Post 4: 3DM – Introduction to the Case Study

The last post discussed some of the issues and challenges with 3D computer modeling in the cultural heritage sector which have emerged over the last two decades. In this post, I will introduce my case study for the AFF621: 3D computer modeling assignment.

Students were given three contexts to base a case study, and I have chosen the following context:

Research Context: A team of cultural heritage specialists has asked me for my contribution regarding the interpretation of a particular case study and also to provide some of 3D images for the publication of a scientific volume related to the topic.

However, I have decided to put my own twist on this as follows:


A team of cultural heritage specialists have decided to produce an academic journal for the purpose of re-focusing investigations for the “Early Christian Monastic Settlements in Ireland.” They sent out invitations for articles to be submitted to the journal with the following headings as a guideline:

  1. The First Churches
  2. Saints and Scholars
  3. Monastic Settlements in the Norman Era.
  4. Round Towers
  5. High Crosses
  6. Monastic Manuscripts

Within this hypothetical scenario,  I have decided to submit an article to the journal under the heading of ‘Round Towers’, however, my interest is in the use of 3D modeling for the purpose of investigating their purpose which has been debated. However, in the first instance, I needed to re-acquaint myself with some medieval history, and the following summary sets the scene for my research.


The Arrival of Christianity in Ireland

Prior to the invasion of the Welsh-Normans in 1169 and the subsequent intervention of King Henry II in 1171, Gaelic Ireland retained much of the primitive ways of the Celts which were imported over time to the island, and this remained unchanged due to the apparent isolation of the inhabitants from other European influences (Orpen 3). For example, Ireland had never been influenced by the laws and governance of the Romans, and so, lay outside the influence of events in Europe where there was a development of centralised monarchies (Orpen 3; Fitzgerald 24; Ó Corráin). Consequently, Ireland avoided invasions by the barbarians across Europe which led to the downfall of the Roman Empire (Orpen 3; Otway-Ruthven 1). While Beaufort notes that the Roman historian Tacitus commented on the familiarity of seafaring merchants with the landing ports of Ireland, and how the Phoenicians traded with Ireland in metals, there is little evidence to suggest that Ireland had any other outside influences, other than through trade at coastal areas (Beaufort 110-111; Otway-Ruthven 27). The arrival of Christianity in Ireland was not merely the introduction of a new religion, it also brought new technologies and knowledge from the Roman world (National Monuments Service 12). Nonetheless, while the Christian-Latin culture destroyed or silenced a great deal of native culture in other places, it did not have the same effect in Ireland (Richter 24). For the most part, Christianity did not have a major impact on the continuity of Brehon Law and the Gaelic way of life. However, this changed from the invasion of the Welsh-Normans in 1169 and the subsequent intervention of King Henry II in 1171.

The earliest reliable date of Christianity in Ireland is 431, recorded by Prosper of Aquitaine who claimed that Palladius was sent as the first Bishop (Richter 43; National Monuments Service 12). Although, some commentators claim that there were Christians in Ireland before this, which might account for why Palladius was sent, and that Palladius’ arrival in Ireland paralleled that of Germanus’ arrival in Britain in 429 C.E. Germanus was sent to combat the heretical teachings of Pelagius, active around the year 400 C.E., who had developed a doctrine of human free will which conflicted with the Catholic doctrine of grace (Richter 43). While it is noted that Palladius reportedly founded three churches (Cell Fine, House of the Romans and Domnach Airte), the missionary Patrick is better remembered as having introduced Christianity to Ireland (Richter 43). St. Patrick, as he later became known, left documentary evidence of his missionary work in the second half of the fifth century through his Confession and Epistleto Coroticus (O’Donnell). Although, the geographical distribution of the earliest known monasteries indicates it is less probable that Patrick’s influence continued to have an effect, rather influences from Britain and Wales are more likely.

