Research Projects · Signal Towers · Uncategorized

Signal Defensible Guard Houses

Project: The construction, survival and historical context of the Signal Defensible Guard Houses in Connacht and Ulster

Directors: Stuart Rathbone (PhD Candidate), Dr. James Bonsall (Supervisor), IT Sligo

Location: Connacht & Ulster, Ireland

Year: 2015-


Aim: This post graduate research project aims to provide detailed written and drawn accounts of the surviving signal stations around the North West coast of Ireland and, for the first time, to situate the Irish signal system in the context of the development of communication technologies in Europe and the colonial world throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

In the early years of the 19th century a new system of coastal fortifications were established around the Irish coast. The system consisted of Martello towers, fortresses and gun batteries set up to defend the major harbours and some of the important points along the River Shannon. The new military sites were accompanied by a system of long distance signal stations designed to allow the rapid transmission of warnings around the Irish coast. The nature of the signal stations is unique to Ireland but as yet they have attracted little attention beyond the pioneering studies undertaken by Paul Kerrigan in the 1980s.

Outcomes: This project has produced highly accurate records for all of the Signal Towers in the study area, as well as an interactive GIS, detailed elevation drawings, plans and where possible 3D photogrammetric models of each of the Signal Towers, providing a vital record of what currently survives at site.

A PhD thesis will be submitted for consideration in 2019. A wide range of publications are envisaged.

The project website contains a wealth of data on each of the Signal Towers in the study area.

The interactive GIS has located each Signal Tower on the island of Ireland.

A 45 minute podcast about the Signal Stations was presented on The Archaeology Show in February 2017.

Rathbone, S. and Bonsall, J. 2016. ‘Looking for a pointless answer? Archaeological contributions to the understanding of Signal Tower sites of known date and function’. A Matter of Time, Institute of Archaeologists of Ireland 2016 Conference, Menlo Park Hotel, Galway, 29-30 April 2016.

Rathbone, S. & Bonsall, J. 2016. ‘Analysis of low cost methods for assessing Signal Defensible Guardhouses in challenging environments across North West Ireland’, IAI Newsletter, Series 2, Issue 14, Winter 2016, 30 January 30 2016.


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