Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Irish Soldiers in the Napoleonic Wars

It seems a long way from France to Ireland by sailing ship, especially when there’s a war on, but during the 1790s the French made several attempts to invade Britain via Ireland.

On one occasion, in August 1798, a French force landed in County Sligo in the north-west of Ireland and held out for 17 days before surrendering. The final attempt to invade was later in 1798, when a French force was intercepted at the mouth of Lough Swilly on the north coast. There weren’t any more attempts, but the British government didn’t know that, of course, and continually worried that the French would still come.

One of the key defences against invasion was the Martello Tower. The British built over 200 of them starting in 1804. This one is at Magilligan Point, on the north coast of Ireland, guarding the entrance to Lough Foyle which is only 25 miles (40 km) east of where the 1798 invasion was attempted. There was another double-gunned tower on the opposite bank. So between them, they controlled the vital narrow entrance.

In fact this Martello Tower wasn’t begun until 1812. That might seem quite surprising when we remember that the British Navy had smashed the French at Trafalgar in 1805. But there was another war on by then, between Britain and the USA, so no doubt the British were still worrying about invasions.

The soldiers who manned the tower would have looked like this.

Retired Irish soldiers might spend their twilight years in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, Dublin, built in the 1680s and operated on the same lines as the Royal Hospital Chelsea. It didn’t close until 1928.

Its splendid inner courtyard is rather reminiscent of a French palace.

When it was built, there were mutterings that it was much too fine a place for people like old soldiers!

Do you think it was?



Jan Jones said...

Interesting as ever, Joanna. Was the Hospital for all old soldiers, or were there conditions attached?

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

Fascinating, Joanna. I hadn't realized that there were Martello towers in Ireland, as well.

Great pictures, too!

Anonymous said...

There were conditions attached, Jan, but there wasn't all that much info available during my visit. The building is now the Modern Art Museum and most of the space is given over to that and a lot of the inside has been turned into huge open spaces. Also, sadly, we weren't able to see inside the chapel and refectory because it was closed. That's why I only have external pictures.

I imagine the conditions were the same or similar to the Royal Hospital Chelsea (though it wasn't built till a little later). So old soldiers would have to be single, and of good character. Not sure about age or financial situation. They were certainly regimented while they were in there.

Elizabeth, I didn't know there were Martello towers in Ireland until I almost fell over this one! It's run by the National Trust and sadly, like Kilmainham, wasn't open when we were there.

It seems I didn't time my visits very well!!

Louise Allen said...

Fascinating post, Joanna. The hospital seems to be much along the lines of Chelsea or Greenwich. It must have been a shock to some of the old soldiers!

Melinda Hammond/ Sarah Mallory said...

Interesting post, Josanna. Wonder what the old soldiers thought about their retirement home! The ongoing invasion threat by the French is always a good sub-plot!