One-bed Martello Tower in Dalkey for €2 million
Renovation results in 360-degree views of Dalkey Island, Howth and Dublin mountains
You have to hand it to the British, they know how to build, and fast. At least they did back in early 1804, when, rattled by the threat of Napoleon’s advancing armies, the military lashed up 28 fortified towers along the Dublin coastline in less than two years.
These are the Martello Towers, of which just 16 remain along the coastal stretch from Bray to Howth. The distinctive tapered towers built from huge blocks of local stone with walls two-and-a-half metres thick are recognised today as small feats of construction brilliance.
Bartra Martello (or Number 10) is one of the most significant of these towers, standing at the highest point on the Dalkey coastline protecting Bullock Harbour. It is also one of only two Martello towers in private residential use.
Owned by the Stephenson family, architect Simone Stephenson of Kavanagh Tuite architects undertook a five-year renovation in 2006 to adapt the tower for contemporary living. The result is 72sq m (775sq ft) of unique living space. The one-bed tower on 0.2 acres of private walled garden goes on the market today for €2 million through agents Ganly Walters.
Simone says it was a labour of love, having spent her childhood using the tower as a playhouse of sorts. Located on the Bartra Estate, the family grew up next door in Bartra House – one of Dublin’s finest coastal houses.
It was sold in 1996 to Gavin O’Reilly, former chief executive of Independent News & Media, who in 2012 sold it to Colm Delves, group chief executive of the Denis O’Brien-owned Digicel, for €3 million in 2012.
In the early May sunshine, the 360-degree views from the top of Bartra tower are magnificent. And this is its key attraction, the decked rooftop patio – with the old cannon pivot at its centre – looks east to the Martello on Dalkey Island, west to Sandycove’s Joyce Martello and the Pigeon House in the distance, north across the bay to Howth and south to the Dublin mountains.
Around the perimeter wall Simone remembers her father, Noel, using the old iron rings to hoist flags for visiting guests from abroad. Noel’s brother was the late legendary Irish architect Sam Stephenson.
The tower’s status as a national monument was central to Simone’s plans when refurbishing it. “We tried to keep the integrity of the structure and every original element.”
The ashlar-cut granite is a highlight, in particular at ground level in the main living space, formerly the garrison quarters for the soldiers. The floor plan is not circular as you would expect, though two of the walls are curved, two straight walls support the barrel vaulted ceiling that rises to a surprisingly roomy 3.7m (12ft) overhead.
This room serves as a living/dining/kitchen space, where the only natural light comes through two narrow shaft windows and the entrance which runs the depth of the wall at 2.5m (8ft).
Set more than 3m (9.8ft) above the ground, the entry would have originally been accessed via a ladder.
Now a steel and glass stairs gradually inclines around the outer wall.
Reflective materials have been employed to bounce light around the interior. The kitchen is of stainless steel, a wide mirror reflects light from the entrance, while directional lighting illuminates the impressive stonework.
The floors are accessed via an extremely narrow and steep original stone spiral stairs within the thickness of the walls.
The downstairs area is divided with stud walls into a small but luxurious double bedroom, with original fireplace opening and a Victoria and Albert bath at the foot of the bed, a study/changing area and a bathroom (formerly the gunpowder room).
All of the services such as wiring and plumbing have been cleverly secreted behind wall panels, and the underfloor heating installed below the granite slabs is always on for a constant temperature.
At roof level, an enclosed barbecue sits in the wall cavity where the shot furnace once stood. Beside it, a stainless steel rooftop bar looks down through a glass floor panel to the tower entrance below.
Known as the machicolation, this would originally have been intended for use as a murder hole through which burning oil would have been poured over uninvited guests who made it to the entrance. Beats hiding behind the sofa. Bartra Martello received the highest of praise when military historian and Martello expert, Bill Clements, referred to the tower in his book as an “outstanding” example of an appropriate conversion.
This one-bed property can only have niche appeal with its €2 million asking price, but Simone is confident it will appeal to a history enthusiast or someone prepared to pay for almost priceless views in a very unique coastal setting.