(16) The Tower of Dowth

Dowth is one of three main sites amongst 90 monuments in Brú Na Boinne. Probably just as important as the over modernly developed Newgrange mound it is encircled by some inscribed stones and has benefitted from being left alone giving the site a contemplative atmosphere with a splendid view of Newgrange and the surrounding Boyne Valley. It is open to the public and does not require entry via the interpretive centre. You can just walk through the turnstile and up to unusual horseshoe shaped mound. https://opensea.io/collection/sean-o-dwyer-the-crystal-path

PlaceCard No.Date
Spiritual/Esoteric  refGaeilgeEytmological Root
The TowerDubhad, Dubhthach, Fert BoadainDarkness, Blackness the grave of Boadain
The Tower of Dowth 

The long approach 
The frozen land
The sculpted circles in the frieze 
The rams skull between the trees 
The second day of perfect stillness 
The earth stopped between the years. 
The distant tower in timespace 
Overlooking Boyle O’Reilly’s place.
In the simple hut 
The guardian awaits 
The assistant geese 
The empty plates 
The edifice arises
The foundation of the seven stars 
The crowds gather 
Boulders roll across the yards.
Eternal sun, never ending day 
The tree of many branches 
Rooted in the walls
Beside the blessed stream 
The field of many halls
Surrounding forgotten trenches
Inhabited by soldiers 
Who lie beneath the ice. 
The sheep that sleep against the stones 
Where they bray and rest their bones. 
The spell was cast for a single day 
The visiting witches 
Circle fire in the clay.
The yellow winter flower in the gorse 
Again Your Stillness reigns utmost 
Boand herself between the banks 
Not a bird or sheep moves. 
Ambitious regent without thanks
Built block by block
Groove in grooves
Vassals tire, no night to sleep in   
Workers in their hovels 
No morning to wake in. 
On the stage I stand 
This strange tale will end 
The aspiring tower that up to heaven rises
Struck down by the sin of its own commissioner
who with his sorceress sister slept. 
A million unquestioning slaves 
Who gave up the cutting of their hair 
Ceasing their wandering 
Abandoning their care. 
The hammering beak of the crow
searching for the worm. 
The cars that won’t stop for roundabouts. 
The children that in front of them run
The long regression of loyal subjects
The ancient tyranny 
The squandered potential 
The dying going concerns 
The funeral urns 
The building machine 
Its wheels that turn 
Once cranking suddenly stops. 
The crown off the top drops
The lightning scene 
Twenty two sparks between
The lovers fall soft 
Their repentance accepted.
Their foolish enterprise 
Abruptly rejected. 

The Destructive Excavation of 1847

Cnoc Dubhad

There is a reason why the mound is horseshoe shaped. In the year of the Great Irish Famine, Dowth was partly ‘excavated’ in 1847 by the Royal Irish Academy who dynamited the roof causing the still visible crater. The Gorta Mór, as the Great Famine was called, or An Drochshaol …literally “The Bad Life”, stretched from 1845 to 1852. During the particularly horrendous period of suffering known as “Black 47 “ the Royal Irish Academy for some reason decided to excavate the site by literally blowing it apart. Why this was carried out in the worst year of a famine is a strange conflation of events. One has to ask what were the excavators hoping to achieve and why did they choose to act when starving road weary travellers from the entire country were making their way to Drogheda Port to try and get passage out of Ireland? This seems incredibly insensitive towards the people during these brutal events occurring. We know now that the famine was caused by a huge organised export of all food and livestock out of Ireland to a great extent alongside the official version of causes that it was caused by the potato blight . Is the blowing up of Dowth another example of this effort to rape the country of its resources including any treasure that might be discovered inside the mound? There will be more revealed eventually about this period of madness, exploitation and attempted genocide.

Despite this enormous explosion that blew out completely the central part of the mound we are, amazingly, still left with preserved intact the two underground passages. In order to enter these permission is required from the nearby key holder, I haven’t actually ever been inside myself.

The Entrance to the Right Hand Passage at Dowth

The Dagda (the great celtic god ) , was said to have built Brú na Boinne for himself and his three sons. This echoes the presence of the three main mounds there. He stole Boann (the goddess who is said to be River Boann (Boyne) herself) from her rightful husband, Elcmar, and married her himself. Elcmar’s shepherd was named Boadan, also called Dubad (yet another Irish spelling for Dowth). Dowth was said to be the grave of Boadan (in Irish , Fert Boadain).

The Legend of Dowth

Attached to Dowth is an unusual legend about the tower associated with this site. The story goes that King Bressal Bodibad wanted to build a tower that would reach up to heaven because he wanted to escape the plague that was spreading in the land that had left only seven cows and one bull left alive. First he invited his subjects to pledge their labour to the building of the tower for just one day each. Then he enlisted the help of his sister who was a sorceress to cast a spell to stop the sun rising , causing that day to last as long as needed for the project. The spell was successful and under the constant darkness the tower ascended higher and higher, reaching dangerously close to the gods themselves.the. In an unusual an unexpected turn of events the spell was broken by the King by what occurred next. He was seized by lust for his sister at the place called Ferta Cuile and this apparently also broke the power of the incantation. The Darkness ended and the tower came crashing down to the earth and remained unfinished . The kings sister then declares that Darkness (Dubhad) will be the name of that place forever.

