Antrim Round Tower, known locally as’ the Steeple’, is all that remains of a once thriving monastic settlement, associated with the important monastic site at Bangor. Very little is know about its early history though it was probably founded by St Aedh in 495AD, although the founder of Bangor named Comgall and also another person named Durtacht have also been referenced. The round tower once stood 50 metres from a ruined church that was removed in 1819 with the re-purposing of the demesne. The ancient name of the site was Aontreibh or Oentreb meaning ‘single dwelling’ or ‘one tribe’ in Old Irish. The name was later changed to Aontroim meaning ‘single ridge’, hence the anglicised Antrim. The conical round tower is 28 metres in height and was built in the 10th or 11th century. According to the Annals the monastic site was destroyed once in 1018 and burnt down in 1147 during raids.
Beside the tower stands an interesting bullaun stone known locally as the ‘Witches Stone‘. The story goes that witch, upset at the construction of the tower, climbed to its top, jumped off and landed on the stone, leaving the impression of her knee and her elbow in it. The bullaun was originally positioned 100 metres away but was moved closer during the re-purposing of the demesne. Local legend says that one of the hollows never runs dry, not a totally unbelievable statement considering it exists in the north east of Ireland! It is said that during droughts people used the water on their crops and the hollow always could be found full the following day. W G Wood-Martin, tells a slightly different story in his 1902 book ‘Traces of the Elder Faiths in Ireland’, “Legend of the Witches Stone – The Witches’ stone,” near Antrim Round Tower, from its name evidently originally a cursing site, is a rock bullan(sic). The tower, according to current tradition, was erected by a “hag” who, when it was finished, as the readiest way of descending, took a flying leap and alighted on this stone, situated about 120 yards from the base of the structure. She stumbled – little wonder – on landing, and struck the rock with one elbow and one knee, which accounts for the cup-like depressions seen in the illustration. These, as is usual, are stated never to be without water. The largest cavity is 15 inches long, 12 inches wide and 9 inches deep; the smaller depression is 6 inches wide by 3 inches in depth. The rock itself is 6 feet long by about 4 1/2 feet broad. It lay originally by the side of a brook, but many years ago the stream was diverted, a wall was built between it and the stream, and the enclosed area converted into a garden.”
The round tower at Antrim is a worthwhile stop if one is in the area, it is a short stroll from the road but can be hard to spot on approach from the road due to the beautiful mature trees concealing it.
GPS: 54.72402, -6.20893