Following the attempted invasion of Bantry Bay by a French Armada in 1798, the British authorities were concerned that Napoleon was planning a major offensive against England via Ireland, and that Bantry Bay needed protection. As a result, four Martello Towers were constructed on Bere Island, one at the site of the present day Lonehort Battery, one where Rerrin Redoubt is now located and one each on Ardagh and Cloughland hills. The towers at Cloughland and Ardagh still remain.
Martello towers were first encountered by the British in 1794 in Corsica when they came to the aid of the Royalist French against the Napoleonic French. A strong tower at Mortella Point guarded the entrance to the Gulf of Fiorenzo. On seeing how impregnable these forts were, the British Navy decided to build their own and embarked on a large-scale programme of building Martello towers to guard the British and Irish coastlines. The towers were built to a standard design and were typically up to 12m high with two floors, and had a garrison of one officer and 15-25 men. Their round structure and thick walls of solid masonry made them resistant to cannon fire, while their height made them an ideal platform for a single heavy artillery piece.
The towers on Bere Island were completed by 1805, making them among the earliest to be erected in Ireland. It is thought they were built by Cornish masons, with assistance from local labour. It is recounted locally that a ‘village’ of houses was located in the island of townland of Greenane for the Cornish workers, although this site has never been precisely identified. The tower at Lonehort was known as tower number one, the one at Rerrin Redoubt was tower number two, Cloughland was tower number four and Ardagh was tower number four.
The Martello at Cloughland is set within a circular rock cut depression. The door was located on the north-west side at first floor level requiring access by ladder or steps. A machicolation covered this doorway which is constructed of brick and supported by a stone platform. The interior of the building had three levels, accessed by a staircase on the southwest side. A fireplace is located on the north corner of the ground floor. The gun platform on the top level was designed to take a traversing carriage which rotated on a pivot. Six twenty-four pounder guns were located between the four Martello Towers on Bere Island.
The Martello Tower constructed on Ardagh Hill was restored in 2010, however, it is now temporarily closed to the public as water ingress caused the mortar to wash away and flagstones to fall from the top of the tower. The Tower at Ardagh was an identical construction to the tower at Cloughland. Ardagh Hill is a prominent position, and this tower and battery was built to cover the entrance to Lawrence Cove.
On their completion in 1805, the towers were inspected by Sir Arthur Wellesley who would later become the Duke of Wellington.
Rubicon Heritage have undertaken considerable research on the Bere Island Martello Towers which can be found here