Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Lost Town of Dunwich located in Dunwich, United Kingdom

The Lost Town of Dunwich located in Dunwich, United Kingdom | Atlas Obscura | Curious and Wondrous Travel Destinations
The Lost Town of Dunwich
Dunwich is a village on the east coast of England that has almost completely eroded into the North Sea.
Image of The Lost Town of Dunwich located in Dunwich, United Kingdom | Heritage House. undated. "Ordnance Survey Scale Linked Map of Dunwich and the Lost City 
(with Walberswick to Minsmere Walks)." Bradfield, Manningtree: Heritage House.
Heritage House. undated. "Ordnance Survey Scale Linked Map of Dunwich and the Lost City (with Walberswick to Minsmere Walks)." Bradfield, Manningtree: Heritage House.
Image of The Lost Town of Dunwich located in Dunwich, United Kingdom | Ruins of Greyfriars' Monastery. Author's photo.Image of The Lost Town of Dunwich located in Dunwich, United Kingdom | Heritage House. undated. "Ordnance Survey Scale Linked Map of Dunwich and the Lost City 
(with Walberswick to Minsmere Walks)." Bradfield, Manningtree: Heritage House.
Intriguing Environs Ghost Towns Incredible Ruins Subterranean Sites
Formerly the early medieval capital of East Anglia, Dunwich is now a small village that over the past eight centuries has been suffering from coastal erosion. Today it is no larger than a few streets, a pub, and a few houses. And, famously, the Flora Tea Rooms, an excellent fish-and-chip shop.
Most of the former town lies underneath the waves, as the local museum demonstrates, and the town has made an industry out of its lost heritage (which included around a dozen churches, a market square, and a guildhall). Walking along the shingle beach it is frequently possible to pick up small artefacts and bits of archaeology (including bones from an eroding cemetery) from the crumbling cliffs overhead.
Once a prosperous seaport with a population of 3000 and listed in the Domesday book, the town was largely destroyed by storms in 1286 and 1347, then fell further victim to the eroding coastline. Today, almost the entire town has disappeared, leaving only the remains of a couple of buildings.
Ruins of Greyfriars' Monastery are a striking part of the landscape, but most affecting is the palpable sense of absence to the village, and the realization that within another century, it may well disappear for good.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

NASA - Why Study Plants in Space?

NASA - Why Study Plants in Space?
Why Study Plants in Space?


Samples from the Seedling Growth investigation aboard the International Space Station help researchers study the impact of the microgravity environment on plant growth. (NASA) Samples from the Seedling Growth investigation aboard the International Space Station help researchers study the impact of the microgravity environment on plant growth. (NASA)
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View of the TROPI seedling cassette for the European Modular Cultivation System, or EMCS, aboard the International Space Station Destiny laboratory module during Expedition 14. (NASA) View of the TROPI seedling cassette for the European Modular Cultivation System, or EMCS, aboard the International Space Station Destiny laboratory module during Expedition 14. (NASA)
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Why is NASA conducting plant research aboard the International Space Station? Because during future long-duration missions, life in space may depend on it.

The ability of plants to provide a source of food and recycle carbon dioxide into breathable oxygen may prove critical for astronauts who will live in space for months at a time. In addition, plants provide a sense of well-being. At the McMurdo Station for research in Antarctica -- a site that in the dead of winter resembles the space station in its isolation, cramped quarters, and hostile environment -- the most sought after section of the habitat is the greenhouse.

NASA and the European Space Agency, or ESA, are studying how plants adapt to micro- and low-gravity environments in a series of experiments designed to determine the ability of vegetation to provide a complete, sustainable, dependable and economical means for human life support in space. As researchers continue to gain new knowledge of how plants grow and develop at a molecular level, this insight also may lead to significant advances in agriculture production on Earth.

Plant biology experiments on the space station using the European Modular Cultivation System, or EMCS, allow scientists to investigate plant growth and the processes within their cells to understand how plant life responds to conditions in space. Researchers currently are planning three new plant growth investigations specifically designed to examine the growth of seedlings in microgravity using this facility.

Combining the proposals of NASA Principal Investigator John Z. Kiss, and ESA Principal Investigator Javier Medina, the Seedling Growth investigation will continue at the space station for a series of experiments: Seedling Growth 1, 2 and 3 in 2013, 2014 and 2015 respectively. The results of these experiments will help researchers understand how plants sense and respond to the space environment.

Once aboard the space station, astronauts will conduct experiments to examine the seedlings' cultivation and stimulation under controlled temperature, atmosphere composition, limited water supply, illumination and acceleration conditions using centrifuges. Because the station crew is key to the success of the experiments, crew members will receive significant training, including on-board computer video instruction.

Thus far, NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., has completed three experiments using the EMCS. The 2006 study called Root Phototropism, or Tropi, used Thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) seeds from the mustard family to investigate how plant roots respond to varying levels of light and gravity. Using a rotating centrifuge, Kiss designed the experiment to expose the plants to different gravity conditions.

In 2010, the Tropi-2 experiment expanded on the knowledge gained from the first Tropi investigation. Collectively, the two studies demonstrated how red and blue light affects plant growth differently at varied levels of gravity. With this information, researchers now know that they can optimize plant root and shoot growth in space by fine-tuning the plants' exposure to light.

Most recently, the Plant Signaling space experiment, led by Principal Investigator Imara Perera, research associate professor at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, N. C., studied the roots and shoots of wild type and genetically modified Thale cress plant seedlings in microgravity and 1g -- a simulation of Earth's gravity. Images of the seedlings were sent to Earth before astronauts harvested and preserved the seedlings for post-flight analysis. The frozen plants are scheduled to return to Earth in 2013 aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule.

The analysis of these data will lead to an understanding of the molecular mechanisms plants use to sense and respond to changes in their environment. Insights gained from this study will help scientists identify plants that are better able to withstand long duration spaceflight and microgravity conditions.

Unique Environments Demand Specialized Equipment
Provided by ESA, the EMCS consists of a holding structure filling four station lockers and includes an incubator with two centrifuges. Two to four Ames-developed Experiment Containers, or ECs, can mount to each of the two centrifuge rotors to allow scientists to perform experiments at various g-levels up to twice Earth's gravity, or 2g.

The EMCS design enables control of temperature, humidity, oxygen and carbon dioxide. Equipped with white and infrared lights, EMCS also can control g-level simulation and water to perform experiments with biological samples. Video observation, imaging, data handling and command systems allow for control of the experiments inside the ECs. The ECs have specialized systems to study cell biology, small aquatic animals, roundworms, fruit flies and plants.

NASA's Ames Research Center worked closely with ESA to develop specific experimental units designed to grow plant seedlings, particularly Thale Cress, as well as other plant species. The hardware has performed flawlessly in supporting the Tropi-1, Tropi-2 and Plant Signaling experiments and will be used in the upcoming Seedling Growth study.

Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) Introduction to the Online Text

Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) Introduction to the Online Text

Monday, November 26, 2012

Library Paints Hobbit Door Over Entrance

Library Paints Hobbit Door Over Entrance - GalleyCat

Library Paints Hobbit Door Over Entrance

With The Hobbit hitting theaters soon, the Santa Clarita Library system in California will use the popular movie as a chance to encourage people to return to the library.
The Friends of Santa Clarita Public Library have sponsored book discussions, lectures and games for readers of all ages to celebrate the J. R. R. Tolkien adaptation. In addition, one branch painted an excellent hobbit door on the library entrance (photo embedded above).
Here’s more about the events: “To celebrate we are offering a variety of Hobbit related programs and activities. At all programs there will be a chance to win tickets to a free private library screening of the new movie The Hobbit on December 15th at 10 am at the Valencia Edwards Stadium 12 Theater. To win tickets you must be present at a program, have a current library card and be at least 13 years of age.”

Saturday, November 24, 2012

UK spies unable to crack coded message from WWII carrier pigeon -

UK spies unable to crack coded message from WWII carrier pigeon -

UK spies unable to crack coded message from WWII carrier pigeon

By Michael Martinez, CNN
updated 10:21 AM EST, Sat November 24, 2012
Hand-written on a small piece of paper labeled
Hand-written on a small piece of paper labeled "Pigeon Service," the note consists of five-letter words that don't make sense.
  • The skeleton of a World War II carrier pigeon is found in a man's chimney in England
  • A red canister attached to a leg bone holds a coded message UK agency can't crack
  • Meanwhile, a pigeon museum seeks clues in the bird's identification numbers
(CNN) -- Not even the British spy agencies that inspired James Bond can solve the mystery of a secret World War II message recently found on the skeleton of a carrier pigeon in a house chimney.
The meaning of the encoded message apparently died about 70 years ago with the wayward pigeon that David Martin found in his smokestack in Bletchingley, Surrey County, England.
Martin recently discovered the bird's remains with the surprisingly intact message inside a small red canister attached to a leg bone.
The only hope appears to be curators at the Pigeon Museum at Bletchley Park, who are now trying to trace the origins of two alphanumeric identifiers for the pigeon that were also written on the message, the UK intelligence agency GCHQ said this week.
"If they are identified and their wartime service established, it could help to decode the message," the agency said about the pigeon's identity numbers.
To the casual reader, the message is indecipherable.
Hand-written on a small piece of paper labeled "Pigeon Service," the note consists of five-letter words. Those words don't make sense: The jumble begins with "AOAKN" and "HVPKD." In all, the message consists of 27 five-letter code groups.
Deciphering the message requires codebooks and possibly a "one-time pad" encryption system, and those materials "will normally have been destroyed once no longer in use," the agency said. There is a small chance that a codebook survived.
"Without access to the relevant codebooks and details of any additional encryption used, it will remain impossible to decrypt," the agency said.
The one-time pad encryption gave the note added security. A random key is used to encrypt only one message.
"The advantage of this system is that, if used correctly, it is unbreakable as long as the key is kept secret," the agency said. "The disadvantage is that both the sending and receiving parties need to have access to the same key, which usually means producing and sharing a large keypad in advance."
Heightening the mystery are three other issues: The message is undated, the meaning of its destination of "X02" is unknown, and analysts can't identify the sender's signature or his unit.
"Unfortunately, much of the vital information that would indicate the context of the message is missing," the intelligence service said.
The sender's sign-off appears to say "Sjt W Stot," using an abbreviation for "serjeant," an old-fashioned spelling for "sergeant," the agency said.
The use of "Sjt" links the message to the army, the spy agency said.
"If 'Sjt Stot' and addressee X02 could be identified, it could give us a better idea of where to look for the information," the agency said.
About 250,000 pigeons were used during World War II by all branches of the military and the Special Operations Executive, the UK intelligence agency said.
Flying from mainland Europe to Britain, the birds heroically delivered all sorts of messages through a gauntlet of enemy hawk patrols and potshots from soldiers.
"Although it is disappointing that we cannot yet read the message brought back by a brave carrier pigeon, it is a tribute to the skills of the wartime code-makers that, despite working under severe pressure, they devised a code that was undecipherable both then and now," said GCHQ, one of three UK intelligence agencies

