George Lennox Barrow and The Round Towers

George Lennox Barrow and The Round Towers

George Lennox Barrow was [amongst other things] a Colonial Administrator and, in later life, an Irish Historian.

George Lennox Barrow [1921 Dublin -1989 Dublin]

Marlborough College, Marlborough, Wiltshire, England
British Solomon Islands Protectorate Defence Force during the Second World War
1942 Commissioned in the Royal Signals
1943 M.A. – Magdalene College, Cambridge University
1947 New Hebrides – Colonial Administrative Service
1951 Nigeria – Colonial Administrative Service
1957 Retired – Colonial Administrative Service
1970 Ph.D. – London University

1972 Glendalough and St. Kevin
1974 The Emergence of the Irish Banking System 1820-45
1979 The Round Towers of Ireland: Study and Gazetteer

Wikipedia recognises George Lennox Barrow as an Authorised Academic Oracle although his flavour of Irish History appears to perpetuate the 19th century Anglo-Irish tradition of history being written by the victors.

Anglo-Irish (Irish: Angla-Éireannach) was a term used primarily in the 19th and early 20th centuries to identify a privileged social class in Ireland, whose members were mostly the descendants and successors of the Protestant Ascendancy.

Its members tended to follow English practices in matters of culture, science, law, agriculture and politics.

Many became eminent as administrators in the British Empire and as senior army and naval officers.

Therefore, it is no surprise that in 1979 George Lennox Barrow was still supporting the mainstream narrative [written by George Petrie] for the Round Towers of Ireland that was endorsed by the Royal Irish Academy in 1833.

However, Barrow does provide further information regarding the 1832 Round Towers Essay Competition which was proposed, adjudicated and won by George Petrie.

In 1828 Petrie joined the Royal Irish Academy and was elected to its council the following year.

In 1832 the council resolved, on his proposal, to hold an essay competition on the origin and uses of the round towers of Ireland.

The following year, 1833, a gold medal for the best essay was awarded to Petrie himself.

The only other entry came from Henry O’Brien, a twenty-five year old enthusiast for oriental learning, to whom the council awarded a consolatory bronze medal.

Reading his essay today, it is hard to understand how any responsible body that recognised the value of Petrie’s work could have awarded anything for this farrago of romantic and mystical nonsense.

Its sub-title, ‘the mysteries of freemasonary, of sabaism and of buddhism for the first time unveiled’, well conveys its content.

With scarcely a pretence at scholarly argument it repeats a large part of the errors that Petrie so ably refutes.

Round Towers of Ireland: Study and Gazetteer – George Lennox Barrow – 1979

From this the inference seems only natural that ” George Petrie, Esq.,” was a member of the Council (being likewise, as we find, “antiquarian artist to the Academy”) at the time when the idea of offering a prize for an essay on the Round Towers was first started ; that he continued to be a member while the competition was in progress, and was actually one when the said prize was adjudicated.

Introduction by W. H. C. – London – 1897
The Round Towers of Ireland – Henry O’Brien – 1898


George Petrie (1 January 1790 – 17 January 1866), was an Irish painter, musician, antiquary and archaeologist of the Victorian era.

In the late 1820s and 1830s, Petrie significantly revitalised the Royal Irish Academy’s antiquities committee.

He was responsible for their acquisition of many important Irish manuscripts, including an autograph copy of the Annals of the Four Masters, as well as examples of insular metalwork, including the Cross of Cong.

His writings on early Irish archaeology and architecture were of great significance, especially his Essay on the Round Towers of Ireland, which appeared in his 1845 book titled The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Ireland.

He is often called “the father of Irish archaeology”.

His survey of the tombs at Carrowmore still informs study of the site today.

George Lennox Barrow was very broad minded when he reflected upon the original purpose of the Round Towers of Ireland because he grabbed at every possible suggestion that he deemed compatible with their “ecclesiastical” origin.

His essay is a scholarly refutation, courteous but damning, of the wilder theories of his predecessors, Molyneux, Vallancey, Ledwich, Louisa Beaufort and others.

