Although it is the most famous of them all, the Martello Tower in Sandycove that houses the James Joyce Tower & Museum, is one of about fifty built to repulse a possible invasion by Napoleon’s navy. After the passage of the National Defence Act 1804, towers were erected along the East Coast from Bray to Balbriggan, with others on the south coast and Cork harbour.
When war broke out between Britain and France in 1793 two British ships, the Fortitude and Juno, attacked a round tower at Cape Mortella in Corsica in February 1794. After hours of heavy bombardment by the two ships the tower was finally taken with little damage to the structure. However, the Fortitude had been set on fire and lost 62 men in the fight. Impressed by the strong defensive nature of the tower, engineers used the design when building the line of towers in 1804.
Around Dublin 28 towers were erected: 16 stretching southwards from Sandymount to Bray, and 12 northwards from Red Rock, Sutton to Balbriggan. Seven of those to the south have been demolished while all to the north are standing. Many are in private ownership with Howth tower, now the Ye Olde Hurdy Gurdy Museum of Vintage Radio, the only one open to the public on the northside. Apart from Sandycove, Seapoint tower is the only other open to the public (during the summer) on the southside. There you can see the equipment used for loading the 18-pounder gun (there is a replica on the roof), and feel what it was like to have lived there. The towers were usually 40feet tall with eight-foot thick walls and housed an officer and 10-15 soldiers. Although built in time of war they, thankfully, never saw any action as the French invasion never materialised.
It is somewhat ironic that towers designed in Corsica, where Napoleon was born, were the blueprint for a defence against him!