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Stories –

Stories –
It looks as though not everyone in charge of the J.R.R. Tolkien estate is happy with the way the man’s work has been utilized by movie companies. Mere weeks before the release of the first movie in the long-anticipated big-screen Peter Jackson adaptation, Warner Bros. is being sued by the estate for a whopping $80 million for misuse of the rights granted to the company for the trilogy of movies based on Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings books.
Don’t worry, fans, it has nothing to do with the movies; you can rest easy any worries you had about the latest Tolkien installment, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey the lawsuit is mainly over online slot machines and other digital merchandising. The estate said in a statement to Deadline that:
Not only are gambling services outside the rights granted, but this exploitation of Tolkien’s well-loved work has offended and distressed Tolkien’s devoted fans, harming Tolkien’s legacy and reputation… The plaintiffs have been compelled to take this action to protect their literary and commercial assets and hope that the dispute will be resolved quickly.
Warner Bros. originally had access to the limited right to sell consumer products of the type regularly merchandised at the time such as figurines, tableware, stationery items, clothing and the like. The complaint states that “they did not include any grant of exploitations such as electronic or digital rights, rights in media yet to be devised or other intangibles such as rights in services.”
It looks as though the estate are suing for such a hefty amount of cash because of the “irreparable harm to Tolkien’s legacy” and reputation and the valuable goodwill generated by his works that the Rings casino gaming has supposedly caused. It’s not totally uncommon for disputes like this. Just last month Warner Bros. was on the other side of a lawsuit, accusing a small production company of trademark infringement over its upcoming movie Age of the Hobbits.
So, there you have it, and I can totally understand the case the Tolkien estate. Middle-earth should not be destroyed using low class merchandising techniques like marketing slot machines. Plus, Tolkien was a devoted Christian there’s probably no way he’d have wanted to be associated with gambling? What are your thoughts

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The game board King Charles carried to the scaffold

The History Blog » Blog Archive » The game board King Charles carried to the scaffold

The game board King Charles carried to the scaffold

1607 amber gameboard, closedI can see why he wouldn’t have wanted to let it go until his head was separated from his neck. It’s that beautiful. Attributed to Georg Schreiber of Königsberg, Prussia, a 17th century master craftsman famed as the chess set maker to royalty, the game board is made of opaque white amber and translucent red amber on a wood chassis with an ebony superstructure, carved Roman-style portrait busts and chased silver accents. There’s a Nine Men’s Morris board on one side, a chess board on the other, and it opens up to reveal a diptych backgammon board. Inside it holds 14 game pieces of cream amber, with a white amber profile in the center overlaid with translucent red amber, and 14 pieces of translucent orange amber. The profiles are of all the kings of England from William the Conqueror to James I.
Georg Schreiber game board, signed and dated 1616There is no signature on the board, so we can’t be absolutely certain that it was made by Georg Schreiber. The detail on this piece is one of a kind. No other boards have been found that are so elaborately decorated with allegorical scenes, busts, Latin and German proverbs, silver accents and painted metal underlays. However, Schreiber’s style is hard to mistake, and the many highly specific commonalities between this work and the only known game board to have been signed and dated by Schreiber put the attribution on very solid ground. The signed board is dated 1616. This board is dated 1607, which makes it the earliest Schreiber game board extant.
Game piece with royal profileIn the first half of the 17th century, Königsberg was the center of amber craftsmanship in Europe. The Sambia Peninsula on the Baltic Sea just northwest of Königsberg had been the primary source of amber in the West since antiquity, and in the Middle Ages, the amber trade was controlled by the Teutonic Order, which ruled the area from 1255 until 1525 when their Grand Master, Albrecht of Hohenzollern, converted to Lutheranism and secularized the Order’s former territories into the Duchy of Prussia. Instead of the rosary beads which had been the primary amber product under the Teutonic Knights, artisans in Königsberg, the capital of the new duchy, focused on crafting courtly objects — caskets, cups, inlay and of course, game boards — for the nobility and aristocracy of Europe.
This particular game board with its exquisite craftsmanship and royal English theme may have first been owned by King James I, who ruled England at the time of the board’s creation and who is the last English king portrayed on the game pieces. These high quality objects were often used as diplomatic gifts. The Elector of Brandenburg, ruler of Prussia, could well have gifted it to King James.
The Execution of Charles I, unknown painter, Juxon wearing the long robe next to the King in bottom left panel and central execution panelThe royal provenance is also hard to confirm, but we know that King Charles I was an avid chess player, not even interrupting his game when he was told that the Scots had changed sides and were supporting Parliament. According to the tradition that has accompanied the piece for centuries, King Charles I brought the game board to the scaffold on the day of his execution, January 30th, 1649. There he bequeathed it to William Juxon, the Bishop of London and the king’s personal chaplain who gave Charles the last rites before he was beheaded. Charles also gave Juxon the copy of the King James Bible he had brought to the scaffold with him, and he handed him his “George,” a figure of St. George slaying the dragon that is part of the accoutrements of the Order of the Garter, with the request that Juxon deliver it to the Prince of Wales.
Amber gameboard chess sideBy family tradition, Juxon left the game board to his nephew and it stayed in the family for two generations before being passed down to the Hesketh family, who added Juxon to their name as part of the inheritance stipulations. The Heskeths have owned it ever since. It’s the estate of Frederick Fermor-Hesketh, 2nd Lord Hesketh, which is now selling the piece. The Bible was given by Lady Susannah, widow of Sir William Juxon, son of the bishop’s nephew, to their neighbors the Jones family of Chastleton House. The Jacobean manor is now owned by the National Trust, but the Bible remains in the collection there. The Scaffold George, as the insignia became known, did eventually make its way to Charles’ son and is now in the Royal Collection.
Amber gameboard opened to the backgammon diptychOther than the long oral tradition and the clear lines of descent from William Juxon, there is some documentary evidence supporting the dramatic King Charles I story. The inventory of the King’s possessions after his execution lists “A Paire of Tables [i.e. two game boards joined together to form a diptych] of White and Yellowe Amber garnished with silver.” Written below the entry is a line saying that it was sold to a creditor of the perpetually indebted Charles for £30. Creditors got first dibs in these fire sales. This is how many of them were “repaid” after the King’s death: they bought something from the royal collection with the expectation that they would be able to resell it at a profit and get some of their money back. (One item listed on the inventory that didn’t sell was Charles’ collection of Raphael’s tapestry cartoons.)
King Charles I wearing the GeorgeHow could the game board have been sold to a creditor if Charles gave it to Bishop Juxon, you ask? By order of Parliament, Juxon was allowed to be with the King during his final days under “the same restraint as the King is,” in other words, confined to his rooms in Whitehall Palace. From January 27th, 1649, the day the King was sentenced, until January 31st, the day after the King was executed, William Juxon was being held by Parliament. As soon as he left the scaffold, Juxon was questioned by Parliamentary authorities. They confiscated everything the King had given him and questioned him about the last thing the King said to him (“Remember”). The next day they let him go.
Amber gameboard, Nine Men's Morris sideBoth the game board and the Scaffold George are listed on the inventory. So if these objects were confiscated and sold, how could Juxon have gotten the game board back and bequeathed it to his family? The plausible answer is he simply bought it back from the creditor. The creditor in question was William Latham, a wool merchant, who was doubtless far more interested in cashing out the decorative object than in keeping it, especially since he had had to pony up £30 to buy it from Parliament. We know for a fact that that’s what happened to the Scaffold George: it was purchased by a creditor who then sold it to royalists. They saw to it that George was returned to Charles II in keeping with his father’s request.

Friday, November 16, 2012

"Roads of Arabia" Presents Hundreds of Recent Finds That Recast the Region's History | Around The Mall

"Roads of Arabia" Presents Hundreds of Recent Finds That Recast the Region's History | Around The Mall

“Roads of Arabia” Presents Hundreds of Recent Finds That Recast the Region’s History

Representing part of a horse, this stone carving may prove that horses were actually first domesticated in the Arabian peninsula, not Central Asia. Circa 7000 B.C.E. Courtesy of the National Museum, Riyadh
Art exhibits rarely come with their own diplomatic entourage, but the new groundbreaking show at the Sackler, “Roads of Arabia: Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” does. The show’s 314 objects that traveled from the Saudi peninsula were joined by both Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, and the Commission’s vice president of antiquities and museums and the show’s curator Ali al-Ghabban.
“Today we hear that Arabia is a desert and petrol wealth. This is not true,” al-Ghabban says. Instead, he argues, it is a land with a deep and textured past, fundamentally intertwined with the cultures around it from the Greco-Romans to the Mesopotamians to the Persians. Dividing the region’s history into three epochs, the show moves from the area’s ancient trade routes at the heart of the incense trade to the rise of Islam and eventual establishment of the Saudi kingdom.
“We are not closed,” says al-Ghabban. “We were always open. We are open today.”
Many of the pieces in the show are being seen for the first time in North America, after the show toured Paris, Barcelona, St. Petersburg and Berlin. The Sackler has partnered with the Commission to organize a North American tour, tentatively beginning in Pittsburgh before moving to Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts and San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum.
Sackler director Julian Raby calls it one of the museum’s most ambitious undertakings to date.
The show comes after the Metropolitan Museum of Art held its own exhibit, “Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition” in the spring. But rarely has a museum focused on the pre-Islamic roots of the region.
One of the show’s organizers in the United States, Sackler’s curator of Islamic art, Massumeh Farhad says, “It was practically all unfamiliar.” Though the items in the show, ranging from monumental sculptures excavated from temples to tombstones with some of the earliest known Arabic script, were discovered over the past several decades, many objects were just unearthed only in the past few years. “It’s new material that really sheds light on Arabia,” says Farhad, “which up to now everybody thought its history began with the coming of Islam, but suddenly you see there’s this huge chapter preceding that.”
A detail from a map from the exhibit shows incense trade routes in red, Bronze Age commercial routes in purple and pilgrimage routes in green. Courtesy of the Sackler Gallery
Before Muslim pilgrims made their way to Mecca, Arabia was a network of caravan routes servicing the behemoth incense trade. It is estimated that the Romans alone imported 20 tons annually for use in religious and official ceremonies and even to perfume city sewage. “You forget what a smelly world it used to be,” Farhad jokes. Since incense–in the form of frankincense and myrrh–was only grown in southern Arabia and the Horn of Africa, traders had to travel through the peninsula, stopping to pay steep taxes at cities along the way. Though al-Ghabban tried to look past the pervasiveness of oil wealth in his country, the comparisons are hard not to notice (indeed, Exxon Mobil is even one of the show’s sponsors). “Incense was the oil of the ancient world,” explains Farhad.
As a result, the settlements, each with their own culture, grew wealthy and were able to both import goods and support a strong local artistic community, leaving behind a diverse material record. Enigmatic grave markers from Ha’il in the northwest, for example, share characteristics with those found in Yemen and Jordan. But, Farhad says, they’re distinct in dress and gesture. Some of the most stunning items in the show, the minimalistic rendering of human form speaks without translation to the sorrowful contemplation of death.
One of three stele in the exhibit, this sandstone grave marker from near Ha’il dates to the 4th millennium B.C.E. Courtesy of the National Museum, Riyadh
Other objects are already starting to challenge what were once historical truths. A carved figure of a horse, for example, includes slight ridges where the animal’s reins would have been–inconsequential except for the fact that researchers place the carving from around 7,000 B.C.E., thousands of years prior to earliest evidence of domestication from Central Asia. Though Farhad warns more research is needed, it could be the first of several upsets. “This particular object here is characteristic of the show in general,” says Farhad.
With the rise of Christianity, the luxurious expense of incense fell out of favor and over time the roads once traveled by traders were soon populated by pilgrims completing the Hajj to Mecca, where Muhammad famously smashed the idols at the Ka’ba. Because of Islam’s condemnation of idolatry, figural art was replaced by calligraphy and other abstracted forms. A room of tombstones that marked the graves of pilgrims who had completed the holy journey to Mecca represents some of the earliest known Arabic script. Lit dramatically, the rows of red and black stone mark a striking transition from the Roman bronzes from the 1st century C.E. just a few feet away.
These doors, gilt silver on wood, marked the entrance to the interior of the Ka’ba until they were replaced in the mid-20th century. Courtesy of the National Museum, Riyadh
In the exhibition catalog, Raby writes, “The objects selected for Roads of Arabia demonstrate that the Arabian Peninsula was not isolated in ancient times.” Through its role as a conduit for trade, Raby argues, Arabia supported a “cultural efflorescence.” By rethinking the region’s history, it seems Saudi Arabia, through the Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, also hopes for reconsideration as an open and dynamic country along the lines of this new picture now emerging of its past.
Excavators found colossal sandstone statues reminiscent of Egyptian sculpture in a temple in the ancient settlement of Dedan, now called Al-Ula. Circa 4th century B.C.E. Courtesy of the Department of Archaeology Museum, King Saud University
Donated as a sign of pious devotion on behalf of the Ottoman sultan’s wife, Mahpeyker or Kösem, this incense burner features iron, gold and silver in a floral inlaid pattern. AH 1059/1649 C.E. Courtesy of the National Museum, Riyadh
From the crossroads city of Qaryat al-Faw, this bronze head of a man reflects a strong Roman influence mixed with south Arabian stylizations, as in the treatment of the hair. Circa 1st to 2nd century C.E. Courtesy of the Department of Archaeology Museum, King Saud University
Roads of Arabia: Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” opens November 17 with a symposium titled, “Crossroads of Culture” and cultural celebration, Eid al Arabia.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Review: Elminster’s Forgotten Realms

