Ireland – The Round Tower Experience – by Victoria Hansen. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and

Ireland – The Round Tower Experience – by Victoria Hansen. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and


[A view of the round tower from the ground]

In the midsized town of Kilkenny, Ireland there is a hidden gem that isn’t widely known about. The city of Kilkenny is home to around twenty thousand people. When you ask most people what the city is best known for you will almost always get one of two answers: they will either mention the Kilkenny Castle that has sat in the city the times when they were fighting off Vikings, or they will tell you about Smithwicks, the beer brewing company that has its home on Kilkennys main street. Neither of these things are the hidden gem of the city that I want to share with you.

Tucked into the west side of the city is a cathedral called St. Canices. It is no secret that Ireland seems to be the land of 10,000 churches but this church happens to be special. Much like many of the other cathedrals this church has a round tower standing of to the right of it. This round tower was used to watch who was coming up and down the river back in the day when Vikings often scoured the land. What made this round tower so special was the fact that it is one of two in the entire world that the public is actually allowed to climb up to the top.


[The stairs I had to climb up to get to the very top]

When our group had first arrived at St. Canices Cathedral, we were told that the tower had already been booked out by a group for the day. Many of us students were disappointed especially after learning that it was only one of two still open. Luckily for us, the tour group that had booked out the tower never showed up. This meant that our entire group go to climb to the very top. When I first bought my ticket to climb up there, I didn’t have a single clue as to what I was signing myself up for.

When I thought about the inside of the tower I imagined what looked like a never ending spiral staircase going from the bottom of the tower to the top. To even get inside the first floor of the round tower, I had to climb up a cold metal ladder. Once I walked through the open door of the round tower, I realized it wasn’t at all what I expected. The inside was dimly lit and several ladders could be seen above me. Not wanting to hold the people up behind me, I quickly got on the ladder and began to climb.
The first few ladders were easy but the higher up we got, the steeper the ladders became. Around the fourth ladder, a voice could be heard coming out of the speakers on the wall. It would be logical to think that the voice coming from the speaker would be encouraging you to just keep climbing but instead it joked about the fact that the tower had already begun lean to one side “but don’t worry, it should stay standing long enough for you to make it to the top”. The higher up we climbed, the windier it became. The round tower has glassless windows so the air creates somewhat of a vortex within.


[The view of the city from the top]

After the sixth ladder, I had made it to the final landing. The only thing that stood between me and the very top of the round tower was a set of stone stairs that were extremely uneven. I put one foot up on the first step of the stairs and then foolishly looked down. It was at that moment that I realized from that point on, if I fell, I would fall more than a single story and it would more than likely be the death of me. With a deep breath, I continued my way up the last few steps. Holding onto the nearby fence to steady myself as I emerged to the open air.

The view from the top was breath taking. I looked down to the ground below and couldn’t believe how far up I had climbed. The top of the round tower had an uneven floor, so I had to be careful not trip as I took in all the scenery in front of me. We had to wait for everyone to make it to the top before we could begin our descent back down. Once everyone made it up we snapped a quick group picture before heading back down to the ground. I was nervous about the descent. I thought it was going to be harder than getting up there was. Luckily, I made it down with easy.

Once I reached the ground floor, I looked up in awe. I couldn’t believe that I had climbed all those ladders in such a short amount of time. Afterwards the guide told us it is only a matter of time before that tower eventually falls. I was thankful she hadn’t mentioned that before we began climbing but at that moment realized how lucky I am to get to say that I have had the experience of climbing up a round tower.


[The ladders that I had to climb up]

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at)

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The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy ( is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our abiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In three years we have published over 250 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our student editors and writers come from all parts of the campus, from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. We also have writers and editors from other colleges and universities. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors ( This is done by an all volunteer staff. We have a frugal cash budget, and we donate much of our time and talent to this project. The North Star Reports is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica. Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports. Eleni Birhane and Matthew Breeze, Assistant Managing Editors, The North Star Reports.

(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, with generous support from The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at)


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33 responses to “Ireland – The Round Tower Experience – by Victoria Hansen. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and

  1. Kathleen Reicher

    Thanks for sharing, Victoria. What a cool experience to be able to go inside one of only two of these types of towers. Do you know if they have had to make repairs to the tower to keep it safe for people to climb? Or is it still in its original condition? So there were no stairs?! I don’t think I could have made that climb as I am afraid of heights and ladders, especially not with the windy vortex you talked about. But, I bet the view was well worth the climb. I wonder how long it will be before the tower starts to lean too much that it will be unsafe for people to climb it anymore. Good thing you got to climb it while you were there. What a wonderful experience you had!

