A towering mystery — is this an Irish round tower?

Our friend Bob C. has taken it upon himself to explore the mystery of the Grafton State Hospital tower and he has a theory he’d like to prove: he thinks the tower may be an Irish round tower, of which there is only one known in the United States.

That would be the Irish round tower at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Milford, which was modeled after a tower in Glendalough, County Wicklow.

Now, if you take a look at the St. Mary’s tower, you’ll notice it’s a very neat-looking structure, made with Milford pink granite of course, and it doesn’t have the same creepy charm of our Grafton tower. But it’s also been a very beloved object in Milford and had years of care in a very public graveyard. Grafton State Hospital’s graveyard, aka Hillcrest Cemetery, has been largely neglected up until last year, when the Grafton Job Corps took it on as a project.

In any case, Bob C. found an article online by Sheila Eppolito from the College of Arts, Sciences and Humanities at UMass Lowell.  She wrote about UMass Lowell researchers who are working with Queens University in Dublin  on the archaeological digs. He contacted her about our possibly Irish tower, and she was intrigued enough to send the photos onto her colleagues.

I’ll note my own skepticism when it was first suggested, because my experience with the towers is limited to this neat and well-cared-for tower in the town next to where I grew up, but then I started Googling for images. Yes, most Irish round towers look a bit neater than the Grafton tower. But there are a number of photos of neglected towers, and they’re looking kind of familiar.

For example, this one, which I found on a Flickr stream. She identifies it as the Aghaviller Round Tower.

And then there’s this one, identified as the Armoy round tower in County Antrim on  Wikipedia.

According to Wikipedia, there’s some question about what these towers were actually used for (sound familiar?). The theory was they were used to hide from Viking raiders; the current theory says they were used as bell towers.

So is the Grafton State Hospital tower an Irish round tower? Bob C. and Michelle argued back and forth about it in the comments here and it does sound plausible.

Theories, anyone?

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10 thoughts on “A towering mystery — is this an Irish round tower?

  1. I think it’s an Irish Round Tower and Michelle thinks it’s a landing tee for alien space ships.

    Who do you want to believe? 🙂

  2. Michelle also suggested it was Grafton’s version of a crop circle — which, I think puts the landing tee theory out. I can’t imagine space ships would pass by the Tufts hayfield without giving into the urge to lay down a couple of crop circles prior to landing.

  3. I think you may have stumbled upon something much deeper than aliens.

    “The theory was they were used to hide from Viking raiders;”

    Vikings in Grafton?! Good lord! What if they’re just in hiding and now the disrepair of the tower will allow them to pillage the town and fish Lake Ripple until there’s nothing left?

  4. For an exhaustive list of possibilities look to the research that has been done on the Touro Tower in Newport.

  5. Oh c’mon, just look at that first photo of the tower and imagine that five-note jingle from “Close Encounters” and there’s your answer!! Devils Tower, the sequal!!!

  6. Michelle,
    That would explain why I’m so drawn to this thing. Am I having a close encounter? Why do I have the urge to build a replica of it on my kitchen table?

  7. Hi Bob,

    Can you give a bit more info on this tower. From the photo it appears to be in a graveyard. Are there any other ruins nearby, such as old church buildings? Ireland’s round towers were built using a technique whereby an inner and outer wall were built and the gap in between was filled with rubble and cement. Do you think a similar technique was used in the Grafton tower. Also, the Irish round tower at Scattery has a door at ground level. What is the general atmosphere in the area of the round tower like? Is it a peaceful place or someplace you would prefer not to be?

  8. Tony,
    This tower is located on the edge of a graveyard. The cemetary contains the remains of several mental patients who died at the nearby Grafton State Hospital. We’ve learned that a large percentage of patient’s in mental institutes in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s were Irish imigrants. The names of a lot of these people were not known, so the majority of the graves are marked with simply a number. So…wether it would be considered a peaceful place or some place you prefer not to be is a matter os personal preference, I guess.

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