The James Joyce Tower at Sandycove outside of Dublin is a Martello Tower on Ireland's coast. These stout fortresses were built to be used as defensive structures against Napoleon's fleet, but they were never needed in the end.
There are many Martello Towers on the Emerald Isle, but what sets it apart is its famous literary connections. Also known as "Forty Foot," the tower is where James Joyce once stayed and enjoyed daily swims as a guest of Oliver St. John Gogarty.
Joyce also chooses the tower as Leopold Bloom's starting place in his most famous work, Ulysses. In the opening scene, James writes of "the sea, the snot green sea, the scrotum tightening sea.” While this might not be the most tempting description of Irish waters, it has captured the imagination of booklovers all over the world. Bloomsday, Joyceans still start the day here.
The original Martello Tower was built during the Napoleonic wars. As a coastal fortress, it was equipped with cannon which was designed to defend Dublin Bay against a naval threat from that Corsican upstart. Luckily, a Napoleonic invasion of Ireland never materialized.
Later the towers were sold off, and Oliver St. John Gogarty - an Irish poet and politician - used this Martello Tower as a home away from home. It was he who invited James Joyce as a guest to enjoy the peace of his seaside refuge. (This is not Oliver's only claim to literary fame, by the way, St. John Gogarty also dragged sourpuss W.B.Yeats to his one and only pub visit).
Much later, the Martello Tower was re-invented and renovated as a James Joyce Museum. The tower still offers splendid views of Dublin Bay, and the hardy (occasionally nude) bathers at the 40 Foot are a bonus.
What to See and Do
The Martello tower has become a literary pilgrimage site as well as a popular swimming spot for those willing to brave the chilly waters. Here is why to visit and what to see:
- This is one of the most important Joycean sites of Dublin - with tangible links to both Joyce's life and work. The museum is dedicated to the author and a great place to learn more about him and his writing.
- Joyce as a person is one of the foci - an often forgotten aspect of the larger-than-life literary giant was the fact that he was shot at in the Martello Tower.
- This is and will forever be the starting point of Leopold Bloom's odyssey through Dublin.
- Last, but not least, this is a rare opportunity to see a Martello Tower from the inside
- The museum and its exhibition are almost totally geared towards those interested in Joyce and Ulysses. Those who haven't heard of the author of his famous book might prefer a less literary attraction. In this case, it is still worth a visit to walk by the tower, take a photo, and then enjoy a stroll along the promenade.
When to Visit the James Joyce Tower
The best day to visit is the Dublin holiday known as Bloomsday after the main character in Ulysses. Every June 16th, Joyceans gather here to start the day as did Leopold Bloom on this day in 1904. The date is now the day every year that all things Joyce are celebrated throughout the city.
However, since the Martello Tower, situated splendidly on a headland at Sandycove, does not only have a purely literary connection to the author of "Ulysses", you may come on other days as well.
"James Joyce once slept here" would be a fitting inscription for a plaque on the spot. Though most people forget that Joyce fled the tower after being shot at by his host, Oliver St. John Gogarty.
Today the former fortress and later holiday home is an attraction much flaunted by the city he left in disgust. Indeed, there seems to be a string of un-cordial good-byes connected to this humble place.
The tower holds an interesting museum dedicated to all things Joycean, a must-see on the list of top Dublin attractions connected to James Joyce. And for some, the discovery of Joyce's human side is the best part of a visit to Sandycove.
How to Visit the James Joyce Museum
The museum within the tower is located at Sandycove Point, Sandycove, County Dublin.
The James Joyce Tower is open every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Admission is free, but donations are very welcome.