  2. Bryce Gadke

    This mini adventure up to the top an incredibly old round tower sounds invigorating! The opportunity to climb the tower is limited, and I am sure the tower will not stand for much longer. I am glad you enjoyed the experience and made it down without falling. I am surprised that there are only two round towers that you can climb. The historical significance of this tower with the Vikings sounds impressive, to say the least. While you were describing your experience, I was imagining a frightened person scampering up the stairs to see if the Vikings were coming from downstream and sprinting back down to sound an alarm. I hope the rest of your trip is as exciting as this day was!

  3. Matthew Breeze

    That sounds like a slightly terrifying, but riveting experience! What a great chance and great luck to be able to do that with only two towers like that open to the public and the other group cancelling. I enjoy that the speakers were not that encouraging, but were instead how I imagine Irish humor to be. The view looks amazing and I bet once you got to the top you were glad that you had made the climb. Keep up the writing I am enjoying the chance to get to see some of Ireland through your articles and pictures!

  4. Trevor Schwartz

    It must have taken a lot of guts to climb a tower that high, especially considering how old it is. It’s crazy to think how old that tower is and that it is still standing to this day. Do you think they planned that when they built it? Or what do you think the people who built would say if they could see it now? I find it amazing to think about all the people that have used that tower dating back to years and years ago. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Grace Young

    In our World History I class, we have really been talking about how architecture is a strong form of nonverbal communication and incredibly important to a culture. It is really interesting that you had to climb up ladders to get to the top of the tower, not stairs. This is a culturally difference because you thought that there would be stairs but there wasn’t. I think that it could also be due to the age of the tower. I think it is funny that they were making jokes while you were climbing the ladders because that is also something you wouldn’t expect. It would be interesting to see if the other tower also has ladders you need to climb to get to the top or if this is unique to this one. What an awesome experience you got to have!

  6. Kalahan Larson

    I think that many people feel this way when they travel. They are experiencing something that many people will never have the chance to do. But to be able to experience something that will probably not be there for much longer brings that special feeling to reality more quickly and easily. Everything in the tower was most likely the original architecture and this group of students were lucky enough to experience that history first hand. When the tower does end up falling, you have this memory to share with your family for many years to come.

  7. Michaela Campbell

    Exploring ancient buildings within a country is one of the most fascinating things you can do while traveling abroad, in my opinion. I think you had an amazing experience that not many people will ever have the opportunity to take on. I am actually a little surprised that the staff running the tower did not have you and your group sign waiver forms! I did, however, enjoy the brief history you mentioned in the beginning of the article about the purpose of the tower, and it’s ability to see incoming intruders. It is clear that the Viking heritage has had a large impact on shaping the region, so I am curious if there are other places you will be visiting that give more information on Viking history! Either way, very interesting article, and I hope you have more great experiences!

  8. Rachel Reicher

    Thank you for sharing your story! That climb sounds like such an adventure. Every place a person travels it is important that they take in the moment and try new things. It was great that this opportunity opened up for you and your classmates because like you mentioned, the tower will soon fall and you will remember that you got to climb it before it did. Your story seemed so dangerous as well. Taking risks on a trip like yours can turn into great adventures. We can see that parts of our history in this world are diminishing and we should take in and experience each part of it if we have the opportunity before the opportunity is no longer present. It is too bad the group that did not show didn’t get the opportunity, but it is wonderful that you did. Continue to take risks and enjoy your trip in Ireland!

  9. Greta

    It’s cool to see how cities get cool names that people create and that’s how we know what they are talking about when you hear that place. I bet when you were climbing the tower it was a net experience for you to see the view from high above but scary when it is windy and you can feel the wind shaking the latter. That’s a cool experience to share to others! I’m jealous!

  10. Caroline Grube

    This was a very interesting article! What an amazing experience to be able to climb up one of two towers like this is the whole world! There are so many hidden treasures like this one around the world it’s crazy. Especially with how historical they are and how little people talk about them. There is a place near my hometown that everyone calls “the river bottom” but don’t give it much other thought. I have been down there and it is a huge change from the rolling hills and endless farm land. There are beautiful rock formations and incredible forested areas. I have hiked in this area a few times and loved every second! But no one ever talks about it. Your experience with this tower and cathedral reminded me of the river bottom back home.

  11. Sheila Iteghete

    This gem looks great and the picture from the bottom makes it look a lot like the Enger tower here in Duluth. That makes me very appreciative of our tower, which holds many memories for me. I can only imagine how you felt when the person through the speakers said those things because I was just beginning to get scared for you just by reading this post. Then being told it won’t take much time before it fell was just a very scary thought. I am glad for you based on this experience.