The View along the North Passage at Dowth

The similarity between this story and the biblical story of the Tower of Babel is apparent and even mentioned in Irish manuscripts referred to as The Tower of Nimrod in the manuscript of the Metrical Dindsheanchas. One wonders if there is a reason for that. It is not unusual for celtic stories to share similarities with tales from other cultures and mythologies. Was the story Christianised to warn against magical practices? Did the story contain he idea that Christianity ended celtic magic ritual and systems of learning? It is believed that like Newgrange, Dowth is also aligned to a heavenly body and the association of the monument to the movement of planetary bodies associated with nightfall may be significant in why it is called “Darkness”. It is very clear that one of the passages is orientated to receive the sun to lighten up the passage that is lined with large inscribed upright stones. Mounds like Dowth are essentially a giant dial with orthostats lying on their side all against the circular perimeter of the hill. The story may have been a way of alluding to the ancient knowledge concealed within the marks and purpose of the stones.

The Stone of the Seven Suns

Most famous of these stones is the Stone of the Seven Suns interpreted as variously referring to the main known planetary bodies of the solar system or the seven starred constellation we know as “The Pleiades”. The design and use of sun symbols are striking to the eye. If you click on this image you can enlarge it and get more of a sense of it yourself. This stone aligns with the north passage entrance and the line down the middle of the stone seems to a marker for this.

The Stone of The Seven Suns at Dowth
The Hollow
“The Hollow” ( left by the explosion of Black 47) watercolour and tippex

Some Observations

I have also come to the conclusion that the legend connected to Dowth is somehow related to ideas contained in the tarot card of The Tower

The golden dawn tarot card creators Rider Waite and Pamela Colman Smith may have been aware of the existence of Dowth through its Irish members of The Hermetic Order of The Golden Dawn , to give it its full name….. (There now follows quite a list) such as Yeats (a leading member of the society), Yeat’s Uncle George Pollexfen, Bram Stoker, John Todhunter, Maud Gonne (Irish revolutionary and Yeat’s Muse) and Lady Gregory who knew Yeats and visited the Dowth site with him.

There are various reasons for this idea but the main one is that The Tower as a symbol was very prominent in Yeat’s mind. He in fact lived in a tower, an old keep, with his psychic wife Georgie and named one of his books of Poetry “The Tower”. The meaning of the symbol of the tower was a symbol Yeats arrived at through his explorations of Irish Myths and legends which Lady Gregory gathered during the Irish Literary Renaissance. It was an ongoing pursuit in his poetry believing that evoking these symbols would in a magical way influence the world of history through their symbolic evocation. Symbol for Yeats and many artists of the period had potential to bring about change and action. Membership of secret societies after the turn of the century was most prevalent as part of the wave of esoteric interests that swept across Europe since the Belle Epoque particularly in Paris but also in also in ….. and perhaps surprisingly to Irish readers Dublin where numerous buildings were created in line or celebrating masonic beliefs particularly Around Stephens Green and Merrion Square.

Symbolic references in the imagery of The Tower

Another association, in particular in the The Rider Waite Deck seems to acknowledge the actual meaning of the word Dowth (Dubhadh ) as it shows a black Background to the card .  In fact the Irish word Dubhadh more correctly can be interpreted as “Blackness” from the Irish word for black “dubh”. It is interesting that the black background is not present in the older Marseilles Deck.

There are two figures falling from the tower one with a crown and another robed … important figure . This is very similar to the two main figures in the Dowth Legend The King and his Sorceress Sister. The tower in the Rider Waite Deck has a crown being blown off. In the tale, the tower was indeed commissioned by the king so it was the kings tower, hence the symbol of the crown being worked into the design of the roof.

More About The Tower at Ballylee

Yeats of course is extremely well known and now the occult aspects of his works have become more and more open to the public to interpret for themselves. His work “A Vision” was written and privately published in 1925 during his stay in “Thoor Ballylee”, which is the tower (on one level) of his book title and poem. In it he propounds an outline of a religion and philosophic system which I can only assume is aimed at creating something of a new religion for people to follow. It is actually written by his wife George using the technique of automatic writing and edited by Yeats (this technique of automatic writing was familiar to the surrealist writers of the same period ).

As a young boy when I was first introduced to his works at school in the seventies, I wonder if then Yeats would have been embraced so readily by the Irish people if they knew how much he dabbled in magic and occult rituals? For some reason this part of his life seems to remain a closed book to the general population. I wonder in fact if he was hyper promoted and marketed because of his connections to The Golden Dawn and like minded society members. His profile has risen to a grand status . Some of his poetry does of course have strong appeal but could Yeats be actually regarded as a spiritual leader ? I think not. Of course that may depend upon what your idea of spiritual is.

Was the book “A Vision” something of a misguided foolish enterprise however genuine its aspirations were or however real it’s glimpses of spiritual reality were? Is it King Yeats and George we see being propelled in the Tarot illustration of “The Tower”?  As it happens they were sent packing from their actual romantic tower at Ballylee. The building was repeatedly hit by flooding as a result of it foundations being built alongside a river and the Yeats children remember having to start their summer visits there by helping their parents brush out the silt and worms that ruined the first floor of the keep and the adjoining cottage hall. Eventually the tower was abandoned altogether and remained empty for many years until it was restored again in 1964. It was flooded again and restored in 2015 and sadly was very badly flooded again in 2020.

“A Vision” was not actually released to the general public until 1937″. See something about it at the following website. 


The Tower Card from The Coleman Smith / Rider Waite Deck
WB Yeats and Georges home Thoor Ballylee where they lived during the summer months from 1921 to 29
William and George during a trip to the U.S.

A final note : The Hidden Sheila.

Not far from Dowth (within a stones throw) hidden behind the Boyle O’Reilly monument in the Graveyard there is a Sheela Na Gig (Síle Na Guige ) . Its well worth a look and it seems that the monument was deliberately placed there to conceal its provocative imagery


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