower. Once they had drawn up the outside ladder and bolted the door, the thick stone walls kept them safe.
The tower stands in a lovely setting across a footbridge that crosses the Bauteogue river. Nearby, the former Church of Ireland is now used as a library and a ruined 17th century castle contains elements from a 15th century church.
This clip is an introduction to a short film on the monastic sites of Laois created by Abarta Heritage for Laois County Council as part of an Ireland’s Ancient East project, funded by Fáilte Ireland.
Audioguide to the Monastic Sites of Laois
The Laois Monastic Trail, created as part of an Ireland’s Ancient East Project is also available in Irish, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Mandarin. The trail is also part of the Laois Heritage Smartphone App, available for iPhone and Android.
A sculpture by Laois-based artist Michael Burke in the tower grounds was commissioned by the local primary school. Entitled Mochua’s Desk, it depicts St. Mochua and the three pets in a famous story about the saint: a rooster who woke him, a mouse who nibbled his ear if he fell asleep while praying, and a fly that stopped at the word Mochua stopped on when reading his prayers.