  12. Joel J Scheuerlein

    What a truly marvelous tale. It is quite interesting that this tower is only 1 of 2 that can be climbed in the whole world, yet no one really knows about it. It does seem like quite the adventure and tale to have been able to climb this tower. Maybe one day you will be able to climb the other tower, and then you will be able to say you have climbed both the spiral towers, the only spiral towers that are able to be climbed in the whole world. It is truly an extraordinary accomplishment, never stop exploring.

  13. Francesca Do

    Hello Victoria,
    I can not believe you got to go into an actually castle! I have always wanted to step foot in the castle ever since I was young. The pictures you provided us in the article is spectacular. However, I am not sure if I can even make it up all the way to the top of the tower because going up four flights of stairs in CSS gets me breathless in seconds. But I believe that I would take a risk on the flights of stair to see the amazing view from the top of the castle. Reading this article is very eye opening, I never knew that “the round tower has glassless windows so the air creates somewhat of a vortex within.” Thank you for sharing your experience with us!

  14. Nouqouja Yang

    Such an awesome piece of history! After my experience with the Great Wall of China, it made me really realize how much effort and stories were behind such great and devastating pieces built and left behind. It made me want to see more around the world. Your tower story sounded amazing and it really made me imagine how steep it would be. All of these ancient buildings, architecture, and art work is able to tell a story and a past which has brought us to how things are here today. Just thinking about your tower and the great wall, I’m still at awe with the facts of these. Thank you for sharing!!

  15. Certainly sounds like one crazy tower! It is always interesting seeing the different structures from our past world. Learning the history behind these magnificent structures also puts a much greater value on the experience. I find it crazy to think that these structures from so long ago were made by humans. The reasons different buildings were constructed vary so much and hold an important cultural backround.

  16. Dylan Brovick

    I am enjoying all of these article on Ireland because i know feel that if i ever make it there i will know plenty of things to go see. The climb up to the tower seems pretty nerve racking and a little bit sketchy. I agree that i would not liked to have heard that at some point it is going to topple over before climbing it. The spiral stair case reminds me of the one at the Split Rock light house up the north shore. Those stairs aren’t very steep though and isn’t super tall. I can imagine the view being breathe taking from the top which make the climb worth it. Lastly, i enjoyed the history of the tower and how it is still there from the time that they used to use it to watch out for vikings.

  17. Elaina Wald

    It’s so awesome that you’re spending enough time in your destination to find hidden gems like this one. Too often in foreign places we get wrapped up in the most popular and busy attractions. I find that I never have enough time to explore as much as I want to when I travel. The semester abroad is a great opportunity to explore the castles, the random farms, and everything in between. Cheers!

  18. McKenna Holman

    Wow, it sounds truly breathtaking! I remember when I was in England I climbed up Clifford’s Tower. From the top I could see almost all of the city of York. It had to have been the prettiest thing I have ever seen. It’s really exciting that you got to experience such a unique piece of Kilkenny! I wonder why it is such a hidden gem and not more popular?

  19. Alexa Lee

    I think it’s interesting that the guide said it was only a matter of time before it fell. Did she say anything about when they think that might happen? Did she say whether or not they were going to stop letting people climb it? It’s nice that you got a chance to do something that was not “overly” popular for tourist. In my history class we talk about architecture as a language, and I think a Cathedral like this is speaking a language, and not just now that it might fall down, but also that it’s been standing a long time and seen a lot. It also probably holds a lot of value for people who spent time in it daily, and you got to be a part of that, which is really special.

  20. Emily Bugni

    Thank you for sharing your visit with us. I too would have believed that a round building would have had a spiraling staircase. So, I was surprised to find that there were ladders that were used to climb this tower. I wonder what the reasoning behind this was. There must have been one. Also, why are there only two towers left of this kind in the world? I was astonished to hear that and to also think that they let people climb it when they know it is bound to collapse sometime soon. One would think that they would protect it from all harm and also want to protect the people. But, I am glad that you had the chance of climbing it and it did not fall over!

  21. Hanna McLevish

    That’s cool that even though you were really scared and didn’t think you could do it, you still did. It is amazing how much we don’t know is there. I think that we take a lot of things in life for granted, but it is important to appreciate the little things.

  22. Paige Perreira

    I can imagine that this would not be an experience for the faint-hearted. When I started reading, I was also under the impression that there would be a spiral staircase in this tower. I’m sure the trip to the top was totally worth all of the effort though! It’s always interesting to see how architecture like that has remained intact (or not so intact) for such a long time. With something like a church, it would be difficult to imagine someone wanting to take down something that is sacred to a lot of people.

