Martello Towers

You can access the photographs from my visits to other Martello Towers by clicking on the highlighted placenames. If you’d like more info you can click here for a bit more on the Napoleon Trail – Dublin.


Sutton North #1

Dublin North #1 Sutton (Red Rock)

Sutton (Red Rock) was built on a rocky promontory using the local quartzite or ‘red rock’ – this Martello Tower was sited at an important position at the entrance to Sutton Creek with an impressive vista of the entirety of Dublin Bay. Interestingly, after the threat of the Napoleonic Wars had diminished this was the last of the Dublin Martello Towers to be disarmed (as late as 1881).

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Sandycove South #11

Dublin South #11 Sandycove (James Joyce Museum)

The Martello Tower at Sandycove is probably the most renown of the Dublin Towers from its connections to James Joyce and the part it plays in the opening chapter of his magnum opus ‘Ulysses’, arguably one of the greatest masterpieces of modern literature. The Battery itself has it’s own distinct fame as being the site of the ‘Forty Foot’ previously the preserve of male only sea bathing, since the 1970s ladies have also enjoyed this lovely seabathing spot.

The order to build the Tower and Battery at Sandycove Point was made on the 30th of June 1804. By the end of 1804 the builder John Murray had not only completed the Tower and Battery at Sandycove, but had also completed the towers and batteries at Dunleary (Dun Laoghaire), Glasthule and Seapoint. The Royal Artillery were stationed at the Tower and Battery until 1825, whereupon it was then handed over to the Coast Guard to assist in the anti-smuggling operations in Dublin Bay.

Skerries (Red Island) North #11

Dublin North #11 Skerries (Red Island)

This Martello Tower was built on ‘Red Island’ which at that time (1804) was linked to the mainland by a narrow stretch of land. The Tower at Red Island is unlike  the other North Dublin Towers – who were mainly built of rubble and covered in a lime render, whilst this tower was built of coursed ashlar masonry with limestone utilised rather than the granite of the South Dublin towers. This tower was still in use and manned by the Royal Artillery until 1874.

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Killiney (Tara Hill) South #7

Dublin South #7 Killiney

The impressive site at Tara Hill, Killiney has been lovingly restored to its former glory by Niall O’Donoghue who has spent years researching, restoring and rebuilding this site to its current condition. This walled compound consisted not only of a Martello Tower, but includes a guardhouse and a raised earthen battery which could mount three 24-pounder guns. The site itself was disarmed in 1820 but on walking around this military compound it is easy to see that this was not only a defensive Martello Tower but through it’s elevated vantage point it could provide military support for the other Martello Towers within close proximity.

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Williamstown (Blackrock) South #15

Dublin South #15 Williamstown (Blackrock)

The Martello Tower at Williamstown (Blackrock) is unique in the Dublin armnament as it was built on the foreshore which meant that it was partially submerged by water during high tides. This is hard for the modern DART user to comprehend, as now the Tower is landlocked. With the coming of the railway to Dublin the coastline dramatically changed and the Williamstown Martello Tower became surrounded by lawns behind the train lines.

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Seapoint South #14

Dublin South #14 Seapoint

John Murray who also built the Tower and Battery at Sandycove, Dunleary and Glasthule, also built Seapoint in 1804. Early in 1805 the tower here was manned by 10 artillerymen and an officer (this was the minimum number required to operate an 18-pounder gun). The War Department decided to rearm the tower here in the 1850s with a 24-pounder gun, you can still see the boundary stone from this period as it still stands in a wall to the west of the tower. The tower was disarmed in 1880.

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Rush North #8

Dublin North #8 Rush

The Rush Martello Tower situated off Tower Street is similar in construction to Howth North #2 in that it has a similar climbing path. This particular Martello Tower was manned by the Royal Artillery until 1815, it was then manned by an invalid gunner until 1830. In 1865 it was eventually taken over by the Coast Guard to counteract the profitable smuggling operation that was active in Dublin Bay.

Howth North #2

Dublin North #2 Howth

Built on an Anglo-Norman motte, the Howth Martello Tower is now the home of the Hurdy Gurdy Museum of Vintage Radio. The Howth Martello Tower also has the distinction of being built on the most expensive plot of land purchased by the War Department. The Tower at Howth was armed with a 24-pounder gun and there was also intended to erect a battery on this site, but this never materialised. Howth was at the epicentre of the immensely profitable smuggling operation in Dublin Bay and in 1825 the Preventive Water Guard (Coast Guard) was granted the right to occupy the tower from the 30th May 1825.

The connection with communication and telegraphy began in 1852 when the first telegraph cable was laid between Howth and Holyhead. The Martello Tower was then occupied by HM Postmaster General following the nationalisation of the telegraph companies in 1870. This early connection with the telegraph meant that the Martello Tower became the focus of early radio transmissions in the tests of De Forest in 1903 and Marconi in 1905. From the formation of the Irish Free State in 1922 the Tower became the property of the Minister of Posts and Telegraphs and was utilised to provide communication between Dublin and Liverpool. During the Second World War or ‘The Emergency’, the tower was used as part of anti-invasion exercises by the ‘Local Security Force’ which was comprised of reserves attached to the Army and the Gardai.

