Sam Van Hook
Liz Stewart explores Sandycove’s 19th century martello tower – home to the James Joyce Museum.
For those of us who struggle/ignore/avoid finding the time to exercise, a long walk on the weekend is the classic Irish answer. About a year ago my sister and I were watching those braver than us, brave the Irish sea at the 40ft in Sandycove. Whilst there we stumbled upon the James Joyce Museum which inhabits the Martello tower.
Martello towers predominantly scatter the east coast of Ireland, originally built by the British as a military defence against any attack posed by the French during Napoleon’s reign in the early 19th century. In the early 20th century the tower was occupied by Oliver St John Gogarty, a medical student and literary figure. It was he who introduced James Joyce to the tower in 1904. Although described as a brief and tense stay in the tower, the six days spent there had such an impact on Joyce that he based the opening scene of Ulysses in the tower.
Committed to the Joyce Tower, the group of volunteers dedicate their time to staffing Tower for public access 365 days a year.
The Tower has been linked with Irish architect Michael Scott. He had a keen interest in the art, and bought the tower in 1954. It was Scott that initiated the establishment of a museum through the work of the Friends of James Joyce Society. Scott’s own home, built to resemble a ship and entitled ‘Geragh’, is famous for its design and can be seen clearly from the tower’s rampart. Today the tower is owned by Fáilte Ireland and run by the Friends of Joyce Tower Society.
When the Tower and Museum was forced to restrict its opening days to special request due to budgetary constraints, Sandycove locals were frustrated by the loss of their historic attraction. It was out of this frustration that the Friends of Joyce Tower Society was born in 2012. Committed to the Joyce Tower, the group of volunteers dedicate their time to staffing Tower for public access 365 days a year.
The guest signature book is a remarkable testament to the Tower’s success, with over 45,000 people visiting each year. The Friends of the Joyce Tower are to thank. Their warm welcoming faces enthusiastically introduce visitors to the Tower. They are true Joyce enthusiasts and each year on Bloomsday a popular reading is held.
The Museum itself consists of paintings and photos of Joyce and his family and friends, numerous first editions of his works, and even one of two plaster death masks made of Joyce. Upstairs you can find a replica of how the room which features in Ulysses is described. Even if heights and narrow stairs terrify you, the short climb to the rampart of the tower is worth the incredible view of Dublin Bay, where you can see Scott’s remarkable house beside the Tower, and the surrounding Sandycove.
The tower is a fantastic asset to the area, run by truly passionate and welcoming Joyce experts. It is well worth a visit to discover more about Dublin’s iconic writer and for a gorgeous view of the bay.
The James Joyce Tower, built around 1804, is open 365 days a year from 10 am to 6 pm (10-4 in winter) and admission is free.