Near the village of Timahoe in a broad fertile valley in County Laois stands the Timahoe Round Tower, a stunningly carved example of 12th-century stonework. An extraordinarily carved doorway makes this the most elegant round tower in Ireland: Romanesque-style carvings of human heads, with flowing beards and moustaches, decorate the main entrance, about five metres from the ground.
It remains unclear why the monks at Timahoe put so much time into carving such a beautiful doorway; smaller carvings also decorate a second storey window. They may have designed it to display a sacred relic to pilgrims, it’s also thought the elegant decoration could reflect other monastery buildings that have since disappeared from the site.
The round tower was built some time in the 1100s, on the site of a religious community founded by Saint Mochua (a 7th-century warrior who converted to Christianity) around 600 AD. The tower rises almost 30 metres high and is more than 17 metres wide at its base, with walls that are nearly two metres thick. Inside there are five different floors, all of which were reached by ladders.
In times gone by, Timahoe Round Tower was a beacon for travellers looking for the monastery. Bells contained within its stones would be rung to call the monks to prayer and perhaps to signal when the monastery was under attack.
The tower stands in a picturesque setting, across a footbridge that crosses the Bauteogue River. Nearby, a former Church of Ireland building is now used as a community facility, while a ruined 17th-century castle contains elements from a 15th-century church.
A sculpture in the tower grounds was commissioned by a local primary school: entitled Mochua’s Desk, it depicts Saint Mochua and his three pets in a famous story about the saint. It tells the story of the rooster who woke him, the mouse who nibbled his ear if he fell asleep while praying, and the fly that landed on the word Mochua paused at when reading his prayers.
Visit Timahoe Round Tower to bask in the historic surrounds of an important Irish Christian icon—the surrounding parklands are the perfect destination for a family picnic in nice weather.