The monastic site, round tower and plantation castle at Timahoe, Co. Laois

View of the Romanesque style round tower at Timahoe, Co. Laois.

Located along the R426 Portlaoise to Carlow road and about 10.5km from Portlaoise is the site of Timahoe Abbey. The abbey is situated on the western side of the town just beyond the little Timahoe River which is crossed by a footbridge.

The abbey was established by St. Mo Chua in the seventh century in the territory of the Loigis who gave their name to the modern county of Laois. The town of Timahoe now bears St. Mo Chua’s name. All of the buildings of the original abbey have now been removed except for the exceptionally well-preserved round bell tower. The tower stands 29m high and still has its conical roof intact. The tower has the most elaborate Romanesque style decorated doorway of any round tower in Ireland. The doorway has four orders of carving of human heads, interlacing and decorative chevrons and other patterns. It is almost 5m above ground level and would have been reached by a wooden ladder or stair. The main sculptor at Timahoe also appears to have worked on the churches at Killeshin and Baltinglass. There is no access to the doorway or the interior of the tower. There is also a Romanesque style window on the third floor. Romanesque was an architectural style of the twelfth century and the tower most likely dates to that period. The abbey had a turbulent history. According to the Annals of the Four Masters Cuciche Ua Dunlaing, Lord of Laois and his wife and son were killed at Timahoe in 1041 and in 1069 Gillamaire, son of the chief of Crimhthannan sept, was killed by Macraith Ua Mordha in the doorway of the church after swearing an oath. The abbey was then seriously burnt in 1142.

A drawing of the doorway of Timahoe round tower after Crawford 1924.

East of the tower and close to the entrance footbridge are the remains of a fifteenth century church with a blocked choir arch. This is the remains of a later Franciscan Friary, established by the O’Mores in the fifteenth century. This establishment was dissolved in the 1540s. In the mid-sixteenth century during the plantation of Laois the manor of Timahoe was granted to the Loftus Family and in the seventeenth century to the Cosby family and the church was converted to a plantation castle with a tower and bawn. The castle is now only a shell with much of the north and south walls gone. In 1641, during the Irish rebellion, Timahoe castle was captured by the Irish irregulars and garrisoned.

View of the remains of the later Franciscan church and plantation castle at Timahoe, Co. Laois.

View Timahoe in a larger map

GPS coordinates 52.960221,-7.202568

Further reading
Crawford, H.S. 1924. The Round Tower and Castle of Timahoe. Journal of the Riyal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 14, 31-45.

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