County Tiperrary is home of one of the few round tower houses of Ireland – Ballynahow Castle, which is still in surprisingly good condition. It is located north-west of Thurles, and was built by the Purcells in the 16th century to provide shelter to the local people against attacks from intruders. The five storied castle is 50 feet tall and possesses four evenly-spaced machicolations, two internal vaults covering two floors each, a mural staircase located on the left and a defensive walkway. Currently situated on private property, its ownership transferred to the government in 1930, and it was declared a national monument. It was duly repaired, with reinforcement rods being placed across the 5th floor to render structural support.
The most striking features of this castle are its narrow windows deeply seated in extremely thick walls, tiny rooms, nooks and crannies. The principal windows on all floors sport small musket holes, while a murder hole that was used to drop things at intruders is located on the first floor. Two fireplaces, on separate floors, and equal number of garderobes can also be seen in this tower. The lower floors were used in the 1840s as a cottage, even though, presently, only three floors remain, which has made the site inhabitable.
The ground floor is lit with small slits located in the recesses of the wall, with the lighting giving it a cruciform appearance. It was used to keep animals, while the first floor served as a sleeping chamber. Three rooms are located in the second floor, which functioned as the primary living area; the larger room having a fire place, a toilet, and a smaller room for storing food. The third floor was also used for accommodation purposes, and the fourth floor was another living area with a fireplace. The noteworthy feature of this floor is the prison that can hold up to three individuals and a secret chamber set within thick walls and accessible from a hole in the north wall. The fifth floor was similar to an attic, and presently, a conical timber roof mounted on squinch arches covers it. All the rooms at the higher levels have one or two windows for lighting purposes.
This tower has walls that have splayed ends; its two lower chambers are quite small due to the thickness of the walls, while the three upper floors are larger. These three floors are rectangular in shape and have ogival and segmental headed windows. Only two ceilings, on the ground and third floors that were made of stone still exist, while the ones made of wood collapsed long ago. Amongst the two preserved ceilings, one is vaulted and the other is flat corbelled. A cottage and few out buildings are situated in the vicinity of the tower; however, the overall area has a very desolate look, even though the caretaker lets out accommodation nearby. As it is one of the very few round castles in Ireland, it has gained special significance as a heritage site and is highly regarded among historians.
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