Fear of an invasion by Napoleon Bonaparte reached panic proportions among the authorities in Ireland and England in 1804 and was the reason Martello Towers were built, first in Ireland and then in England. Their purpose was to provide what were, in those days, ’bombproof’ towers from which fire could be directed at ships of the hourly expected French invasion fleet. Martello Tower Sutton was the first Tower to be built in Dublin and is referred to in the annals as Tower No. 1.
The name “Martello” derived from the name of a tower at Mortella point in the gulf of Fiorenzo. The Royalist French along with the Royal Navy, failed to take the tower after attempting to rebel against the Napoleonic French in 1794. So impressed were the British by the strength of the tower, they suggested that similar towers would be useful in Ireland and England. However, an error occurred during communication between the sides and the word “Mortella”, was written as “Martello”.
The original Towers from the Napoleonic era are circular in shape, with 2-4 meter thick walls, which were made from solid stone that was all sourced locally. The entrance doorway of the towers are 3.0 metres from the ground which meant at the time access to the entrance was only made by a ladder. The ladder then could be removed to protect against an invader.
The Towers never fired a cannon in anger, as Napoleon never invaded Ireland or England. However, it is believed that the Towers acted as a deterrent, as Napoleon had every intention to invade England using Ireland as a “back door” bridgehead.
In total there were 50 Martello Towers built in Ireland, and 103 built in England. The Military numbered the towers for easy reference. Towers were also built in South Africa, Majorca and the whole Mediterranean area but most are not Martello Towers, but rather defence towers against pirates.
The function and purpose of the Towers in Ireland today differs from one to another. In Dublin while there are 21 Towers that remain standing many are derelict, some demolished, some are owned by government departments, and others are privately owned, some of which are habited and some uninhabited. We believe that Martello Tower Sutton represents the best and most sympathetic refurbishment of any Tower in Ireland.