Review: Elminster’s Forgotten Realms | The Iron Tavern

Review: Elminster’s Forgotten Realms

WotC and Me
I have not purchased a Wizards of the Coast product for several years. Recently they have found a way to get me to pry the dollars from my wallet to fork over to them. First it was the 1st Edition reprints. I actually wasn’t going to buy them, but while at Gen Con I found the trio of books at a price that bettered even Amazon’s price. I couldn’t resist.
Then Ed Greenwood’s Elminster’s Forgotten Realms book caught my attention. This book is an edition neutral book full of fluff written by Ed Greenwood about the Forgotten Realms. This book made my pre-order list at Amazon. I am not sure if I have ever actually pre-ordered a D&D book, even in my 3.x days.
The Book
Elminster’s Forgotten Realms is a hardcover book coming in at 192 pages. The book retails for $39.95. The book is described as providing an insight into the Forgotten Realms world from the creator of the setting, Ed Greenwood. The book is system-less in nature, so whether you play any number of D&D editions or have converted the Realms to another fantasy RPG system there should be something in this book for you.
Ed Greenwood wrote the book with cover art by Jesper Ejsing. Interior art comes from a variety of artists including Ed Greenwood, Wayne England, Tyler Jacobsoon, Beth Trott, and more.
The book has six major sections covering all matters of Realmslore. These sections do not include the foreword, introduction, or afterword.
First up we have Life in the Realms which covers an array of topics. A brief portion covers viewpoints on the Realms from a racial perspective. Along the way we learn common Realms terms for common expressions. This chapter continues with information on events and festivals, theater in the realms, medicine, illness and medicines, drugs, poisons, and current news and rumors.
The next chapter discusses Laws and Orders. This chapter is a discussion of class and nobility, justice, property law, trade laws, handling the guilty, who enforces the laws, pacts and alliances, and more information on the infamous Zhentarim.
The book takes a closer look at where people in the Realms live. Not as in region, but what are their actual homes like, the local Inns and Taverns, food, drinks, and even fashion.
Money drives any society and this is where the next chapter takes us. This chapter covers work, day jobs for adventurers, guilds, trade and merchant princes, coinage by region, trade goods, and information about the slave trade within the Realms.
The next chapter is the longest in the book, with a look at Gods and Followers. The early parts of the chapter address how people in the Realms worship, why evil is allowed to exist when good deities have a known presence, charity, temple income, and priesthoods of the Realms. The priesthoods section is the longest and covers many of the major deities within the Realms.
The final chapter is in regards to The Art, or magic within the Realms. The prevalence of magic is covered, information on bloodlines, alchemy, bardic magic, elven music, spellsong, and more.
Amidst all of the chapters are images of notes written by Ed Greenwood regarding the Realms and submitted to editors over the years. These are a very interesting look into how the Realms grew over time.
My Thoughts
I really enjoyed my read through of this book. The book’s style is probably the closest I will ever get to sitting down at a table with Ed Greenwood in a tavern and listening to him spin his tales about the Realms. The tone of the book seemed very conversational to me.
The book is edition-less, so fans of 1e, 2e, 3.x, or 4e D&D who are fans of the Forgotten Realms are sure to find this a fun read. However, if you prefer books heavy on crunch, this may not be the book for you. There is not a single stat block, spell block, feat, or anything at all resembling a game statistic in the book. I find that a good thing, but if you buy books for crunch only, you will likely want to pass on this one.
The artwork in the book was decent and had its up and downs. Only a few pieces felt particular evocative to me. Art is such a subjective area of critique though, that I am sure there are others that feel differently from me. It wasn’t that the art was bad, just the majority of it did not strike a chord with me.
The primary highlight in this book for me were the pages that showed Ed Greenwood’s old notes. I could just imagine him with stacks of notes in his house that he typed up into some presentable format and sending them off. Over and over and over. The depth of the Realms and the campaigns Ed ran for his group just astound me.
One has to wonder why the Realms is steeped in such lore. The typed page from Ed on page 85 of the book provides insight for this I believe. The note for the page from Ed notes that for players that have read every book, module and more for D&D tend to turn the game into a wealth of metagame knowledge. He notes that drowning them in so much Realmslore that one cannot possible track it all the DM has brought things back into real roleplaying. I found that an interesting way to combat the metagame knowledge of players.
While I enjoyed the entire book, a couple of sections did stand out to me. From the Laws and Orders chapter there is a section on becoming a noble in Waterdeep. It was an interesting section. The detailing of how the Phull and Zulpair rose to power in Waterdeep was particular insightful.
In the same chapter I also found The Secret History of the Zhentarim a good read. I have tended to use Zhentarim in several of my Forgotten Realms campaigns in the past making this section stand out to me. The included typed diagram from Ed in this section was wonderful!
The book is full of nuggets of information to help a DM run a Forgotten Realms campaign. Even if you do not run the Realms for your campaign, there are many ideas that can be stolen for your own world.
I had been looking forward to the release of this book. It did not let me down and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and getting an even better feel for the Realms as Ed Greenwood wrote it. If you are a Realms fan I highly recommend adding this book to your collection. From the conversational style, to the intricacies of the Realm the reader can learn about, it is a very strong offering from WotC for Realms fans!

Gamasutra - News - Magic: The Gathering's Richard Garfield's strategies for game balancing

Gamasutra - News - Magic: The Gathering's Richard Garfield's strategies for game balancing

New 'The Hobbit' Images

New 'The Hobbit' Images

Promo for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey just won’t let up. Not content with the hundreds of TV spots and featurettes, covers and photos and soundtrack snippets we’ve received so far (not to mention some delightful Hobbit-themed airline safety), now we have a whopping 150 images from the first part of Peter Jackson‘s upcoming adaptation of the J.R.R. Tolkien novel.
You may have seen a few before, but the vast majority of them are brand new, featuring multiple images from behind the scenes that include glimpses of the prosthetics and make-up, concept art, weaponry, and actors skulking around on set.

(via imgur user Bendak)
I can’t even begin to fathom the amount of work put in to this and the LOTR trilogies, all the while building more anticipation for Jackson’s return to the realm of Middle-earth. We’re only about a month away before we finally get our chance to see whether or not it lives up to the hype, but you can bet that we’ll be getting early reviews within the next couple of weeks.
Like the look of the images? Sound off in the

Public Domain Clip Art: Vietnam Women's Memorial

Public Domain Clip Art: Vietnam Women's Memorial

Monday, November 12, 2012

Vietnam Women's Memorial

The Vietnam Women's Memorial is probably the most popular tribute to women's contributions to the defense of the nation. It was designed by Glenna Goodacre and dedicated on November 11, 1993. It is part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and is located on National Mall in Washington DC, a short distance south of The Wall, north of the Reflecting Pool. Photo by Rudi Williams (American Forces Press Service).

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Friday, November 9, 2012

The evolution of the Irish tower-house as a domestic space

The evolution of the Irish tower-house as a domestic space
The evolution of the Irish tower-house as a domestic




Department of Archaeology, School of Geography and Archaeology,

National University of Ireland, Galway

[Accepted 10 May 2010. Published 13 December 2010]

The Irish tower-house could be portrayed as the Irish castle

par excellence and it is

thought that over 3,000 examples were built in the Irish landscape between

AD 1400

and 1650. In some parts of the countryside, particularly in areas of good agricultural

land in Munster and south Leinster, the density of tower-house distribution is quite

remarkable and in these areas the importance of the tower-house as an artefact of late

medieval life in Ireland is readily apparent. Their importance lies not only in their

numbers however, but is rooted more signifi cantly in the fact that tower-houses were

built by people from a broad social spectrum and from all cultural backgrounds.

This paper will explore the role and evolution of the Irish tower-house as a domestic

space during this period and, in particular, will present a classifi cation of Irish towerhouses

on the basis of their halls and the relationships between these spaces and the

principal vaults and private apartments with the buildings.

