The Martello Tower never saw the French invasion it was built to help repel

One intriguing historical monument, which can be found at Magilligan Point, is the Martello Tower the military authorities began building in 1812 during the Napoleonic wars, to protect the mouth of the River Foyle against French invasion.

Tuesday, 20th October 2020, 12:26 pm
Dr Montgomery  noted other interesting references to life at the Martello Tower at Magilligan Point. She said: “In the 19th century there was apparently a cholera intercepting hospital established in close proximity to the Martello Tower.”
Dr Montgomery noted other interesting references to life at the Martello Tower at Magilligan Point. She said: “In the 19th century there was apparently a cholera intercepting hospital established in close proximity to the Martello Tower.”

Dr Montgomery said: “There is a counterpart fortification to the west, on the shores of Donegal, close to Greencastle. The tower wasn’t completed until 1817, two years after the end of the Napoleonic Wars.”

A detailed interpretation of the tower is documented within the Ordnance Survey Memoir for the parish of Magilligan (Angélique et al 1991, 85 in Clements 2003, 37). (Clements, Defending the North 2003).

This details: “It is of circular form, 166 feet 10 inches [51.33 metres] in circumference measured above the basement, which is sunk 16 feet [4.9 metres] deep. The walls are 11 feet [3.3 metres] thick above and 13 feet [4 metres] below the basement of cut freestone from the quarries in Ballyharrigan in the parish of Boveagh.

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First Edition Ordance Survey, Six-inch Historic Map sheet of 1830 indicating the location of the Martello Tower

It mounts one gun, which turns on a pivot and can be presented to any quarter. In the centre of the tower there is an excellent spring” (Angélique et al 1991, 85).

Although the tower was originally constructed to facilitate the mounting of two guns, the Ordnance Survey record only mentions the mounting of one by 1835.

The gun is described as having been mounted onto a central pivot to permit rotation on a spherical rail, thereby allowing fire to be directed from all angles.

Dr Montgomery said: “The tower was constructed directly above a freshwater spring, ensuring fresh water supply in the event of a siege occurring.

A detailed interpretation of the tower is documented within the Ordnance Survey Memoir for the parish of Magilligan (Angélique et al 1991, 85 in Clements 2003, 37). (Clements, Defending the North 2003).

“The actual tower stands three stories high; the ground floor was used to store gunpowder, then later ammunition and shells, in addition to essential supplies.

“The basement of the fort would have been the main cold store for food produce and contained a large water holding tank while the upper floor was where the men and officers manning the tower had their quarters.

“The top of the tower was heavily fortified and strengthened to house the cannon and heavy guns.”

Facilities and ancillary structures may have included a fuel store and a soldiers’ privy to the east of the tower, likely provisions of accommodation for one officer, approx seven NCOs and privates (PRONI reference BG/21/0/4).

PRONI notes that the document dates to the 1890s; the title block indicates that it was surveyed in the 1860s and corrected in 1877.

Meanwhile, the Ordnance Survey notes of the Martello Tower: “The area, known locally as the ‘levels’, was also where Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Colby undertook the Lough Foyle Baseline survey in 1826. The major survey of Ireland was undertaken by Irish Ordnance Survey, resulting in the world’s first large-scale mapping of an entire country – the island of Ireland (OSNI). Two of the original base towers used for the survey still survive at Ballymulholland and Mineary.”

Dr Montgomery noted other interesting references to life at the Martello Tower at Magilligan Point. She said: “In the 19th century there was apparently a cholera intercepting hospital established in close proximity to the Martello Tower.

“The facility is referenced in the Belfast News Letter 
of 4th April 1893, where a short report by the board of guardians notes a clerk submitted an account from Dr Bryson, JP, claiming £163 for two quarters salary as medical officer of the cholera intercepting hospital at Magilligan.

“The cholera facility at Magilligan however postdates the epidemic by some decades.

“Related Parliamentary Papers from 1895 note precautions taken at ports in Ireland to prevent the introduction of cholera.

“Within the Londonderry district, the document notes: ‘Intercepting Hospital at Magilligan Point ready and fit for use’ and that for some time, a caretaker lived there.’”

A fascinating monument and well worth a visit, when time allows of course…