Wednesday, November 09, 2016


Detail from header in "Irish Cyclist & Motorcyclist" May 1918
Click any image for a larger version

The Martello Tower theme occurs a few times in Gordon Brewster's work. While it may be ornamental in the work, Gordon was well aware of the towers and their function and explained it fully to his children.

He could not be unaware of them. From his garden at Strandville on the Balscadden Road in Howth he could see the abandoned tower (No.3) on Ireland's Eye. On his walks from Strandville down to the village he had a view which included No.2 (nowadays the Hurdy Gurdy Radio Museum). And from Dollymount Strand he could see the Sutton Tower (No.1) which he included in his cartoon set on the strand.

Martello No.2 Dublin North from Balscadden Rd.

I suspect it may have been this view which lay behind the tower in the cyclist illustration. There were only two towers on high ground in the vicinity of Dublin Bay in Gordon's day. This was one of them and the other was in the deep south, in Killiney Bay (No.7 Dublin South), and that one was not on a cliff but well inland half way up the Killiney Hill Road.

While Gordon did not move into Strandville until the early 1920s, he would have had this view when visiting his friend and co-artist Jack B Yeats in the Yeats family house just down the road from Strandville.

Or maybe he just conjured up the tower in the cyclist header from his imagination at the time.

Full header from the "Irish Cyclist & Motorcyclist"

The full header on the cyclist magazine turned out to have a wider family significance. I don't know how long before publication that it was drawn but it was published during a harrowing period in the family's life.

Gordon's brother Richard was serving on the western front in WWI. He went missing on 28 March 1918 and the family did not finally confirm his death until months later in September. So when the header, contrasting the peaceful pastoral home front with the hostile western front, was published, the family was in a state of tension and turmoil trying to establish whether Richard was dead or alive. For me, this background makes it a very poignant illustration.

View from Strandville

In any event, the view above is the one Gordon would have had from his house with the Martello on the western tip of Ireland's Eye.

Martello No.3 on western tip of Ireland's Eye
Photo: Vivion Mulcahy

And if he checked it out through his binoculars, this is what he'd see.

Cartoon set on Dollymount Strand

And then there is the Sutton tower, an inconspicuous detail in this political cartoon.

Detail: Tower No.1 from previous cartoon

But Gordon's attention to detail allows us to inspect it more closely. My own view is that this detail view would constitute a picture in its own right which anyone should be proud to hang on their wall.

UK Party Leaders in Martello Lockup, October 1931

Gordon has brought a martello to the fore in this political cartoon illustrating the cacophony of promises from party leaders to the UK electorate at this 1931 general election.

However, even Homer nods, and Gordon has forgotten that the door on martellos is always one floor above ground level, except in the case of the Dalkey Island tower, but that's another story.

No1 Tower from Kilbarrack Cemetery

Gordon is buried in Kilbarrack Cemetery from where you get the most impressive view of the Sutton (No.1) tower.

He'd have enjoyed that.


  1. Wasn’t Brewster very prescient in the first illustration above...He foresaw the arrival of the mobile phone!

  2. Your own comment is perhaps more relevant than you think.

    By that time (1918), and assuming the illustration reflects Tower No. 2 on Howth Head, this tower had already been used by Marconi in 1905 in the course of his experiments with wireless telegraphy.

    "In 1905, a Marconi station was installed at the Martello Tower in Howth and a series of signal tests were carried out between the station and the H. M. telegraph ship Monarch as it travelled between Howth and Holyhead. The importance of these trials was there was at last available an accurate instrument (the thermogalcanometer – designed by W. Duddell) that was sensitive enough to measure the small currents in the receiving antenna."