Written accounts of visits to Irish castles in the late medieval period are, perhaps,

the most valuable form of documentary evidence available for the study of the social

environment of the Irish tower-house and as a result, much discussion on the topic to

date has been largely, if not exclusively, based upon them. These sources include the

writings of a number of visitors to Ireland and, while the castles described by such

visitors are not named, it may be suggested, on the basis of the weight of numbers or

on the strength of the particular text itself, that at least some of these castles were, in

fact, tower-houses. In a much-quoted text, Luke Gernon describes the hospitality he

enjoyed on a visit to an Irish castle in

c. 1620 as follows:1

We are come to the castle already. The castles are built very strong and w


narow stayres, for security. The hall is the uppermost room, let us go up, you

shall not come downe agayne till tomorrow. Take no care of yo

r horses, they

shall be sessed among the tenants. The lady of the house meets you w

th her

trayne. I have instructed you before how to accost them. Salutations paste,

Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy

Vol. 111C, 115–140 © 2010 Royal Irish Academy


* doi: 10.3318/PRIAC.2010.111.115


Quoted in C.L. Falkiner, Illustrations of Irish history and topography (London, 1904),

360–1. The displayed text has not been corrected and any spelling differences will not be

denoted by

sic. in this or in subsequent quotations in this paper.



Rory Sherlock


you shall be presented w

th all the drinkes in the house, fi rst the ordinary

beere, then aquavitae, then sacke, then olde-ale, the lady tastes it, you must

not refuse it. The fyre is prepared in the middle of the hall, where you may

sollace yo

r self till supper time, you shall not want sacke and tobacco. By

this time the table is spread and plentifully furnished w

th a variety of meates,

but ill cooked and w

th out sauce ... They feast together with great iollyty and

healths around; towards the middle of supper, the harper beginns to tune and

singeth Irish rymes of auncient making. If he be a good rymer, he will make

one song to the present occasion. Supper being ended, it is at your liberty to

sitt up, or to depart to yo

r lodgeing, you shall have company in both kind.

When you come to yo

r chamber, do not expect canopy and curtaynes. It is

very well if your bedd content you, and if the company be greate, you may

happen to be bodkin in the middle. In the morning there will be brought unto

you a cupp of aquavitae. …. Breakfast is but the repetitions of supper. When

you are disposing of yourself to depart, they call for a Dogh a dores, that is,

to drink at the doore, there you are presented agayne w

th all the drinkes in the

house, as at yor fi rst entrance. Smacke them over, and lett us departe.

Gernon clearly states that the hall is the uppermost room in the building, a distinctive

characteristic of many Irish tower-houses, and though he focuses his comments

largely upon the food and drink consumed on his visit, he does also suggest that the

bedchamber in which he was accommodated was somewhat sparsely furnished. In

contrast to Gernon’s lively depiction of Irish castle life, le Gouz, writing in 1644,

presents a starker image of the subject:


The castles or houses of the nobility consist of four walls extremely high,

thatched with straw; but to tell the truth they are nothing but square towers

without windows, or at least having such small apertures as to give no more

light than there is in a prison. They have little furniture, and cover their

rooms with rushes, of which they make their beds in summer, and of straw in

winter. They put the rushes a foot deep on their fl oors, and on their windows,

and many of them ornament the ceilings with branches.

Le Gouz’s description is quite important in that it may, in describing a poorly furnished

castle, depict life in an Irish tower-house of lesser status than that visited by

Gernon. In further contrast to Gernon’s account, Stanihurst, writing in 1584, states

that the Irish held:


… castles ‘strongly constructed and fortifi ed with masses of stone.’ Adjoining

the castles were: ‘… reasonably big and spacious palaces made from white

clay and mud. They are not roofed with quarried slabs or slates but with


Quoted in T.C. Croker, The tour of the French traveler M. de la Boullaye le Gouz in Ireland,


.D. 1644
(London, 1837), 40–1.


Quoted in Colm Lennon, Richard Stanihurst: The Dubliner 1547–1618 (Dublin, 1981), 91.

The evolution of the Irish tower-house as a domestic space


thatch. [There] they hold their banquets but they prefer to sleep in the castle

rather than the palace because their enemies can easily apply torches to the

roofs which catch fi re rapidly if there is but the slightest breeze’.

This is a very important piece of descriptive writing from late medieval Ireland,

as it directly contradicts Gernon’s statement that the hall was the topmost room in

the tower. In the castle visited by Stanihurst, the hall is clearly found in a separate

‘soft’ building and the masonry tower is reserved for more private functions.

Supporting evidence for Stanihurst’s description is found in the writings of Camden,

who states:


… and some other castles of less note which like those in other parts

of Ireland are no more than towers, with narrow loop-holes rather than

windows; to which adjoins a hall made of turf, and roofed over with thatch,

and a large yard fenced quite round with a ditch and hedge to defend their

cattle from thieves …

The four accounts reproduced above serve to indicate clearly how the social environments

of various tower-houses may have differed considerably from each other

and suggest that the similarities evident in tower-house architecture today should not

be allowed to obscure a more nuanced picture. Given that Gernon is writing about

a hall within a tower 30 to 40 years

after Stanihurst described the hall as a separate

building, the proposal that halls became separate structures from tower-houses as the

trend towards the privatisation of space developed in late medieval Ireland cannot

be applied uniformly to all sites and it is likely that practices considered archaic in

one household or region were still part of daily life in others. The infl uence of social

status in promoting or retarding social change should be considered, as it appears

somewhat unlikely that all tower-house-based households, representing a number

of societal levels, would move in unison as social change developed in the culture

of the time. It is likely that examples of tower-houses which had halls within them,

in the style of Gernon’s castle, and which had halls alongside them, in the style of

that described by Stanihurst, existed side-by-side in late medieval Ireland and so we

must explore the architecture of the Irish tower-house more closely in an attempt to

understand the social implications of these contrasting arrangements.

The physical form of the Irish tower-house has provided the basis for much

research in recent decades and the origins of this line of inquiry may be traced back

to the work of notable antiquarians such as T.J. Westropp, who published a detailed

study of tower-houses in Clare

5 in this journal in 1899. The form of the Irish tower-

house can vary considerably and one of the principal diffi culties in fully understanding

tower-house architecture in a broad sense lies in the fact that variations in

physical form between certain tower-houses may, in any given case, be ascribed


Quoted in M.W. Thompson, The decline of the castle (Cambridge, 1987), 24.


T.J. Westropp, ‘Notes on the lesser castles or “peel towers” of the County Clare’, Proceedings

of the Royal Irish Academy

21 (1899), 348–65.

Rory Sherlock


to differences in regional styles, in chronological contexts or, indeed, in the social

status and aspirations of the owners. It appears that tower-houses were generally

built under the supervision of experienced masons and carpenters, perhaps without

recourse to detailed plans or specifi cations, though an intriguing document within

the Ormond deeds does suggest that pre-construction agreements were, at least

occasionally, written down. This is an order and award dated 15 April 1547, and an

extract from the calendared version states:


Richard is hereby awarded a castle to be built on the land of Bretasse, ‘the

same castell to be of thre loftes besides the rofe, and the same substancially

builded; the fi rst loft to be with a vault and to be xiiii fote hy, and the other ii

lofts to be every of them x fote hy; and the rofe to be substancially covered

with slate and the gutters with gutterstone well embatelde; and to be furnisshed

with a chymney in both of the ii over loftes and a substanciall persoum (?)

with drawghtes accordinge; the same castell to have a goode substanciall

berbikan of stone as is at Pollywherie

7, and to the neither gate of the castell

to have a goode grate of iron; and the said castell to be substancially buylded

with goode lyme and stone, the walls to be vi fote thick undre the vault and

iiii fote above, and furnisshed with dores and wyndowes and all other things

necessarie to a castell, as shalbe thought goode by the iudgement of Mr.

Derby Ryan and the tresoror of Lismore, calling to them one mason and one


Such documentary references to castle construction are of interest when the priorities

of the builders are evident in the constructional specifi cations. In the case of the

castle at Bretasse, the necessity of having a vault over the ground-fl oor chamber, fi replaces

in the two upper chambers and a good gated bawn is evident from their being

specifi cally referred to, while one must assume that other features, such as latrines,

storage alcoves and the stair, were so commonplace and self-evident that specifi c

reference to them was unnecessary.

Given that the design priorities of tower-house builders cannot be fully understood

through rare documentary sources, such as visitors’ accounts and construction agreements,

we must seek to fi nd evidence for such priorities in tower-house architecture.

Most Irish tower-houses, it may be argued, were essentially physical frameworks

designed to accommodate a hall and a number of ‘private’ chambers in a single

block. This arrangement was supported by a series of service areas located within

the tower or within the bawn around it, though excavated evidence for structures in


Edmund Curtis (ed.), Calendar of Ormond deeds, volume 5: 1547–1584 (Dublin, 1941),



Probably Poulakerry Castle, near Kilsheelan (RMP No. TS084:019---). The castle of

‘Bretasse’ has not been identifi ed, but may once have existed, or may have been proposed but

never built, in the townland of Brittas located just 7km from Poulakerry.

The hall in the Irish


The evolution of the Irish tower-house as a domestic space


the vicinity of tower-houses has been sought and found more commonly in Scotland


than in Ireland. The hall may be understood to be at the heart of most Irish towerhouses

and so it must lie at the centre of our investigations. It is often argued that

Irish and Scottish tower-houses developed from earlier hall-houses

9 and while the

smallest tower-houses, and the latest examples may not have had halls within them,

the vast majority of tower-houses appear to have had an identifi able hall-like space at

their core. To understand how the Irish tower-house functioned as a social environment,

a study of 120 well-preserved tower-houses was undertaken by the author

10 and

this work provides the basis for the analysis to follow. The surveyed tower-houses

were categorised using a fi ve-part classifi cation system based upon the location of

the hall, the presence and location of principal vaults and the location of the principal

private apartment within the building. This strategy was generally successful despite

the fact that fourteen of the surveyed buildings could not be readily assigned to one

of the fi ve subgroups. An image (Fig. 1) which shows one building from each of the

fi ve subgroups in section is quite useful in this discussion, in that comparisons may

easily be made between the different examples, and the infl uence which vault location

has upon hall location may be more readily understood.

To allow the development of the tower-house hall over time to be considered,

each of the tower-houses examined were simply classifi ed, where possible,

as either ‘early’ or ‘late’ examples on the basis of their architectural form. This

simple system, here taken to indicate pre-1500 buildings and post-1500 buildings

respectively, was quite useful, though caution must always be observed in this area

due to the diffi culties in dating tower-houses in this way. In summary, tower-houses

which are round in plan, which feature mid-height bartizans and/or original gun

loops, which lack a principal vault, which have an indirect entry route (i.e. where

outer and inner entrance lobbies are found) or which have a reliable historical or

dendrochronological dating evidence were assigned to the post-1500 category,

while tower-houses which have a principal vault, which have primary and secondary

stairways and which lack ostensibly ‘late’ features were assigned to the pre-

1500 group. This system is not entirely satisfactory, but while some authors

11 have

sought to tackle the issue of tower-house chronology on a regional basis in recent


G.L. Good and C.J. Tabraham, ‘Excavations at Threave Castle, Galloway, 1974–78’,

Medieval Archaeology

25 (1981), 90–140; G.L. Good and C.J. Tabraham, ‘Excavations at

Smailholm Tower, Roxburghshire’,

Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland

118 (1988), 231–66; C.J. Tabraham, ‘The Scottish medieval towerhouse as lordly residence

in the light of recent excavation’,

Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 118

(1988), 267–76.


