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  • morganfagg


Updated: Nov 4, 2022

For me there is only one Martello tower which is now known as Joyce Tower but in reality, Ireland alone had as many as 50 with more than half of them based in Dublin and positioned close enough to communicate with one another. I presume semaphore was utilised when it was introduced and today you will find websites for some of these Martellos.

These defensive military towers with their thick defensive walls were built as look out towers during the Nepolicanic Wars and housed soldiers and supplies. The one in Sandycove was build 100 years before James Joyce stayed there for six days in September 1904 but the original tower that inspired these martellos dates back over 400 years.

150 Martello towers exist all over the world with one in Australia and some in Canada and Sri Lanka. There are Martello style towers on both sides of the Atlantic and Joyce lived briefly in the one in Sandycove by the Forty foot bathing area.

Joyce spent a few days living there with Oliver St John Gogarty who I believe was a medical student like Buck Mulligan.

40ft by 40ft by the Forty Foot

These defence fortifications I believe are mostly about 40 foot wide and 40 foot tall

even though the one at Sandycove might be larger than most. My favourite story about this well known part of Dublin is that men traditionally enjoyed nudist bathing in this area until a group of women invaded their waters in the 1970s in an episode of history hilariously known as the attack of the Forty Foot women.

Having spent a stint living in Blackrock when I was studying for a postgrad there, I sadly never made it inside any of the Napoloeanoic defence fortifications in Dublin despite passing Joyce's tower several times which was only 5KMs down the road.

There is a museum there today which I know many fans of Joyce would love to see and I wonder if it is possible to get a close shave there too. Can you?


While Joyce nailed his choice of memorable location based on his own experience there, the British didn't exactly hit the nail on the head when it came to naming the Martellos as martello means hammer in Italian and the tower was so named after the Genoese defensive fortification at Mortella Point in Corsica.

Tour de la Mortella by Colle M

The original Mortella Point tower, progenitor to the Martellos took a hammering by the British in 1794 when HMS Fortitude and HMS Juno and their 100 guns were unsuccessful in attacking the tower. The Martellos were built in the 19th Century but the Mortella Point tower that inspired them was actually completed in 1565.

The Bloomsday Society in Madrid will return to the Martello tower in Sandycove on Friday 29th of October to start our first monthly meeting and I have to thank them for starting at the very beginning of the book so that the Groundhog Day Challenge can have a look at stately plump Buck Mulligan at the stairhead as we encourage others to open that very first page.

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