Just so we are clear, I’m neither particularly spiritual, nor overly drawn to mysticism. The supernatural, and beckoning from worlds beyond are, for me, generally restricted to the scriptures of Stephen King. It’s very unlikely that you will find me hunched under a crimson shroud, gazing into a crystal ball in a dimly lit carnival tent on Halloween night. No seances, tarot card readings, or horoscopes for me, thankyou. Wizards, oracles, and witchcraft, I don’t think so.
There have been, however, a seemingly linked string of personal events spanning decades that I have never been able to reconcile with. I am now going to try and unravel those events here, at the risk of appearing completely unhinged, off my trolley, and barking mad. I can honestly say that I have not made any of this up, but can equally understand why people might choose to discount this story’s authenticity. I’m pretty sure I would.
It all started when I was 16 years old (34 years ago). My late uncle Paddy Nolan was dining at our house, and whilst we were all busily shovelling down one of mum’s famous roasts (with Yorkshire pudding), Paddy was recounting details of his recent travels to Ireland, where he had researched our ancestral roots to, I believe, a little hamlet called Moyvane, near Listowel, in County Kerry.
It all sounded fascinating until he drew attention to the dwelling that he had traced our roots back to. The place he then described was something I had seen vividly several times in a series of tragic recurring dreams.
“It was a very large round tower”, Paddy began, “about the height of a four of five storey building, with no windows.” A chill went up my spine. I had been dreaming of such unusual dwellings only a few weeks earlier. He said “there was an internal staircase that wound around the inside walls, and they kept livestock in there as well.”
I asked him if the entrance door was elevated above the ground by 3-4 metres (10-12 feet), and Paddy immediately agreed, saying that a ladder was used to access the door and was then pulled up and into the tower. I knew about this. In my recurring dreams I was always waiting by a small bridge for someone to return, but when I could wait no longer, I would run to the round tower, hurriedly climb the ladder and pull it up after me, sadly locking out the person I was waiting for. In another recurring dream I was climbing the ladder at night in a panic, and upon entering the tower, was greeted with a bright red fireball on the inside of the dwelling.
The round towers of Ireland were built between the 9th and 12th centuries as protection against the waves of invading vikings. There were roughly 120 of these towers built, most of which are now in ruins, and with 18-20 that have been kept in perfect condition. They were as high as 40 metres (130 feet), and were designed to house people and food/livestock in isolation for significant periods of time. The doorway was deliberately only large enough for one person to squeeze through at a time, so that intruders could be dealt with as they entered. Starting a fire somehow on the inside was the only way to effectively penetrate the building.
I had other recurring dreams where a dusk medieval type battle was being waged, running down a steep slope beside a round tower, to a bend in a river. I would always wake up in a cold sweat, as the dreams were so vivid and emotional.
I never really knew what it all meant, being young at the time, and didn’t dwell too much on it. When I asked my father once what he thought about it all, he off-handedly offered the theory that perhaps we all retain some embedded memories in our genes that get passed down from one generation to another, and that maybe these memories can sometimes resurface in our dreams. A bit like a DNA imprint of some kind. Dad was happy to dismiss his own theory, but I liked it. Animals are born with “instinct” which, in theory, could be embedded “what to do” memories that have been somehow retained and stored in a “black box” deep inside their brains. I don’t know much about all that stuff so I might be talking out of school, so please don’t quote me on any of this!
The story continues on, however. Three decades later, around 2010, good friends of ours, The Collopys, visited some old churches and round towers in Ireland during a family holiday. We were at their place soon after they returned and they showed us some travel snaps. I froze when I saw one particular photo of St Canice’s Cathedral, with detail of the side cathedral window frames. Matt and Clare Collopy thought I had just seen a ghost! I was briefly in a state of shock. I was drawn instantly to the detail of the window frames on this church because I had seen them in vivid detail over and over in my dreams. Not the stained glass, just the shape and design of the external window mouldings themselves. I remember a dream where I was hovering way above the ground, at eye level to the outside windows, studying the same detail of the frames. It always struck me as a weird dream, I could never understand where it had any relevance. I have had other dreams where I have carried a body in the middle of the night up a town roadway, and looking up, the silhouette form of a large cathedral towered above me on a hill. At the end of this recurring dream I rest the body in a graveyard at the front of the church. These dreams are very traumatic.
Seeing the picture of the church and feeling the impact it had on me, I went home and later googled my Irish family name origins of Nolan, Fay, and Delaney, to see where they led me. The origin of the name Delaney (my mother’s Maiden name) was from the earlier anglicized form of O’Delany or O’Duluny, with apparently the earliest known reference dating back to Felix O’Duluny, Bishop of Ossory from 1178 to 1202. Now, apart from all the other wonderful things that he did, he was credited as being the guy who built St. Canice’s Cathedral in Kilkenny, the very same church that I saw in the picture!
And guess what?
There is a round tower sitting about 5 metres away from the church.
I’m sure it can all be explained away, and over the years I have done a good job of doing that myself. I cannot, however, explain away having the dreams, and then having other people connect the dots for me after returning from visits to Ireland. It is a bit bizarre really.
For those who only deal in certainty, I can give you one right now. Visiting Ireland and taking a look around a bunch of old round towers and churches may not be something that excites a lot of people (and I may have trouble convincing my family to travel with me), but a trip to Ireland is definitely on my bucket list.