David Sweetman, The medieval castles of Ireland (Cork, 1999), 104; Stewart Cruden, The

Scottish castle

(Edinburgh, 1963), 99.


Rory Sherlock, ‘The social environment of the Irish tower house’, unpublished PhD thesis,

NUI Galway, 2008.


A.J. Jordan, ‘Date, chronology and evolution of the County Wexford tower house’, Journal

of the Wexford Historical Society

13 (1990–1), 30–81; M.W. Samuel, ‘A tentative chronology

for tower houses in west Cork’,

Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society

103 (1998), 105–24.

Rory Sherlock


years, the shortage of suitable historical documentation and the diffi culties of dating

late medieval buildings on the basis of their architectural details have meant that

the lack of a precise chronological framework continues to hamper research in this

area. However, it is hoped that developments in radiocarbon dating technology will

allow the chronology of the Irish tower-house to be more fully understood in the

near future.


IG. 1—Examples of tower-houses in Groups A (Barryscourt, Co. Cork), B (Roodstown, Co. Louth), C (Clara Upper, Co.

Kilkenny), D (Ballynahow) and E (Ballymallis). The red dots indicate the hall location, while the blue dots indicate the

suggested location of the principal private apartment. (A, D and E after Sweetman,

Medieval castles of Ireland, 160, 154

and 170 respectively; B after V.M. Buckley and P.D. Sweetman,

Archaeological survey of County Louth (Dublin, 1991),

338; and C after H.G. Leask,

Irish castles and castellated houses (Dundalk, 1951), 83.)

The evolution of the Irish tower-house as a domestic space


Classifi cation

The fi rst subgroup of surveyed tower-houses, Group A, is comprised of buildings,

which have clearly identifi able second-fl oor halls within them (Table 1). This group

includes eleven examples, all of which were considered to be ‘early’ tower-houses

and one of which, Claregalway, Co. Galway, has recently been assigned through

radiocarbon dating to the fi rst half of the fi fteenth century.

12 The buildings within

this group may appear at fi rst to be a disparate selection from the surveyed examples,

given that the large turreted tower-house at Barryscourt, Co. Cork, is grouped with

signifi cantly smaller structures at, for example, Dunlough, in the same county, and

Raruddy, Co. Galway. However, what is important here is not the overall size of the

tower-houses but the fact that each example within Group A has a clearly identifi -

able second-fl oor hall at its heart. In each case, the principal vault within the building

spans the main fi rst-fl oor chamber and the second-fl oor hall, which is carried

on the principal vault, is a strikingly tall space which rises to the underside of the

tower-house roof overhead. The principal stair within each tower-house of the group

terminated at the hall and a secondary stair rose from the level of the hall to give

access to the wall walk and to any lesser chambers at higher levels. The majority of

the halls within the group appear to have been heated using a central hearth, though

the fi re-place in the hall at Bally Beg, Co. Tipperary, may be an original feature.

Each hall in Group A was clearly identifi able by its size, its height and the relatively

high degree of workmanship evident within the space (Pl. I) when each is compared

to other chambers within the same building. Window-seats and window embrasures

with carved rear arches are relatively common, while the windows themselves usually

have multiple opes and ornate heads. Ornate arches and arcades are evident

on the end walls of many of these halls and fi nely carved corbel courses may also

be found. These features serve a practical purpose in that they usually carry mural

chambers or wall walks at higher levels within the buildings, but they also usually

add an aesthetic quality to the halls within which they are featured. The tower-houses

within Group A are found in counties Galway, Limerick, Cork and in mid-Tipperary

(Fig. 2).

The second subgroup of the surveyed tower-houses, Group B, is comprised

of buildings which have a single principal vault within them, but which have at least

two principal fl oor levels above that vault. These buildings differ signifi cantly from

those in Group A, given that a hall in Group B may be found at either of the two

levels over the vault and so can either rest upon the vault

or rise to the underside of

the roof, but cannot do both. In most Group B tower-houses, the hall is found resting

upon the vault and so is spanned by a level ceiling which carries the rooms overhead.

Accordingly, Group B halls are signifi cantly less impressive than Group A halls (or

those of Groups C and D also) and, in fact, in many Group B tower-houses the iden-


Two samples of hazel twigs, which had been used in vault construction and were preserved

in situ

, were collected by the author and dated as follows: Sample 1: Lab no. UB-12668. 14C

date: 484±29. Calibrated date (2 sigma):

AD 1408–1449. Sample 2: Lab no.: UB-12669. 14C

date: 494±27. Calibrated date (2 sigma):

AD 1407–1446.

Rory Sherlock



ABLE 1—Table of sites in Groups A, B, C, D and E.

Group Site County & 6˝ map

Group A Barryscourt Cork (78)

Dunmanus West Cork (139)

Tower-houses with second-fl oor halls that are

carried by the principal vault and which are

open to the underside of the roof.

Dunlough Cork (146)

Cloonboo Galway (69)

Claregalway Galway (70)

Raruddy Galway (105)

Isert Kelly Galway (114)

Pallas Galway (117)

Lisnacullia Limerick (28)

Bally Beg Tipperary (48)

Nodstown Tipperary (52)

Group B Ballynalacken Clare (8)

Tomgraney Clare (28)

Tower-houses with more than one fl oor level

above the principal vault. In the majority

of examples, the hall appears to have rested

upon the vault and the principal private

apartments appear to have been located

immediately above the hall.

Carrigacunna Cork (34)

Castleward Down (31)

Kilclief Down (39)

Newtown Kilkenny (27)

Coolhill Kilkenny (33)

Brownsford Kilkenny (33)

Castlerea Longford (19)

Dunmahon Louth (12)

Roodstown Louth (14)

Fantstown Limerick (48)

Springfi eld Limerick (54)

Donore Meath (41)

Knockagh Tipperary (29)

Ballysheeda Tipperary (51)

Synone Tipperary (53)

Gortmakellis Tipperary (61)

St Johnstown Tipperary (62)

Moorstown Tipperary (76)

Loughlohery Tipperary (82)

Martinstown Westmeath (14)

Artramon Wexford (37)

Rathmacknee Great Wexford (42)

Ballyhack Wexford (44)

Danescastle Wexford (45)

Scar Wexford (46)

Mulrankin Wexford (47)

Kilcloggan Wexford (49)

Group C Gleninagh North Clare (2)

Coolisteige Clare (53)

Tower-houses with a single principal vault that

carries the hall at the topmost-fl oor level (third

or fourth) and where the principal private

apartments are located beneath the vault.

Carrigaphooca Cork (70)

Carrignacurra Cork (81)

Ballinacarriga Cork (108)

Lavallyconor Galway (104)

The evolution of the Irish tower-house as a domestic space


Group Site County & 6˝ map

Foulkscourt Kilkenny (8)

Clara Upper Kilkenny (20)

Burnchurch Kilkenny (23)

Rockfl eet Mayo (67)

Coole Offaly (15)

Lackeen Tipperary (4)

Killowney Big Tipperary (21)

Ballintotty Tipperary (21)

Knockane Tipperary (22)

Barrettstown Tipperary (70)

Ballindoney West Tipperary (82)

Group D Newtown Clare (5)

Moyree Clare (18)

Tower-houses which have two principal

vaults. The upper vault carries the hall at the

topmost-fl oor level and the principal private

apartments are located between the upper and

lower vaults.

Obrienscastle Clare (26)

Danganbrack Clare (34)

Castlesaffron Cork (25)

Castlecooke Cork (28)

Cregg North Cork (35)

Conna Cork (46)

Kilmeedy East Cork (48)

Castlerichard Cork (77)

Kilcrea Cork (84)

Aughnanure Galway (54)

Ballinduff Galway (56)

Merlinpark Galway (94)

Cahererillan Galway (113)

Drumharsna Galway (113)

Lydacan Galway (113)

Ardamullivan Galway (128)

Fiddaun Galway (128)

Tubbrid Upper Kilkenny (13)

Currahill Lower Kilkenny (30)

Kilcurl Kilkenny (31)

Corluddy Kilkenny (45)

Beagh Limerick (3)

Rockstown Limerick (22)

Ballyallanin Limerick (29)

Lissamota Limerick (29)

Glenquin Limerick (44)

Loughmoe Tipperary (35)

Ballynahow Tipperary (41)

Rahelty Tipperary (42)

Grallagh Tipperary (53)

Ballynoran Tipperary (84)

Lisfi nny Waterford (28)


ABLE 1—(Continued)

Rory Sherlock



L. I—The upper end of the top-fl oor hall at Isert Kelly (Castlepark townland), Co. Galway. Note the triple arcade carried

on chamfered pillars, the inserted fi re-place (left), the alterations to the fenestration and the crude horizontal beam rebate

which truncates the arcade pillars and which carried an inserted fl oor (scale = 2m).

Group Site County & 6˝ map

Group E Togher Cork (93)

Castlederry Cork (109)

Unvaulted tower-houses. In these buildings,

the distinction between the hall and the

principal private apartments can, at times, be

diffi cult to establish.

Ballinoroher Cork (122)

Castledoe Donegal (26)

Phoenix Park Dublin (18)

Rathmichael Dublin (26)

Derryhiveny Galway (118)

Reeves Kildare (15)

Ballymallis Kerry (57)

Ballagharahin Laois (33)

Ballydrohid Offaly (17)

Dungar Offaly (43)

Ballinlough Offaly (46)

Killeenbrack Westmeath (24)


ABLE 1—(Continued)

The evolution of the Irish tower-house as a domestic space



IG. 2—Distribution map of the surveyed tower-houses by group (unassigned sites omitted).

Rory Sherlock


tifi cation of which space served as the hall is not entirely straightforward. Group B

contains 29 examples of tower-houses and it is notable that these are generally located

in the east of the country, being the predominant form recorded in Leinster and

east Ulster and being common also in south Tipperary. Two-thirds of the buildings

in this group, which could be dated tentatively, were assigned a ‘late’ date, while the

remainder which could be dated were thought to be ‘early’.

The third subgroup, Group C, is comprised of buildings, which have a single

principal vault that carries the hall at the topmost-fl oor level in the building and

where there is evidence to suggest that the principal private apartment was located

beneath the vault. The tower-houses within this subgroup are, therefore, somewhat

similar to those in Group A, but while the halls in Group A are found at second-fl oor

level, those in Group C are found at third- or fourth-fl oor levels. In addition, the

tower-houses in Group C each have a clearly identifi able space of relatively high

status beneath the principal vault and this may generally be considered to represent

the principal private apartment within the building. Group C contains seventeen

tower-houses which are located in counties Mayo, Galway, Clare, Tipperary, Offaly,

Kilkenny and Cork. Eight of the tower-houses in the subgroup were identifi ed as

‘early’ tower-houses and six were identifi ed as ‘late’ examples and so, of the fourteen

buildings within the group which could be dated tentatively, a slight majority are

thought to pre-date 1500. The tower-houses within Group C tend to have recognisable

halls which, though many are not as elaborate or monumental in form as the

halls in Group A, are nonetheless defi ned by greater architectural form and detail

than the halls in Group B examples. Multi-ope windows are common and decorative

arcades, rear arches and corbel courses are also known (Pl. II). It would appear that

in each tower-house in Group C

, the principal stair within the building terminated

at the hall and a secondary stair rose from the level of the hall to give access to the

wall walk and to any lesser chambers at higher levels, though the poor survival of the

uppermost levels of Coollisteige, Co. Clare; Lavallyconor, Co. Galway; and Coole,

Co. Offaly; make the access arrangements in these cases more diffi cult to follow.

