After my visit to the Irish National Stud I drove the short distance into Kildare to have a look at the cathedral and round tower. I was disappointed to find that, despite it being a Sunday (or perhaps because of it) the cathedral was shut, so I couldn’t go inside to take a look. so had to restrict myself to looking around the outside.
The cathedral is dedicated to St. Brigid, originally built in 1223 but restored in the 19th Century.
The Norman origins are evident in the overall design – large heavy walls, and squat, square tower. There are Gothic style features too – lancet windows and buttresses on some of the walls – some of which will probably have been added when the building was restored.
There were a couple of interesting gargoyles high up on the wall above the eastern entrance
and an intriguing sign above the door
In the grounds there’s one of the tallest round towers in Ireland.
These mysterious structures are found all over Ireland (with some in Scotland and the Isle of Man, too). They’re usually in churchyards or stand where there used to be a church. No one really knows what they were for – common explanations are that they are church bell towers or that they were used as refuges from Viking attacks. Barbara of Milady’s Boudoir has a post on the towers she visited during her trip to Ireland recently. This website has an interesting discussion of the various theories and makes a strong case for them being of “lanterns of the dead”, and possibly of pre-Christian origin.
Conforming to the usual design, the Kildare roundtower is constructed of granite and limestone. with four windows at high level facing the cardinal points of the compass and with the doorway above ground level, accessed by a ladder, facing the west doorway of the cathedral. The tower appears to have been built during the 6th century succumbed, fell into ruin and was rebuilt in the12th century. The granite base is probably the remains of the original tower. At 108 feet high it’s the second highest in Ireland.
Visitors can climb the tower, but not on a Sunday. Don’t think I would have had the nerve, though!