Timahoe

Feature Sets (2)

Description

The site of an early monastery, founded in the 7thc by St Mochua mac Lonan. All that remains from the monastic era are remnants of a church, built into a later castle, and the well-preserved round tower. This has a fine Romanesque doorway and retains a conical cap, the latter partially rebuilt in 1880-1. There are four triangular-headed windows at the top, with three further windows at various points lower down. The base is furnished with a plinth with three steps. The masonry varies from sections of well-dressed ashlar to more randomly coursed rubble.

Features

Exterior Features

Doorways

Tower doorway

The Romanesque doorway is located on the E side of the tower, almost 5 metres above the ground. There is no permanent means of access and the decoration cannot be examined in detail without the aid of scaffolding or a ladder.

The portal is designed in a complex manner, with four orders altogether. It is in effect a double portal, with the orders being arranged in two pairs, separated by a short barrel-vaulted space. As one moves through the doorway, there are a series of steps, corresponding to each of the orders. The jambs of each of the orders are inclined slightly inwards. No abaci or imposts are employed.

The dimensions (according to Barrow) for the first and fourth orders are: first order height 2.52 m; first order width, narrowing from 1.30 at the base to 1.14 m at the springing of the arch; fourth order height 1.63 m; fourth order width, narrowing from 0.53 to 0.50 m. Barrow gives the full depth of the doorway as 1.40 m.

1st order

This order projects 0.08 m beyond the face of the tower; it has a wide pilaster-like section orientated to the E; an undecorated sill returns across the base of the order.

The corners of each base are decorated with a bearded face on one side and a double bulbous base in the shape of an hourglass on the other; on the S side the face is on the outer edge, whereas on the N side it is on the inner edge. The jambs have a shallow roll cut on both angles, wider in diameter than the rolls on other orders; between these pseudo-shafts, three further rolls rise up the jamb; on the N side, the lowest block has a human face, complete with moustache, carved across the mouldings.

The capitals have human heads, with beards, on each angle (four altogether) with interlace between each pair of heads. On the N capital, the stone block has a small piece of the jamb cut on its lower section. There are 11 voussoirs in the arch (one near the top is a modern replacement). On the face of the arch are roll mouldings, defined by fillets, on both inner and outer angles. The soffit has a line of large circular pellets.

2nd order

This is a broad order, like a pilaster, with three decorated faces. The bases have tall bulbous forms on both inner and outer angles, framed by a moulding which drops down from the upper edge of the block.
 the jambs  have a shallow roll cut on both inner and outer angles, each framed by a fillet; the centre of the jamb between the rolls is plain.

The capitals have human heads, with moustaches, on each angle (four altogether); the space between each pair of heads is filled with interlace, growing out of the hair.

The arch has a row of frontal chevron on both inner and outer faces, creating a sequence of lozenges on the soffit. Above the chevron on the face is a thin roll, flanked by fillets. On the face of the arch, between the chevron and the roll, are diagonal patterns, giving the impression of lateral chevrons, centrifugally arranged, partially hidden under the roll.

3rd order

This order is aligned with the second order and is partly concealed by it. The bases have a curious cylindrical form on the angle, with a human mask carved above; the latter have prominent moustaches. The jambs have shallow angle roll, framed by a fillet.

The capitals have a human head on the angle. The N capital has interlacing to the left of the head.

The face of the arch is decorated with two rows of frontal chevrons.

4th order

The base blocks have a tall bulbous form like a miniature barrel at the angles, framed by a moulding which drops down from the upper edge. There may be decoration on the flat face between the bulbous forms. The jambs have shallow rolls cut on both inner and outer angles, each framed by a thin roll or fillet; the centre of the jamb between the rolls is plain.

Above scallop capitals the arch has a single angle roll, flanked by a thin roll, with a double set of lateral chevrons on the soffit, arranged point-to-point, forming a sequence of lozenges down the centre.

Windows

S window

A round-headed window, with a projecting frame culminating in a triangular gable. According to Barrow, there may be traces of human heads at the top of the jambs.

Comments/Opinions

The portal at Timahoe is by far the most elaborate doorway to be found in an Irish round tower and it is unfortunate that lack of access makes it difficult to reach precise conclusions about the sculpture. It can probably be dated between 1150 and 1165 on the basis of the analogies with Killeshin; some of the human masks are exceptionally alike; for example, one head, on the base of the outer order (S side, outer edge) is almost a replica of one of the faces on the outer jambs at Killeshin. Timahoe lacks examples of the Irish-Urnes animal ornament, which, together with greater simplicity of the decoration, might suggest that it preceded the work at Killeshin. 

The human mask was a particular favourite of the sculptors at Timahoe: altogether there are fifteen of them. Probably the first examples of this feature in Hiberno-Romanesque carving are those in the nave of Cormac's chapel at Cashel (1127-34). 

The combination of human masks and bulbous bases can also be found at Rahan (Offaly), approximately thirty miles away.

Bibliography

  • G. L. Barrow, The Round Towers of Ireland , Dublin, 1979, 135–9.

  • H. G. Leask, Irish Churches and Monastic Buildings, Dundalk, 1955, 107–10.

  • G. Petrie, The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Ireland anterior to the Norman Invasion, Dublin, 1845, 234–9.

Location

Site Location
Timahoe
National Grid Reference
N 90 54 
Boundaries
pre-1994 traditional (Republic of Ireland): Laois
now: Laois
Dedication
now:
medieval: St Mochua
Type of building/monument
Round tower  
Report authors
Roger Stalley