Usually when we visit historical sites we have done a little bit of homework and researched the basic information in advance, this is usually the best way of finding out not only the details of the site, but also any particular feature that we should look out for to ensure we don't miss anything. However our visit to Oughterard Round Tower was an occasion that proved that sometimes it's great to just pick a site off the Ordnance Survey Discovery Series Maps and turn up without any expectations as you may get a nice surprise!
Oughterard Round Tower and Church is located between Straffen and Kill in County Kildare. The site is accessed by a set of steps and stile in the tall wall that surrounds the site. The name Oughterard derives from the Gaelic Uachtar Ard - which translates to 'High Place', the name is very apt as one of the first things you notice about this site are the stunning views of the countryside of County Dublin and Kildare that surround you.
A monastery was said to have been founded here some time in the early 6th Century by Saint Briga. The site was recorded in the Annals as being burned by the Dublin Vikings led by Sihtric Silkenbeard in 995 AD. Later during the Norman invasions of Ireland, Oughterard was included in the vast estates given to the Norman leader of the invasions, Richard de Clare (Strongbow), by Diarmuid MacMurrough King of Leinster as part of the dowry when Strongbow married MacMurrough's daughter Aoife. Today you can see the well preserved remains of a medieval church (looks to date to around the fourteenth century) with a barrel-vaulted roof, it's adjoining rectangular tower is in a slightly precarious position and is held up by large concrete supports. The round tower now only stands approximately 9 metres high, but what is left is in good condition. It is constructed of limestone, with large granite blocks used to frame the doorway.
The site itself is well worth a visit, with it's beautiful views and peaceful air you can really get a sense of history and tranquility. The site also holds a nice surprise that I alluded to in the opening paragraph. Before you enter the church, take a look at the gravestone marking a tomb in the wall on the right hand side. This marks the resting place of none other than the famous Arthur Guinness himself, founder of the Guinness Brewery and the creator of countless sore heads. The slab reads: In the adjoining Vault are deposited the mortal remains of ARTHUR GUINNESS late of JAMES'S GATE IN THE CITY and of BEAUMONT IN THE COUNTY OF DUBLIN ESQUIRE who departed this life on the 23rd of January A.D 1803 aged 78 years and also those of OLIVIA HIS WIFE who died in the month of March 1814 aged 72 years. They lived universally beloved & respected and their memory will long be cherished by a numerous circle of friends relations and descendants.
So if you are ever inclined to go on a pilgrimage to thank the man who created the brand synonymous with Ireland then you may find yourself in a quiet and peaceful ancient burial ground in County Kildare.
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