The Martello Towers

The are two Martello towers in Skerries, one on Red Island and the other on Shenick Island. The word Martello is a corruption of Mortella, the name of a headland in Corsica. It was here that the original of these squat towers defended the approaches to the Gulf of Fiorenza. In 1794 the British were helping the people of Corsica, who rebelled against the French. Two British ships, the “Fortitude” and the “Juno,” bombarded the tower, and 1400 troops with artillery were landed to help in the attack.

The ships were disabled, and forced to retire with great loss of life. The troops maintained their attack for a considerable time without success. Finally a lucky shot started a fire in the tower, which forced the soldiers inside to surrender. The English were amazed to find only thirty-three men inside, with only three cannons.

This incident greatly impressed the military authorities in England, and in 1804 when they feared that Napoleon would invade Ireland, they built a long chain of such towers on the eastern and southern coasts of the country.

They are all similar, being built of solid stone, usually granite. The walls are nine feet thick. Each tower has a guardroom and an ammunition store. There is a platform on top, on which three cannons were placed. The entrance to the tower is through a door, which was usually between ten and fifteen feet from the ground. Each tower was built in a position where one could see the two towers on either side. The invasion that the British feared never happened.
Published here: November 2002