The first monastic settlements can be dated around 520-549 C.E. and include: Monasterboice 521 C.E., Brigit of Kildare 524 C.E., Finnian of Clonard 549 C.E., Ciarán of Clonmacnoise 549 C.E. The geographical distribution of these monasteries shows a wide east-west scattering through the middle of Ireland. Orpen suggests that the introduction of Christianity to Ireland was a peaceful affair, without influence from outside conquering parties, and the early Christian churches slotted in as a “mould of the tribe”, holding property and was organised “somewhat on the analogy of the secular chieftain” (Orpen 4; also see Ó Corráin). Indeed, Warren adds that “religious life was exclusively controlled by the tribal (and frequently hereditary) abbot, whilst the brehons, through their guardianship of the law, controlled its social and economic structure” (Warren, 1976 qtd. in Ó Corráin). In Ireland, the existence of Brehon Law was in fact a “body of customs” with no known date of origin, but developed within Ireland “from time immemorial” (Orpen 35).

By the later sixth century, monastic foundations are evident in all regions of Ireland (Doherty, 1995 in Richter 51). The Irish church came alive in the second half of the sixth century and this is mainly attributed to Colum Cille. His father was descended from the Uí Néill, with proof of royal ancestry from his mother’s side (Richter 54). He founded monasteries in Derry, Durrow and Iona. Following a synod conflict of which little is known, Colum Cille left Ireland for the island of Iona, Scotland. Iona became the centre of his work and he died there in 597 C.E. (Richter 55). Written in Latin, the ‘Chronicles of Iona’ provide the dates for the arrival and deaths of abbots, and recorded some landmark events (Richter). In Ireland, accounts of the ‘Chronicle of Iona’ were adopted and extended to chronicles of local and regional events in Armagh and Clonard, and together these chronicles formed the basis of the Annals of Ulster (Richter).

By the early eight century, the Irish Christian church system was mainly monastic, and these settlements generally consisted of “an outer circular enclosure, the vallum, with an inner enclosure surrounding the church and graveyard” (O’ Donnell). Monasteries also became centres of learning and scholarship. The period of Norsemen invasions, by the Danish and Norwegians, began from 795 C.E., and from 830 C.E. they began to settle on the Irish coast and built walled towns in Dublin, Waterford, Wexford, Limerick and Cork, for trade and habitation, with many of them adopting Christianity (Curtis 210). Prior to the invasions, Ireland consisted of up to 185 tribes, but they lacked any real cohesion and were more concerned with in-fighting (Orpen 3). This meant that they were incapable of forming an alliance which may have resulted in the formation of a national army to prevent invasion from abroad.


Aerial view looking south-west, Clonmacnoise monastery settlement, Co. Offaly  Image Source: O’Donnell


While it is often suggested that the Norman invasion of Ireland was a consequence of the expulsion of Dermot McMurrough as king, and his subsequent request for assistance from the Welsh-Normans to reclaim his territory and titles, nonetheless, it was the intervention of the Norman King Henry II in 1171 which irreversibly changed the situation on the ground in Ireland (Orpen 1; Otway-Ruthven 42).

When the Welsh-Normans first landed in Ireland in 1169, they were not only confronted by the Irish Gaels many of whom were Christianised like themselves, but also by the Norsemen (also called Ostmen), who were also similar in terms, as they had become partially ‘Hibernicised’ through intermarriage, and were influenced by the Irish language and customs (Curtis 214). In the very early monastic settlements, the churches were made of wood, and were often associated with local saints (National Monuments Service 12). There are mixed opinions on whether lime or stone buildings existed in Ireland prior to the arrival of the Normans, nonetheless, one of the invaders himself claimed that there was a seemingly familial presence of “lofty ecclesiastical towers” when he landed in 1170 (Beaufort 176). However, Beaufort claims that there was evidence of lime and stone buildings in Ireland even before the arrival of the Danes, and a mention in Ware’s Antiquities that St. Kienan had a stone and lime church in the fifth century (176).

