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Halls, ‘hall-houses’ and tower-houses in medieval Ireland: disentangling the needlessly entangled

Halls, ‘hall-houses’ and tower-houses in medieval Ireland: disentangling the needlessly entangled


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Halls, ‘hall-houses’ and tower-houses in medieval Ireland: disentangling the needlessly entangled

By Tadhg O’Keeffe

The Castle Studies Group Journal, No.27 (2013-14)

Introduction: There has been a growing recognition that the medieval landscape contained other types of stone fortification, such as hall­houses, first identified in significant numbers by Caimin O’Brien and David Sweetman. These are usually two-storied [sic] horizontal stone structures, with the entrance on the first floor probably accessed by a removable wooden staircase. This made a forced entry to them much more difficult and was thus part of their main defensive characteristic. Although only a small number of hall-houses have been identified to date, it is almost certain that as a definite class of late medieval castle many more will now be added to this total.

This short paper addresses what I regard as two critical issues in Irish castellological research: the definition of the ‘hall-house’, and the relationship of buildings so identified with the tower-houses of the later middle ages. I offer this as an opinion – should that be an opinionated? – piece; if it goes somewhat against the tide of current thinking in Ireland, it is because the tide is, I think, generally going the wrong way. Given that references to the castles mentioned herein are easily available, and that citations for my assertions about the Irish literature can be located with little effort, I have opted not to festoon this paper with long footnotes or an especially long bibliography.

Readers who are familiar with the books on Irish castles by Tom McNeill (1997) and David Sweetman (1999), and especially with the inventories of castles in the county surveys published in both hard- and soft-copy by the Archaeological Survey of Ireland, will have encountered the ‘hall-house’ as a castle-type. Established scholars with long (well, pre-1990) memories will know it as a newly-identified type; Harold Leask, doyen of Irish castle-studies, did not use the term, nor did he regard buildings now described as ‘hall-houses’ – I will drop the inverted commas hereafter – as constituting any sort of group.


Watch the video: Tower House - Short Documentary (May 2022).