lintelled and arched
Ground to Doorway
St. Cronan Mochua
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Balla Round Tower Co. Mayo
Balla Round Tower
O.S. Map 31
Location: On N60, approximately 12 km southeast of Castlebar. The round tower is in a cemetery just off
the road in the center of the town, at an angle across the road from the post office. Access is behind a school or
over a wall on the main road. Parking is ample in the town during weekdays.
Dimensions: There is an offset of large flat rocks at the base of the tower approx. 20 to 25 cm wide and
approx. 6 cm high. The circumference at the base of the tower (at the top of the offset) is approx. 16.5 m, giving
an external diameter of about 5 ¼ m. From ground level to the level top of the tower is approximately 10 m.
Doorway: There are two doorways in this abbreviated tower. The lower, four-stone arched doorway facing
north appears to be a late medieval insertion. The upper, and possibly original doorway is a puzzle. It is placed
higher than almost any other round tower, almost 8 meters above the present ground level. It is a narrow lintelled
opening. The lower jambstones have an incised molding, common to a 12th century Romanesque style. These moldings
are not present anywhere else around the doorway, and the stonework is noticeably different from this point upwards.
It is possible that the tower was rebuilt and the doorway stones lost and a window that might have been higher on
the tower used in the reconstruction. The lower doorway allows a view to the inside of the tower. Two rows of
projecting floor supports can be seen, as well as what appears to be damaged graveslabs on the floor of the interior
of the tower. Past the arched lower doorway inside is a lintel with faint incised carving, resembling the upper
doorway partial molding in miniature. Curious indeed!
Windows:There is one tiny arched window on the south side of the tower, perfectly carved using four stones.
This window is about halfway between what would have been the first and second floors of the tower.
Comments: This is a beautiful, evenly coursed but shortened tower made of red and light brown sandstone.
It stands in a cemetery that, at the time of visit in the autumn of 2004 was in a shambles. Pictures from just a
few years earlier show a nicely maintained graveyard, so it is unclear why it is in such disarray now. The area
immediately around the tower is interesting in that a ring of large graveslabs (relatively recent) surrounds the
tower in a sort of stoney collar. Elsewhere in the cemetery, table graves and large slabs lay in helter skelter
fashion, though whether vandalized or just neglected could not be ascertained. Near the cemetery wall by the
rear gate entrance was propped the top half of what appears to be a very old cross, depicting the crucified
Christ. The dressed edges of this cross echo the dressed stone seen in very old church doorways and window openings.
History: There was once a monastery here that was founded by St. Mochua. - St. Cronan Mochua was
Founder of the See of Balla, subsequently merged into that of Tuam, Ireland, flourished in the period 596-637,
d. 30 March, 637, but his Acts are more or less of a legendary character. However, it would appear that he was
educated at Bangor, under St. Comgall, and founded a monastery at Gael, among the Feara Rois of Louth and Monaghan,
whence he migrated to Fore and Tehilly. Passing through Hy Many, he journeyed to Connacht, in 616, and founded
the church and Abbey of Balla, of which he was first abbot-bishop. Numerous miracles are recorded of St. Cronan
Mochua, and are minutely described in his Irish life. His feast is celebrated on 30 March, though, through a
misconception, his Acts are given by the Bollandists under date of 1 January. The church was burned in 780 and
again in 1179 and nothing remains of it now.
Other Items of Interest: Through the gate from the churchyard can be seen an old ruin. In this ruin is a
complex of what appears to be a tiny old church along with two holy wells - one dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.
Like the churchyard enclosing the round tower, it appears to be in a state of early preservation or early
neglect. Hard to say, as it did not appear to have any very recent restoration work going on.