On a Prominence

Despite occupying such a prominent position overlooking the town, Millmount in Drogheda, County Louth is relatively little known. According to Irish legend, this site was the burial place for Amhairghin, a poet for the Milesians, supposedly the last race to settle in Ireland, at least until the Normans arrived. However, it seems more likely that the latter constructed a fort here, Drogheda being one of their most important settlements. Here in the 1180s, on a bluff overlooking the river Boyne, they constructed a motte and bailey, probably on the instructions of Hugh de Lacy; his son Walter would grant the town which grew up around the fort its first charter during the following decade. A stone castle was later built in the same place.

None of the buildings on the site today are of medieval origin. The original fortifications were all demolished in the first decade of the 19th century when the present Martello Tower was constructed on the highest point; this was the time of the Napoleonic Wars when fear of a potential invasion by the French (as had happened in 1798) led the government to develop a series of such fortifications around the coast. By this time, the area below the old castle had been developed into a centre for the British army, named Richmond Barracks. A range of two-storey accommodation blocks for soldiers, dating from c.1720 survives here, along with a number of other, larger buildings such as a Governor’s House and the officers’ quarters, both erected around the same time as the tower.

The buildings of Richmond Barracks survived into the last century, and were among the first to be vacated by the British Army, who handed over the premises to the Free State authorities in January 1922. However, a few months later, members of anti-Treaty forces occupied Millmount. In July, the Free State army shelled the place, thereby forcing its occupants to retreat but leaving the tower seriously damaged. It remained in this condition until the late 1990s when finally restored in time for the Millennium and opened as a museum. Meanwhile, a number of the houses below have also been refurbished and are now used for diverse purposes, some of them providing space for small businesses, workshops and retail outlets. A large area to the immediate west of this complex remains derelict and would benefit from attention by the local authority.

7 comments on “On a Prominence

  1. Bob says:

    Nice to see it has been restored. Some don’t accept that Millmount, built 1808, is a Martello and describe it as a guardhouse for a battery of guns and/or a signalling tower. Lewis refers to “…….Richmond Fort, erected about the year 1808, in which are two nine-pounders on a moveable platform,” All Irish Martello’s e.g. those on the East Coast (based on a Minorcan design) and those in West Cork were two-storey, generally armed with a single 24 -pounder cannon that pivoted through 360 degrees and have a single machicolation over the entrance door. Millmount’s design, with three floors, twelve (?) machicolations and lower firepower is quite different.

    • John Kirke says:

      Correct. It is not built to the Martello design, but was built at the same time..

      • Bob says:

        Nitpick – it was built during a lull between the two main Martello tower building periods – the early Bere Island and Garinish (random rubble) 1803-4, the ‘Dublin’ towers (Menorcan design) built 1804-5 and the post-1810 towers built to the design commonly used in England e.g. those at Galway Bay and on the Shannon.

        Just a fortnight to Bloomsday and Buck Mulligam – ” Billy Pitt had them built, Buck Mulligan said, when the French were on the sea.”

  2. Toby Cole says:

    Nice to see them in use,. I wish they would run outside wiring in a more neat and tidy fashion though.

  3. Joe says:

    Nice to be reminded that it is the reputed burial place of Ireland’s first poet, Amhairghin, as I’m originally from Drogheda and a poet (although one can’t call oneself a poet), and I’ve recently been homeschooling my daughter and talked her through the “Song of Amergin”. Is there any other source that backs this up, the burial place?

    PS I got inside the recently featured Gortmakellis Castle this evening, I’m staying nearby.

  4. Pat Pentony says:

    Interesting background to one of my “playgrounds” in late 50ties and early 60ties
    .The Martello was in ruins,however all the houses were occupied well into the 1980ies,School pals, such as Conways,Thorntons,Kirwans, lived in Millmount.

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