Danes and Druids, Persian or Scythian fire-worshippers, African sea-kings, Phoenicians and Indians, all went out of the door and the towers were firmly established as ecclesiastical in origin, monastic structures of the early Celtic church, primarily bell towers, refuges and treasure stores, with secondary uses as watch towers and possibly beacons.

Round Towers of Ireland: Study and Gazetteer – George Lennox Barrow – 1979

However, a major achievement of George Lennox Barrow was his Gazetteer which details 90 standing and disappeared Round Towers in Ireland plus a number of disqualified round towers.

Barrow - Map

However, the downside to the Round Towers of Ireland: Study and Gazetteer is that his “probable” dating of the Round Towers of Ireland is based upon estimating the foundation dates of the “monastic sites” [with round towers] because Barrow believes the towers are of “ecclesiastical” origin.

According to George Lennox Barrow the oldest round tower in Ireland is the “disappeared” round tower of Armagh which was constructed around 443 AD i.e. ten years after St Patrick [never canonised] took “the Gospel to Ireland”.

Barrow - Survey

St. Patrick of Ireland is one of the world’s most popular saints.

The vision prompted his studies for the priesthood. He was ordained by St. Germanus, the Bishop of Auxerre, whom he had studied under for years, and was later ordained a bishop and sent to take the Gospel to Ireland.

Patrick arrived in Slane, Ireland on March 25, 433.

The canonization of Saint Udalric, Bishop of Augsburg, by Pope John XV in 993 is the first undoubted example of a papal canonization of a saint from outside Rome; some historians maintain that the first such canonization was that of Saint Swibert by Pope Leo III in 804.

Clearly, George Lennox Barrow is very mistaken or St. Patrick was exceedingly busy building round towers after he landed in 433 AD because [according to Ignatius Donnelly] the Annals of Ulster mention “the destruction of fifty-seven of them by an earthquake in A.D. 448”.

Attempts have been made to show, by Dr. Petrie and others, that these extraordinary structures are of modern origin, and were built by the Christian priests, in which to keep their church-plate.

But it is shown that the “Annals of Ulster” mention the destruction of fifty-seven of them by an earthquake in A.D. 448; and Giraldus Cambrensis shows that Lough Neagh was created by an inundation, or sinking of the land, in A.D. 05, and that in his day the fishermen could

” See the round-towers of other days
In the waves beneath them shining;.”

Moreover, we find Diodorus Siculus, in a well-known passage, referring to Ireland, and describing it as ” an island in the ocean over against Gaul, to the north, and not inferior in size to Sicily, the soil of which is so fruitful that they mow there twice in the year.”

He mentions the skill of their harpers, their sacred groves, and their singular temples of round form.

Atlantis: The Antediluvian World – Ignatius Donnelly – 1882


George Lennox Barrow believed George Petrie wrote “the first genuine attempt to treat the subject on a scientific basis” in 1845.

To the dismay of Petrie’s supporters, O’Brien’s essay, duly described as winner of the Academy’s medal, was published in 1834.

Petrie’s work did not formally appear until 1845 when it was printed as volume twenty of the transactions of the Academy, under the title The ecclesiastical architecture of Ireland anterior to the Anglo-Norman invasion, with a second edition, in smaller format, the same year (referred to below as ‘Petrie’ and all page references are to the latter edition).

A facsimile reprint, with an introduction by Liam de Paor, was published by the Irish University Press in 1971.

This is one of the seminal works of Irish archaeological studies, the first genuine attempt to treat the subject on a scientific basis, but it is far from complete and by no means free from error.

Round Towers of Ireland: Study and Gazetteer – George Lennox Barrow – 1979

Others might think George Petrie simply understood the needs of his patrons.

Gallery | This entry was posted in Books, Heinsohn Horizon, History, Round Towers. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to George Lennox Barrow and The Round Towers

  1. Pingback: The Round Belfries of Ireland | MalagaBay

  2. Pingback: William Betham – Round Towers Resolved: Purpose | MalagaBay

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