Wednesday, July 01, 2020


This post is intended to complement the online video event for Bloomsday 2020 at the Martello Tower (No.7) Killiney.

If you have not yet done so, and would like to do so at this point, you can watch the video on Youtube now and come back here later. The video is an hour long but there is a series of links underneath it which allow you to view individual items.

Going online

The firsts challenge was to figure out how to handle this years Bloomsday given the covid restrictions. Clearly we could not have the usual physical gathering at the Tower. So, we'd either have to abandon the event this year or go online in some form or other.

I had been at a few online live Zoom events, and though some of these clearly reflected the problems involved, this was our first option. We would attempt to replicate as closely as possible the normal yearly event but live online with Zoom. However, once we started to consider this in detail the difficulties became clear.

If we were to do it live, then all the participants would have to be got together at the same time and this could be a problem. Then there was the periodic unreliability of broadband connections, so we couldn't rely on them on the day. And for the musical items, particularly Truly Divine's contribution where there was more than one person involved, bringing Eamonn and Truly together in Zoom added a problem of time lags and overall quality.

So we decided to do a recorded event but to keep it under wraps until Leopold Bloom was out of bed and preparing Molly's breakfast at 8am on Bloomsday. We could then supplement it with a Zoomchat at midday which did not involve any of the difficulties associated with performance items.

Recordings of the two musical items, Truly and Kieran, were supplied directly and the rest pre-recorded via Zoom. I think this worked well for the event and there was a lively and erudite discussion at the midday live chat on Zoom, though, in the event, there was only about eight of us turned up - very select it was.

Planning the content

Cartoon (detail) from Thomas Fitzpatrick's Lepracaun

Once we had decided to have the online event we had to consider the programme. As it was to be an online event the attendance would not be physically present at the Tower but the potential audience would be much wider than usual.

So I thought it might be an idea to take the Tower itself as a theme and drag Joyce in by the scruff of the neck wherever possible. In this way we would not only be doing our duty to Joyce but also introducing the magnificent piece of restoration work, which is the Tower, to a wider audience.

As the programme evolved, we had Niall, who restored the Tower, describing the restoration. Doug and Sylvia Rogers, who had performed an amazing feat of archival research. mainly in the UK PRO but also on site in other locations, agreed to document their own odyssey. I took advantage of online to introduce the Tower's website, which had started from modesst beginnings but was now a treasure trove of history and various ephemera.

So, where is poor old James Joyce in all of this? Well, we were privileged to have access to Felix Larkin who is an old hand at this game, and he gave us a run down on the Gray family, neatly bridging their local connections and their relevance to Ulysses, albeit through the back door. His item attracted much favourable attention at the end of the day.

Then, through a last minute stroke of luck, we were offered a fine piece by Brendan Fleming, from across the water in Buckingham University. I won't spoil it here but I'll be telling that story below.

And the music, there had to be music. Kieran Cummins had played the harp for us at a previous Bloomsday event, on which occasion he also sang to his own guitar accompaniment and played the fiddle. This year he turned up with a tape of the fiddle from Bantry Bay, a location which has strong resonances with the French and the Martello Towers, whatever about Joyce.

And Truly Divine, who is just that, was left to her own devices. She turned up with two perfectly chosen songs beautifully performed and so stitched Joyce firmly back into the fabric of the event.

I have an interest in the artist and cartoonist, Gordon Brewster, and he had mocked Gogarty, who you will remember is the model for Buck Mulligan in Ulysses, in one of his cartoons where he takes a poke at the worthies of his day. Joyce himself has a fierce go at Gogarty via Mulligan in the opening chapter of Ulysses at the Martello Tower. So I figured I'd add my voice with a ditty I had written and delivered to a physical audience at last year's Bloomsday event at the Tower.

The Video

Click on image to view video

Overall, I think the programme worked well, at least from our point of view. Analysis of the viewing figures on Youtube after the event suggested that whacks of people had checked in looking for pure Joyce and promptly checked out again when they encountered all this Martello stuff. We have close on 800 views, but sadly only about 10% stayed the course to the end. Still, for an hour long video an audience of 80 is not bad. It would equate to the usual attendance at the physical event.

Individual contributions


I'm not going to go over the ground that Niall covered in his contribution. Rather I would like to look in some depth at two major problems he encounstered in the course of his restoration of the Tower. Both of these involved the lean-to guardroom on the seaward side of the tower. The guardroom is part of the original structure and was built at the same time as the tower.

First you have to understand the condition of the site when Niall acquired it. Anything that was wreckable was wrecked. There had been fires on the site and wanton destruction while it was in the possession of the local authority - initially the Killiney and Ballybrack UDC from 1909 and subsequently the Dún Laoghaire local authority from 1930.

There were no plans available anywhere to show how the buildings on the Martello sites had been constructed, so, much depended on visual inspection, some earlier photos (mainly from Paul Kerrigan and Pól Ó Duibhir) and bits and pieces of material salvaged from the site.

