Spatial analysis and the late Medieval Tower-Houses of Britain and Ireland

  • Michael O'Mahony

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Tower-houses are the most common type of lordly residence in Late Medieval Britain and Ireland (c.1300-1600). They are identifiable as a stone-built, multi-storeyed tower containing a cellar, hall, residential accommodation, and a range of subsidiary chambers. This thesis aims to produce the first comparative analysis of tower-house design across Britain and Ireland, with the secondary target of producing the first national study for England and Scotland. The objective is to establish whether or not there are any shared spatio-functional characteristics between the tower-houses of Britain and Ireland.

Spatial analysis is the principal methodology, focusing on examining the organisational properties of each tower-house. A quantitative analysis will then interpret the spatial attributes of each tower-house in order to determine the complexity of their design. The final analysis consists of a functional analysis, comparing the defensive and domestic architecture of the tower-houses to determine whether they were fit for purpose as lordly residences.

The spatial analysis reveals that the same basic spatial format is found across Britain and Ireland, though there are clearly regional variations that are influenced by the architectural package provided by the masonic school and the funds available for construction. The quantitative analysis shows that the Irish tower-houses are equally as complex as the English and Scottish examples. The functional analysis suggests that the Irish tower-houses have a more extensive defensive package than their English or Scottish counterparts, though the dining analysis reveals similar levels of hospitality and associated structures such as kitchens and great halls.

In summation, the thesis has highlighted the shared basic spatial and functional characteristics of tower-house design across Britain and Ireland, with the regionality of some of the values showing the potential for further research.
Date of AwardJul 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SponsorsNorthern Ireland Department for the Economy
SupervisorColm Donnelly (Supervisor) & Finbar McCormick (Supervisor)


  • Castle
  • Tower
  • Tower-House
  • Medieval
  • Late Medieval
  • Architecture
  • History
  • Archaeology
  • Spatial Analysis
  • Britain
  • Ireland
  • Northern Ireland
  • British Isles
  • England
  • Scotland

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