The Martello Tower at Millmount

Next year is the 200th anniversary of the passing of ŒThe Natural Defence Actš which allowed for the construction of Martello Towers as a defence against a possible Napoleonic invasion. One such tower was built at Millmount on the south bank of the Boyne at Drogheda.

Millmount Fort dominates the south Drogheda skyline but its history stretches back a lot further back than 1808 when the Martello Tower was constructed on the site.

The story goes that it was originally a passage grave and according to one legend it is the burial place of Amergin, an early Celtic poet. One story records that Amergin of the Fair Knee, a warrior bard in the army of Milesius was the first of the Bronze Age settlers to set foot on Irish soil.

Others sources claim that Amergin first set foot on Kenmare Bay around 2,000 BC and if as we are lead to believe the Milesians arrived from Spain, this would seem more likely.

Another legend claims Queen Scotia, wife of Milesius, the daughter of an Egyptian Pharaoh is also buried here. But a counter-claim suggests she travelled from he native land to south Kerry, where she met the invader Milesius, married him and had eight sons by him and was buried at Glenscoheen overlooking Tralee Bay.

Milesius himself is also reputed to be buried on the mount. However one version of the legend suggest he never even set foot in Ireland. The story goes on to suggest that he sent a scouting mission led by one of his sons here to fulfil a druidic prophecy.

When one of his sons was murdered by one of the local kings he gathered an army to avenge his death. But Milesius himself died before it set sail and the eight surviving sons conquered Ireland.
It is also reputed to be the resting-place of the legendary stone mason, the Goban Saor, whose name translates as free mason .

The Danish king Thurgesius is thought to have erected a fort here in the ninth century. There is a suggestion that a fort was built centuries earlier at a time when the Boyne divided the Kingdoms of Heber and Heremon, sons of Milesius. Hugh de Lacy, an Anglo-Norman built a motte here in the 12th century, when granted the Kingdom of Meath by Henry II. It was later replaced by a fortified castle.
When Oliver Cromwell invaded the town in 1649 its occupants put up fierce resistance. The summit of the hill offers a magnificent view of the town and the surrounding countryside. Imagine what it was like then when Drogheda was less built up?

All approaches to the town were clearly visible from here. To the north the slopes of Tullyesker, to the south and west the plains of Meath with Drogheda harbour and the mouth of the Boyne clearly visible to the east. Thus it was an ideal setting for a fort.

During the Civil War it was bombarded by Irish Free State soldiers and many years later was restored by Drogheda

Corporation before being opened to the public in Millennium Year.

However, the most visible reminder of its heritage if the Martello Tower at its summit.
The Martello Tower was part of a defensive strategy put in place by the British in early 19th century to warn of an impending Napoleonic invasion. Though the threat receded after the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, they continued to extend these ingenious towers round the Irish coastline.

The British navy first encountered them when trying to take the island of Corsica in the troubled years that followed the French Revolution. In 1793 the Corsicans rebelled against the French and the British government decided to support the insurgents against the common enemy.

The rebellion began with an attack on the strategic tower at Cape Mortella, which they duly captured only to lose it a short time later. This time the French strengthened its defences and armaments.
In February 1794, the British supported the Corsican rebels in a renewed attack on the tower. Those defending Port Mortella kept the ships at bay for two days before being eventually overtaken by land based troops.

When one Corsican native, Napoleon Bonaparte, started to flex his muscles around Europe, Britain felt vulnerable to a French invasion and constructed several of these towers along the coast of Kent and Sussex.

The design of the tower made it difficult to capture. This sturdy edifice was round with very thick walls, in some cases the walls were as much as 11 feet thick, and had a flat top with a gun that could be pointed in all directions.

Due to a linguistic mix-up these structures became known as Martello Towers and by the end of the Napoleonic wars several were built in Ireland as well as in the East Indies and Canada.
Mortella is the Italian for myrtle, a glossy evergreen shrub with white flowers and black oval berries abundant in the vicinity of Cape Mortella.

Some sources believe the Martello towers are so named because their name is derived from the Italian word, martello meaning hammer. It is claimed that such towers were originally equipped with a bell that was struck with a hammer to warn of an imminent attack.

Defensive towers erected on the south coast of Italy at the back end of the 18th century were known as Tot di Martello . In the middle of the 19th century similar towers were built by the Austrian Empire on the shores of the Adriatic Sea and were called Maximilian towers.

Next year, 2004, will mark the 200th anniversary of the "The National Defence Act" which gave the green light for the construction of these towers around the British and Irish coasts. Each one took about six months to build at a coast of 1,800.

Some regarded their construction as an unnecessary extravagance. These three storey solid stone constructions had vaulted rooms for the garrison, an ammunition store underneath and a platform on top for up to three guns firing over a low parapet. Access was gained by a moveable ladder to a door 18 to 20 feet above the ground.

The towers were defended in three ways; first, a 24 pounder cannon mounted on rails which could be pointed in any direction. Second, the garrison could fire muskets over the four foot high parapet.
Finally there were loopholes for the discharge of carronades, a short high calibre cannon, used chiefly in naval engagements. It took its name from Carron, near Falkirk in Scotland, where in was first made in the 18th century. A deadly weapon at close range, the carronade was loaded with musket balls, grapeshot, lengths of chain and scrap.

An interesting safety feature in the Martello towers was the use of wooden nails, for fear that sparks from metal nails could cause a fire.

Rather than using a bell to warn of an imminent invasion, lookouts in the tower would set alight a bundle of wood on the roof of the tower to alert the nearest tower, which in many cases was just a couple of hundred yards away. It would do the same until all towers along the coast were aware of the danger.

Drogheda’s dominant landmark offers a superb view on the modern extended town while at night it is lit up. Millmount

Museum, which won an International Gulbenkian Museum Award, is open all-year round and admission includes access to the tower.

The museum is located in the former officer’s mess and is regarded as one of the finest municipal museums in the country and features an 18th century Irish kitchen, dairy and laundry as well as an Irish History reading room.

Taken from Wee County 2003