Suspending the roof

The first problem was how to suspend the roof of the guardroom. This had been a heavy slated roof, initially built to withstand the bouncing of a cannon ball on it, and possibly any shock waves transmitted from the firing of the cannon on the roof of the tower.

The view of the engineer was that it would require pillars along the centre of the guardroom to reinforce and take the weight of the roof. This would have been an unsatisfactory and awkward solution. Fortunately Niall's curiosity led him to wonder about the odd inverted V shape at the top of the interior of the flanking wall (above).

Here was the solution, staring him in the face. The centre of the roof was supported by a supplementary set of rafters coming up from further down the tower wall.

Finding this piece of curved wood with nail holes in it then showed the frequency of the main rafters.

This discovery was then translated into the support system you see here.

A closer look.

When it was all covered in, this is what it looked like from the inside.

The next problem was the actual construction of the roof. An earlier photo, long predating Niall's acquisition of the property, showed, under a gap in the slates, that the planks beneath them had been laid in a herringbone formation. This proved to be a way of avoiding having to try and bend the planks to the curve of the roof. [I'm not sure how this works mechanically but I hope to find out.]

So a herringbone pattern it was. And that sorted the roof.


The next problem was restoring the musket loops where some of these had been broken out to insert windows.

You can see this clearly in Paul Kerrigan's drawing from when he surveyed the site at the beginning of the restoration. Loops numbered 3, 4, 5, & 6 had been converted by the local authority into windows.

As part of this serious restoration of the site to how it was originally constructed, these would have to be built back up into musket loops to conform with numbers 1 & 2.

The reality on the ground was much rougher than the neat drawing. So there was a lot of work to be done.

An earlier photo gives you a view of the windows.

Niall here shows the outline of a window using one of the wooden-framed windows salvaged on the site.

All straightforward enough you might think. But the problem here turned out to be of human making. Dúchas was now insisting that the windows be retained as they themselves had acquired some sort of heritage value along the way. Niall correctly saw the absurdity of this and after six months of attrition, Dúchas were roundly beaten into submission.

These were just two of the problems that arose, and were solved, in the course of the restoration.


You have been so patient in staying with me this far that it's only fair that I bring you some light relief at this point.

In the course of a large local authority sewerage scheme, in the mid 1950s, the need arose to find somewhere to store the required explosives. Three towers were considered, Sandycove (No.11), Bartra (No.10) and Killiney (No.7). The first two were rejected due to their proximity to housing and No.7 was chosen.

Anyone who knows this site will know that it is surrounded by housing, but no matter. It was the most unobtrusively accessible of the three sites. It was already subject to the coming and going of local authority lorries. The solution was simply not to inform the neighbours of what was planned. Those with a direct interest in the site were informed, but no one else.

I have reproduced above the application from the firm of Reed & Mallik for a permit, which was granted, to store one thousand pounds of gelignite and detonators in the tower. The cost of the permit, 1/- (one shilling).


Doug and Sylvia live in London. Sylvia is Niall's sister. They took on the task of researching the background to the Tower mainly in the UK Public Records Office in Kew. They also combed a number of other institutions which Doug mentioned in his contribution. And they visited a number of restored sites.

This saga started as a search for the plans for the construction of the Martello towers and such other buildings as were on the site of No.7. They never found any such plans but they discovered a wealth of information along the way. And this was not simply about No.7. When the military did reports, these covered the whole network of towers and batteries around Dublin Bay. So the information unearthed by Doug and Sylvia fed into the history of other elements of the network.

It should be recorded here that Niall made all these findings, and such information as he had from the site, freely available to researchers. This, in no small measure, contributed to the book "The Martello Towers of Dublin" eventually published by the local authorities concerned.

A rare photo of Paul Kerrigan (left) and Doug at the Eastbourne Redoubt.

I should mention here in passing that the Eastbourne Martello has bsen restored in more recent times and there have been exchanges on Twitter between the two towers. The Eastbourne tower has christened itself The Wish Tower and it is open to visitors.

In the course of their researches, Doug and Sylvia came up with a set of maps drawn by the French Major Le Comte de la Chaussée who surveyed Killiney Bay for the British in 1797. I had discovered the Major's report in the 1970s but as this was either a draft or a family copy the maps were not with it. I had been looking for them for the following thirty years and voilà here they were.

Map detail - Killiney Hill and the King's Highway

They added enormous value to La Chaussée's report and were a thing of beauty in themselves. Incidentally, the map shows how few substantial houses there were in the area at the time. This is confirmed in a later diocesan map from 1810.

I should probably explain that we know more now about La Chaussée than is indicated in Doug's report. In the course of further research in preparation for my talk to the Alliance Française in 2015, the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo, I discovered that he came from a noble French family of at least 200 years standing and that he married a descendant of the French king, Jean le bon, some 14 generations down the line. In the course of my research the Bibliothèque Nationale de France commended me on my "very useful clarification of a period in the history of franco-irish relations". Kudos all round.

