The Martello Tower

A Hammer or an information System used to defend British coastlines?

Good Afternoon Soldiers, Ciaran again! I hope everyone had a fun filled weekend in the barracks. Today we’re sailing back to Ireland to visit Irish costal defence during the Napoleonic era (excuse the pun). More explicitly we’ll be talking about Irish Napoleonic signal towers and Martello Towers (Not Bono’s house from the 80s, although it was actually a Martello Tower!). Between 1802 and 1806 there were almost 80 Signal Towers and 42 Martello Towers build along the Irish coast, stretching from North Dublin all the way to Malin Head. After the French Revolution, the English became embattled with the French in Napoleonic Wars, the Irish nationalists saw this as an opportunity to fight for freedom and called on French support. The French had attempted several invasions including in 1796 and 1798 which lead to the construction of coastal defences. The Martello towers formed an integral defence strategy,  being constructed in key coastal areas where invasion was likely. There were 27 built in Dublin from Balbriggan to Bray, 3 along the Wexford Waterford Coast, 5 near Cork Harbour, and 4 on Bere Island as well as 3 in Galway Bay. Unlike their more feeble Signal Tower counterparts the Martello Towers held storage, accommodation and a lookout and gun platform. Many had extra gun batteries close by for extra defence. Signal Towers were built in areas where direct invasion was less likely. Each tower held a singal crew which comprised of a naval lieutenant, a midshipman, two singalmen and a military guard.

Bono lived in this Martello Tower located in Bray in the 80s. I love what the British did with the glass sun roof!

The System
The system used an optical telegraph system, which sent a message through raising a large rectangular flag, a blue pendant and four black balls in several combinations on a tall wooden flag staff which were as tall as 50 feet. The average distance between signal stations was 13.5km with the concentration of Martello Towers around Dublin being much closer. Consequently the optical signalling was very much dependent on visibility, with fog and low cloud often disrupting signals. However, if all of the stations operated concurrently a signal could travel 1,076 kilometres around the coast of Ireland. Remarkable. The signal towers were quickly decommissioned as the threat of invasion decreased significantly after the defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo but to this day Martello Towers and Napoleonic Signal Towers can be found scatter around the Irish coastline.

An example of some of the flag signals used to inform other towers
Signal Tower Locations around Ireland

Bonus Fact For our Most Loyal Soldiers
While it was the British that made Martello Towers the hottest thing in 1803-1806 since the small pox vaccination (1796) it was in fact a 15th Century Corsican invention that inspired the British Rebrand. In 1794 the British invaded Corsica as part of the Siege of Saint-Florent, and unsuccessfully attacked a large round tower at Mortella Point (Myrtle Point). Watchmen lit fire beacons on the roof to inform locals of invading ships, it took two days of land based forces to take the tower down after heavy fighting. In a classic British fashion they were impressed by the effectiveness of the tower, copied the design and misspelled it as ‘Martello’ which means hammer in Italian (It’s almost kinda like how they always somehow misspell Derry??). They built them across colonies globally as far as Canada, Indonesia South Africa and Australia. To this day about 150 Martello towers remain. Anyway I wonder if the 19th Century Wardogs would have been a match for these pesky towers, I’d say so!

Even Bonusier Fact
Napoleon was born in Corsica in 1769, and the Martello Towers were built to defend against his troops how ironic! At ease soldiers, Sergeant McKay signing off!

Locations globally where Martello Towers exist to this day

Martello Towers, (No Date),
Available at:
Accessed [16/03/2022]

tidesandtales, 30/08/2019, Irish Napoleonic Signal Towers,
Available at:
Accessed [16/03/2022]

Stuart Rathbone, 10/03/2017, The Irish Signal Masts,
Available at:
Accessed [16/03/2022]

Stuart Rathbone, (No Date), Irish Signal Stations,
Available at:
Accessed [16/03/2022]

Nick Hogan, 02/02/2013, Ireland’s Napoleonic-era signal towers
Available at: ttps://
Accessed [17/03/2022]

Fingal Coco, 03/2008, Martello Towers Research Project
Available at:
Accessed [17/03/2022]

Barry’s Guided Tours, 13/03/2020, Napoleonic Signal Towers of Mayo Available at:
Accessed [17/03/2022]

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