  23. From your pictures and from looking online, it is great to see how the round tower has remained as the oldest standing structure in Kilkenny. It is interesting how the tower was constructed to protect people and how it is only one of two round towers in all of Ireland that you can climb. How was the cathedral itself? It looks as if the style of the cathedral is gothic, were there any monuments or plaques that stood out to you? I went on a trip a few years ago to Bruges, Belgium, and I too went up a medieval tower; it was a bell tower in the center of the city. I remember how narrow and steep the staircase of steps was, but how it was worth it with the break taking views! I hope you have many more fun and historical experiences in Ireland!

  24. Kalley Friederichs

    Victoria, great post, I love hearing about everyones adventures in Ireland! How neat that you were able to go to the top of one of only two cathedral towers. That is very lucky of you guys that the other group never showed and your group was able to climb to the top of the tower. I definitely would have freaked out if I heard those quotes come on over the speaker while climbing high up the tower and old rickety ladders. You and your group are very lucky that you guys got the opportunity to climb this tower, especially because it doesn’t sound like it is going to be around or safe to climb that much longer.

  25. Ellen Hansen

    Isn’t it crazy how big a deal stairs can be, in a world filled to the brim with elevators and escalators? I’ve had similar experiences in older cathedrals, and it is amazing how much of an impact the climb to greater heights can really have on a person. Just looking back to our lovely city of Duluth, for example, I can’t help but relate this back to Enger Tower… steps twisting upward, cool breeze pushing into the open structure, momentary hints of breathlessness immediately following the climb. Even better than the trip up a structure like this is the view you witness once it is complete. The picture of the city rooftops you posted is a prime example of this. It is so unique to experience the world from above, when we can cast our shadows on the structures that usually tower us. Thank you so much for a reminder of this feeling!

  26. Andrew Bailey

    Victoria, this was a very cool and thrilling read. I have to admit, I was somewhat afraid for you as I read. I did not want you to fall, but I knew you escaped with your life to be able to write this article, so that was reassuring. I have been able to climb some towers myself such as the ones they have at state parks at overlooks, but nothing that compares to your experience. Pretty cool to think that this tower was actually used by the Irish to stay on the lookout for Vikings. Also interesting that it was placed next to a church. Maybe this has to do with the churches in our communities were at one time the center of the towns?

  27. Thomas Landgren

    Thank you for sharing your experience in Ireland. Wow what an amazing hidden gem that you guys were allowed to go experience. I liked what you said about how Ireland is the home of 10,000 churches. It would be a cool thing if someone took the time to take a picture of every church they pass while studying abroad. It is amazing that there are only two towers that height that you can climb in the world and you can now say that you were able to climb one of them before it falls. I thought that the history of the town and the tower when it came to the vikings was really interesting. Did you guys end up going to the castle and the brewery after the tower? Great Article!

  28. Hattie Meyer

    I love this post because you had the chance to do something many people won’t ever get to do. Many historic places like this you are not allowed to walk on or go into. With that being said I wish you told us a little bit more about what you thought of having that chance. Or, what some of your friends thought of it? Another part of the post that I enjoyed was when you gave a brief history about the tower and what made it so special. I found it funny how even the people in the city didn’t even give the tower away. Good job! It was a great look into the city history, thank you.

  29. I don’t know about you, but I can say I am unafraid of most things…except heights! This sounds absolutely terrifying! Why not stairs? Why only ladders? I am curious to know if you found this information out. I wonder did the Tower ever have stairs at any point in its existence? I am glad, however, that you were able to overcome your unsureness (and what sounds like a tiny bit of fear, because it sounds like even the most daring soul’s heart rate might falter while climbing one of those ladders high up). I am glad to hear the view from the top was worth the risk! I would love to hear more about the history of the Tower as well! Thanks for sharing.

  30. Kendra Brunn

    What a fun experience! It must feel so cool to know that you were able to climb one of two of those towers in the whole world! How lucky that the other group never showed! I am not scared of heights, but hearing you describe the ladders makes me a bit anxious. I would still probably do it if I had the chance! Also, the picture of the city from the top of the tower is absolutely beautiful! It is so satisfying to see your hard work of climbing paid off by being able to experience such a beautiful view. Have fun on the rest of your trip!

  31. Hi Victoria! Thanks for sharing, what a wild day! Ugh, those stairs sound brutal, but the tops makes it all sound so worth it! I am jealous of this trek because I am sure that you saw the colors of Ireland in a much different light. Thank you for sharing your adventure, cheers!

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