It seems only fitting on Bloomsday to provide a small bit of the history of No.11 Martello Tower in Sandycove, which now acts as the James Joyce Tower and Museum. Joyce stayed in the tower in September 1904 while the building was let out to Oliver Gogarty, and he used the building for a memorable scene in made famous in Ulysses:
Haines asked :
— Do you pay rent for this tower?
— Twelve quid, Buck Mulligan said.
— To the secretary of state for war, Stephen added over his shoulder.
They halted while Haines surveyed the tower and said at last :
— Rather bleak in wintertime, I should say. Martello you call it?
— Billy Pitt had them built, Buck Mulligan said, when the French were
on the sea.
The construction of “No. 11 Tower & Battery on Sandycove Point. To command the anchorage and Defend Scotchmans bay” was ordered on 30th June 1804 as part of an emergency programme of coastal fortifications erected between Bray, Co. Wicklow and Balbriggan, Co. Dublin in response to a threat of French invasion during the Napoleonic Wars. Sandycove Tower and the adjacent gun battery (which now forms the backdrop to the ‘Forty Foot’ bathing place) was built by John Murray who had 180 men to complete fortifications on four sites in the Dun Laoghaire area before the end of the year.
The tower was built from the local granite, laid as ashlar work and armed with an 18-pounder gun in early 1805 under the charge of an officer and thirty men of the Royal Artillery. At this time, the tower formed an integral part of the most heavily defended section of the Dublin coastline.
After the end of the Napoleonic Wars, and like many other coastal fortifications around the country, the site fell out of active use and its guns were dismounted. The tower found a new lease of life in the 1820s when it was manned by the Preventative Water Guard in their struggles against smugglers. The tower still acted in partnership with the adjacent battery, though this fortification only retained 2 of its 5 24-pounder guns, and these deteriorated from being able to “sustain 30 or 40 rounds2 in 1828 to becoming incapable of firing a shot the following year.
The original primary purpose of the tower and the battery was to mount guns, but this changed as Sandycove functioned as a Coast Guard station. The great rocky outcrop on which Joyce’s Tower stood also changed as the Ballast Board quarried rock from it and from the foreshore. The Royal Artillery took charge of the battery in 1869 and re-armed it with newer guns, though changes in the tactics and technology of warfare had rendered the tower obsolete.
The development of Dun Laoghaire as a prosperous seaside town and corresponding increase in land value led to many developers offering to buy fortifications and towers from the War Office. The Reverend W. Bourke wrote to the commanding Royal Engineer in July 1900 asking if the site was for sale, to be told that it was “not proposed to sell either battery or tower” as it may be necessary to resume military occupation of the site in the future. The War Office did however let out many of its sites and also the buildings, and so on the 24th June 1904 Oliver Gogarty rented out the tower. Towers and forts had become fashionable for well-to-do artists during the late 19th century and early 20th century – Rudyard Kipling had rented one in England “the sea to southward and sheered thither like the strongwinged albatross, to circle enormously amid green flats fringed by martello towers”. The picturesque situation of the tower at the edge of Scotmans Bay lent itself to becoming a popular subject by painters and photographers.
Sandycove tower was bought in 1954 for £4700 by Michael Scott, possibly the most important Irish architect of the 20th century, who intended to turn the tower into “the first Joyce Museum”. The association of the Martello Tower with James Joyce, and its memorable use in Ulysses and inclusion in the Bloomsday celebrations had a considerable impact on public and academic awareness of Martello Towers during the twentieth century.