By a strange coincidence, the Dublin Martello Towers and Napoleon himself, against whom they were to defend us, both had their origins in Corsica, and that gave me an appropriate title for my recent talk in the Alliance Française in Dublin town.
I had previously given a talk in English on the restoration of Martello Tower No.7 in Killiney, and it struck me that in this year of the 200th anniversary of Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo, the Alliance might be interested in a talk in French giving the background to the towers in Killiney Bay and the history of Tower No.7 up to its recent magnificent restoration.
I had done a few talks on local and family history and on Gordon Brewster, the artist and cartoonist, but these had all been in English. To do one in French would be a real challenge and either the opportunity or my resolve would pass if I didn't take it up now.
So I went in off the street and offered the talk.
The offer was taken up like a shot and the only thing left was to fix a date. It clearly couldn't be too soon as I had a mountain of work to do beforehand.
The interactive Google map I used in the talk. Here it
summarises relevant aspects of La Chaussée's report and
shows: the 200ft contour; the three coastal weaknesses;
the placement of primary and secondary defences; overlapping
fields of fire; and the Loughlinstown military camp where up to
four thousand troops could be sourced to defend the bay.
While I had the bones of a presentation in English, this one would be a bit different. Apart from it being in French I intended expanding on those angles which would be of interest to the francophone/phile community. A large part of this would be fleshing out Major La Chaussée, the man, and his contribution to the eventual defence network of towers and batteries.
This required some further research and I hit the lode when I found out that, apart from drawing up the initial plans for the defence of Killiney Bay, he had also been a British government paymaster and financed a failed attempt on Napoleon's life which ended with the would be assassins being captured and executed.
And before I forget to mention him, I dedicated the talk to my first French teacher, Albert Folens. Albert was not only flemish, he was a militant fleming, and he had worked for the Germans during WWII. His story is full of ironies. His collaboration with the Germans was based on their promise of a measure of autonomy for his homeland, Flanders, if they won the war. Irish people should understand this as, over time, we have called on the French and Germans for help, the latter in the middle of a war in which we, as part of the British Empire, were on the other side. I lost an uncle on the Somme in that one (WWI).
Anyway, after WWII, Albert had to leave Belgium and eventually got refuge with the Christian Brothers teaching French. How that must have hurt, as the struggles of the Flemish people had been against the French speaking Walloons who dominated Belgian life at their expense.
At the other end of the scale, I got an opportunity to give a derogatory mention to Victor Enoch, who, while professing to be an afficionado of Martello Towers, bought one and ruined it. So much so that he hadn't the nerve to put his own tower on the cover of a pamphlet he published on the Martello Towers.
And there were little quirks turning up right up to the last minute. We knew that a tenant of the gunner's cottage on the site of No.7 had been Joseph Murphy, the local public lamplighter, who only died in 1960. But, lo and behold, what turns up but this fabulous tombstone in the cemetery in Kiltiernan.
Anyway, as I said, my offer of a talk was accepted with alacrity, and despite some problems as the day drew nearer I think everything turned out right on the night and without a broken leg in site.
I have to say I admire the faith of the Alliance in my ability to deliver. They had never heard me speak a word of French until the night and that occasion was the first time I had ever spoken French in public. So from my point of view it was truly a Café Historique.
I got a few gasps from the audience, but none so striking as when I showed the final product of the restored tower. Those present were left in no doubt about the appalling condition of the site when Niall O'Donoghue bought it and they clearly appreciated the miracle he had wrought in the restoration.
And, to cap it all, I rounded off with a video of the inaugural firing of the cannon on the top of the tower to a background of a full rendition, cannon and all, of the 1812 overture.
During the interval, the audience was able to inspect the fabulous model of the site and tower made by Terry Murray, Niall's son in law, and get the lowdown on both the model and the actual tower from Niall.
If you're interested in following up further on any of this, I have a website on the tower and some related items. There is also a background page to the talk in the Alliance with links to the Powerpoint presentation and my script. There is also a link on that page to a vast range of material assembled for the earlier talk in English on the background page to that talk.
And if you want to go out with a bang, here is a link to the final video referred to above. Best viewed full screen with the sound turned up.