|intro - history - tour 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 - plans - photos - links - news|
BURGESS COURT TOWERS (1)
|Each of the four Burgess Court towers is a typical Irish tower house,
the type of basic castle favoured by the minor nobility during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Together
with Prior's Tower in the Precinct they are the best preserved of all the priory buildings. The Burgess Court towers
can be grouped into two sizes, the small South and Southwest Towers and the moderately sized and more comfortable
Southeast and West Towers (Figure
Among those who frequented Burgess Court would have been the occupants of these towers, but who were they? Having built Burgess Court, it seems likely that the exercise of'coign and livery' would have been voluntarily extended to the maintenance of a small garrison. Such a garrison would have comprised lightly armed spearmen and archers and they may well have been housed in the Burgess Court towers. The garrison captain, perhaps a local gentleman, was probably housed in one of the two larger towers.
Of these, Southeast Tower seems a natural choice since it stands at the highest point of the priory and overlooks the main gate and the approach to Kells from the east. It would also have looked out across the town of Kells, and only the road south would soon have been out of view over the crest of the slope against which the tower is built. In Figure 4 the southeast corner of Burgess Court is depicted as a timber-fenced yard containing the stables and store-houses of the captain's household (the crease of a penthouse roof against the tower's north wall is relatively modern). A company of garrison troops is also shown mustering under the captain's supervision in the yard.
Shared architectural features
Entrances and windows (excluding narrow slits) in the Burgess Court towers are framed by large, alternating wide and narrow blocks of cut or chiselled stone. Entrance doorways have pointed arches while internal doorways are square-headed, and the larger windows have chamfered edges around their openings.
Windows other than slits come in a variety of forms. The simplest are square-headed or round-headed and have only a single vertical opening or light. The principal rooms often have ogee-headed windows - an ogee being a doubly-curved, concave-convex and sharply pointed arch - and these are a typically fifteenth century style. Twin-light ogee-headed windows also illuminate the principal rooms of the two larger towers.
Inspection of the masonry of tower walls where they are flush with the curtain indicates that the curtain pre-dates the towers. This is particularly clear on South Tower where the regular masonry of the curtain on either side extends some way into the tower before it is replaced by the rubbly masonry typical of the rest of the tower. There is no evidence for the time interval between building the wall and breaching it for insertion of the towers. It appears that the rubbly masonry of the towers was concealed beneath a plaster finish which is still patchily preserved.
The tower parapets are either ruined or altogether lost. What remain reveal the stepped battlements so typical of Irish castles of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In each case the paving for the wall-walk extends through to the face of the tower as a thin course of flagstones below the parapet which was built onto the paving. The paving is inclined outwards and rainwater drains off the roof through a row of square openings above the flagstone course. The two larger towers are given extra height by the addition of a narrow turret along the length of (at least) one of the shorter walls.
When viewing the tower interiors today it must be remembered that a vital part of their structure is missing - namely the floors that divided them into individual rooms. Each of the Burgess Court towers has five storeys. The absence of floors allows the visitor to see the overall internal arrangement of the towers but floors and ceilings must be envisaged to appreciate individual rooms. The only exception is in West Tower where the stone vaulted ceiling of the second storey provides a solid floor for the storey above. The towers had a relatively simple floor construction, with square holes for supporting timbers visible in the walls.
The interior walls of each room would have been plastered and white-washed to maximise illumination from the narrow windows. The ground level room in all cases was a low-ceilinged and dimly lit store-room and in West Tower the second storey seems to have served the same purpose. A better lit room on the second storey of Southeast Tower may have been used as an office by the garrison captain.
The third and fourth storeys provided the principal suite of rooms in each tower. Both had higher ceilings than those below and the third storey always has the best natural lighting as well as a large fireplace. These rooms may have had additional painted decoration on their walls, probably geometric designs in bright colours, as well as curtains and tapestries. Furniture is likely to have been minimal: a large table, a few chairs and stools in the third storey living room; a large bed in a bed-chamber on the floor above. Occasional wooden chests might have supplemented the built-in wall-cupboards which are a feature of nearly every floor of every Burgess Court tower.
Only Southeast Tower has a second fireplace, so these towers were clearly designed for residents of modest means with few or no servants (unlike nearby Clara or Burnchurch castles). Food preparation, cooking and eating must all have taken place over the fire in the main living room. The second fireplace in Southeast Tower is on the floor above and, with the garderobe (private latrine) on the same floor - the arrangement in all the towers, it probably only warmed the bed-chamber.
Southeast Tower (3)
(c) Daniel Tietzsch-Tyler