The fourth subgroup, Group D, is comprised of buildings that have two principal

vaults and in the majority of these cases it appears that the hall was the topmost

principal chamber within the building and rested upon the upper principal vault. The

lower principal vault usually spans the main ground- or fi rst-fl oor chamber and the

principal private apartment is found between the upper and lower vaults, usually at

second-fl oor level. Group D contains 34 tower-houses, which are located in counties

Clare, Cork, Galway, Kilkenny, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford. Fifteen of the

tower-houses in the subgroup were identifi ed as ‘early’ tower-houses and eight were

identifi ed as ‘late’ examples and so, of the 23 buildings within the subgroup which

could be dated tentatively, approximately two-thirds are thought to pre-date 1500.

The halls within tower-houses assigned to Group D tend to be quite similar to those

in Group C and so are generally recognisable as the most important space within the

building. Multi-ope windows are common and features such as decorative cornice

courses and fi nely carved rear arches are also evident. However, the role that the hall

plays in the access arrangements within the tower-house tends to be less well defi ned

than in the other groups for while in 53% of cases within the group the principal stair

ends at the hall and another stair serves the wall walks, at 38% of the sites the princi


evolution of the Irish tower-house as a domestic space



L. II—The upper end of the top-fl oor hall at Ballindoney West, Co. Tipperary. Note the twinope

cusped ogee-headed window, the triple arcade carried on tapering corbels and the fi nely

carved cornice (top right) (scale = 2m).

Rory Sherlock


pal stair continues upwards past the hall to give direct access to the uppermost levels

of the building. In this way, we may observe that in a signifi cant minority of towerhouses

within Group D, the hall does not form part of the access route between the

ground fl oor and the wall walks, a scenario not seen in the tower-houses of Groups

A and C. One exceptional site within this group is Tubbrid Upper, Co. Kilkenny,

which is included due to that fact that it has two principal vaults, located over the

main ground- and fi rst-fl oor chambers respectively. However, this building appears

to lie somewhere between Groups B and D due to the fact that access arrangements

within the building suggest that the hall was located at fi rst-fl oor level with private

accommodation above it, a reversal of the normal arrangements in the tower-houses

of Group D.

The fi fth subgroup, Group E, is comprised of buildings which have no principal

vault and so, by defi nition, all are considered to be ‘late’ examples. These

buildings vary widely in terms of size, but nevertheless a number of general observations

may be made. Firstly, the identifi cation of the hall in tower-houses within

Group E is often problematic and this diffi culty essentially derives from the lack of

a vault within the building and from the similarity between the principal chambers

at a number of different fl oor levels. The roots of this apparent similarity between

chambers probably lie in the evolution of the hall, and by extension the building

within which it is contained, from a public or semi-public space to a more private

space and so the striking, monumental halls noted particularly in Group A are not

found in Group E. While multi-ope windows remain common in Group E, other

indicators of high spatial status evident in Group A, such as tall fl oor-to-ceiling/

roof heights, ornate arcades, carved rear arches, and double window-seats are not

evident amongst the tower-houses of Group E. Ornamentation is largely reserved

for windows and fi re-places, though in some cases the status of the hall may have

been accentuated by, for example, panelling and stucco plasterwork, which no longer

survive. The location of the hall within tower-houses of Group E appears to vary

considerably and the hall seems to have been found, for example, at fi rst-fl oor level

in Rathmichael, Co. Dublin, and possibly Derryhiveny, Co. Galway, at second-fl oor

level in Togher, Co. Cork, and Ballinoroher, Co. Cork, and at third-fl oor level in

Ballymallis, Co. Kerry.


Groups A, C and D—the western type

In discussing the social environments of the tower-houses within the various subgroups

outlined above, we may consider that the buildings of Groups A, C and D

together form a distinctive type of tower-house which is predominant in the west

of Ireland and is characterised by the positioning of the hall on the topmost fl oor,

where the smoke from a central hearth can rise unimpeded into the open roof space

overhead and exit from the building through a louver or vent. The primacy of the

hall as the most important space within tower-houses of Group A, and to a slightly

lesser extent in the tower-houses of Groups C and D, is clearly evident and this high

status, in a spatial and social sense, is refl ected in the morphology of these spaces.

The evolution of the Irish tower-house as a domestic space


The height of these chambers, together with their decorative embellishments, set the

halls apart from all other spaces within the buildings in which they are found and

it is these characteristics which clearly indicate that the hall, as a social construct,

was very much alive in the tower-houses of Groups A, C and D. Where a tentative

date could be assigned to individual buildings within Groups A, C and D, almost

75% of examples were thought to pre-date 1500 and so it may be argued, in general

terms, that the earlier Irish tower-houses tend to have clearly identifi able halls within


There can be little doubt that Irish tower-houses cannot be treated as an

homogenous group of buildings, as the wide disparity in size, form, complexity and

decorative treatment clearly indicates that these structures were built to serve many

different purposes within a variety of social contexts. Setting aside the smallest

examples for the moment, one could argue that the earliest substantial tower-houses

were conceived and built as a framework—a physical framework to contain the late

medieval hall and a social framework to contain and facilitate late medieval life.

The halls within the earliest Irish tower-houses usually serve as important nodal

points in the access arrangements within the building. These halls, such as those at

Barryscourt and Dunmanus, both in Co. Cork; and Claregalway and Isert Kelly, both

in Co. Galway; are directly descended from the halls found in thirteenth-century

hall-houses and are unmistakable in their form and appearance. In each of these

buildings, the halls are signifi cantly more impressive than the other chambers in the

buildings in which they are found and are thus easily identifi ed by their size and their

high-quality features. Each of these features is designed to contribute to the visitors’

fi rst impression of the hall and they, together with the size and, most importantly,

the height of the space, serve to convey the function of the space to the visitor in an

unambiguous fashion. The apexes of the restored hall roofs at Barryscourt Castle

and Claregalway Castle are found 10.14m and 10.47m above their respective fl oor

surfaces and the remarkable height of these halls creates a distinct sense of occasion

within them. The monumentality of the hall within fi ner fi fteenth-century Irish

tower-houses is the result of a deliberate effort on the part of the builders to create a

physical space which could comfortably carry the symbological weight thrust upon

it by those who used it. The hall within a substantial tower-house of this period had

to look like a hall and feel like a hall to the visitor from the moment they entered

the space and so the form of the hall, with its central hearth, its dark roof timbers,

its ornate windows and its many doorways, gave physical form to the more tenuous

concept of lordship, which was based within it. One of the fi nest examples of

such a hall, though found in a building not included in this study, is the Great Hall

at Bunratty,

13 Co. Clare, a very large McNamara tower-house which appears to have

been built in the mid-fi fteenth century.

The centrality of the halls within the tower-houses of Barryscourt and

Bunratty, from which six and seven doorways respectively give access to lesser

chambers, could be considered as a physical manifestation of the centrality of the


Bunratty Castle, if included in this study, would belong to Group A.

Rory Sherlock


hall in medieval life and this device, whereby architectural form refl ects conceptual

form, is of great importance in the understanding of late medieval architecture. In the

same way in which many authors see a castle as ‘a clear statement of the standing,

power and lineage’

14 of the owner, particular elements within such castles may also

be designed to convey similar messages and this appears to have been very common

in larger tower-houses of the fi fteenth century, including many of those found

in Groups A, C and D. The impressive fi rst-fl oor hall found in the late thirteenthcentury

hall-house was elevated to second-fl oor level in the fi fteenth century as the

building which provided the framework for the hall was transformed from the simple

hall-house to the more complex tower-house. This development then continued

onwards into the tower-houses of Groups C and D, two closely related forms where

the hall continued to occupy the topmost fl oor within the building but where it was

now found at third- or fourth-fl oor level over an increased number of lesser chambers.

Group C halls commonly retain their important role within the access arrangements

of the tower-house, providing access to the upper stair leading to the wall walk

and, occasionally, to other chambers also. In contrast to this, a substantial minority

of the otherwise similar halls within tower-houses of Group D are actually somewhat

isolated from the access routes within the building in which they are found. This is

because the principal stair, though giving access to the hall, also continues onwards

to give direct access to the wall walk and so we now see some evidence for the hall

moving from a position of centrality towards one of peripherality.

Group B—the eastern type

The tower-houses of Group B may be described as an eastern type on the basis that

this form is mostly found in Leinster and east Ulster, though examples in Munster are

also known. These are, on average, the smallest tower-houses of the fi ve subgroups

described, as the average footprint of a Group B tower-house is 82.1m

2 compared

to an overall average footprint of 95.8m

2 and average footprint areas of 114.7m2,


2, 109.3m2 and 88.4m2 for Groups A, C, D and E respectively. The small

tower-houses which populate Group B were not assigned to this classifi cation due

to their diminutive size however, but due to the fact that they each have two levels

of accommodation above their sole principal vault. This means that these buildings

differ signifi cantly from those in Groups A, C and D in the sense that a hall within a

Group B tower-house cannot rest upon a vault and also rise to the underside of the

tower-house roof above, the typical arrangement found within Groups A, C and D.

In the majority of cases, it appears that the hall in Group B tower-houses was carried

by the principal vault and was, therefore, covered by a horizontal timber fl oor

which carried the chamber(s) above. The halls within the tower-houses of Group B

are generally less well-defi ned than those found in Groups A, C and D, in the sense

that they lack the size, height and decorative embellishments which combine so well

to create the impressive halls found in many fi fteenth-century tower-houses. While


Richard Fawcett, Scottish architecture from the accession of the Stewarts to the reformation:


The Architectural History of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1994), 237.

The evolution of the Irish tower-house as a domestic space


the halls within the tower-houses of Group B, the majority of which appear to date to

the sixteenth century, may well be furnished with ornate windows and decorative

window-seats, they cannot be compared, in architectural terms, with the lofty halls

of the earlier period. This trend towards simpler, less grandiose halls would appear

to be linked to the smaller size of the Group B tower-houses and so one may suggest

that these particular buildings did not serve precisely the same strata of society that

the earlier examples had done. It may be suggested that lesser gentry were now building

tower-houses, which were designed to meet their specifi c spatial requirements

and indeed there is evidence to suggest that many ‘halls’ in Group B tower-houses

should not actually be considered as such, but should instead be understood as a form

of Great Chamber, a point which underlines the fundamental difference between the

tower-houses of the western and eastern types.

