Devenish Island, round tower

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Feature Sets (2)


A complete tower, in good condition, built externally of coursed sandstone ashlar, with some limestone internally. The external diameter at the base of the tower is 4.82 m, and 4.14 m at the level of the top windows. Romanesque sculpture is found on the doorway and cornice. The seven windows of the tower are all dressed but none have sculpture.

The tower was restored in 1835 by Eniskillen architect Robert Rexter.

A drawing by John Frith in 1808 shows the tower with an elder tree growing from the roof. In 1834 the tree was blown down taking part of the roof with it. O' Donovan, who visited the site while the top of the tower was still breached, described the south side of the cap as 'thrown down', and the S window as 'considerably injured'. In May 1844, the interior was excavated by local antiquary, Edmund Getty. There were no traces of burials. In 1896 the Board of Works, who made detailed measurements of the structure, carried out repairs on the tower. In 1971 further work was carried out on the tower by the DOENI who removed an earlier wooden spiral staircase, and inserted wooden floors.


St Laseren, or Molaise (d.563/570) founded the early monastery. Between 563 and 1168 the Annals record the death of twenty abbots as well as a number of incidents including, in 863, the destruction of all of the churches of Lough Erne including Devenish. In 1157 the Annals of Ulster record that 'Daimhinis and all its churches were burned' (131). In 1176 the Annals record that 'Domhnall, son of Mhlaoibh O Maoil Ruanaidh, king of Fir Mhanach, was burned by his own kinsmen in the round tower of Daimhinis'. (Miscellaneous Irish Annals, 59)


Exterior Features


Tower doorway

Round-headed and plain apart from a continuous incised band over the jambs and arch (width 0.17 m, raised 0.02 m from the surface). Located 2.59 m above current ground level.



Situated 20 m above ground level is an external cornice, 0.18 m high, projecting 0.08 m from the surface of the wall. The cornice is decorated with four different designs and also has four carved heads, each located centrally over the four upper storey windows.

Three different patterns decorate the cornice, following no apparent logical sequence. These are: a single line of large bosses, slightly flattened top and bottom in order to fit between the containing roll moulded frame; a central roll moulding flanked above and below by a row of flattened pellets, again contained within a roll-moulded frame; and a central roll moulding flanked by a wavy 's'-curve line.

Head, facing ENE

The best preserved of the heads has large round eyes, protruding ears and a beard and moustache which interlace from the ears around the mouth and chin. The head, with a close fitting cap, rises slightly over the level of the top of the cornice. The bottom of the chin is flush with the bottom line of the cornice. 

Head, facing NNW

Quite different in detail to the other three, with well moulded eyes, nose, cheeks and chin. The head has what appears to be a lock of hair across the forehead.

Head, facing SSE

Damaged, missing the lower part of the face. The eye, nose and one ear are still readable, and close in detail to the other heads.

Head, facing WSW

This head is very weathered, but appears to have been similar in appearance to that facing ENE. There is a clear break between the stone on which it is carved and the rest of the cornice.

Finial stone

The finial stone consists of a truncated cone with an encircling raised band 0.18 m from apex. There is a mortice hole on the upper surface.

base circumference 1.64 m
diameter at top 0.11 m
height 0.58 m


The discovery in 1972-3 of the foundations of a second round tower at Devenish has led to the suggestion that the standing tower may have replaced one damaged by the 1176 fire (Hamlin). There is no other known example of a cornice in this position on a round tower.


  • L. Barrow, The Round Towers of Ireland, Dublin, 1979, 92-96.

  • A. Hamlin, 'Some Further Documentary Evidence for the Round Tower at Devinish', Ulster Journal of Archaeology, 39, (1976), 73-4.

  • B. Lalor, The Irish Round Tower, Dublin, 1999, 143-5.

  • B. McCarthy ed., The Annals of Ulster, 2, Dublin, 1893.

  • J. McKenna, Devenish; its History, Antiquities and Traditions, Eniskillen, 1931, 45-57.

  • Seamus O'Hinnse ed., Miscellaneous Irish Annals A.D. 1114–1437, Dublin, 1947.

  • W. Wakeman, 'The Antiquities of Devenish, Co. Fermanagh', Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 3, Series 4, Part 1, (1874), 59-94.

Round tower, doorway.
Round tower, doorway, general view
Round tower, general view.


Site Location
Devenish Island, round tower
National Grid Reference
H 224 469 
now: Fermanagh
medieval: Fermanagh
Type of building/monument
Round tower  
Report authors
Rachel Moss 
Visit Date
14 August 1998