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The Round Tower, part of Peel Castle, built of squared blocks of sandstone, is thought to be the oldest surviving building on St Patrick's Isle. It dates from the late 10th century, just a few years after the first Viking raiders appeared from the north.
In Ireland, such towers are a common feature at monastic sites. They were built as lookouts and a place of refuge for the monks and their possessions at times of siege. There are only two such towers outside of Ireland - one is in Scotland, and the other is here at Peel.
Originally, this tower would have been quite a bit taller, and like its Irish counterparts would have had a conical stone roof. This probably collapsed at some stage, and the present battlemented top was added in Medieval times.
When the Vikings were spotted coming over the sea, the monks could gather their treasures and lock themselves into the tower, pulling up the ladder behind them. The door is ten feet above the ground; a clever idea to prevent the Vikings from battering it down.
However, if the Vikings managed to set fire to the door then the blaze would soon catch hold of the platforms inside, and the tower, once a refuge, would now act as a chimney. No one inside could survive such an inferno.
One Irish monk, doodling on his manuscript wrote:
"The wind is boisterous tonight;
The white hair of the ocean is tousled.
I do not fear that there may come across the
Irish sea hordes of fierce Vikings."
On such stormy nights the monks were safe from invaders in the fastness of their island home, but in the calm days of summer, their eyes would be keeping constant watch for sails on the horizon.
Photo: By Cbderbylib - CC BY-SA 4.0