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Friday 17 January 2020

Record numbers visit Joyce's Dublin Bay Martello tower

Invasion: Maureen Ahern and Margaret Brett, from Cork, in the tower Photo: Steve Humphreys
Invasion: Maureen Ahern and Margaret Brett, from Cork, in the tower Photo: Steve Humphreys

Jim Cusack

One of Ireland's major cultural attractions which faced closure during the worst of the recession is blossoming again under voluntary management.

Movie star Pierce Brosnan was among the celebrity visitors to the tower this summer, as was UFC champion Conor McGregor this year.

More than 200 people, including broadcaster and journalist Vincent Browne, volunteered to work part-time in Joyce's Tower in Sandycove when it faced closure in 2012.

And this year, it is expected that 40,000 people will visit the former 'Martello' tower, which is the setting for the opening passages of James Joyce's 20th-century literary masterpiece Ulysses.

The tower is also of military historic significance, the only one of 26 defensive forts built around Dublin Bay during the Napoleonic Wars. It is open for free to the public.

It was built in 1803-1804 amid fears the French would invade Ireland as a stepping stone to the invasion of Britain. At one stage, Napoleon had two million soldiers massed on the Normandy coast for an invasion.

James Joyce stayed in the tower, which was rented at the time by his college friend, Oliver St John Gogarty, who then bought the building and used it as a weekend retreat.

It was later sold to Dublin architect Michael Scott, who used the adjoining land to build his home, Geragh, in modernist European style in 1954. The American publisher, Sylvia Beach, who first published Ulysses while Joyce was in Paris, took part in the original opening ceremony when the museum was established in 1962.

Until 2012, the museum charged for entry but under the new regime entry is free and the tower is now the number one visitor attraction along the south county Dublin coastline.

James Holahan, chairman of the voluntary Friends of James Joyce Tower Society, said: "It really is a good example of people power and the local community coming together to act as custodians at a time when this remarkable place was facing closure due to cutbacks.

"The group came together and undertook the staffing of the tower, arranging a roster where most could give a couple of hours a day.

"It is now open 365 days a year, even Christmas, from 10am to 6pm in the summer and 10am to 4pm in the winter.

"We've received tremendous assistance from Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and together we have helped it become the quite major attraction it now is.

"We fully expect there will be more than 40,000 visitors this year."

Mr Holahan said Vincent Browne "worked really hard and contributed in a major way" to setting up the volunteer group and the re-opening of the free attraction.

Joyce's novel is contained within a narrative of events on one day, June 16, commemorated since as "Bloomsday".

Sunday Independent

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