On account of the attacks and raids of the Norsemen, and also from local natives, the Celtic church system remained mostly in the form of monastic organisation, and lacked in a proficient system of “pastoral care” (Otway-Ruthven 37-38). Moreover, the Irish appeared to have taken more notice of Brehon Law as opposed “the canon law of marriage” which was “far removed from Christian ideals” (Otway-Ruthven 38).[1] Indeed, Orpen suggests that the “laxity of Irish marriage customs was repeatedly noticed by foreign ecclesiastics in the eleventh and twelfth centuries” ( Orpen 44). It was only towards the end of the eleventh century that the ideas of reform from Europe were introduced by the Irish-Norse bishops in Dublin and Waterford (Otway-Ruthven 38). They associated with other bishops in Ireland and in 1101, there was a synod held in Cashel, which was one of the first “great reforming synods of the Irish church” (Otway-Ruthven 38). Indeed, the division of Ireland into territorial church dioceses is a consequence of the reform of the Irish church, although it was only in infancy stage prior to the arrival of the Welsh-Normans (Otway-Ruthven 39).[2] However, the appearance of a widespread parish system only seems to have occurred after the arrival of the Anglo-Normans, in line “with the division of colonial land into manors” (Duffy, 1997 qtd. in Ó Ríagáin 37). According to Duffy, “medieval parishes and parish churches can be taken as indicators of Anglo-Norman settlement activity, at least in areas held by Anglo- Norman colonists” (Duffy 1997, in Russell Ó Ríagáin 37). Although, also of influence in the reform of the Irish church was the arrival of the Cistercians, who “completely superseded the older Celtic foundations” (Otway-Ruthven 40). The Normans were also responsible for the building of churches and the introduction of other “great Monastic Orders”, such as the Franciscans, the Dominicans and others (Fitzgerald 46).

The remaining features of these early monastic settlements and graveyards are of great archaeological interest, and of historical importance. Thus, it makes sense to produce a journal to allow for new insights on the arrival and development of Christianity in Ireland. This makes even more sense when we consider the technologies and tools that are now available to create models and simulations of past existences from material evidence.

My case study is based on the Round Towers of Ireland, but more specifically on Kilmacduagh Round Tower. Kilmacduagh round tower was chosen for this case study as its measurements were calculated while being renovated in 1879, by Thomas Deane on behalf of the Board of Works (Cochrane 234). These measurements were documented by Cochrane in 1904. It is a good example of architectural achievement, it is the tallest round tower still standing in Ireland at 34 metres high, and is unusual in that its doorway is located over 7 metres above ground level. 3ds Max 2014 software will be used to create a round tower model. To add, my case study will not answer questions, but will explore how we can use new technologies to further investigate phenomena, and this will be explained further in the next post.


[1] Orpen suggests that the ‘laxity of Irish marriage customs was repeatedly notice by foreign ecclesiastics in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.’ Orpen, Ireland under the Normans, 1169-1333, p. 44.

[2] In 1152, the diocesan system of Armagh, Cashel, Dublin and Tuam were allocated to four archbishops (Otway-Ruthven 39).


  • Beaufort, L.C. “An Essay upon the State of Architecture and Antiquities, Previous to the Landing of the Anglo-Normans in Ireland.” The Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, 15, (1928): 110-111. Print.
  • Cochrane, Robert. “Notes on the Round Tower of Kilmacduagh.” The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 34. 3 [Fifth Series, Vol. 14] (1904): 234-238. JSTOR. Web 21 May 2015.
  • Donnchadh Ó Corráin, ‘Nationality and Kingship in Pre-Norman Ireland’ in T. W. Moody, Historical Studies XI: Nationality and the pursuit of national independence, papers read before the Conference held at Trinity College, Dublin, 26–31 May 1975. Belfast: Appletree Press, 1978: 1–35. CELT, UCC. Web. 12 May, 2015. <>
  • Fitzgerald, Brian. The Geraldines; an experiment in Irish government, 1169-1601. London, New York, 1951. Print.
  • National Monuments Service. “Early Christian Ireland.” Country Living, 18 February 2012. Web. 10 May, 2015. <>
  • O’Donnell, Mary G. “Section 12: Early Medieval Period: Christianity.” Significant Unpublished Irish Archaeological Excavations, 1930-1997. The Heritage Council: Archaeology. Web. 04 Mar. 2015.
  • Ó Ríagáin, Russell, ‘The Archaeology of Colonialism in Medieval Ireland:Shifting Patterns of Domination and Acculturation’, Masters Thesis in Philosophy, University of Cambridge, (2010). Web. 29 May. 2015. <>
  • Orpen, Goddard Henry. Ireland under the Normans, 1169-1333. New edition. Dublin, 2005. Print.
  • Otway-Ruthven, A. J.  A history of Medieval Ireland. 2nd edition (London, 1980). Print.
  • Richter, Michael. Medieval Ireland: The Enduring Tradition (New Gill History of Ireland). Dublin: Gill & MacMillan. Print.
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