We may argue, therefore, that as the period within which tower-houses were

built progressed, the trickle-down of the hall-centred building (i.e. the tower-house)

through a series of social strata was accompanied by a gradual diminution in the

architectural quality of the halls being built. The grand halls of Groups A, C and

D, which largely date to the fi fteenth century, remained in use but were added to

over time by, though not replaced by, the simpler ‘halls’ of Groups B and E, which

largely date to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The halls of Groups A, C and

D, at least 81% of which appear to have been heated by central hearths originally,

were superseded in style by the later examples of Groups B and E, at least 84% of

which had original fi re-places. Many of the earlier tower-house halls which had central

hearths within them were later fi tted with mural fi re-places instead and in some

cases, such as Lackeen, Co. Tipperary, and Isert Kelly, Co. Galway, the insertion of a

new chamber into the attic space over the hall was facilitated by the crude insertion

of a mural fi re-place to replace the central hearth.

To take a broader view for a moment, there exists a fundamental, but rarely

discussed, difference between Irish and Scottish tower-houses which is also of relevance

here. A number of authors have noted that the hall in the typical Scottish

tower-house is located upon the principal vault at fi rst-fl oor level and that the solar

was located above it.

15 This arrangement, which Cruden16 described as ‘the traditional

medieval hall up-ended, with the solar placed above the hall instead of at

one end of it’, may be compared to the Irish tower-houses of Group B, but it does

not refl ect the more common hall-over-solar arrangement found in the western type

of Irish tower-house. We may indeed argue, on the basis of the evidence outlined

above, that the arrangement whereby the hall is located on the uppermost level, and

in which the hall was originally heated by a central hearth, is, in fact, the typical

form of tower-house in fi fteenth-century Ireland. One of the major factors behind the

general failure to recognise the uniqueness of this arrangement is the failure to rec-


Cruden, The Scottish castle, 105; Ross Samson, ‘The rise and fall of tower-houses in postreformation

Scotland’, in Ross Samson (ed.),

The social archaeology of houses (Edinburgh

1990), 197–243: 207–08; A.M.T. Maxwell-Irving,

The Border towers of Scotland: their

history and architecture—the west march

(Stirling, 2000), 35–7.


Cruden, The Scottish castle, 105.

Rory Sherlock


ognise that many hall fi re-places in Irish tower-houses are, in fact, inserted features.


In summary, the development of the hall in the Irish tower-house, from a tall, elegant

space, which was heated by a central hearth and which was central to movement in

the building, to a lower room heated by a mural fi re-place that provided access to

few other areas, may be seen to represent the changing nature of social life in the late

medieval period.

Group E—the late tower-houses

The tower-houses of Group E were all built without principal vaults and so are all

considered to be ‘late’ examples. Their distribution ranges from mid-Leinster to

south-west Munster, but they are bound together by chronological affi nity rather

than by geographical location. Some of these buildings, including Derryhiveny, Co.

Galway; Ballinoroher, Co. Cork; Ballymallis, Co. Kerry; and Ballagharahin, Co.

Laois; rank amongst the largest of Irish tower-houses, but it is questionable whether

they really ever had halls, in the social sense of the term, within them. It is quite diffi -

cult, in some of these cases, to distinguish the ‘hall’ from other high-status chambers

within the building and it may, in fact, be suggested that a hall which is not clearly

identifi able as such cannot, by defi nition, be said to fulfi l this role.

The evolution of the hall in the Irish tower-house

There is little doubt that the lofty halls in many Irish tower-houses of the fi fteenth

century were generally used in a manner that would be recognisable to a visitor from

contemporary England or Scotland, even if the building within which the hall was

contained may have been somewhat unfamiliar. While such visitors may have been

surprised by the need to ascend to the second, third or even fourth fl oor of the building

in order to enter the hall, they would have been familiar with the tall windows,

the open roof space overhead and the general accentuation of the ‘upper’ end of the

hall at the slight expense of the ‘lower’ service end. Furthermore, though the timberwork

evidence does not survive, there may well have been a timber dais at the upper

end of the hall together with a screens passage at the lower end defi ned by a panelled

wall or screen. In fact, the window-sill levels at the upper end of the hall in the sixteenth-

century tower-house at Fiddaun, Co. Galway, being slightly higher than those

elsewhere in the room, may provide evidence that a dais once existed there. There

is strong evidence in the hall on the topmost fl oor of Aughnanure, Co. Galway, to

indicate that the lower end of the hall was once separated from the main body of the

space by a dividing wall or screen. The fenestration here suggests that the lower end

of the hall was divided horizontally also, with a screens passage at hall level and a

small chamber or gallery above it.

The central hearth in the hall would also have been familiar to many visitors,

despite the fact that many Scottish tower-houses had mural fi replaces within their


Rory Sherlock, ‘The late medieval fi replaces of County Cork’, Journal of the Cork

Archaeological and Historical Society

105 (2000), 207–30: 228.

The evolution of the Irish tower-house as a domestic space


halls from the time at which they were built. Wood

18 states that some English medieval

halls continued to be heated by a central hearth until the mid-sixteenth century,

though fi re-places began to replace central hearths in signifi cant numbers in the early

fi fteenth century. We may argue, therefore, that the builders of Irish tower-houses

in the fi fteenth century prioritised the central hearth and open roof space as critical

elements of hall design and so, when building tower-houses which were taller and

had more rooms than the hall houses which preceded them, Irish builders facilitated

these priorities by locating the extra chambers beneath the hall. By comparison, their

contemporaries in Scotland tended to prioritise the tradition and accessibility of the

fi rst-fl oor hall and so fi tted it with a mural fi re-place rather than a central hearth so

that additional chambers could be positioned immediately above it. Gernon, as stated

above, when visiting an Irish castle

c. 1620, records that the hall is the uppermost

room and that it features a central hearth, so there is some historical evidence to suggest

that the central hearth was still in use in the halls of certain Irish tower-houses

even into the early seventeenth century. It is quite possible that the construction

of tower-houses with halls heated by central hearths continued in Ireland into the

second half of the sixteenth century and so the scene depicted by Gernon may have

been less antiquated at his time than we may fi rst believe. In the case of Clara, Co.

Kilkenny, where a central hearth almost certainly heated the top-fl oor hall before

a mural fi re-place was inserted, a programme of dendrochronological analysis has

recently dated this building to

c. 1540.19 Other examples of tower-houses with halls

originally heated by central hearths which appear to date to the sixteenth century

include Cregg North, Co. Cork; Aughnanure, Co. Galway; Fiddaun, Co. Galway;

and Ballyallinan, Co. Limerick.

In contrast to this however, there is other historical evidence to suggest that

the hall within the tower-house had largely fallen out of use by the early seventeenth

century. The 1639 inventory of Bunratty, Co. Clare, values the furnishings of the

Great Hall at just £2, a paltry sum when compared to the valuation of over £52

placed upon the furnishings in the new Dining Room, which was added to the building

during the time of the fourth earl of Thomond (fl . 1581–1624).

20 The depiction

of the Great Hall at Bunratty in 1639, which shows it to contain nothing more than

a shuffl eboard table, two other tables, four rough hewn forms or benches, two old

leather stools, a pair of playing tables and a few old helmets and muskets, is perhaps

the most useful illustration of the decline of the hall as a social space in the early

decades of the seventeenth century.

In other cases, the surviving evidence suggests that the hall within the towerhouse

was eventually privatised and an external hall was created within the bawn

to take over the role formerly held by the topmost room within the tower. The foremost

example of this arrangement is at Aughnanure, Co. Galway, where a substantial

single-story hall was erected in the outer bawn in the sixteenth century (Pl. III)


Margaret Wood, The English medieval house (London, 1994), 257.


Conleth Manning, ‘Irish tower houses’, Europa Nostra Scientifi c Bulletin 63 (2009),

19–30: 27.


Brian Ó Dálaigh, ‘An inventory of the contents of Bunratty Castle and the will of Henry,

fi fth earl of Thomond, 1639’,

North Munster Antiquarian Journal 36 (1995), 139–65: 142–3.

Rory Sherlock


and we may initially suggest that the top-fl oor hall within the tower-house, with its

central hearth, screens passage and beautiful windows, was subsequently replaced

by the single-storey hall in the outer bawn. However, the relationship between the

hall within the tower and the hall in the bawn at this site has not been fully resolved

and as both tower and single-story hall appear to date to the sixteenth century, it is

possible that instead of one replacing the other, the two may have functioned concurrently.

While there is little or no evidence for such an arrangement in an Irish

context, some tower-houses in Scotland are known to have had a ‘common hall’ and

a ‘lord’s hall’ at the same time

21 and this may well have occurred at the O’Flaherty


Fawcett, Scottish architecture, 264–71; Chris Dalglish, ‘An age of transition? Castles and

the Scottish highland estate in the 16th and 17th centuries’,

Post-Medieval Archaeology 39

(2005), 243–66: 246.


L. III—The tower-house (right) and the remains of the single-storey hall (left) at Aughnanure, Co. Galway. The turret in

the centre of the photograph was located at the corner of the inner bawn within which the tower-house stood, while the

single-storey hall stood at the edge of the outer bawn and later partly collapsed when undermined by the nearby Drimeen


The evolution of the Irish tower-house as a domestic space


Privacy in the Irish


caput at Aughnanure, at the O’Rourke caput at Drumahaire,

22 Co. Leitrim, and at

many other Irish sites.

While the most important changes in the architecture of the Irish tower-house between

1400 and 1650 relate to the treatment of the hall, other developments are also worthy

of note. In discussing private space, we must acknowledge that our understanding of

the concept of privacy may well be at variance with that which was current in late

medieval Ireland,

23 but nevertheless we may strive to make certain observations on

the nature of private space in the Irish tower-house. A detailed analysis of the use

of space within Irish tower-houses

24 has shown that the spatial arrangements within

these buildings became simpler over time and this has been interpreted as evidence

for the gradual privatisation of space in the architecture of late medieval Ireland.

Where many fi fteenth-century tower-houses were built with highly complex internal

layouts in order to facilitate the separation of the public and private areas which coexisted

within them, the latest tower-houses were essentially private homes and so

simpler methods of spatial organisation were possible.

While considering the matter of privacy, it is interesting to note the presence

of ‘stair doorways’ in a number of Irish tower-houses.

25 While most tower-house

stairs appear to have provided unimpeded access to those wishing to ascend to their

highest level, in a number of tower-houses stair doorways, which could be used to

control access from the lower portions of a stair to the upper section, have been noted.

Evidence for stair doorways has been recorded in a number of tower-houses with

straight mural stairs including Isert Kelly, Co. Galway; Burnchurch, Co. Kilkenny;

Grallagh, Co. Tipperary; and possibly Kilcurl, Co. Kilkenny; while previously unrecorded

stair doorways have also been noted in two tower-houses with spiral stairs,

namely Ardamullivan, Co. Galway; and Ballagharahin, Co. Laois. At Isert Kelly,

Grallagh and possibly Kilcurl, the stair doorway was located between ground- and

fi rst-fl oor levels, while at Burnchurch and Ardamullivan (Pl. IV) the feature was

positioned between fi rst- and second-fl oor levels. In Ballagharahin, it was positioned

between the second and third fl oors. While the stair doorways at Isert Kelly and

Grallagh were clearly conceived as a security measure designed to add a further layer

of defence to the critical access route from the exterior to the uppermost levels of the

building, the stair doorways recorded at higher levels in Ardamullivan, Burnchurch

and Ballagharahin may have served as important social thresholds within these buildings

and may have demarcated a boundary between public and private space.