Sandymount South #16

Dublin South #16 Sandymount

The Sandymount Martello Tower was a ‘double tower’ as were Williamstown, Dalkey Island and Ireland’s Eye as it could mount two cannon on its roof. Like Williamstown, Sandymount was also built on the foreshore and was built strategically to provide support to the Pigeon House Fort and prevent any possible Napoleonic force landing on the South Bull wall. The Martello Tower at Sandymount was disarmed in 1860s.

Balbriggan North #12

Dublin North #12 Balbriggan

The Martello Tower at Balbriggan was built in 1805 and was manned by a full complement of Royal Artillery until the end of the Napoleonic Wars. In 1823 as with other towers in the Dublin region the Balbriggan tower was taken over by the Preventive Water Board (Coast Guard) for to counteract the prevalent smuggling operation in Dublin Bay.

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Balcarrick, Donabate North #6

Dublin North #6 Balcarrick, Donabate

The Martello Tower at Balcarrick in Donabate is built on the shoreline and overlooks Lambay Island. When it was originally built in 1804/5 it was only accessible via a small track so manning the tower with men, artillery and supplies would have been by boat. The Royal Artillery were stationed here until 1830.

Portrane Martell Tower 9th Nov (132)

Portrane North #7

Dublin North #7  Portrane

The Portrane Martello Tower was built in 1804 on its rocky promontory and was manned by Royal Artillery until the end of the Napoleonic Wars whereupon an Invalid Gunner took it over until 1826. As with many of the other towers in Dublin Bay it then became the preserve of the Preventive Water Board (Coast Guard).

North 4 Carrick Hill, Portmarnock

Carrick Hill, Portmarnock North #4

Dublin North #4 Carrick Hill, Portmarnock

Built in 1804 along with the other Dublin Towers, Carrick Hill is located on the coastal side of Strand Road, just north of the famous Velvet Strand. Carrick Hill was intended to defend Baldoyle Strand and probably looked very similar to our tower at Howth when it was first built. An 1830 Board of Ordnance plan of Carrick Hill shows the position of the tower next to ‘Tubbernacanie Well’, which ran down the hill to form two small pools beside the tower, and then ran into the sea beside a curved stone pier. The pier was probably built at the same time as the Martello tower and used to unload stones and other building materials, along with the cannon and ammunition, when it was first armed. The pier had fallen into ruin by the mid 19th century and no trace of it survives today.

During the 19th century, the tower was mainly occupied by an Invalid Gunner of the Royal Artillery, who kept the gun serviceable despite the prevalent problem in Martello towers – namely damp! The tower appears to have remained in military use, and is recorded with four boundary stones marking the site in 1848, on a recent visit I could only locate two boundary stones. By 1874 it had been disarmed and was in good condition, the tower was sold in 1928 along with almost 100 hectares of land to Cyril Willan who occupied Carrick Hill. By this stage the tower was developed to provide living accommodation with single storey structures added. As it stands now, the tower is comprised of four apartments.

North #5 Robswall, Malahide

Robswall, Malahide North #5

Dublin North #5 Robswall, Malahide

Robswall tower is located on the landward side of the Coast Road on the approach to Malahide from Portmarnock. Due to its current appearance, it is not immediately recognisable as a ‘Martello’ tower. The tower at Robb’s Wall was built ‘for the defence of Malahide Strand and the mouth of the river.’ The 1830 Board of Ordnance ‘return’ shows the tower in a circular site in the middle of the main coast road. Twenty years after construction, the tower was in a dangerous condition, with the entrance ladder and trap door both causing concern. The building remained in charge of the Royal Artillery, and like the Carrick Hill tower, was never occupied by the Coast Guard.

The 1862 Board of Ordnance plan is reasonably detailed, and shows the position of the stairs and the ‘Machicolis’ which defended it, the shot furnace, the flag staff, the chimney and the ‘winding stairs’ om the southwest corner, together with a pig sty, privy and cesspit on the site. In 1897, Robswall was let by the War Department to Baron Talbot of Malahide and then in 1908 the tower was offered for sale. It was purchased by Frederick George Hick who was an engineer for £175. He transformed the tower into an Arts and Craft style building between 1909-1911. The conversion was widely applauded at the time as an innovative and artistic re-modelling. Today the tower is occupied and in private ownership.

Bere Island

Ardagh Martello Bere Island #4.

Cloughland Martello Bere Island #2.

One thought on “Martello Towers

  1. Very interesting site, by chance, an Irish friend of mine on a recent visit to his home town got me a superb book on Dublin’s Martello Towers.It was unobtainable in UK, and a second hand copy on Amazon was extremely pricey!

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