The Martello Tower on Sandycove Point is one of a series of fifteen similar towers built around Dublin in 1804 to counter the threat of an invasion by Napoleon. The design was based on that of a tower on Cape Mortella in Corsica which had resisted a British attack in 1794.
It is about forty feet high with walls eight feet thick. There was a single entrance ten feet above the ground which could only be approached by ladder. On top of the tower was a gun deck with a carriage on a swivel. Its eighteen pounder cannon had a range of about a mile.
In 1904 the tower was demilitarised and put up for rent at £8 a year by the War Department. The first tenant was Oliver St John Gogarty, a medical student and budding poet, who moved in in August and invited the twenty-two-year-old James Joyce to join him. Joyce was slow to take up the invitation and did not arrive at the tower until 9 September, by which time their friendship had cooled. They were joined by Samuel Chenevix Trench, an Oxford friend of Gogarty’s.
Joyce’s stay was brief. He was chased out of the tower on the night of 14 September and never returned. A month later he left Ireland for a literary career in Europe. The first chapter of his famous novel Ulysses. published in 1922, was set in the tower with characters based on himself and his companions and with the implication that he had paid the rent. As a result the tower became his monument despite the fact that Gogarty had been the tenant and had been visited here over the years by many celebrated Irish personalities.
The tower was bought in 1954 by the architect Michael Scott. With the help of a gift of money from the filmmaker John Huston, he and his friends set up the James Joyce Museum which was opened here on 16 June 1962 by Sylvia Beach, the first publisher of Ulysses. Over the years the museum collection has grown thanks to the generosity of many donors. In 1978 an exhibition hall was added to the building and a new entrance put in at ground level.