The O’Rourke hall at Drumahaire survives and appears to date to the fi fteenth or sixteenth

centuries, but it is likely that a tower house once stood on the site also. Peter Harbison, ‘


treasure of antiquities

: Beranger and Bigari’s antiquarian sketching tour of Connacht in


(Bray, 2002), 43–7.


Hanneke Ronnes, ‘“A solitary place of retreat”: Renaissance privacy and Irish architecture’,

International Journal of Historical Archaeology

8 (2004), 101–17.


Rory Sherlock, ‘Changing perceptions: spatial analysis and the study of the Irish

tower house’,

Chateau Gaillard 24 (2010), forthcoming.


Sherlock, The social environment of the Irish tower house, 107–08, 179–82.

Rory Sherlock



L. IV—The stair doorway at Ardamullivan, Co. Galway, viewed from above.

The principal private apartments, or solars, within Irish tower-houses can

vary considerably in terms of size, location and decorative accomplishment, but

a number of general observations may be made in the context of the hall-based

classifi cation discussed previously. In almost half of the tower-houses in Group A

(Barryscourt, Lisnacullia, Dunmanus West, Bally Beg and Nodstown), the solar is

The evolution of the Irish tower-house as a domestic space


found at a higher level than the hall and is located in a corner turret or minor chamber,

while in the remaining buildings in the group, it appears that the solar was located

below the vault. In the tower-houses of Groups C and D, the solar is also found

below the hall and commonly features the only mural fi re-place in the building. In

most examples, the solar is accessed directly from the main stair and gives access

to a number of other spaces, commonly including a minor chamber and a latrine

chamber, and so it is logical to interpret these interconnected spaces as a high-status

suite of rooms which together served as the principal private apartment. The solars

in Group B tower-houses are commonly found immediately above the hall and are

often identical in size to it, though they are frequently less well provided with decorative


The majority of Irish tower-houses have at least one latrine chamber, with

many having two or more such features, and amongst buildings with two latrine

chambers, more than 80% of examples display a differentiated access arrangement

whereby one chamber is accessed from a ‘public’ space (e.g. the main stair), while

the other is accessed via a ‘private’ area (i.e. the solar).

26 Tower-houses that were

not provided with latrine chambers are generally considered to have been built

after latrines had fallen out of fashion in favour of chamber-pots and close-stools.

Schofi eld

27 notes that close-stools are mentioned in inventories of wealthy London

houses in the late fi fteenth century and that chamber-pots were more common in the

late sixteenth century, but it seems likely that latrine chambers continued to be seen

as necessary elements of tower-house architecture in Ireland into the late sixteenth

century. At Ballinoroher, Co. Cork, a number of small chambers, measuring just


2 on average, which are located above one another on the fi rst, second and third

fl oors in a manner reminiscent of typical latrine chambers and which are featureless

except for a single small window each, are likely to have served as privy chambers

containing close-stools.

It is no longer appropriate to consider Irish tower-houses as a monolithic entity


and we must recognise that the developmental shifts in tower-house architecture

are clearly rooted in concurrent cultural and social changes. A number of


29 have sought to divide Irish tower-houses according to typological classifi

cations and these efforts have been worthy of merit, but the social origins or


Sherlock, The social environment of the Irish tower house’, 129–36.


John Schofi eld, Medieval London houses (New Haven & London, 2003), 87.


H.G. Leask has stated that tower houses ‘subsisted with but few changes, and these only of

detail, from about 1450 onwards for two hundred years’ (H.G. Leask, ‘Derryhivenny Castle,

Co. Galway’,

Journal of the Galway Archaeological and Historical Society 18 (1938–9),

72–6: 73).


A.S.K Abraham, ‘Patterns of landholding and architectural patronage in late medieval

Meath’, unpublished PhD thesis, Queen’s University Belfast, 1991: 250–5; C.J. Donnelly, ‘A

typological study of the tower houses of County Limerick’,

Journal of the Royal Society of

Antiquaries of Ireland

129 (1999), 19–39.


Rory Sherlock


consequences of the different forms observed have not been widely explored. We

can now see how the hall within the Irish tower-house developed and declined

between 1400 and 1650 and we may perhaps consider the wider context of such

changes through comparison with a series of social and architectural changes

which took place in Britain at the same time. Three points are of particular signifi -

cance here and though derived from evidence from Britain, they are nonetheless

of relevance. Firstly, Thompson states that the medieval household ‘grew in size

almost continuously, reaching a climax in the fi fteenth century’.

30 Secondly, the

number of halls in the landscape grew signifi cantly in the late medieval period

and Thompson argues that one reason for this ‘is that their use spread down the

social scale, being a necessary part of the need to show status by people who had

not formerly enjoyed this privilege’.

31 These two points appear to be particularly

relevant for Irish tower-house studies, as these buildings had more chambers

within which to accommodate a growing household than earlier hall-houses had

and they also were clearly built by a broad spectrum of society in comparison to

earlier castles, which were more distinctly the products of the upper echelons of

society. The third important point relates to the eventual decline of the hall and

evidence suggests that this decline occurred during the era within which towerhouses

were constructed. Thompson states: ‘The medieval style of household disintegrated


c.1600 and the hall as a viable building tended to disappear about

the same time’.

32 The changing nature of the household in the sixteenth century,

whereby the lord no longer presided over his hall directly, but tended to withdraw

to private chambers instead, had a direct impact on the use of space within lordly

residences and, in time, fundamentally infl uenced the design of such buildings


Despite the general lack of historical documentation and the poor survival

rate of timber-work and wall paintings

33 in Irish tower-houses, we can see that some

understanding of the social environment of these buildings may be achieved. The

form of the hall of the fi fteenth and early sixteenth centuries has its origins in the

halls of the earlier castles and we can assume that the social conventions which

applied in them were derived, at least to some extent, from the same source. The

accounts written by visitors to Irish castles in the late medieval period suggest that

while the hall as an architectural space was easily recognisable, the activities which

took place within it were slightly less familiar due to them being a blend of Anglo–

Norman and Gaelic traditions of social interaction and hospitality. One of the most

interesting ways in which cultural differences become apparent in the context of the

Irish tower-house is through the evidence for the subdivision of such buildings into


Michael Thompson, The medieval hall: the basis of secular domestic life, 600–1600 AD

(Aldershot, 1995), 146.


Thompson, The medieval hall, 138.


Thompson, The medieval hall, 113.


Wall paintings have been recorded in just four tower houses, though they are likely to

have once existed in many more. Karena Morton, ‘Irish medieval wall painting’,


Ireland: the Barryscourt lectures I–X

(Carrigtwohill, 2004), 313–49: 315–18.

The evolution of the Irish tower-house as a domestic space


lesser units of accommodation.

34 This scenario, where two people were recognised

as owners of different suites within a single tower-house, clearly occurred after the

building had ceased to be inhabited by a single wealthy individual and thus probably

occurred after the hall had fallen out of use as a communal space for social interaction.

Documentary evidence for the subdivision of tower-houses into lesser units of

accommodation has only been found to date in Gaelic or heavily Gaelicised areas

and such references date to between 1598 and 1635, thereby spanning Thompson’s

proposed date of

c. 1600 for hall decline in Britain.

There is a variety of other evidence to suggest that while halls heated with

central hearths continued to be built in Irish tower-houses well into the sixteenth

century, the hall as a social and architectural space had largely fallen out of favour by

the early 1600s. The division of the second-fl oor hall in the fi fteenth-century towerhouse

at Isert Kelly, Co. Galway, is quite interesting in this context. The subdivision

of the hall, which probably occurred when a fi re-place which dates to 1604 was also

inserted, involved the creation of a new ceiling and a new timber wall which divided

the elaborate hall both horizontally and vertically into at least three lesser spaces.

The reordering of tower-house halls through the replacement of central hearths with

mural fi re-places went hand-in-hand with the insertion of new chambers into the

formerly smoke-fi lled roof space overhead and examples of this practice may also be

seen at Pallas, Co. Galway; Lissamota, Co. Limerick; and Lackeen, Co. Tipperary.

As Girouard has stated, ‘The retreat of the lord from the hall to great chamber

may have led to a lessening of the sense of community in the household, but it

accentuated its sense of hierarchy’.

35 While the construction of fortifi ed houses in

the years between 1580 and 1650 is sometimes considered to represent the last phase

of castle construction in Ireland, we could instead argue that the last castles to be

built in the country were those tower-houses which had a fully functioning hall at

their heart. While fortifi ed houses such as Portumna may have had spaces labelled as

‘halls’ within them,

36 these did not function, in the medieval sense of the term, and so

these buildings, together with the latest tower-houses, should perhaps be considered

as defensible private residences rather than as ‘true’ castles. The Irish tower-house

comfortably spans the architectural transition from castle to house and, in doing so,

gives physical expression to the evolving nature of Irish society in the late medieval

period. In conclusion, if we wish to understand the nature of domestic life in Irish

tower-houses more fully, we must now turn to the bawn and address the remarkable

lack of excavated evidence associated with these settlement centres.

37 A wealth of


Rory Sherlock, ‘Cross-cultural occurrences of mutations in tower-house architecture:

evidence for cultural homogeneity in late medieval Ireland?’,

Journal of Irish Archaeology

15 (2006), 73–91: 85–7.


Mark Girouard, Life in the English country house: a social and architectural history (New

Haven & London, 1978), 52.


David Newman Johnson, ‘Portumna Castle: a little-known early survey and some

observations’, in John Bradley (ed.),

Settlement and society in medieval Ireland (Kilkenny,

1988), 477–503: 486.


Terry Barry, ‘Harold Leask’s “single towers”: Irish tower houses as part of larger settlement


Chateau Gaillard 22 (2006), 27–33.

Rory Sherlock


information on the nature of Irish life in the late medieval period awaits discovery in

the shadow of our tower-houses and it seems highly likely that substantial evidence

for single-storey halls, small houses and a variety of service buildings, whether constructed

with masonry or with timber, clay and wattle, is there for a focused research

project to fi nd.

This paper is based upon my doctoral research which was undertaken in the

Department of Archaeology, NUI Galway. The fi eldwork element of this research

programme was kindly supported by funding from The Heritage Council through

their grant scheme which supports research into the architectural heritage of Ireland.

Thanks are also due to Dr Kieran O’Conor, Dr Elizabeth FitzPatrick, Professor John

Waddell (NUI Galway) and Dr Oliver Creighton (University of Exeter) for their

support in this research, and to the many landowners who kindly facilitated the fi eld

survey programme.