–Rather bleak in wintertime, I should say. Martello you call it?
— Billy Pitt had them built, Buck Mulligan said, when the French were on the sea. But ours is the omphalos.
To listen to a discussion of this topic, check out the podcast episode here.
Ulysses opens with a scene familiar to anyone who has lived in a too-small apartment with roommates – Stephen Dedalus chafing at the harsh banter of Buck Mulligan and the too-eager curiosity of Haines the English Hibernophile in their shared chambers in a seaside tower. Ultimately, Stephen decides not to vacate the tower; a literary “Screw you guys, I’m outta here.”
The Martello towers’ design is based on a tower held by the French in Mortella on the island of Corsica. It took British ships years to breach the tiny cylindrical tower even though it was only manned by a small crew. Seeing as how it managed to keep them out, the British decided the same design could be used to keep foreign invaders out of their empire as well. Roughly 50 were built in Ireland, mainly along the east coast. 15 were commissioned between Dublin and Bray in 1804 to prevent a French invasion during the Napoleonic wars, and we have to assume they worked because the French never invaded Ireland. They were unable to protect the coast from a more malevolent force, however, as Bono once resided in the Bray Martello tower.