But that's all for another day.

Doug was involved in more than simple documentary research. He discovered Martin Bibbings who organised the casting of the cannon and the manufacture of the traversing carriage. The still above from a video of the casting shows Doug and Sylvia observing the process.

I should mention that in the formulation of our entry for the Europa Nostra competition, which Doug mentions in his contribution, the pair of us had to put on a good cop / bad cop act to extract the relevant information, in a form required by the sponsors of the competition, out of Niall. Blood from a stone. Still, it paid off.


I mentioned Kieran's many talents earlier. So I didn't know what he was going to turn up with for this venture. He's living in Kilkenny, but he turned up from Bantry Bay, playing a tune of the same name.

Now Bantry has some significance in this exercise. As soon as La Chaussée had finished his survey of Killiney Bay, off with him to Bantry to do the same thing down there. And, of course, Bantry was where the French came in 1796 but turned about and went home due to the Irish weather at the time.


Brendan was a recent discovery, at least as far as we were concerned. It happened like this.

There was Niall pottering around on the site with the gates wide open when this passing lady wandered in. They got talking and Niall mentioned Bloomsday at which point Nada, who is Lebanese and lives in Shankill, mentioned that she had a friend who was a Joyce scholar and who might be interested in contributing to the event.

Enter Brendan, from the University of Buckingham, and we ended up with a most erudite contribution covering Joyce's use of language around the Martello towers and the subtleties underlying it. An early punch line revealed that the name of the Martellos was all a big mistake. Tune in to the event for follow up.

The double edged Corsican sword - source of the original Martello and birth place of Napoléon against whom the towers were to serve as a defence.

The Tower's Website

I took the opportunity of being online to take viewers on a brief teaser tour of the Tower's website. The site started off as a simple page on my own website and over time has evolved into a site of its own.

Truly Divine

I "discovered" Truly Divine in the Leeson Inn in 2016. I had gone along to a Bloomsday event there with the intention of taking Senan Molony to task for his treatent of my first French teacher, Albert Folens. However, the occasion did not prove suitable. But when I heard Truly perform at the beginning of the night, I knew I was in for a treat. And so it was, truly memorable. Senan will keep for another time.

So we invited Truly along to the 2018 Bloomsday event at the Tower where she charmed all present and now, in 2020 online, we asked her if she would take part. We left it up to herself what she would do and she came up trumps with two well chosen songs.

The first, with both words and melody by Joyce, was "Bid Adieu to Girlish Days" from Joyce's "Chamber Music" collection of love poems. I was familiar with this one as I had used it as an example in a talk on translating Joyce the previous year at the Tower. The second song "Just a Song at Twilight" is one that was on Molly Bloom's programme for her planned concert tour. Both were beautifully sung and Truly was accompanied by Eamonn Moran on the guitar.


Felix Larkin is no stranger to the Tower or to Joyce. At an earlier Bloomsday he gave us a talk on the Aeolus Episode in Ulysses, which, you will remember, is set in the premises of the Freeman's Journal in Prince's Street. Straight Joyce stuff.

This year Felix adopted a more subtle approach bringing us the Gray family, their history in Killiney and further afield, and their proprietorshop of the Freeman's Journal. An erudite and fascinating contribution which did not confine itself to Dublin but ranged from Australia to my father's own county, Mayo.

As Felix pointed out, Sir John Gray tends to be forgotten despite his major contribution to the city of Dublin. He does have a (hopefully) perpetual monument at the intersection of Abbey Street and O'Connell Street in the Capital. The photo above is an unusual close-up view of this taken from the upper deck of a passing bus.


Finally, and in conclusion !, I know that Joyce took a fierce poke at the pompous poet Oliver St. John Gogarty in Ulysses and the artist and cartoonist Gordon Brewster made a skit of him in one of his cartoons of Dublin worthies. So I thought I'd add my own voice and delivered a wee ditty which encompassed Gogarty (Buck Mulligan), Joyce (Stephen Dedalus), the Joyce Tower, and a goose.

And even more finally, I'd like to thank all those who participated in this venture. They are all mentioned above bar the National Library from whom I nicked the Brewster Cartoon and a Lawrence Photo. Thanks NLI. I'd also like to add Donal for his technical advice and direct assistance without which there would have been no video.

I have just changed from a Windows PC to a Mac and it's all new to me. I ended up a wandering soul in technoland until Donal, who is a longstanding Mac user and a techie to boot, rescued me and in the process reduced 3 Gigabytes to 300 Megabytes and reassured me that I could throw any Zoombomber, who might happen along to screw up our Zoomchat, to the sharks in the nearby snot-green sea

The Final Product

Click on the image to view the video

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